My adulthood has been much better than my childhood. Hurt children don’t have to grow up to be hurtful parents and, luckily, I have made that how I approach the world. I don’t hit my kids. I don’t call them names. I don’t punish them in bizarre and crazy ways. I try to be an example that they can strive to be like one day.
I don’t talk much about my own childhood, but you can glean whatever you like from the stories I’ve told. There’s a reason certain people go unmentioned in these blogs and aren’t included in my life. There’s a reason they don’t reach out either. Everyone involved knows why. Everyone who was around me during that time knows why too.
Tales from my younger years could easily be used to justify some pretty whacked out behavior, if I wanted to be a pretty whacked out adult. I could scorch the Earth around me and alienate everyone who comes near, but I don’t. I routinely say it’s because I had a surprise quintuple bypass in 2012 that saved my life and changed my world perspective, but that’s not entirely true. I had always been this way to an extent. I’d rather overcome my problems than let them become my excuse.
The best statement I can offer to explain my way of thinking is simple. I still take the train.
What does that mean? It means that when I was eight years old, I fell under the Long Island Railroad. This, like other head-turning stories I’ve told from those days, isn’t a metaphor. It’s an event that genuinely happened and one that could have literally ended my life long before it really started.
People assume that this was a result of me running off on my own. It’s not. This story doesn’t begin with me skipping along dangerously. This story begins with me holding a grown-up’s hand.
The Lindenhurst train station has raised tracks so, to get to the platform, you need to go up a long flight of stairs. To an eight-year-old, it feels like a mountain to climb. Waiting on the open-air platform, you can see all the neighboring rooftops around you. That’s what I had been doing that day. As soon as the train pulled up, we started walking down the line to find an empty car.
With the doors about to open, I began walking towards one. The space between the platform and the train must have been fairly wide, though, because my eight-year-old leg quickly began to sink. Unexpectedly, I felt myself fall in up to my knee and called out to the person holding my hand. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I remember seeing them turn their head to look.
Then, suddenly, no one was holding my hand anymore.
My whole body slid into the opening, and I landed in the concrete spacing between the actual track and the station’s structure itself. In a flash, the world had gone from sunny to dim. The whole scene was surreal. Legitimately stunned, I looked around for a moment to get my bearings.
The wall and floor of the track had been built with a slight gap between them, presumably to allow air flow. I looked down and could see how far up I was. There was a brief worry that I was about to fall again, this time to the pavement below. I remember the heads of people below me.
Then, I looked up and I saw the feet of people above me. The soles of their shoes stepped over my head, and I started to realize that the train would soon pull away and I would probably die. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I knew that no one was reaching down to get me.
Despite the entire ordeal lasting probably less than a minute, I remember thinking that I could just push off the track itself and stand up. I examined the metal bars nestling the base of the train mere feet in front of me and, although there are probably infinite universes where I touched them, I chose not to.
Instead, I looked up and I yelled. I didn’t yell words or pleas for help. I literally yelled, “Ahhhh!”
One of the feet stopped and a man looked down into the gap. He reached his hand towards me and I grabbed it with both of mine. He pulled me up to the platform and saved my life.
I wish I could say that this event changed me, but I was already pretty shaken up by that age. My arm had been broken from either the fall or the pull. At eight, this was my second broken bone. Following a fractured femur two years earlier from a car accident, I was wracking up the breaks. Life besides that wasn’t so great either.
The most chilling part of the whole thing was that we still got on the train. Seriously. I held my arm in place with a makeshift sling and the conductor sat with us until we pulled into New York City and paramedics came. In a thick New Yawk accent, he said a something that has always stuck with me.
It’s a good thing he didn’t touch that track or 10,000 volts would have gone through him.
Yeah. Good thing is an understatement.
Of course, the grown up with me had a heroic story of their own about calling for help and vowing that if I had died, they would have too. It was lots of the same stuff I had become desensitized to. No parts of the story involved them reaching down to get me.
Back in the 1980s, they didn’t do much for trauma, so I still was put on trains for field trips and things like that. The first few times were terrifying. The worst, though, was going down escalators. Looking far below had a whole different meaning for me at that point. Honestly, I still don’t love them.
But I take them. I take the train too. It doesn’t mean that my traumatic event wasn’t real or doesn’t deserve respect. I means that I have done everything to overcome my trauma rather than let it become an excuse to define me. If I have to take my kids on a train, I do it. If we need to go down an escalator, we go down an escalator. I’ve worked hard to overcome, I’ve worked hard to get over a lot of those years.
Who I was and what I went through in those times made me who I am today. I’ve survived much worse than this and will continue to survive in the future. I’m still alive after that, which means I won.