I always hated the water. When I was young, I would run along the beach, stepping as close as I could to the breaking waves without letting them catch my toes. Something about the fear, I found enticing, exciting. When the sea-foam got so close, it almost felt like a hand would reach out and grab you. Snatch you into the blue, letting the rip currents do the rest.
When I was ten years old, we moved away from the sea, inland, where the waves would never touch me, nor I the waves. We lived in a rural area, mostly farmland, aside from the small town over the railroads, where the schoolhouse was. I would walk to school (it was only twenty minutes or so, and I enjoyed the privacy). I enjoyed running my fingers along the edges of the corn fields, letting the stalks brush by, shaking off the dust that had settled on them. Each year, when the harvest came, the plants would all seem so naked, and I too felt exposed. It was as if, without the walls of crop, my thoughts were open for anyone to see.
The nakedness would leave me feeling restless and despondent, and, in those days, I would wait by the train tracks after school until a train came, and I would run alongside it as fast as I could, trying to pull ahead. Unlike the waves though, the trains always won, and it would leave me feeling still restless, but now too tired to do anything about that restlessness.
By the time I was twelve, I had made a few close friends, who joined me by the tracks when the season came. Some days, we would just sit and let the wind of the trains buffet against us like it did the bare fields. Other days though, the eerie hum of the galloping train over the tracks inspired in us some mischief. We would conspire against one of our friends to all jump across the tracks at the last moment, leaving the other alone on the other side of the train. On the days when it was my turn to be left, I would be reminded of the waves, stealing the shells that would wash up, leaving me dancing around its skirted edges.
One day, like so many others, we poked along the rails in the mid-November chill. We were going to trick the little brother of one of my friends, who had come with us that day. Hearing the familiar hum of the tracks, we looked at one another, making sure we were all ready. Then, when we sensed the train coming near, we darted across to the other side.
The train was passing now, and we laughed, thinking how confused he must be, on the other side. After the few minutes it took for the train to pass, we stood looking at a vacant field. His older brother, suddenly worried, shouted his name to no response. Instructing us to split up and search for him, I headed further down the tracks. It wasn’t long before I found his size-two, mangled, left sneaker. Looking up from the shoe, silent, I saw that fated pile of cloth and body, torn and strangled, two-hundred feet further down the tracks.
He did not know the rails like we did, and he had tried to follow us. Stepping across, his foot caught in the old, splintered wood, and he fell. By the time we had turned around, the train was passing, and he was passed. The train had carried him several hundred feet down the tracks, before spitting him out.
That was ten years ago. Now, I’m sitting in the sand, by my old home. The water runs through my toes.