The Tracks of Time
If you could go back and do it over, would you?
“Time goes faster the more hollow it is. Lives with no meaning go straight past you, like trains that don’t stop at your station.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind.
The rocking motion pulled Katherine back to the land of the living. Her eyes fluttered open. Blinking rhythmically through the transition from darkness to light. Her head rested on the side of a window.
A man sat across a table from Katherine. Propped on one elbow. Chin nestled into the palm of his hand. He was writing something in a notebook.
The man paused when he realized Katherine had awakened. His lips moved as if he were addressing her, but only a constant humming filled her ears. Her hearing distorted.
Katherine rubbed her temples and winced in discomfort.
“Katherine, can you hear me?” The man said. His voice suddenly audible. Soft and whimsical.
The man’s face was familiar. Katherine was certain the two had met before.
“Katherine. Can you hear me?” The man repeated, louder this time. His expression concerned.
Yes, Katherine definitely knew the man sitting across the table. Dr. Randall Matthews, her therapist. Though she had only met with him once, his circle rimmed spectacles and thick eyebrows were unforgettable.
“Yes. That’s right.” The therapist straightened up in his seat. A more professional position than before. Ready for business.
A train whistle sounded. Katherine could hear the screeching of the metal wheels on the track. “We’re on a train?” She asked inquisitively.
“Why yes.” Dr. Matthews replied. “Welcome aboard the Train of Time. I have so much planned for us. It will be a marvelous trip!” He clapped his hand together. He was giddy, like a toddler given candy.
The train car looked like a replica from a 1920’s era movie set. Greens, golds and reds splattered on every wall and crevice. Stained glass lanterns with frills and tassels. Mismatched patterns filled the car. It was nauseating.
Not to mention the smell. Perfumy. A poor attempt to cover the mildew laden carpet that lined the floors.
Katherine was perched against a leather seat that squealed under the pressure of her body as she moved. “Why are we on this old train?”
“To get from one place to another. That’s the purpose of trains after all, isn’t it?” Matthews replied in a very indignant tone.
“Ok. But where are we going? And how did I get here?” Katherine had no recollection of boarding the train. Did the therapist move her here? Her head ached something fierce. Was she drugged?
Dr. Matthew’s kept writing away. Ignoring her questions. The scratching of the pen in the notebook was nagging at Katherine. She was growing irritated.
“Could you please stop writing and give me some answers.” Katherine’s voice grew louder. “Where are my children? Are they safe?”
Dr. Matthew’s sat his pen down and looked across at Katherine from the top of his glasses. Like she was a child misbehaving. About to get scolded for asking too many questions.
“Your children are nestled in their beds at home safely as your husband watches over them. I will answer all your questions in due time. You need to have some patience, or this will not work.” The therapist replied.
More empty answers. Katherine’s face reddened. A telltale sign of the rage building like a volcano. She wanted to be back home. Things needed to be done before bedtime. Had Jack, her husband, bathed the baby? Made sure the kid’s teeth were brushed? Read bedtime stories? All the things that needed to be done before bedtime.
The train began to rock and sway faster. Jarring Katherine’s petite body from side to side violently. The screeching of the wheels on the metal track grew louder.
“Are we speeding up?” Katherine’s heart pounded in her chest. She grabbed ahold of the table for support as if the bottom of the train was about to fall from beneath her. Growing short of breath from the fear. Fight or flight was taking over.
Katherine stood from the leather seat. The motion was too much. She was thrown off balance from the momentum. Falling back into the seat.
“We’re going too fast!” She screamed. Looking around to see if the other passengers were panicking. Only, there were no others. Just Katherine and the therapist.
Dr. Matthew’s expression never changed. He sat calm and composed. Unfazed by the commotion. Why isn’t he freaking out? She thought.
“Katherine, I need you to calm down. Close your eyes and deep breathe.” Matthews said.
What? Is this guy serious? “Are you crazy? That’s not going to fix the problem. We're going to die. We need to check on the conductor.”
Dr. Matthew’s voice grew louder. Authoritative. “Katherine!”
Katherine stopped talking.
“Close your eyes. Calm your mind. Just trust me.” Dr. Matthews said, calmly.
Katherine closed her eyes. A deep breath filled her lungs. Inhale. Exhale. The world went quiet. Time stopped.
