A Hundred Amtrak Trips All Squashed Into 600 Words

2003. Novemberish.

In a car parked behind a now-defunct bookstore, I tell B that he is alright and all, but I’ll be leaving Memphis next year to go to school in Chicago, leaving him behind to finish his last year at CBU without me. He tears up and bites his tongue. He doesn’t care that he is showing me he’s sad; he’s as real as they come and doesn’t waste pretenses on me.

Vintage The Waiting, circa 2003

Vintage Murooned and Waiting, circa 2003

2004. July.

He packs up my U-Haul filled with estate sale furniture and file folders crammed with my undergrad thesis (I might need it?) and drives me to Chicago. After five days and a couple dozen Matt’s cookies, he books a one-way ticket on the City of New Orleans to go home. The train is scheduled to leave Union Station at 8PM and arrive back in Memphis at 6:15AM the next morning, and I say nine thousand times how won-derful it is that he doesn’t waste any time traveling.

The Great Hall in Union Station is one of those places that is wonderfully arrogant. It has the audacity to make moments that should remain small, big. It is hard to do anything in there without wondering if some nonexistent camera is catching you on your good side. During my stint as a Chicagoan, I eat probably 150 Chicken McNuggets on those benches and feel like I am making some kind of bold, urban statement.

Chicago_union_station_hall

Chicago Union Station Great Hall (It seems like I should put a comma somewhere in that description.)

I drop B off at the station and leave him in the Amtrak terminal he’ll be departing from. I ride the El back to the Loyola stop, fighting tears the entire time, resenting my tragic, romantic choice to move to Chicago. I am not much of a crier and damn that damn Great Hall for making the damn drama linger as I ride the Red and Blue lines back to my university hovel.

2004. October.

I get up early one Saturday morning and put on a black a-line skirt, a black turtleneck, black shoes, and a tan “vintage” (read: gross) Member’s Only jacket.

Because fashion.

I disembark at Clinton and walk up the quiet weekend streets rehearsing the moment I see B across the Hall and we run towards each other and embrace and the sky opens up. Upon entrance, I see him with his duffel bag half his own weight and my heart explodes all over my outfit. I’m grateful that we are standing in a room that can contain the moment and do it justice. We go to Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast and look at each other across the booth.

A Few Days Later.

I accidentally book his return trip a day late.

2006. June.

B hails us a cab in front of our apartment at Clark and Granville. A suitable one stops and he manages to cram my luggage and the garment bag containing my wedding dress into the trunk. I feel like I should be fussier about the placement of my dress, but then I remember that if I were really fastidious, I would have chosen to fly rather than travel on the City of New Orleans. It’s just a dress. B will meet me in Memphis four days later after he finishes his Masters exams.

For now, though, I’ll be taking a sleeper car with my dress and my slipshod trousseau home for our wedding. I hang the dress from a hook in my car and put my veil on while I read Dracula as a I fall asleep, wasting no time traveling overnight.

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62 comments

  1. Chicago. Love. Sigh.

    1. It’s the best place evar.

  2. This story isn’t squashed into 600 words. It’s skillfully, artfully woven into a really nice piece that made me cry. I read it twice. I learn so much about evocative writing from your posts, Emily. Great job!

    1. Heather · · Reply

      I agree. It is very awesome.

        1. Heather · · Reply

          :-P

    2. You are way too kind, Willow. This one means a lot to me so I’m glad you liked it!

  3. Aw, so sweet! So romantic! So poignant! You and B used to be just a couple of kids!

    1. I know! Who were we?!

      1. And who are you now?

  4. sidney · · Reply

    You & your words make my world a better place….Another home run..

    1. ;D Thank you!

  5. Okay, you so made me cry. Which granted, isn’t hard these days, but they were happy tears and you also made me comment. And it may only be three sentences, but that is unheard of right now. <3 (can't make the fancy hearts from my phone)

    1. You are so sweet and I know exactly what you mean. I haven’t commented on a blog other than mine in what seems like weeks so I appreciate you coming out of the woodwork ;D xoxoxo

  6. I love this. My favorite part, it’s perfectly said: “Upon entrance, I see him with his duffel bag half his own weight and my heart explodes all over my outfit. I’m grateful that we are standing in a room that can contain the moment and do it justice. We go to Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast and look at each other across the booth.”

    1. Thanks, La La! It was a happy day, indeed.

  7. What could be more romantic that The City of New Orleans (and now I’m singing it in my head…) Beautiful piece of writing, Emily. Bless that Great Hall!

    1. I used to sing that song in my head every time I rode the train! I never knew what it referred to growing up.

  8. Linda Bodie · · Reply

    Waiting for your first novel!

