There were too many of us, Lizzy thought, tucking herself behind a door jamb.
Her father smoked in stony silence in front of a television, while her mother swatted her brothers who snatched fingerfuls of mashed potatoes from a large bowl on the dining room table.In various sizes, her brothers pushed and yelled, whining about being hungry, complaining about being late for football or wrestling practice, asking if there were any more chocolate doughnuts from the bakery.
As usual, her mother was cross, but she never yelled. She would slam cabinets and drawers full of silverware. She would burn the rolls and watch frozen peas spill out from the freezer and onto the floor. She’d forget to strain cans of fruit cocktail, mixing it all with Cool Whip and mini marshmallows until it was all a gray, soupy mess. She’d fail to cut the fat off pot roasts, serving it balefully on a pewter dish, decorated with half-cooked potatoes and mushy carrots, glistening in its oleaginous glory on a chipped ceramic serving dish.
Her father never yelled.
He didn’t talk much, either.
Dinner was served precisely at 5:30 p.m.
Her brothers would descend from the upstairs bedrooms like locusts, impatiently waiting for the precursory prayer to be mumbled before eating their mother’s cooking, hand over fist. When the boys were satiated, they’d disburse, leaving the house for a variety of activities and adventures.
Lizzy stayed home.
The brothers were all much older than she, and Lizzy was glad when they left, taking their manic energy with them.
If they weren’t eating, they were hurling creative insults or shoving one another. Sometimes they hit each other. Sometimes lamps and glass panes were broken.
The house almost sighed with relief to have them gone.
Only when she was sure they had left, she’d gather her books to board her train—the train in the basement closet.
Lizzy was the youngest, the “accident.” She often found her way into the basement closet, a nondescript place, unremarkable in every way. But it was quiet and cozy.
After dinner, Lizzy asked her silent parents to be excused from the table. When they tersely nodded, she scampered downstairs. She opened the closet door, then clambered over boxy pieces of luggage, baskets of gloves and mittens, piles of sporting equipment, bins of various winter boots and galoshes.
I am on a train, she imagined, finally reaching the far back wall. How wonderful to pretend to be in a sleeper car, sealed off from the rest of the passengers, alone, a window open to the picturesque countryside that streamed by!
She envisioned the train car holding all of her worldly goods: a few books, a yellow teddy bear, a purse full of penny candy, her favorite sweater—all within arm’s reach in her tidy, small compartment.
Maybe the stewards would bring her meals to eat in her room? She sighed with pleasure at the possibility. In her mind, she conjured up plates of spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread, toasted to a buttery gold. She would order glasses of whole milk and corn on the cob and ice cream. She imagined dishes filled to the brim in a dazzling array: pork ribs, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, pancakes.
Rarely did platters of food make it all the way around at her own dining table, as her brothers were “growing” and needed to eat their fill.
I am on a train, she decided. And I can order what I want to eat.
Lizzy heard the train’s wheels turn, the brakes hiss and creak, the calls of the conductor, the quick steps of passengers settling in. With great joy, she switched the scenery in her mind from the low deserts of Arizona to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania to the fertile greens of the Carolinas.
I am heading south. She felt the warmth of a fictitious sun on her cold feet. She opened the basket of wintry things, pulling out a thick wool blanket. Though it smelled musty, it comforted her.
She secured it tightly around herself.
I am going far away and fast.
Her oldest brother was angry like her father, but restless, like a panther locked in a small cage.
He had bumped into her, coming down the stairs one night, when the other siblings were gone.
Watch where you’re going, he said.
She made herself smaller and said nothing.
I said, watch where you’re going.
She looked at him briefly, but there was something dark in his eyes.
It made her stomach hurt.
She turned and scurried up the stairs.
Another time when she’d disembarked from her train, she climbed out of the closet only to find her oldest brother there, dressed in his skimpy wrestling outfit.
What do you do in there, he asked.
She ducked her head and tried to go under his arm.
He grabbed her by the collar of her tee shirt.
I asked you a question.
She just shook her head, pulling away from his grasp.
I could teach you to wrestle.
She pushed past him.
He laughed at her.
She had quit boarding the train in the closet for weeks, staying up in the bedroom she shared with her youngest brother.
He was the loudest, jumping on both beds and throwing Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs at her.
She had eyed their shared closet.
Perhaps there was another train station in the house?
She investigated it briefly, but it was no use. Her youngest brother’s collections of rocks and butterfly wings and matchbooks cluttered up the floorspace.
There was no room for her there.
In time, she felt the overwhelming need to go—far away and fast.
After dinner, she excused herself and descended the stairs.
The closet door was wide open.
She ached with the need to be nestled in the back of the closet, safe, away from her silent parents and problematic brothers and the stifled cries that stuck in her throat.
She fought her way to the far back wall, eyes brimming with tears.
I am on a train, she begged, making her way over the luggage and boxes of forgotten memorabilia.
I am on a train, going far away and fast.
🜋 🜋 🜋
After her third divorce, it seemed appropriate for Lizzy to get to the root of her problems.
In addition to her ex-husbands, she’d left a string of high paying jobs, moving into smaller and smaller living accommodations until she finally found a 600 square foot efficiency, right in the middle of downtown.
It seemed to suit her best.
“Do you want to talk about your estranged daughter?”
“No,” Lizzy replied coolly. “We can save that for another time.”
“All right,” the therapist conceded. “What do you remember about your childhood?”
Lizzy turned away silently, uncomfortable with the question.
She boarded a luxury liner in her mind, a sleeping car, sealed off from the rest of the passengers, wanting to go far away and fast.
But the train did not move.
“What do you remember about your childhood?” the therapist asked again, waiting for Lizzy to respond.
An older woman, tucking herself behind a door jamb, let out a small cry, one that had been lodged in her throat.
“There were too many of us.”