Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
I love looking out the train windows and watching America slip past.
I have this idea, God knows why, that I need to go someplace alone. I mean, I've been places alone before, of course. I'm an introvert. "I'm trying to have some alone time but I'm too polite to tell you to go away" is my motto. I take walks alone at Wildwood Metropark. I eat lunch alone in the Student Union. I stay up two hours later than my roommates each night so I can sit on the couch alone and watch TV in the dark, even though I know it's bad for my eyes and, quite frankly, my eyes are bad enough already.
But when it comes to things that matter, I don't do them on my own. I don't do them at all, if I can help it. Or I take so long to do them that they become way more stressful than they probably actually are, like when I applied for college admissions and scholarships. The only way I can get myself to do something unpleasant, without help, is to do it all at once. That's how I moved out of my parents' house: I was supposed to leave on August 13, 2011, but I was so jittery by then that I packed as much stuff as I could into the Neon when I got home from my last day of work on August 12 and left then instead.
And then, when I do leave, I have this strange and morbid conviction that I can't go back, which is utter bullshit. Not only can I go visit my parents, but I do whenever possible.
This train ride is my first time coming back from a visit on my own. Usually my fiance is with me: driving the whole ten hours from my parents' new apartment in Alexandria to his house in Toledo, or leading me to the lounge car that time we took the train. This time I'm alone, and I had to ask directions from a polite, blue-uniformed attendant. Otherwise I'd probably still be wandering the corridors, trying to look like I know where I'm going for the benefit of the passengers who don't notice me anyway.
I know that sounds pathetic, but you know how men are supposed to be about directions? That's how I am about directions. Except in my case it's because I feel really awkward going up to people I don't know and saying things to them. It's why I don't compliment other women on their necklaces or shoes and didn't ask any of the other people in line to see Khaled Hosseini at the National Book Festival how they liked his newest book, which I have yet to read.
I don't know what I think my solo train ride will change. Nothing, probably. I may have to buy my own food from the cafe, but someone else is still taking me home. Someone else is still calling the shots. And let's face it: I'm not going to talk to anyone, make a bunch of one-night train-ride best friends like my youngest sister does. I said "Gesundheit" when my seatmate sneezed, asked that attendant for directions, and requested that a couple who sat near me in the lounge car watch my laptop while I went downstairs for food, but I can promise you that will be the extent of my social interaction on this train.
I think I'll get a lot more out of my solo road trip in two weeks. I'm driving to Conover, North Carolina, to visit my best friend, who's a teacher there. There won't be any social interaction to avoid, but there will be decisions to make and discomfort to deal with.
Nothing might come of that either, though. I don't quite know what change I want or expect, but still: what if it doesn't happen? What if I'm always stuck in a small life because I'm too cowardly to do things for myself? And how will I teach my children to be strong when I am so clearly not? And if I do teach them, what then? Do I rely on their pity for the rest of my life, trust them with each of my decisions and hope it's the one I would've made if only I were braver?
Or will they come to despise my spinelessness, their pitiful, weak mother so cautious that she cannot get unstuck from her own life?