Tanya: Night Train (I)

by anna on May 15, 2009

You didn’t know that Night Train was anything more than an urban legend until that time you saw a bottle of it on Tanya‘s shelf, in the apartment you had once shared, on the first and last time you spoke with her after you had (inadvertently) gotten her institutionalized on a 24-hour hold (that lasted three weeks). Before that, Night Train had been a regular fixture in the self-aggrandizing folklore that Andy wove about himself, but you had always assumed it was a fictional construct he had invented to make his days in Arizona sound more interesting. It had been memorialized in a Guns ‘n’ Roses song as well, but you thought that this, too, was just a metaphorical romanticizing of the excesses of alcohol consumption sans brand specificity–not unlike the hazy etiology of the drug-induced psychosis depicted in “The Garden,”–because it lacked the kind of easily identifiable semiotic indices (e.g. “Shoved it in the bindle and I shot it in the middle”) that marked “Mr. Brownstone,” for example, as being obviously about heroin in specific, rather than just addiction to a psychotropic drug in the abstract.

Besides, you had never really listened to the lyrics of “Night Train.” You were more of a “November Rain” kind of girl, and anyway, Guns ‘n’ Roses was just the band that you and Andy could agree upon, being halfway between Bon Jovi and The Smiths, inasmuch as any one band could be said to accomplish this herculean task. If you had paid attention to the lyrics, it would have been clearer that Night Train was real, and not just a figment of some (devastatingly cheap) alcoholic’s imagination:

I’m on the Night Train
And I’m lookin’ for some
I’m on the Night Train
So’s I can leave this slum

and, later,

I’m on the Night Train
And I’m ready to crash an’ burn
Night Train
Bottoms up
I’m on the Night Train
Fill my cup

(Guns ‘n’ Roses, “Night Train,” Appetite for Destruction, Geffen Records 1987)

Looking back, it might have struck you that, when Axl Rose (not yet famous) was stumbling around Sunset Boulevard east of Fairfax (where it starts to get sketchy), high on the supply of Night Train that would inspire this tribute to a cheap, wine-based alcohol, you were stuck taking Industrial Arts from a guy with one eye who dropped his pencil every day in class on the off chance that a female student might bend over to pick it up. And you might have recognized a cynical poeticism there, in the common need for the sweet escape that twist-top spirits promises to kindred souls looking to leave the confines of the respective slums (however they defined them) that fenced them in.

Night Train Express is the kind of drink that could only be found at places like Ernie’s, a liquor store a few miles from campus that was best known for its liberal identification policies, but which also boasted a store of specialty twist-top wines which are generally unfamiliar to people outside the population of hardcore drunks, transients, and overachieving university students. Night Train would have been shelved adjacent to Boone’s Farm Apple-Flavored Wine that your friend Leigh favored (because it cost only $2), and this explained why you had never seen it yourself. Underage, and without a feasible ID, you never went inside on the pilgrimages to Ernie’s, since your presence might jeopardize the entire buy.

But Tanya, without a car of her own, and just back from an extended stay in the hospital, had managed to get her hands on a bottle of Night Train, a fact that distracted you as you sat there, in the old apartment, already drunk but determined to listen to whatever it was that Tanya had to say to you in the aftermath of your betrayal. Had she made a special trip to Ernie’s to get the Night Train? And if so, why? Was it a statement on the trajectory of her life now, post-psych ward? Post-abandonment? Post-betrayal by the people who claimed to be her best friends? Was it the kind of thing she felt she deserved now? Or had it been a gift: a token of appreciation from the strange new friends she had recently acquired? Was this the kind of thing that people gave each other, having met in the psych ward? Because there were new people in her life now, a girl you had never seen and her seventeen-year old brother, with whom you were certain Tanya was now sleeping, these people that hung around the apartment at Kingscote that you had moved out from under the pretense that your parents had required it of you, which was hypocritical and dishonest reasoning, but which had worked.

Because what you feared about continuing to live with Tanya in the aftermath of a betrayal was not the exposure to drug abuse, or the fear for your safety that all of Tanya’s stories about exploding cars and escaping from countries might have inspired. What you truly feared was the confrontation, the questions about why and how could, and where did you get off. Instead, you had been content to move out and then move in next door, where you were there to watch her in her new life but not participate. Until now, when you had run into her and been just drunk enough to agree to it, whatever it was that Tanya had to say to you.

[To Be Continued]

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