RTZ Entry

So, I thought long and hard about what to do for my Return to Zero book submission.  They are only taking 80 entries, so I wanted to make sure mine was top notch.  I wanted to make sure I captured the raw emotion of loss in telling my story, but some of my early entries that did so were too hard to read again.  I tried, but failed.  And I am no longer in that jaggedly raw state, so I wasn't conveying the emotion I wanted to when I tried to start from scratch.   So, I chose to do a few edits and rewrites to an original blog post, Railroaded.   Please take some time to read through this submission and feel free to give me any feedback you have.   Don't be shy.  I can take it.   Thank you, friends!   Hopefully, you'll see my words published in a book as a result!

Here it is:

Mike and I clutched hands excitedly and sprinted towards the train station.  Steam rose from the engine with a hiss as it readied itself for departure.  We needed to make this one!  Although the train schedule was fairly regular, once this one left, we’d have to wait for the next one, and the journey from here to our Destination was a long one.   After all this time waiting, I didn’t want to keep putting these travel plans on hold.  It was time to go!  We scurried up the wooden steps of the platform, our shoes click-clacking as we ran.  Mike clutched the metal railing on the side of the train and pulled himself up.  He reached out his hand to me, swinging me hastily inside.  We found our way to our seats and settled ourselves in for the long ride.   The scenery rushed by in a blur, but it was still beautiful because it was lining the way to where we wanted to be!  As I sat there, snuggled in my seat, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like when we finally got to our Destination!  So many of my friends had already arrived and sent me postcards and photos of their happy lives – smiling and laughing and having a great time!   I couldn’t wait!  It was going to be the greatest adventure ever!
                After a while, the attendant came by to punch our tickets, which we happily handed over.  The attendant took a quick scan of the barcode, and the ticket beeped cheerfully.  He smiled and handed our tickets back to us.  “Enjoy your trip!” he said.  As the train chugged along, Mike and I chatted excitedly about all of the things we would do once we arrived.  We made plans about all the sights we would see and the fun we would have.  Despite hearing from our friends that the weather there wasn’t all sunshine and blue skies, we weren’t worried.  We knew about the storms with howling wind and rumbling thunder that could keep you awake all night long, but we were ready for them.  We’d packed ponchos and earplugs in our carry-on and we knew we would be able to handle the sleepless nights in style!  It would be worth it just to be there with everyone else, where we could all finally be together.  We were the last of our friends to take this trip to the Destination.  We had scrimped and saved and planned for our tickets for years and – finally! – it was happening!  Over the course of our trip, the attendant came by to rescan our ticket a few times.  Each time, it beeped, he smiled, and the train continued to speed along.
                The longer I sat in my seat, the more uncomfortable I became.  My ankles started to swell from sitting down so long, my back started to ache, and I was exhausted.    Mike, being the wonderful and supportive husband that he is, rubbed my shoulders and brought me snacks.  “We’re almost there, Babe,” he said reassuringly.  And we were!  From the window of the train, I could see signs for our Destination.  The number of miles next to the name getting smaller and smaller with each sign we passed.   Soon!  I could hardly contain myself!  Even Mike, who was usually so cool, calm, and collected, was showing signs of joyous anticipation.
                The door slid open and the attendant made his way to us again.  One last swipe before we arrive!  We pulled out our tickets and handed them over.  No big deal.  We’d done this a dozen times before.  He waved the scanner over our tickets.  No beep.  That’s weird.  It should work.  “Swipe it again,” I said.  “I’m sure it’s just a glitch in your machine.”  He scanned it one more time.  Nothing.  The attendant’s smile vanished.  “I’m sorry,” he muttered, “You’re going to have to exit the train.  These tickets can’t take you to the end of the line.” 
                What??  Exit the train?  This can’t be!  We bought our tickets for the whole trip, and they worked fine until now.   Why, all of a sudden, when we were so close, did we have to get off?  Everyone was waiting for us!  “Welcome!” had been lovingly and painstakingly painted on banners hung from the rafters.  Housewarming gifts had been purchased.  A new life waited for us there.  We can’t possibly get off the train now!
                The attendant walked over to the side of the car and pulled a lever.  With that, the train came to a sudden and screeching halt.  Mike and I were thrown forward with such force, we slammed into the seats in front of us and then tumbled onto the floor.  “I’m sorry,” the attendant said again.  “You’re going to have to get off.  Now.”   I’d hit my head against the seat pretty hard, and a soft, warm trickle of blood fell from my forehead.  I was dizzy and confused.  Mike winced as he stood up.  He brushed himself off and then carefully and tenderly helped me stand.  I looked over at the attendant with pleading eyes, hoping against all odds he’d change his mind.   He shook his head and pointed to the door.
                We had no choice.  Our ticket didn’t beep anymore, and we weren’t allowed to continue to the Destination without a ticket.  We hobbled to the door of the train and gingerly eased ourselves down the steps and onto the platform that waited below.  As soon as our feet hit the ground, the train’s doors zipped closed without apologies, and the train took off like a flash.  Without us.  We were stranded in the middle of nowhere.   Just a moment ago, we thought we were about to embark upon the biggest adventure of our lives, and now here we were.  Stranded.  Alone.   Far from home, and even farther from where we wanted to be.  Where we were supposed to be.
                It’s common knowledge the trains only travel in one direction – to the Destination.  In order to continue our journey, we would have to start from the train station where we boarded.  Miles and miles and miles away.  The only way to get to where we were going was to walk all the way back home and then hope with all our might that our timing would be right enough to catch another train.
                When the gravity of our situation hit me, I began to sob.  “We were so close!” I moaned.  “Why can’t we just keep going?  I just want to be there already!  I don’t want to start over!”   Mike held me close and rubbed my back.  With shimmering eyes, he said to me, “I know, baby.  I know.  But we have to.  And we can do it.  We can.  Together.”
“But what if we don’t catch the train again?”  I panic.
“We will.  We caught it the first time.”   He is soft and reassuring.
“But what if they kick us off again? What if our ticket stops working?”
“We will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.  I love you, and we can do this.  We’ll get there.  Just a little later than we thought.”
                We called all of our friends and told them what had happened – that we weren’t going to make it this time.  That we were going to have to walk home and try to catch another train.  We cried.  They cried with us.  We had been so excited. 
                To fall from such great heights to such a depth of sadness so quickly is almost too much for a heart to bear.  I fell to my knees and screamed.  I clutched my chest.  Over and over and over again, I broke into a million pieces at that train station.  Several trains whizzed past us, but none of them stopped.  They were someone else’s train, not mine.  They were taking someone else to the Destination, but not me.  Mike stood beside me while I moaned on the ground, keeping watch over my grief.  After what seemed like a thousand years, I realized I couldn’t stay like this forever.  If I ever wanted to get to the Destination, I had to first find my way back home.  All. the. way. back. home.  So, I stood up and I brushed the dirt and dust from my coat.  I picked up my suitcase, which felt so much heavier than it did before, and I took Mike’s hand in mine.  After one final glance into the horizon, where the sun shone brightly over the Destination, we turned into the darkness.   And we began to walk. 


  1. Rebecca,

    I know you already submitted this, but this was the first chance I got to sit and give your entry the attention it deserved. This is beautifully written, and I am sure the perspective will be refreshing to the selection committee. As always an amazing job conveying these the emotions. Your way with words is truly a gift.


  2. This is amazing. Chills. You're a wonderful writer.

  3. I really enjoyed this. I'm sad that we share this sadness. Hugs.