DC to Chicago

April 22, 2011

April 20, 4:05 pm
Leaving DC. It’s funny or strange how I didn’t actualize that I would be present in the cities where I have train stopovers. DC – I’ve barely been back since I left after spending a semester of law school down here. It is a city full of memories for me. Like the cherry blossoms twirling in the wind, memories flood back to me as I stroll around the parks and memorials near the mall. Twice I lived in DC, both at extremely emotional times in my life. A caucaphony of past images comes at me.

I’m a bit relieved to retreat from the intensity of memories to the safety of my first long distance train.  Seventeen hours from DC to Chicago. I was hoping to have two seats to myself but they assign us seats on this train and I have a seatmate for the whole journey.

And he’s chatty. His first words to me are, “I booked my ticket west this morning. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do. All I know is that I had to flee DC for a few weeks for moral reasons.” Fantastic. I don’t want to know why. I don’t want to know anything about him, but now with his boyish jabber he has pierced my autonomous writing bubble and I feel observed, distracted, monkeymind. Is he going to steal from me while I’m sleeping? I don’t think so, but who knows? I’m still a bit rattled from this morning’s man in Penn Station with the profusely bloody head incident. His shoes are old. They show lots of wear and miles. I feel like he needs to be loved and nurtured but I’m not available to do that for him. I have other priorities.

Despite my best efforts to look busy reading a book, writing, pretending to sleep, Mr. Moral Turpitude is still dropping one line grenades of conversation such as, “I blame all the troubles in my life on my father,” and “It’s a sure sign that something’s wrong when your second word is ‘nintendo’ like mine was.” Tired of the personal space bombardment, I got up to sit in the lounge car.
By this point of the journey we were somewhere in rural Maryland, north of Cumberland. The lounge car on a train is apparently where people go to socialize at night. It’s like happy hour at a bar as we glide by scenic mountain and river scapes. I buy my root beer and happily sit down to watch the raging rivers and streams that we skate by — observers to a nature we had no part in creating. I’m a bit spellbound that a $162.50 ticket buys me a stolen glance into these beauties of nature that I’d never see otherwise.

The river is our patient companion on this train ride, and sleepy rural towns that remind me of a mix between Appalachia and an old western. Little towns, some consisting of a pocket of no more than 7 houses in a mountain bend, secreted away. What do people do in these towns? What secrets are they hiding that they bury themselves, their very existence, so deep in the woods?

Night is falling and I’m mesmerized by the gauze of dusk, my eyes searching for defining figures and lines. Total nightfall is close and so far from the glow of city light pollution it will be charcoal black, blinding soon.

As the darkness set in outside, I turned back to the lounge to take in what was going on around me. Disco lounge. I walked back to my seat past creepy guys gesturing to open seats next to them and offering to share their snack car- purchased booze.

Back at my seat, my seatmate was as eager as ever to share his tales of moral turpitude. So plugging in headphones and sleeping seemed the only escape.

And sleep I did. For 10 hours, basically until we reached Chicago the next morning. Only I woke up with a terrible headache. A hangover from lack of breathing space. Thank god I have my own private sleeper car on the next train leg!

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2 Responses to “DC to Chicago”

  1. Aunt Tob said

    Good morning Sweetie Pie,
    After reading your second blog it left me thinking about the myriad feelings I was processing while I read it, from–so many needy people everywhere, desperate for someone to care, someone who will listen to their story–even a complete stranger
    To: Dirty old bastards, leave my Godchild alone!
    To: How uncomfortable other people can make us feel and how uncomfortable it is to tell them what we need. Confronting another person is such a hard thing for me. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, appear cold and uncaring, or worse yet selfish and self-absorbed. As a Catholic female I was raised with my fair share of needing to please others and feelings of guilt if I didn’t. I felt myself thinking, what if Heather had said to this seat roommate man, so caught up in the drama of his own life, so oblivious to his imposition on this virtual stranger next to him–what if Heather had said, Hey I’m sorry you have this stuff on your plate but right now I am on my own personal journey and need to have some solitude–nothing personal. Would your power be taken back or would you just be derided by your own feelings of guilt and selfishness? I think of this often, especially when complete strangers come up to me (like in the chicken place in Boston) and start to open their wounds to me. Why me I ask, I have enough burdens on my heart, damn it! My well is pretty dry, I can’t take another sadness. But then I think, God placed us in each others path–be quiet and give them the respect of caring, of listening–how hard is that? Life is complicated. I am grateful for quiet moments these days to allow myself to think and process. Be true to yourself Heather, don’t look back on this journey wishing you could have, should have–just be. I love you to pieces! Aunt Tob

  2. Dad said

    Loved the blog…can’t wait for the next phase of the trip. Like a lot of these “alternative” travel scenarios, it can be a way to get from point A to B or it can be adventure. I hope yours is the latter and a fun one as well.

    Love you.

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