Katherine’s eyes shot open at the sound of the crying. In a panic, she jumped out of bed. Her blood pressure tanked, and she almost passed out. The whirring in her ears pulsated with her heartbeat.
Katherine sat back on the edge of the bed to gain her composure. Breast throbbing and full. She looked at the clock. It was 3 am. On que, it was time to feed the baby.
What a strange dream? Katherine thought as she grabbed little Arielle from her crib. The pair nestled into the rocking chair in the nursery.
At 6 months, Arielle was an eater. Katherine’s nipples were sore and every time the baby latched on; tears flooded her eyes. You are so weak, she thought as the baby sucked greedily away.
Katherine was always hard on herself. She was raised to push through all things without complaint. Even if it cost her happiness.
Once Arielle was full as a tick and back asleep, Katherine crawled into the warm bed. Jack was sound asleep. Never stirring. He looked so peaceful. So calm. So rested. Natalie would give anything to sleep like that. But this was her life now. Her kids were literally the only reason for getting out of bed some days. So, she would continue to lose sleep. Lose her dignity. Lose herself at any cost to keep them healthy and happy.
The next morning, Katherine got her two eldest children off to school. She was getting out of the shower when Jack came into the bathroom. His hand immediately under her towel.
Again? Didn’t we just go through this yesterday?
“Where is Arielle?” Katherine asked. Looking for an escape route.
“She is playing in the living room. She will be fine. Let’s just have a quickie.” Katherine’s towel fell to the ground.
“I am so tired and…”
“Figures.” Jack cut her off. Not giving her a chance to explain that her nipples were cracked, and she thought she may have a case of mastitis. Truth was, he didn’t care.
“Saving all the good sex for your boyfriend huh?” With a slam of the bathroom door, he was gone. Off to work.
There was no boyfriend. It was a defense mechanism. His own insecurities. It had only been a few days since Katherine and Jack had made love, but his ego told him it was an eternity.
At one point in time, Katherine would feel guilt and remorse about rejecting Jack. Filled with rage and self-hate. Spend the rest of the day in a depressed state. But these days, she didn’t feel much of anything. There was no room for much else outside of the love and care for her children.
Once nap time came for Arielle, Natalie turned on the computer to check her email and social media accounts. When the ad popped up, yet again. She had seen the same add for days now:
Depressed? Tired of feeling so down? Want a fresh start? A new you?
Advanced Cognitive Therapies can help.
Dr. Matthew’s breakthrough initiatives are changing people’s lives. Call now to get scheduled!
The advertisement was very cliché, but intriguing, nonetheless. It included a picture of a woman and her children on the floor playing with blocks. The woman was smiling and looking down on her children. She looked so happy!
Katherine would give anything to feel like that again. The joy of laying on the floor and laughing with her kids. They joy of laughing at anything.
It wasn’t that her children brought her unhappiness, Katherine was just tired. Jack was no help around the house. Spent many nights out with his friends and less nights helping her. So willing to let her do all the chores and care for the kids. She felt like a second-class citizen.
Katherine had lost herself in her role of obedient housewife and mother. She had lost her fire. Some days, her will to live. But she had to. Her children needed her.
Out of curiosity, she clicked the link. Seconds later the phone rang.
A female voice was on the other line. “Hello Katherine! We have you scheduled with Dr. Matthews tonight at 6 pm. Will that work?”
Confused, Katherine agreed. “Sure.”
“Great! The address is 446 14th Avenue. We’ll see you then!”
Katherine hung up the phone and sat in silence for some time trying to figure out what just happened.
Nonetheless, at 6 pm she found herself sitting on the couch in Dr. Matthew’s office.
The train had slowed back down when Katherine woke up. Wait. Was that a dream?
Katherine remembered arriving to the appointment, but not much else afterwards.
Dr. Matthew’s was still sitting across from her. Still writing in his notebook.
“Welcome back.” He greeted Katherine. Her headache worse than before. She felt hungover but hadn’t drank in many years.
“I remember now. We were in your office. I was hooked up to wires and cables in front of a huge screen.” Katherine vaguely recalled. Only remembering bits and pieces of the memory. A puzzle that needed to be put together.
“Was I drugged? How did I end up here?”
“You were not drugged. You came here willingly Katherine. Now let’s finish our session, shall we?” Dr. Matthews replied, growing impatient.
“What session? I don’t remember a session.”
