Thirteen years. Where has the time gone? Is it hiding in the recesses of a darkened closet filled with forgotten stuffed animals and broken, fragmented toys? A missing arm to a baby doll here, an absent wheel of a little match car there. Fragmented.
Is it sleeping beneath the bed next to a lost sock, forever separated from its other half? How easy it is to lose each other, how frequent the loss. But what good is just one when the one was meant to be two? Separated.
Can it be waiting in the dusty and neglected attic among the boxes and blue plastic tubs filled with memories that tear at the heart and holiday traditions waiting to die? An old sticker book filled with the Cabbage Patch Stickers and scratch-n-sniff that strangely enough still have a faint scent after thirty-odd years. An even older maroon leather coat passed down to me by an aunt who first passed away. The same leather coat I wore on that night, the night he kissed me under a yellow moon or was it a mid-day sun?
Thirteen very long years in the blink of an eye.
Where has the time gone?
I don’t ask myself that question very often because the answer would frighten me. Frighten me enough, perhaps, to pack a suit case and drive across the country, leaving behind my home, my family, my life as everyone knows it, and take back three hours. Oh what I would do with three extra hours.
But of course those three extra hours would come at a cost, so no. I don’t ask that question very often.
So what has spurred on this remembrance of passing time, this unfortunate and unwanted recognition that time has indeed passed while I was busy walking down the cereal aisle, walking down, walking up, turning right, turning left, step after step after step?
It is the trains, or in my case it is the missing trains.
This is where the case is made beautifully for subjectivity.
Trains. What are trains?
Well they’re not just any trains, they’re Thomas the Tank Engine Trains.
Thomas the Tank Engine Trains. What are Thomas the Tank Engine Trains? A bit of wood, plastic, magnets and paint?
Yes. And then again..no. They’re a bit of my sons, a bit of a moment in time when they were mine, belonging to me and no other, a time when I was the woman in their life, the only woman, the only name. A time when my hand would swallow theirs up, a time when I could carry them close to my breast, a time when their universe was tiny and so I filled up all of the space.
But now their universe has expanded, is expanding, will continue to expand and I am shrinking. Even to my daughter, my youngest, so small. Her universe contains an alternate world with a different home, a different mother figure, a different life. How big her universe is! How small I begin to feel.
But I hold onto memories because time is contained in them. Not many anymore, but there are still some that have meaning worth holding onto. The trains are tangible reminders of a past time that was good and of a future time I hope will be. I have visions of telling my grandchildren when they come to visit that their fathers once played with the very same trains. I will remember as their little hands move them down the wooden tracks that many of them were potty rewards.
Then I will chuckle as I remember my first-born sitting on the training potty while watching Thomas on the television. I will remember how much importance that moment, the moment he made pee pees in the potty, held. The sheer joy when he succeeded and so I succeeded, and alternately, the disappointment when he did not succeed and so I did not either.
But now those trains are gone. Not all, but some. I did not notice at first. Other feet come and go through my house. And one pair of feet belongs to a very sweet boy who loves Thomas the Tank Engine. He has special needs and there are things about him that I must accept because they are things that will not change because they cannot change. He picks at things, tears things, rips things, breaks things, opens things, but I did not realize he also took things.
It’s been a few weeks and I’ve gotten Fergus back and Mavis with a very sincere apology from the sweet boy who loves Thomas the Tank Engine. I also got Diesel Ten back but it’s not my Diesel Ten because the paint is scratched off of the bottom. My Diesel Ten is gone now. Forever. I’m still missing a couple of Thomas trains: a Percy, a James, and an Edward. But they are gone now as well.
Even if they were returned I could not be certain they were the same ones that the little fingers of my sons once touched. And if I cannot be certain, well then, I suppose I don’t want them back.
So I am packing the trains away now in that dusty, neglected attic in an attempt to save what remains. I am sad I will never see my Thomas, James, Percy, or Edward. A part of me, of my sons, of that time is lost. I will buy new ones though and when I take them down from the attic I will remember my little sons and their little hands and that happy time but there will be something else.
I will remember they once had a friend, a very sweet boy who loved Thomas the Tank. I will remember all of his quirks, the sound of his voice and the way he would repeat words. I will remember his love of Ritz crackers and how he would ask me if he could have some only after eating two whole sleeves. I will remember all of the little things that go into making a person an individual.
I will remember him.