So here it is, 13 years after I wrote the opening: "Today was a pretty common day for me." which couldn't have been any more inaccurate as it turned out to be a not so common day for anyone. Originally, I began writing this story for all the wrong reasons in my opinion. I was lonely, depressed and reading the works of a few really awesome authors who I had come to idolize. They told stories of childhood trauma and of coming of age struggles but, on the way, they were able to find the silver lining on their journey as well as achieving that happy ending we all hope for. I didn't think I would find my own happy ending in real life and decided, maybe I can get back some of what I felt I had lost by writing it into a story. "A Penny on the Train Tracks" (APTT as it has commonly become known as) was written as planned up until it stalled for a second time after chapter 7 had been completed, At that point, it was still aiming at the happy ending I wanted for me and not much more. The original draft of chapter 8 started with a similar scene in the diner with Mikey's drunk father being his usual self but, it was to lead the group on a sci-fi fueled joyride through the shadows of my past. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and crushes, horseback riding, skateboarding, arcade games and a rollerskating rink. Thinking of it today, it would have gotten old fast and interested no one but me. I ran into a wall early and put it on the back burner as I tried to figure out where my writer's block was coming from and hopefully get the story back on its tracks.
APTT needed to stall to save itself I learned. The direction I was taking it in would have absolutely destroyed the work as a whole and made it impossible to finish. Sure, I miss the people that were in my life back then and yes, it is really cool to see these personalities alive in some form again but, that holds a special meaning for me alone. What I needed was to get back to the original idea, I needed to push the side stories out of the way and get it back to our main four. Mike, Mikey, Dale, and Joshie. These four were the main story. They were the ones I chose who would tell this story and bring the realization that Mike is very much a product of his past experiences. Once the situation forced him to rethink the ideals he had learned as a child, he was able to make the right decision for Joshie, not the easy one from his point of view which of course was hard (for me as well) to watch unfold. As the years that passed in real life taught me, I had a very distorted view of what was right and wrong based solely on what "hurt" vs. what "felt good". Mike realized why something that had no bad intent could have had a bad outcome for Joshie and should have a bad repercussion for himself if he had decided to allow it to continue. The reader knows that he would never intentionally hurt anyone, much less Joshua but, teach him that it's safe to trust an adult in this manner and you may as well make him wear a shirt that says "easy target". Mike needed to learn that lesson the hard way and so did I in real life. Now that I have; so hopefully, would anyone who reads this story. It did kill me to have to write such an unhappy ending for him though. Fictional or not, it was hard to write and even harder to keep myself from backing up and rewriting it in a way that made everything okay for them all. Sorry, Joshie...
Another change to the outline was the realization that Dale felt the same toward Mikey as Mikey did about him in the end. In real life, I had always imagined never pushing away my "Dale". Imagine a future with my closest best friend as my partner in life. The thought makes me both smile and hurts at the same time. So many times that I pretended I had the courage to tell him how I felt. So many days would leave me wondering what life would look like with him staying for the long haul. The realization that I lost my best years worrying about how things could go badly with him or anyone else for that matter, that I never realized that I was getting attached to the wrong people simply because they were safe and I was guaranteed that it would never last very long. I'd like to say I'm smarter than that today but, It's safer to say that I understand my faults and fears better now.
The end of APTT was also planned to be different. In Mike's imagined 1980, there was to have been no difference in time in the real world. I think the time that it took for me to get my head right, the story became more of an example of who Mike was vs. who he becomes. In a relatively short period of time (from his point of view) he learnt a life lesson that in reality took me years to completely understand. Bringing him back to his life as it was felt to me like even more of the same as I was no longer connected to the people I wanted Mike to come home to, which felt wrong. So, I focused on the real amount of time it took for the story to finally take shape. So, bringing him back in his mid-forties put him in line with the person I modeled him on, myself. "The Letter" was my vehicle to draw the picture of rejection and isolation that had no other way to happen with Mike in a coma. This allowed me to explain why there was no one around. My mother passed away during this time period as well as Mike's, to further mirror the real-life situation. What I did do however was bring Dale back into the picture as an adult. This was a little something that in the end, would hopefully give us all a smile.
So, I worked hard to make APTT have a real message. I wanted to give it a deeper purpose and the moment I typed "1980", I simply stared at the screen, trying to figure out what else needed to be said, and nothing else came. Mike learned a real-life lesson, he lost a huge chunk of his life to do it and in the end, the impossible dream of spending his life with someone he trusts and loves becomes a reality without having to pretend to be someone he is not. So even though our main character had to weather some really rough times, in the end, I think the story has actually become something that gave us the happy ending I had hoped for, even if it was a bittersweet one.
With all that said, I do want to mention that after the long wait for this story to begin on its new path, there are a few people who jumped right back in to help make APTT possible once again. To start, this story's editor has always been "The Story Lover" (http://storylover.us) and without even missing a step, he tackled chapters 8 and 9 as if we had just finished chapter 7 months earlier as opposed to the years it took in reality. Knowing how I get when I am slamming out my raw thoughts on this poor keyboard, he took the raw material and made it readable. Mistakes and punctuation that are a common plague in my rough drafts somehow don't phase him. I'm so glad that I asked him for his help years ago and I'm sure that this story wouldn't be what it is today without his final touches. I also want to mention my one-man target group. A friend that has become a real fan of APTT was another person who made this finale as meaningful as it could be. "Darryl The Radio Rancher" (http://storylover.us/?t=CWYSqpOroB8jYSGX) was willing to screen my proposed ending as a fan of the work to ensure that any of the "bad news" that would be inserted wouldn't ruin the overall message and established the theme of the story. As time had passed for me, I needed to find my style of writing again and he helped me to recapture the spirit APTT was born of, without allowing the original intent to bury the deeper meaning I wanted it to have. Thanks to him, I am even more confident that I accomplished what I had hoped for. I also want to mention "ACFan" (http://cornercafe.us) and "Akeentia" (http://paddedroom.us) both for supporting me as a returning author and brother at a time when I had little hope of coming back from the edge of my own unhappy ending in real life. Without them, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to continue on with the work that I started so many years ago and even if I did, I would definitely have no place to put it for you all to read it. They are all treasured members of my extended family and I thank God every day to have them in my life.
Thank you all for bearing with me as I stumbled around trying to find the right path for this tale. In the end, I feel it was worth the work put into it and I hope you do as well.
As George Harrison once said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." and thanks to this story, I couldn't agree more.
Here's to the next road, wherever that may be.
- Jeff P. -