    1. So sweet. Thanks ;D

  9. It certainly was a post filled with “The Waiting” – and a beautiful wedding at the end. *sigh*

    1. Life is a lot neater when you can look back on it in retrospect like that ;D

  10. Mmm I love love. And Chi town. Such a good little slice of life :)

    1. I miss Chitown like whoa. Best place ever.

      1. Totes. You should visit and then I’ll fly over just so I could see Miss C!

      2. Totes. You should visit and then I’ll fly over just so I could see Miss C!

      3. And you too obvi!

  11. Ashley Austrew · · Reply

    This is so great.

    And this paragraph:

    “The Great Hall in Union Station is one of those places that is wonderfully arrogant. It has the audacity to make moments that should remain small, big. It is hard to do anything in there without wondering if some nonexistent camera is catching you on your good side. During my stint as a Chicagoan, I eat probably 150 Chicken McNuggets on those benches and feel like I am making some kind of bold, urban statement.”

    Oh my goodness. If you weren’t taken, I’d ask you to marry me.

  12. I LOVE THIS. It is masterfully written! The structure and motifs are majestic! And it is so sweet;)

    1. <3 Thank you, wuvvy. ;D

  13. So sweet! Such beautiful vignettes tied together by one beautiful train station.

    1. Thanks, Weebs!

  14. You’re a gift to the blogosphere, Emily.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. You are too kind. This blogosphere is a gift to me.

  15. Wonderfully written… I can’t wait to read more from you!

    1. Thank you, Sarah! What a kind thing to say. Welcome!

  16. Oh, this is gorgeous. I love this. I have such a love for trains. And I must make it to Chicago someday. Must, must, must. It is on my list of things. And I cannot ignore my list of THINGS! I mean, come on. Who does that?

    1. Dude, Chicago is THE BEST. If you ever go, let me know and we’ll meet up with you ;D I have been wanting to go back like cray.

      1. Someday! This year I have two more trips already planned; next year I think will be mostly only the Finland trip (that one’s going to take most of my trip money) and the following year is Maine with the BFF and possibly one other trip…but SOMEDAY CHICAGO DAMMIT! Now that I can afford to travel, I’m making up for years of lost time!

  17. I know I haven’t been around the blogosphere much lately, Emily, but I’m very glad I showed up to read such superb writing. You perfectly pushed some very recognizable emotional buttons. There’s lovely storytelling here in these glimpses of your and B’s pre-C years.

    1. Thank you, V. During the summer I get into these very nostalgic moods where I want to luxuriate in my memories. I think it’s the smells of summer that bring them out. Thank you for taking the time out of your summer to read!

  18. How beautiful! That train is romantic to begin with. Say, betcha didn’t know I used to be a train attendant on the City of New Orleans! Except we employees had a different, slang name for it :D But hearing your story erases my “insider” bias and restores its rightful glory And let’s hear it for Lou Mitchells….

    1. Um, I think I can imagine what that slang term was. And really, the train is just asking for it. I have so many good – albeit cramped and somewhat stinky – memories of that train.

      LOU MITCHELLS. OMG. So good.

  19. Two of my babies were born in Chicago. I spent the first years of my marriage there… It is still home to us, on many levels. Love, love, love this post… about love.

    1. Chicago is such a wonderful place. I lived there for five years and very much feel like it’s still home, in a way. I can’t wait to take C some day and ride the El with her!

  20. Awwwwwwww…..I loved this. It made my heart swell. Your love story is like a chick flick and I’m a little jealous.

    1. Thank you! At first I read that as “Chick Fil-A” and I was like whaaaaaaa. I have really got to slow down. Thanks, lady ;D

      1. Mmmmmm…Chick-fil-A….

  21. What a lovely story! And I’m so glad you didn’t waste any time traveling overnight. Because that would’ve been silly.

    1. I totally agree. Ain’t nobody got time for that ;D

  22. This is very sweet. Also, trains are the best.

    1. Trains ARE the best. There is something communal and romantic about them.

      1. It’s my favorite way to travel, actually.

  23. LOVE this post. So personal and charming.
    Also, this is the station shown in My Best Friend’s Wedding, yes?

    1. Thanks! I’m not quite sure about the station though, as I am the only female under the age of 50 in the US who has not seen My Best Friend’s Wedding.

      1. Aw, WHAT? You gotta see it! We’ll make it a date.

  24. What a wonderful sentiment to grasp into your beautiful words. Your writing is so easy to read, I forget that I am reading til I get to the end and feel all emotional. It’s like eating delicious food that you savour and only know how good it tastes when you swallow that last bit and there is no more.
    Book deal coming?

    1. You are so kind! No book deals yet. I need to write one more blog post first ;D

      1. But you write columns and guest postings and have adoring fans. That’s just as fantastic. :)

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