The train was going to stop in Hudson.
This is going to hurt, I thought.
Of course, should have known this was going to happen before I boarded the train from New York’s Penn Station to Albany for the Labor Day weekend. I could have looked at the schedule, for one thing. And for another, I’d taken the train the other way two years ago, coming back from the Adirondacks to Hudson, when Hudson was the biggest town nearest to what had been my home in Columbia County.
I have not been back since I carried off what little I decided to take of my belongings. I have not had any wish to return. But here I was, on a train that was stopping in the station downtown, if only for a few minutes, and this was just how it was going to be.
I’d only lived in Columbia County for just under a year, from August 2011 to July 2012, having turned a weekend home into a full-time home for what turned out to be the last months of my marriage. During that time, I ricocheted between between appreciating the country life — picking fresh blueberries in the afternoon! running on a rail-trail with no exhaust in my lungs! — and missing New York City with something like a physical ache. In my journals, I wondered whether my “not quite right” feeling was entirely bad, whether it meant necessarily that the move we’d made had been a huge mistake, or whether it was normal and I’d simply adjust. “It is certainly different,” I’d conclude, provisionally.
After the trip to the Adirondacks to see foliage in October two years ago, I boarded a train eventually bound for New York City. “Where are you going?” asked the conductor standing on the platform.
“Hudson,” I said, and she directed me towards the car to my left. Behind me, the young man boarding was asked the same question and he answered “Manhattan,” with a tone of obvious satisfaction. He was sent to the other car. I thought about his answer. I thought that he was probably not from New York originally, as I was, since then he would have answered either “the city” or “New York,” instead of “Manhattan.”
We slid down the Hudson River, and then there were the Catskills in the distance, and a setting sun, and I got off the train, walking away from the people on the platform waiting to board for the train to New York. I took a deep breath, appreciating the sharp clean air, and paused to watch the train pull away down the track. I’m supposed to still be on that train, I thought. This was an unwelcome and unhelpful thought, so as an antidote, I made myself imagine how it would be to pull into Penn Station, the hot and crowded track, how it would smell like bleach and fast food and something sort of curdled. Although then I also pictured how I would rise up on the escalator to Seventh Avenue and after the taxi line, the woosh of being pressed back into the seat of the cab, as it pulled away, among all the people. I always liked that moment.
In the Hudson Amtrak parking lot, I was entirely alone. I’d gotten to my car, a very old and crochety Mercedes, and somehow — I still don’t know how — I set off an alarm I didn’t even know it had. The horn was beeping, the lights were flashing, I couldn’t figure out how to make it stop. Calls were placed to the husband, the pages of the owner’s manual were frantically flipped, and eventually I determined the right sequence of actions to make the blaring stop.
This, again, I caught myself thinking, as I started to drive home. Another thought I didn’t want to have. Later, I wrote this in my journal:
There’s still much that I don’t know how to do here, still much that is outside my comfort zone and therefore that I am feeling dread about, that’s what “this again” thought was about, right? I’m back into the challenge of this new life. I knew the challenges of the old life in the city, at least. I traded them in for these challenges. I’d rather have these challenges. But these are still challenges and discomforts. And it’s so unpredictable.
But then as I drove home, I realized that I’m getting familiar with the road. Oh, there’s the library and then a dark stretch without any lights, then the light near Pigasso farm, then a dark stretch, and then the turn for our road. I saw two foxes in my headlights on the road. And I turned into the house and the feeling I had upon seeing the house was not “this again,” it was, “I am home.” But I am not yet at home here and probably won’t be at home here for real for a while.
All of this I thought about last weekend, as the train pulled into Hudson. I watched the people disembarking for their holiday weekend in the country. I couldn’t see that much out the window, but I could see the place where I used to buy my coffee, the sign for the art movie theater I had frequented. And I remembered who I was, then, a woman with a different last name, who thought that she knew something about life being unpredictable. How little I really knew, or course, and especially about pain.
But I know about pain now, and the few minutes in Hudson did hurt, just as I thought it would. And it hurt again at the end of the weekend, when the train stopped there on my home to New York City. But I also knew it would pass. And the ache did subside, as the train pulled away from Hudson carrying me back to my home, to the city.
Alison J. Stein
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