Part Six in the Derailleur series.
I opted out of the standard passenger seating and found an empty cabin on a rail car, part of a train that would transfer me to my next ville. It was one of those classic contexts you see in the movies where two passengers sit facing each other while the rails whisk them through the countryside. It had a door I could close that I’d hoped would grant me privacy.
I had nothing to back the pain off. My jaw locked by the muscle spasms in an unconscious effort to keep it in place. I had packed one side of my nose to stop the bleeding and breathed through my teeth. It must have smelled horrible, so much better to be alone.
I played soccer for physical ed in high school, tending goal. One rainy afternoon I got knocked on my ass by an aggressive forward. When I got to my feet, another teammate asked if I had started my period. I looked down to find blood trailing out of my gold gym shorts down both my legs, lots of it. The coach took me back to the locker room. It was odd because I didn’t feel any pain other than the hard landing. My tailbone hurt like hell, but the gaping wound of the burst pilonidal cyst had no feeling whatsoever, at least not at that moment.
In more correct terms, the cyst hadn’t burst, just the tissue and epidermis around it in the gluteal cleft or what’s been euphemized now as the “coin slot.” You might know it as “plumber’s crack.” The cyst was still intact, and it had to be surgically removed.
The truly painful part is recovery. Since its removal leaves an open wound in the cleft, one that can’t be stitched, the site must be burned out with silver nitrate daily and packed and dressed to avoid infection. The tissue eventually granulated, taking months to do so. At sixteen, my mother spared me the embarrassment of packing the wound with the most logical application, a feminine hygiene pad. We went through a lot of gauze pads instead. If you didn’t have a sense of humor, the process took much longer.
And so I didn’t give much thought to the act I painfully performed that morning before I got on the train for my transfer, before I got dressed in the kitchen/bathroom of my apartment that my roommates gratefully conceded to my exclusive use. Blood wouldn’t stop running down my legs. I must have burst open again the night before, like I had on that soccer field, though I had no recollection of how. I packed myself, not with sterile gauze pads, but with remnants of scissored garments left behind by dying elders.
In that cabin I alternated cheeks upon which to sit, afraid I’d squeeze the packing and leave a wet stain, and to manage the searing pain of what later would be discovered as my broken coccyx.
The cabin door slid open and in walked a black man who sat directly across from me. He started a greeting but halted at the sight of my face. His manners took his eyes into a newspaper. I had to quell the reflex I felt, the fear that increased my breathing to the point that saliva was spraying through my teeth, so I got to my feet and left him and the cabin.
I stood in the transit, that place that bookends rail cars for egress, and I could feel a trickle down my calf. It was cool enough near the door to bring my bleeding to something colder than body temperature. I ducked into the WC and changed the packing using toilet paper. The train slowed during which, making me lean against a wall, my pants around my ankles, and I cried for the first time.
The City of Mons was the stop, the first ville of my mission service. I needed to change trains there and my connection was still an hour or so away, a connection that would go on to Brussels after it dropped me at Charleroi. I found the connecting quay and waited.
Other passengers collected, most of them good enough to keep their eyes elsewhere, except for one, a young guy, my age who insisted on making out who I was. As he came closer I recognized him before he recognized me, an elder from a crossover group in the MTC who came out a month after I did. He was in street-clothes and by himself.
The location of the missionary apartment in Mons was more an exercise in fiduciary responsibility than logistics. It was flanked by whorehouses, the occupants of which we had a reasonable agreement; we wouldn’t call them to repentance if they covered themselves when we came and went. Prostitution was legal there, but the girls (and boys) had to retail behind picture windows, they weren’t allowed on the street. We called them mannequins because streetwalker was a misnomer.
At that time more elders were sent home from this ville than any other save Brussels itself. And here was my friend on his way, which seemed to pale to what he was looking at.
“Which one?” I asked him through my clenched teeth. He decided that if he were going out, he’d go out big, so it wasn’t just one. I would’ve whistled if I could have.
The story of my face seemed more interesting to him, though I couldn’t tell it to him. I’m certain it wasn’t. I would have much preferred the tale of his little orgy than to recount what had already recessed deep into my mind. So we sat in the privacy of the cabin on a train to Brussels and I prayed a silent grateful prayer to have this companion with me. And we said nothing to each other all the way to Charleroi.