I am standing in front of the automatic doors when the train arrives at the station. My mother is sitting on a cement bench beside the track watching the train pull in. She is six feet away. When the doors don’t open, I pound on the window. She looks up. I have some crazy unformed idea she might call out to a conductor outside the train, tell them her daughter is stuck in the last car. Instead I run upstairs. “No! No!” I yell. And, “Wait!” When I find the conductor in the next car, the train is just beginning to pull away. He won’t do anything to stop it. “This isn’t an emergency,” he says. I scream at him and apologize in the same breath. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t reach my mother on her cell phone, and I can’t calm down. An hour and a half later I am at her house in the foothills, but my heart is still pounding. That night I play those moments over in my head, the shock of watching her outside while I’m trapped on the train. Why did this happen? Maybe because this was not about me. It wasn’t personal. I got to watch my body dump crazed amounts of adrenaline into my system. I remember when I was 24 and my stepfather had a seizure in the middle of the night. I was incoherent when I dialed 911. And even though this is not me yelling at the bus driver, even though this is not me yelling at the notary public, there is something reassuring about the idea of all that adrenaline messing with my mind, as if, just maybe, it’s not completely my fault. Something cracks open in me, a small fissure, a glint—the beginning, I hope, of acceptance.
Today I take Amtrak to Oceanside. According to some schematic of the Peaceful Warrior, this year for me is about adventure. (Last year was stability.) Unwilling as I am to leave the cats for long, I am determined to embrace the small adventures, day trips across town, across the state, over the border. When this one is complete (I am about an hour and a half away from Palm Springs as I type this), it will have been a 12-plus hour trip for two and a half hours in Oceanside, but it is worth it. I spend travel time writing and working on my blog, my breath caught short when I first see the ocean through the train window.
I talk for a long time to a man with a Catalan accent who lives blocks from me. In Oceanside the tide is in, so I can only walk for a short stretch on the beach, but I relish it, the untamed rush of water that splashes my thighs, the frolic of my fellow beachgoers, bright umbrellas clustered everywhere. I love every minute of walking through the town. The air is clean. I study each street as I walk, dream about living in the old apartment building with the tangled bottlebrush lining the sidewalk, windows thrown open to the sea only a short block away. I am not here long enough to get a sense of the community, but nothing rubs me wrong. Already it feels like a new friend, that first blush. I look forward to more visits, to the getting-to-know-you process, to finding the warts, discovering the underbelly. Back in Riverside County in the middle dusk, the fresh sea air and the shimmer of sun on water seem like a dream, like a thousand miles ago. But it’s a good dream, the kind of dream you want to wake up from slowly, the kind you want to savor, wet sand beneath your bare feet, the warm air salty on your tongue.