July 22nd- 2015
The train made its way into the station, running right on time as always. The train on the Recovery Road makes its stops and picks up those who are ready to make their way to a better place. Before they can get there though they need to rest for a while and heal for the better part of the weeks ahead.
“Tickets please. Tickets!” the Conductor shouts.
“I’m sorry for yelling everyone. It’s just that some of you have hearing impairments and I need to have things running smoothly now. TICKETS! TICKETS PLEASE! Again, I am sorry for yelling. Just doing my job.”
Mark took his ticket to Recovery Road out of his back pocket where he keeps all of this paperwork for safe keeping, knowing full well that this is probably the worst place to keep something that he doesn’t want stolen.
“Ah, Mr. Alderson. We’ve been told of your arrival and want to thank you for making it to the trip to Recovery Road.” the Conductor winks and punches Mark’s ticket. It seemed a little creepy but it was probably because he was an older man and winking wasn’t always creepy when he was younger.
“It doesn’t exactly feel like recovery road. I threw up a few times already and my body is in a lot of pain.” Mark replied to the Conductor.
“But the cancer is gone, yes?”
“Well. Yeah. But I am pretty beat up and not that strong mentally.”
Mark tried lifting his baggage but was weak from surgery. The Conductor smiled and helped him with the heavy baggage.
“Beat up, A bit depressed, still nauseous, in pain, and weak. But cancer free, huh?”
The Conductor punched Mark’s ticket.
“Welcome to your trip towards Recovery Road, my friend.” The Conductor winked again and began walking down the aisle.
“TICKETS! HAVE YOU TICKETS READY! AGAIN- SORRY FOR YELLING!”
Mark settled into his seat. Normally he chooses a window seat to look at the landscape but the chemo therapy left his body weak and unable to calm his bladder for too long and he didn’t want to annoy anyone else in his row by having to pee every hour. The aisle seat wasn’t so bad. Plus they had episodes of “Friends” playing in standard definition on the TV screens and if you squinted just right, you could see the ridiculous faces they all would make. The 90’s TV show made Mark feel a bit nostalgic.
Nostalgia was an emotion that kept coming up in Mark’s limbic system lately and he couldn’t quite figure out why. Perhaps it was because he was depressed and wished for a better time. But he had a wife-to-be and a great family so why would he be nostalgic? And why the depression? Without coming up for an answer, Mark just realized that he was on Recovery Road and the feeling wouldn’t last forever. Beating cancer is tough. Mark didn’t know that recovery was just as tough.
“This seat taken, young man?” A middle aged mid-western man with a weathered face asked Mark.
Mark looked around and saw multiple seats available but didn’t want to be rude.
“Not at all.” Mark moved his iPad and put it in the overhead compartment. It was making him feel seasick anyway.
“Mighty kind of you to give up your seat like that. My name is George. But most people just call me Cowboy. Don’t really know why, maybe it’s because I talk with an accent. However, most of America talks with an accent and we don’t call them all Cowboy. I feel like it’s akin to calling my friend just “Mexican” because of his heritage. Funny, his name is George too, except he goes by Jorge. Either way, people have been calling me Cowboy most my life and it sort of grew on me”
“Oh, I’m Mark. Named after my great grandfather. I guess that’s all to my story.”
“Oh I’m sure that ain’t all there is to your story. You’re on the road to recovery. There must be something else to ya.”
Cowboy sat right next to him in the middle seat. Had Mark known that Cowboy was going to sit right next to him, perhaps he would have said that the seat was taken. But Mark doesn’t like to lie and clearly Cowboy would have found out.
“What are you in for?” Cowboy asked while he grabbed a handful of beef jerky from his pocket.
“Cancer. Second time. Feeling pretty beat up.”
“Ah. The big C. I remember my road to recovery from that nasty disease. Have you hit the point where you hate your doctors for making you feel disgusting but love them for saving your life?”
“Yeah. Sorta feeling that right now. I guess I feel swindled because they said all I had to do was relax during recovery but I can’t stop vomiting and feeling pain. And the depression has been really getting to me.”
“Yeah, I betcha thought you were going to be ready to run a marathon after surgery and chemo, huh?”
“Well. Yeah, I’ve been so down for months and I figured I would be able to go into high gear after chemo and surgery.”
“You ever drive a tractor, Mark?”
Mark actually thought about this question for a bit. He knew the answer but he felt like he should check his database to see if he had or not.
“No. I haven’t”
Cowboy swallowed his handful of jerky. He even made a slight gulping noise.
“If you take a tractor that’s been parked for so long and throw it into high gear, you’re gonna break down faster than a new ride at Disneyland. You gotta give your body time.”
Mark knew that Cowboy was right. Even the expert imagineers at Disneyland can’t seem to make a new ride work. Even after years of tests and millions of dollars spent, Disneyland still can’t make a new ride work in high gear! Just look at the Rocket Rods incident of 1998!
Mark mentally allowed himself to go into first gear and lean into the relaxing of Recovery Road.
“What are you in for, Cowboy?” Mark asked mimicking Cowboy’s accent. He didn’t mean to but it just came out that way.
“Well, I figure I should tell ya since we may be here a while.”
