Santa Fe Depot

A little less than a year ago my son and I were traveling back from a camping trip in central California. We got hung up due to some full flights in Los Angeles and faced the choice of staying the night in Los Angeles or catching the train down to San Diego. My son was immediately all for taking the train and we ended up arranging it just in time. We caught the last car out of the Los Angeles station heading to San Diego. It was a beautiful ride and confirmed my love of traveling by train. It's a slower pace but a much more comfortable and pleasurable journey.

It was already late and of course it took little time for the cliched rhythmic beat of the trains to lull my son to sleep. He has quite a talent for sleeping on me in a way that perfectly limits my movement in peculiarly uncomfortable, albeit adorable ways. I suspect he mastered this talent during long flights to India. In any event, we arrived in San Diego at the Santa Fe Depot quite late and though I'd been through the depot many times on the city trolley lines it had a new import for me as the train slowly pulled in, my son rising just in time to take in the view.

"Pacific Surfliner" Now Arriving San Diego
The Santa Fe Depot's Moorish architecture of displacement— 
squeaky kids trawl satchels through the shed, happy voices 
mystically far from home, the waiting room's fizzled, tiled light 
of life lived imperfectly between one where and another. 
Everybody's here. Cowboys, Mennonites, Tijuana illegals, 
Muslim cabbies at prayer on loading docks as dark clouds 
fuss above the southerly sun past its prime. 
Killing time, a life mostly miscues and hesitance, 
I want something to take me over so looked for you 
near the baggage claim's glide, who could have been   
anybody from everywhere, like Ellis Island's ghosts, 
their dump of cardboard valises, bindles, baby-fat sacks 
strangled by hemp, and around me here long-haul lovers who 
in sleepers last night loved to exhaustion. Scorched roughnecks, 
perfumed girls in heels grabbing Samsonites and golf bags 
schooling the carousel's louvered U-turns and straightaways. 
It must be why I'm here, to wait and see who claims 
what looks too much like your brown suede duffel, 
no "Antigua" or "Cancun" decaled in its hide, 
nasal music threading the scene while tonight you weave 
through songs somewhere else. That floppy bag and us— 
the Garment District, two Venices, South End, South Philly, 
scraped nap, brass clips, gaunt warmed handle. . . 
A teenage girl two-hands it off the belt and waddles 
into the runny sun, your bag five years late 
thumping freshened thighs and dimpled knees. 
Where are you now that you're here again for me? 
Hear these thrilled voices, 
                                       the engine horn howling? 
                                                                                 Smell these acid residues?
Source: Poetry (March 2008).

Every other week my son is away from me. My worry and concern for his safety and well being while at his birth mother's are difficult to convey, though easy to validate. I fought like hell for full custody of him and thought it a clear case for his physical and mental safety, for his best interest. But, the court system had a strong penchant for seeing even the most remote possibility for improvement in a birth mother's state as adequate reason for dismissing concerns as conjecture. I lost my battle and it will almost certainly always feel like the greatest failure of my life.

It can be unspeakably difficult to explain the challenges that come with every Sunday on which he leaves for a week away. While no parent can secure safety and well being for their children all of the time, to surrender your little loved one to an unstable, precarious week, month after month is grueling. But I fight on, week after week because I cannot imagine being another way for son... or myself. 

Pulling in to Santa Fe Depot that night was one of those moments seared in to my memory—the weight of his head on my lap, the soft round form of his brow, the heaviness of his sleeping breath. I have experienced too many worries and concerns for my son already, though not as many as some, and already I can feel that great weight of legacy on my shoulders. What kind of human being do I want my son to remember me as? And, do I even get a say in the matter? I want to protect him and give him all the opportunities he deserves. But, I am, after all, human, all too human.