“We were discussing the root of your unhappiness. Trying to pinpoint it. Where do you believe these feelings are coming from?” Dr. Matthew’s asked
Still feeling completely confused, Katherine answered. “I don't know. I feel so lost. I love my children with everything, but I am so tired.”
“How is your relationship with Jack?
“Not good. He used to be different. More sympathetic to my needs. Considerate. Kinder.” Katherine could feel the heat in her face. Eyes welling up with tears of anger.
“Do you think maybe he was always inconsiderate. Perhaps you just saw what you wanted to see?”
Katherine looked down at her hands. “Maybe. I was very naïve when we met. Susceptible. I wanted to be loved more than anything in the world. So much that I stayed through the dark periods.”
“If you could go back, would you change anything?”
Katherine paused. “Perhaps. But I would never want a life without my children and the common denominator is Jack. Maybe if I had been firmer. Set more boundaries. I gave in so easy. Melted under his seductive eyes and his witty tongue. I was awe struck before I knew what was happening.”
The tears fell. Flooded down Katherine’s cheeks and pooled on her shirt. “Why was I so stupid? I am so weak.”
The lights on the train car began to flicker on and off. The rhythmic sway gone. Violent jerks returned.
The train was speeding up again. Katherine grabbed the side of the leather seat. Her knuckles whitened. She felt as though her stomach was in her throat. Growing more terrified by the second. The panic returned.
"We're speeding up again!"
“Katherine, focus on me. “Dr. Matthew’s instructed. “Close your eyes. Breathe.”
It worked. The world silenced again.
Katherine felt a touch on her shoulder and a voice brought her back to life.
“Excuse me. The bookstore is about to close.” A man’s voice called.
Startled, Katherine sat up in the plush chair tucked away in the corner of the old bookstore. She must have fallen asleep reading her book. It was a normal occurrence for her. She had no money to buy the books, so she would spend her Saturdays reading and returning the book to the shelf. The corner hid her from the world so she could engross herself in the stories.
The man was very handsome. She knew him well.
“Jack,” she called out. His face contorted in confusion.
“How did you know my name?” Jack asked, perplexed.
Wait. I’ve been here before. What is going on? Another dream?
It was Jack, but much younger. The sturdy, confident man she met twelve years ago. In the exact bookstore.
“We’ve met before, I believe.” Damage control. Katherine thought of the first thing that came to her mind.
“I would remember you.” Jack smiled that smile that hooked her in years ago. “The store is about to close. I saw you sleeping. I don’t think the owner knows you’re back here. I would hate for you to get locked in.” Jack said.
“Oh. Thank you.” Katherine gathered her bag and coffee that had gone cold. She placed the book back on the shelf and headed towards the door.
"Have a great day." Katherine replied as she turned onto the sidewalk. She adjusted her bag and hopped onto her bike.
If history was repeating itself, Jack would be catching up to her in 3…2…1
“Hey!” Jack called. “You forgot this.” He placed the book in her hand. 1984, a classic. Katherine was a sucker for the classics.
“Oh, this isn’t mine. I haven’t paid for it.” Katherine replied.
“It’s taken care of.” Jack said, on que with a big smile.
“You paid for this?”
“No biggie. Where are you headed?” Jack asked.
Originally, Katherine and Jack spent the rest of the day in the park together. That night in the downtown jazz club. Sharing their stories. Hands all over each other. Euphoric.
Boundaries. Don’t let him walk all over you. A new beginning.
“I’m pretty tired. I am going to head home for the day. But you know where to find me. I am here every Saturday. It was nice to meet you Jack.” With that Katherine gave a toothy grin and pedaled her bike in the opposite direction. “Thank you for the book.”
“It’s a good one!” He called back.
Jack stood there for a second smiling. Then went on his way.
One week later, Katherine returned to the bookstore with coffee in hand. She grabbed a book and found her corner. Jack would be back. Fate would bring him to her.
She fell asleep in the confides of the comfy chair and waited.
The sound of a shower woke Katherine. All the waking and sleeping lately was draining the life out of her.
The room was dark. She reached for the lamp. The room came to life. Only, it wasn’t Katherine’s bedroom. It wasn’t the train. It wasn’t the bookstore.
It was an upscale hotel of some sort. Modern minimalist furniture painted the scenery. Neutral colors and artsy pieces littered the walls. Where the hell was she now?
