Strangers on a Train

My last post on this blog was about my grandfather Anthony, on my Father’s side.  On the other side of the family is my grandfather Pete, a man I have very few memories of.  When I was four or five years old he suffered a debilitating stroke that severely impacted his motor skills and most significantly – his speech.  Most of my memories of him being alive are of this time after his stroke.  He passed away when I was seven. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought more and more about this man that I barely knew.  From the way my family reflects about him he was larger than life.  Loud, charming, gregarious, dominating in purpose and personality.  He was always the center of attention, always surrounded by a giant and diverse group of friends and his large family, almost a dozen brothers and sisters.  He was tough and outspoken and also displayed incredible warmth and a generosity of heart — especially when it came to being there for a friend or family member that needed him. 

Most of the stories about Pete cause warm nostalgia and eruptions of laughter.  But like anyone else, he had his dark side.  Without a moment’s notice his mood could change.  He could be temperamental, moody, confrontational, and in many ways self-destructive.  He died much earlier than he should’ve because he didn’t take care of himself as his doctor’s advised, this being after he was diagnosed with diabetes.  He lived life as if there were no tomorrow, sometimes recklessly but always unforgettably. 

Watching my cousins, parents, uncles, aunts and grandmother speak of him to this day changes the nature of the air in the room.  Stories of him are told so vividly, with such warmth, and also an unmistakable depth of tragedy…a sadness for a complicated man that they feel should’ve been here longer. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been compared more and more to this man I barely knew…in my mannerisms, the sound and loudness of my voice, my facial expressions…and most of all my personality.  At my parents’ house for a holiday, I’ll sometimes notice my grandmother watching me and wearing a knowing, and almost private smile.  Apparently I remind her of him.

The past few years I’ve done my best to be self-reflective, to analyze and understand myself, my actions, and how I’m perceived by others.  I consider this kind of self-reflection growth and learning, a learning of self that never ends.  With that learning comes a deepening curiosity about Pete, who he really was beyond the surface level created by stories, and what he would’ve thought of me if we met now, face to face. 

*              *             *

A few months ago I was at my parents’ house having dinner.  My father, not a necessarily soft-spoken man himself, was quiet that night, and somewhat “off.”  Everybody has their days, and their moods, I know I do, so I left it alone.  As we were finishing dinner, he looked across the table and got real serious with me.  He said…”I need to tell you something.”  Obviously, when a conversation starts this way, your whole body tenses up and your imagination starts running all kinds of scenarios.  “I had a really strange dream last night,” he continued (insert deep sigh of relief here) “and I need to tell you about it before I forget.” 

The story of his dream goes something like this…

My father and I are in a New York City subway, waiting for the train.  We’re both the ages we are now, him in his mid 60s and me and my early 30s.  He doesn’t know where we’re going, but we’re not the only ones going there – the platform is packed with people.  Finally the train arrives and we fight our way on.  The train isn’t any emptier, in fact it’s full of people.  We can’t get a seat so we stand somewhere near the middle, not really exchanging much conversation as the doors close and the train begins moving.  Over my shoulder he spots someone, someone he recognizes immediately, but he doesn’t trust his own eyes.  It’s Pete, and he’s making his way through the subway car, towards us. 

My father breaks away from me to meet him.  He encourages me to follow him.  My father asks him what he’s doing here, and how he is, but Pete either can’t or won’t answer him.  He’s also not very interested in explaining himself, he’s more curious about who my father’s with.  He rolls his eyes to my father, his face very serious and he says to him, “who’s this?”

My Father looks back at me, then back at Pete and he says, “That’s Danny.”  Pete’s surprised by the answer for a moment, even thrown off.  Then he angles himself to get a better look at me.  He looks me up and down, from head to toe with curiosity and scrutiny.  Then, he looks back at my father, and startles him with a hearty slap to his shoulder.  He raises his chin and looks my father square in the eye again, Pete’s are welling slightly with tears.  Then, he nods a couple times, which according to my father was his way of showing he was impressed. 

So now it’s my turn to meet him and talk to him, but before I can, two men that are with my grandfather, men that my father doesn’t know, come and put their hands on either of Pete’s shoulders.  They’re not pulling him away, but their touch lets him know immediately that, “it’s time to go.”  He turns without a fight, and despite my Father asking him where he’s going, he walks away from us, deep into the train car and out of our sight again. 

The story was eerie the night I heard it, I could see it so vividly as it was being described I felt like it was my dream and not his.  I believe dreams aren’t simple, that they are more than our subconscious using images and symbols to work out issues in our consciousness.  I believe that dreams are actually windows to our deepest and truest self, and sometimes they are bridges to people that have moved on.  It’s the only way they can connect with us to warn us, enlighten us, or even just to tell us, “everything’s going to be okay.”  I believe dreams are pieces to a puzzle that can only be knit together when we are no longer here, they are mysteries — much like my Grandfather Pete has always been to me. 

Ultimately in this dream, Pete and I remained strangers, but for a man who knew both of us very well, this dream created a unmistakable link between us.  One that shook him, but also gave him a sense of peace.  It’s the type of link to and understanding of my grandfather I’ve been searching for these last few years.

I don’t know if Pete and I will ever meet up, and I don’t know what he’ll think of me, my choices, and the path my life has taken when we do.  Maybe we’ll still feel like strangers.  Maybe we won’t have words for each other.  What I am sure of, is that since hearing the story of this dream, I already feel closer to him; to this man who I’m apparently so much like. And deep down, I believe that wherever he is…he’s proud. 

~ by Dan Fabrizio on December 17, 2013.

One Response to “Strangers on a Train”

  1. Dear Dan, I know he is so proud of the man you have become. Even though I am not the most religious person; I believe more in the essence or spirit of a person and feel he is around us (especially when we need him). I do hope he knows how much we still love him and miss him. Thanks for the cry, it must have been at least a day and half since the last time I cried. See you soon. Love you. Aunt Janet

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