Millbrae: Train Tracks of my Youth

DSC00068I just read an uplifting post at Teddy and Tottie, a family enjoying themselves and the holidays.

Color me green with envy.  It’s not that I had a bad holiday.  To the contrary, I have two great sons, four adorable cats and a husband who is all you could ask for in a partner. I have extraordinary friends and a comfortable life.  I want for nothing.

Depression, however, colors things grey.  It tosses a blanket over the light and strips your energy.  It paints things with a lackluster brush.  We’re well acquainted, depression and me, but we’re not friends.  Regardless, it shows up each year and settles in for a while.

The triggers are all too familiar, but since I can’t change the past, cancel the holidays or renegotiate the date on my mother’s death certificate, I simply work at remaining aware and try to be kind to myself.

We headed to The City for a family outing this week on a train that travels through Millbrae.  When our train made the scheduled stop at the Millbrae station and without a hint of diplomacy, my old acquaintance took a seat in the invisible row of my past.  Depression cozied up to my cerebral cortex and made himself comfortable.

And so it goes.

I wrote the following piece in long-hand while riding the same train several years ago.  It flowed out of my pores and helps explain the sorrow.

If you suffer seasonal depression, my heart goes out to you.  Let’s continue together to toss that blanket aside once and for all.

Train Tracks of my Youth

Standing on the Millbrae platform of a train bound for San Jose, memories dribbled out of me like a wound that won’t quite heal. The longer I stood, the sadder I felt, heavy, burdened, questioning as I stared down the train tracks of my youth.

Our family moved to Millbrae in 1968. My father succumbed to lung cancer a year later, victim to his habit of smoking hand-rolled, unfiltered Player cigarettes. He was 54. What should have been a temporary residence on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks became our home for 7 years.

After our father died, Mom found work in the City and rode those tracks north each day. We waited for her to come home at night, listening for the evening train. Having lost one parent, it suddenly seemed feasible that we could lose the other. The relief was palpable when she walked in the door. I remember the smell of her suede cape, her cool, soft cheek and the undeniable release of fear for another day.

We crossed those tracks daily to attend school, the not-so-subtle border between the slums of Millbrae and the mostly white, affluent hills of this small community. A boy named Dwight once caught up to me as I walked home alone on those tracks, charming and polite, he was tall, dark-skinned and interested in me, a potent combination at any age . But he was to appear a few weeks later at our bus stop, arms bleeding, flogged by his father for some unknown infraction. Confused and horrified, I felt very alone. Shortly thereafter his family moved.

We spent our summer on our side of the tracks playing kick the can and hanging out at an apartment pool reading discarded issues of Mad magazine. I was at home with our crowd on Garden Lane, the have-nots who didn’t need to explain. I played with a boy named Robert, our champion player, his friend Scott and my sister Sharon among others. There was a girl from Puerto Rico named Teresa who exuded sex appeal from every pore. She knew a lot more about boys then I did and got to kiss the one I had a crush on.

We survived those years dodging drugs and unwanted pregnancies and went on to graduate from college. But I would be lying if I said we made it through unscathed. For in that rough-and-tumble neighborhood on a street called Garden Lane I saw things that I still don’t really understand: the cries of a woman beaten by her boyfriend; the squawk of her parrot, also agitated and scared; the sight of a father beating his four-year old with a switch; and the cruelty of a boy exploding a frog with a firecracker before my devastated eyes.

Garden Lane was a place of loss and violence, pain and sorrow, first crushes and the dawning sexuality of a shy, freckle-faced girl. The train tracks remain but Garden Lane is gone, obliterated by tractors and wrecking balls to make way for a BART station in its place. Plowed under but not forgotten, it continues to parallel the train tracks of my youth.