Curtains covered the entire wall beside the bed. Katherine drew them back to reveal a window looking out over a city landscape reaching high into the clouds.
This was no memory of Katherine’s. She would remember it.
There was a single picture atop the dresser. Katherine recognized her own face. There was a handsome man with his arm strewn around her. An exotic beach in the background behind them. Katherine had never been to an exotic beach before.
She had no recollection of taking the picture. Who was the man in the picture with her? A smile covered her face. The smile almost seemed genuine. Real happiness. Not forced.
The shower turned off. “Jack.” She called.
It wasn’t Jack who stepped out from the bathroom. It was the man in the picture. A towel wrapped around his waist. His skin sun kissed. His body structure tall and broad. He had a smile that could light up the room. A deep dimple in his left cheek. “Good morning beautiful.”
So much confusion. “Where are we?” Katherine asked.
The man slipped his arms around her waist. His lips rested atop her head. He was very tall.
“Are you still sleeping? We’re at our apartment in New York.” He chuckled.
“Right.” Katherine said, as if she understood. Not convincing enough though.
The man freed himself from the embrace. “Are you feeling ok?”
“I’m fine. I just have a headache.” Katherine rubbed her temples.
“Where are my children?” Katherine asked.
“Children? What on earth are you talking about?” Expressing concern. He wrapped her face in his hands.
Katherine pulled away. “Where are my children? Where the hell am I?” She was in a panic. She began pacing back and forth around the apartment. “No, no, no.” She whispered under her breath.
The man paced with her for a bit. “Kat, you are scaring me.”
Katherine sat on the chair at the desk in the living area. “I’m fine. I think I need more sleep.” She ran her hands through her hair. Trying her best to stay composed.
“Do you want me to call Dr. Matthew’s?” The man asked.
Katherine perked up. “You have his number?”
“Yes, so do you. It’s in your phone.” The man grabbed her phone from the bedside table and handed it to her.
“Listen, I have to go into work for a few hours before our trip. I should be home before two this afternoon. Get some rest and finish packing. I will see you in a bit.”
The man kissed Katherine’s head and disappeared into the bathroom to get ready. Shortly after, he was out the door. The room smelled of aftershave and expensive cologne once he departed.
Katherine picked up the phone and scrolled frantically through her contacts. Dr. Matthew’s secretary answered and put her on hold.
“Katherine, dear. What can I do for you?” Matthew’s voice called from the other line.
“What did you do?” She asked accusatory.
“What do you mean?”
“My kids. Why aren’t they here? Where am I? I’m so confused!”
“Katherine. I gave you another chance. I did nothing. You made the choice. You have arrived at your final destination. Enjoy your second chance Katherine. Make it count this time.”
“NO! But where are my babies. I need them. Please. You have to fix this!” Katherine was growing hysterical.
“Katherine, you reached out to me. You knew the consequences. You signed the paperwork. YOU wanted a different life. A life with more freedom. Less obligations and I helped you.”
“Those children never came. Jack met someone else that day. You built a beautiful career as an Obstetrician. You travelled the world aiding underdeveloped countries for years. You met Xavier, a wealthy Neurosurgeon, when you were 35. Unfortunately, you missed your prime and waited too late to have children. You have had 4 miscarriages. But the two of you are living your best life travelling the world and helping others. What more could you possibly want?” Dr. Matthews asked?
“There is not a whole lot I can do about that. I must go now. Good luck dear!” The line went silent.
Katherine screamed into the phone. She redialed the number but got a busy tone. She called it over and over. Nothing.
She fell into a heap on the floor grasping her womb. The empty womb that was supposed to house the three children that she loved more than anything in the world. Its softness gone. Now rigid, tight.
Katherine had spent her career bringing life into the world but could not procreate herself. Such a conundrum.
Once she finally summoned the energy to get off the floor, she opened the computer. In the google bar she typed, Jack’s name. A picture of Jack standing next to a beautiful blonde woman popped up. The woman stood close to him but looked uncomfortable. Reserved. She had a smile that Katherine knew all too well. A fake smile displayed for the photo opportunity only.
In the foreground, children sat atop a blanket. Two boys and an infant baby girl. The same ages as her children were. With the same beautiful features. Only, instead of dark hair like Katherine’s, their hair was as blonde as hay.
Those were Katherine’s children. And she would stop at nothing to get them back.