Cowboy rustled in his seat a bit and pulled out a picture from his wallet and showed Mark.
“That’s my boy. He passed away recently.”
Mark started thinking multiple thoughts. Wasn’t this the train for cancer patients? Was Cowboy sick too? How did his son pass away?
“I’m sorry to hear that. How are you doing?”
“Well. I’m on this train aint I? No one wants to be on the Recovery Road but it’s something we all have to go through.”
“So um, you don’t- have cancer?”
“Nope. Not anymore at least. I kicked the stuff about 12 years ago. Nah I’m on this train for my boy.”
Cowboy grabbed another handful of beef jerky and kindly offered some to Mark. A lot of food lately still made him nauseated but dehydrated meat with a stranger sounded pretty good right now. Mark stuck his hand in the bag and got a good piece of jerky.
“So, you’re telling me that this train isn’t just for cancer patients?” Mark said with his mouth full.
“No sir, a lot of people are on Recovery Road. In fact, most people you encounter are recovering from something. Some people get off the train before others and some are travelling for what seems like forever, but what is for sure is that one time or another- we all go for a ride.”
Cowboy gulped his jerky. Mark gulped his as well but realized he probably should have chewed it a bit longer because it was a little rough going down.
Mark heard the faint sound of a laugh track and was startled by Cowboy’s instant laugh.
“HAHAHA! Oh man, I love that Chandler Bing character. He’s always good for a laugh.” Cowboy said as he held his belly just above his belt buckle in the shape of an eagle.
“Yeah. He’s good. Hey, um, do you ever feel guilty about laughing during Recovery Road?” Mark asked in a whispered voice.
“Hell no. Absolutely not. Heck, if no one laughed during recovery, we’d all be fucked. Sorry for my language. I just wanted to get my point across.”
“What’s the point of not feeling laughter and joy? Why deprive yourself of something that makes you naturally feel good. Heck, I try to laugh from my gut at least three times a day.
Mark tried to remember the last time he laughed 3 times a day during his battle with cancer. Without coming up with a time, he made a mental note to make sure to laugh more. Usually he writes his notes down on his phone but the anesthesia was wearing off and he was getting sick again.
Mark excused himself and rushed to the small bathroom in the back.
Cowboy winked and looked out the window.
Mark wondered if he should start winking more because lately it seemed pretty charming. Before he could make up his mind he started dry heaving.
Mark rushed to the bathroom just as Phoebe Buffay said something quirky to ignite an uproarious laugh track. He heard Cowboy laughing loudly as he pushed the Conductor aside to make it to the bathroom in time.
The train had come to a stop just as Mark was cleaning himself up from seeing his beef jerky again and was able to make his way back to his seat.
“TICKETS! I NEED YOUR TICKETS! SORRY FOR YELLING BUT IT’S MY JOB!” the Conductor shouted just as Mark passed him on the way to his seat.
As Mark returned to his aisle he found an elderly woman sitting where Cowboy had been.
“Excuse me. Did you see a man sitting here before?” Mark asked the kind Old Woman.
“Yes… but he got off at the last stop.” the Old Woman said to Mark.
“He got off? I thought Recovery Road was a one-way trip?”
“Oh, only if you’re lucky dear. Your Cowboy friend got off where I got on. Grief Relief Station. It’s a necessary stop on the road to the Recovery Road if you’ve lost someone close to you.”
Mark sat down next to the old woman just as another episode of “Friends” began to start.
“Do you like taffy?” the Old Woman asked as she offered Mark a freshly wrapped piece of blue gelatinous candy.
Without Mark asking his new senior friend the reason for her being on the Recovery Road he figured he would just settle in and make a new friend.
Recovery Road for Mark may be a few months. He had a lot of pain to deal with, multiple follow up tests, and some catching up on life to do but he couldn’t wait. He smiled and was happy to know that he made it on the train.
Mark popped the blue taffy into his mouth and had his first gut laughter of the day when he saw Joey get his head stuck in a turkey.
“This is my favorite episode. My husband, God rest his soul, always let me know when it was on.” The elderly woman said as she wiped a tear from her eye.
“He sounds great. Tell me all about him.”
The Elderly Woman smiled and began reminiscing about all the good times she had with her late husband. Mark learned that nostalgia wasn’t a bad thing as long as you were looking back with joy. Recovery Road is sometimes long, but at least he was lucky to share the journey with new friends and family was just a phone call away.
“ALLL ABOOOAAAARD!!” The Conductor shouted as the train left the station.
“So where are you getting off, son?” the Old Woman asked with blue taffy in her teeth.
Mark had is second laugh of the day at the site of the blue toothed elderly woman then smiled wide while thinking about his bride who was waiting for him at the end of Recovery Road.
“Wedding Way. That’s where I’m headed.” Mark said with a slight accent. He didn’t mean to but for some reason it felt natural.
“ohhh you’re a lucky man.”
“Yeah. I guess I am.”
Mark sat on the train for as long as he needed to before he could arrive at Wedding Way on October 3rd at 4pm where he would begin his new journey on the Happy Trails.
Mark made a note to remember his camera gulped the remains of the taffy.