Train by Susan Nordmark

An Essay on Home

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If you are going to take the train for the first time from Berkeley to Castro Valley instead of drive because you took that sleep drug last night that makes you lose attention and maybe have a car accident the next day and you still didn’t get enough sleep, and your Google maps printout for which train to take is confusing once you look at the LED options at the platform, don’t ask the guy over there with the aviators and weird voice, because he will with confidence give you directions you know are not correct. Ask the woman with the gray dreadlocks and pink cap who it turns out knows everything about BART. You two will agree that a teenager is the best thing to navigate the website, but there is not one there, although she does have six grandbabies and some are teens. You will hear about her three children, one of whom was shot to death on BART. She will tell you that cops who shoot black people are poorly trained and that afterwards they just get moved to a job in another department, like the guy who pulled his gun instead of his Taser to shoot Oscar Grant. She will tell you that many cops are alcoholics, because it is the only legal drug and police work is very stressful, like the cop who fathered her second child which she was five months along with before she knew he was married to someone else, the wife who had held off having a baby because she—this is the wife–wanted to build her career for a while first, and who when she found out about your pregnancy, put all his things out on the lawn, and when he came to get them and the wife screamed at him, he called the cops, even though the wife said, You’re the cops!, a call which he coded as Officer In Distress which led half the Vallejo department to show up, which irritated them quite a lot—this is Vallejo—when they found out it was Domestic. You will hear her theory of Jerry Lewis, whom she met when she was working the tables in Vegas, and whom she discovered was not funny off stage but was really mean, which she believes is because when all those producers hired Martin and Lewis, they really mostly wanted Martin. You will both agree that “Ocean’s Eleven” was a great movie. You will tell her about the famous restaurant in Boston where you worked as a hostess, where after the lunch rush, the kitchen workers fed all the staff a meal entirely different–very homey with lots of vegetables–from the heavy banquet dishes offered the customers. Although you will admit that the staff lunch was sometimes a huge platter of wok-fried lettuce and chicken feet over rice, which left you fairly hungry since you were eating Low Carb at the time. She will get off at Coliseum but tell you how to continue. But because you are exhausted by not getting enough sleep, you will overshoot and have to get off at West Dublin, circle back to Castro Valley, and fail to get through the gate because your ticket is ten cents short, so you have to get help to Add Fare. You will leave through a massive parking lot and that’s far before you ever get to Redwood Road, which you walk up getting a migraine because cars are swooshing exhaust past you. After your appointment and are back on the train you are confused where to transfer, and you phone a friend who tells you West Oakland but you decide to ignore the friend in favor of Bayfair which turns out to be right, and a BART employee there tells you, There is a Richmond train, take that. You do but you are now so frazzled that you look up and see the North Berkeley sign whizzing behind and you have to get off at El Cerrito and U-turn back again, and when you finally get off at Ashby you are so disoriented you try to walk through the wrong gate. But the thing that stays is the woman in pink, who was only a bit older than you but kept calling you Baby and made you feel loved and with whom you grasped hands as she stepped out the sliding door and left you forever.

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BIO: Susan Nordmark’s work appears in New World Writing, Long Island Literary, Sin Fronteras, Entropy, Peacock, Porter Gulch Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, California.

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