There is something inherently magical about long train rides to destinations unknown. The blaring whistle, heard as if from worlds away, awakens within the soul a sort of breathless whimsy that our bodies and minds cannot completely comprehend. It answers the aching cry buried, forgotten, lying oft abandoned deep within the bowels of our guts; an instinctive call to see, to go, to do. To witness the world that we’ve been plopped on, naked, alone, and hungry–to explore. It is a siren wail that demands of us our full commitment, appealing to an ancient desire to forge on, to discover; a quest long since forgotten within the recesses of our collective racial memory.
I am happier than I’ve been in a long, long time.
Travel can be expensive, but I was lucky and unlucky enough to cultivate a savings account adequate to feed my ravenous lust for wandering.
Lucky in that I have the money.
Unlucky in that I earned it through a legal settlement from the man who crushed his SUV into my passenger-side door when I was eleven years old, ruining my knees, corrupting my childhood, and stealing away the normalcy of my adolescent life and replacing it with pain, suffering, and a dizzying array of narcotics no kid should ever be exposed to, let alone need in order to function properly.
But I am in no way complaining or lamenting the cards fate saw fit to deal me. In fact, she was generous. My experience built me up and tore me down and taught me how to create a successful and beautiful life out of the rubble, much like a toddler crafting a masterpiece of misshapen Legos, or a pre-teen with shaking hands constructing a bafflingly intricate house of cards, or an almost-adult sliding a brick from a Jenga tower twice her height–as I did, once, in a tequila-fueled bliss on a deliciously humid Costa Rican evening–and squealing with glee when the structure holds its tension.
My squeal of glee is subdued, now (but no less passionate); a twenty-two-year-old woman of hyperactive imagination, emotional oddity, and questionable motives, but only because I don’t want to disturb those in the cars adjacent to mine!
I’ve come so far, and I’m only now realizing just how far that journey has been. Defined by agony, physical and mental; by the horrid trappings of addiction and the shame, the guilt, the self-loathing that comes with it as lime and salt pairs with a tequila shot; by sleep paralysis and night terrors and hallucinations, whether visual, olfactory, or auditory.
But these are not the only defining experiences shaping the bizarre contours of my life. It’s also been filled with love–personal, friendly, familial, and romantic–and that is what balances my existence and shovels the coals into the engine of my being, forcing me to forge on, to keep going, to pursue my dreams, however many and varied and, sometimes, unrealistic as they might be.
I am proud. Destiny threw me into a pit–a ravine, really, a canyon miles deep–but I climbed back up, hand over hand until my palms were a bloody and mangled mess and my lungs were scraped raw by the heat and the dust of my ascent.
I’m intelligent. I’m passionate. I’m wildly creative. My mind is bursting with a voracious zeal for ideas and curiosities. If you would’ve told me this is the person I’d be, back when I was seventeen or eighteen or nineteen, even twenty, I would’ve laughed in your face, a sound full of callous disdain. “I’ll be dead by twenty-three,” I’d snap with a vicious conviction so potent you would’ve believed me, too.
My twenty-third birthday has reared its head, and I’ve greeted it with open arms and a warm embrace.
I am no longer content to die.
I have so many more reasons to live.
I gaze longingly from the window of my train car; a tiny little bubble of a room that appeals to each and every one of my wants, my needs. Two cozy chairs. A toilet, a sink. A bed overhead equipped with a seatbelt harness to prevent a potentially deadly fall; a foldable desk that doubles, quite curiously, as a checkers board. A miniature gin and tonic nestles in my hand. The glass is cool to the touch; a little luxury I’ll allow myself on such a trip. Landscapes roll by in slow blurs of brown and blue and brightest green: vast lakes, rich forests, and rocky cliffs punctuated by the smallest touches of humanity in the form of rusted bridges, telephone poles, and tiny farms of grain, of corn, of fruits and vegetables flourishing under the late-summer New York sun. They fare better than I do in the August heat, bursting with colors so vivacious their purpose might’ve been to blind you and I with their radiant enthusiasm.
I’ve traveled much. I’ve sipped water from coconuts cut fresh from beachside palms in Barbados; I’ve steeped in natural thermal pools in the wildly biodiverse jungles of Costa Rica; I’ve walked the quietening grounds of Greece’s Ancient Olympia; I’ve hiked Scotland (with a bum leg and a cane, no less), from the Isle of Arran and Ballater to Arbroath and Aberdeen and Fort William; I’ve sampled freshly-castrated bull’s testicles cooked on the same branding iron used to identify the poor calf whose balls I so casually consumed in the Australian Outback.
I have been blessed with so many unique and awe-inspiring opportunities to see this world. And I don’t plan to end the tradition of globetrotting anytime soon.
This train is a panacea, the route a poultice on my many metaphysical wounds. The tracks chortle beneath the metal chrysalis I sit in, barreling along, blindingly fast; the rails giggle and whisper well-wishes to me. The train itself, it jostles and it groans. It grumbles beneath the weight of a hundred souls, seeking a place other than their home; searching for a smidge of surreality to call their own for a day, a week, a month, even, if they’ve got the cash.
I don’t need a nurse, or a doctor, or a psychiatrist. Don’t get me wrong; I take medication for my condition. The wonders of pharmaceuticals are endless, even if they are, at times, concerning.
But right now, all I need is this train.
The train and the magic she promises and provides: that is my medication. My remedy.
The ambling scenery turns my demons to bunnies, cotton-tailed and harmless.
The rhythmic shudder beneath my feet turns my screams to sighs of contentment and relief.
The train is a goddess; the ultimate prescription to the terrors that ail my body and hound my sleep.
I am eternally thankful for her.
The train is my pill; the journey, my cure.