These days there's only one train that stops at our small town station, thanks to a handful of recent state budget cuts aimed at getting us out of debt. Not that I worry too much about government affairs, but it means I only have to sit in the station for a half an hour to see all the trains arrive and leave, instead of waiting for hours between trains. Sometimes I stay longer anyway, well past the station having completely emptied of people. But with no train coming, it seems as if the station is saying, "I've moved on. Why haven't you?"
They say a father's worst nightmare is seeing his daughter grown-up and off to college for the first time. Not me. I was the proudest father ever, I'm sure, the day I helped Dana move into her dorm room. She had grown into a wonderful young woman in the nine years since her mother died and I had to raise her and protect her on my own. I tried not to cry as I hugged her and wished her luck and gave her advice before I left for the four-hour drive back home. She just smiled, rolled her eyes, and said, "I'll be fine, Dad. Don't worry."
She took the train into the station whenever she visited, for Thanksgiving and winter break and spring break when the college closed. She stayed at home and spent time with her high school friends who had also returned to the area for the break. It was like the days before she left the nest.
It was her second winter break that her train arrived at the station without her. I stood there waiting, as I watched the train depart and the station clear out. I sat down, confused, and checked my phone. She hadn't called, or emailed, or texted. I worried, of course, but perhaps she had just missed the train and was going to arrive on the next one in a few hours. It was the early morning train, after all. Perhaps she accidentally slept in? If that was the case and I panicked and called the police or her friends trying to find her, she'd be very upset with me for making a big deal out of it. So I waited.
I waited until the midday train arrived and left. And then again for the evening train. And still there was no Dana.
The police said she never got on the train. She had disappeared somewhere between campus and the station. I gave them her cell phone number and they found it in a dumpster. They had no other leads, but they promised to call if anything changed. I could call them, too, if I heard anything. I still have the detective's card on my desk at home.
They say a father's worst nightmare is seeing his daughter grown-up and off to college for the first time. They're wrong.
A father's worst nightmare is that she never comes back.
This work by Benjamin S Wolf is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.