I felt like I was drowning. The water was rushing over my head fast. I kept trying to catch my breath and find my way to the top of the waves pulling me down. I tried to scream but nobody could hear me underwater. My screams were in vain. I knew in my soul that it was time. It was time for a vacation. I needed to be alone with myself. I needed to leave the things that were drowning me behind even if it was just for a couple of weeks. I brought the train ticket and did not tell a single person. I didn’t want them to tell me anything at all or everything. I just drove in my 20 year old silver SUV and drove to the train station and took out my American Express card and asked for my two way ticket out of my small city and away. Just away.
Dust covered my pale pink suitcase pushed in a small corner of my closet. I didn’t realize it had been years since I had taken it anywhere. I took it out and wiped off the dust and threw it on my bed. I rumbled in and out of my dresser drawers and pulled a few pieces of clothes out. I needed lots of underwear, socks, and shirts for sure. I threw in a few pairs of jeans and a couple pairs of black slacks paired with one white blouse. I knew that I wanted to go swimming in the ocean once I got there so I threw in a couple of swimsuits. The flowered swimsuit was my favorite. It had a huge sunflower on the front of the one piece suit and leaves on the bottom. It was my favorite because my grandmother had given it to me years ago when we both went on a summer diet. She didn’t have to lose weight. She was perfect. I used to tell her she was perfectly petite. I was the one who needed to lose weight and was having trouble doing it. My grandmother knew it and instead of harping on what I should and shouldn’t do to get my weight under control she went on a diet with me. That was her way of doing things. She didn’t push or scream, she nugged and in her quiet way always made me see things differently and see myself for the beautiful woman whom she saw me as and later whom I saw myself as.
The train was only half full of people and I liked that. I brought a few romance novels and mysteries to read on the trip but just looking out of the window gave me peace and solace. I had never seen so many cows and horses on green and brown hills in my life. It reminded me of the days in which I wanted to live on a farm in the country. I wanted to live among the animals. I wanted to wake up in the morning, look at the sunset and feed the cows and horses and pigs on my farm. Those were the days, simpler times. I counted sixteen cows and ten horses in a couple of hours. The weather was sunny as the train moved from town to town and city to city.
There were trees always in the distance. I remembered climbing the trees when I was little and my mom and dad getting nervous as I tried to climb to the highest branch and pick the plums or apples. These trees were different though. These were not the fruit trees I grew up around. These trees felt like wild trees which were growing on the hills where the horses and cows grazed. These trees were different hues of green and stood tall. They were taller than I had ever seen. I wanted to stop the train and climb the trees. I knew that was impossible so I closed my eyes and imagined my little girl climbing trees and singing loudly while throwing apples to my sister waiting on the ground.
When I opened my eyes everything was black. The train was moving fast through a tunnel. I saw nothing but blackness out of the window and thought about the blackness I was running from. Then the light came through the windows again. The sunlight that was now setting on the other side of the mountains. The yellows, oranges, purple and blues lit up the sky. The sun was slowly descending behind the mountains. It was a glorious sight to see. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of the window and the setting sun. I closed my eyes and imagined the day that I would see my final sunset. I hoped that this would not be the last one. The morning brought a new beginning to a new day. I stared at the cows and horses again from the window. I named one of the horses Black Beauty, from the book I read as a child. The horse's coat glistened in the hot sun as we passed by her. Next to her was a beautiful brown one. I named her the brown stallion. She looked strong and stubborn yet nurturing to her calf. I could tell she was a good mother. I thought I could talk to animals, especially horses when I was young. Everyone thought I was just pretending. But, I was not pretending. The animals really did speak to me in a way they never spoke to anyone else. Brown Stallion nodded to me as the train sped by and I nodded back. We understood each other.
The train stopped a few miles later to pick up more passengers. The people were colorful. Most were dressed in what looked like their Sunday best. A small woman about 70 entered the train and walked past my seat wearing a large orange and white floppy hat with lace. I called those hats “Church hats.” She smiled at me before she turned around and came back to where I was sitting. She didn’t say a word but I felt her eyes were looking at my soul. She sat in the seat directly behind me. I went back to staring out of the window once the train started moving again. I counted one moose, two horses and two cows in the half mile the train moved. When the doors opened again to let passengers in I felt the warmth of the sunshine on my arm.
The day was hot and I was glad I was on the train. I started counting the birds. So many birds perched on the telephone wires and flew across the sky. Pretty soon there was more than I could count. The birds were like my blessings, too many to count most days. The crows sat on the telephone wire waiting. I felt like they were waiting. Just waiting until the time was right to fly. The train whizzed past them and they flew. Tens of them filled the afternoon sky. Pretty soon they disappeared behind the fluffy clouds. My eyes darted to a nearby log on one of the hills. It was a huge brown log which seemed out of place. Maybe it was from a fallen tree which nobody heard. It was just there, in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I stand in my yard, the center of my yard, and it feels like the log must feel, if it could feel.
The train passed by some balloons floating in the sky. A few inches from the floating balloons were some high school or college graduates. I couldn’t tell which but it didn’t matter. I got a quick glimpse of their happy faces as they threw their graduation caps in the air. I never went to college. My plan was to get a degree by the time I was 25 but as they say life happened. I took a job as a receptionist after high school and after ten years I managed to work my way up to vice president of marketing. It was not an easy climb up that ladder and so many times I wanted to just give up. But, I didn’t. I channeled my inner strength. I was definitely a strong woman like the warrior women who came before me in my family and the ones who will come after me. One of the balloons didn’t fly as high as the rest. It sort of lingerie in the hazy skies and danced to its own music. That was my favorite balloon. I would like to think I dance to my own beat, however awkward it is.
We passed more trees, squirrels, horses, cows, moose and other wildlife on the way to my destination. The skies changed colors just about as many times as the leaves did. I love this time of the year. Everything is changing and becoming more colorful and eventually the holidays will be here and everyone will seem to treat each other just a little nicer and kinder even if it is just for a short time. I waved to a small boy on the platform when the train stopped again to pick up passengers. The little boy, wearing the bright blue coat and knit hat to match, was not boarding the train. An older lady had kissed him on the forehead and hugged him and waved as she boarded the train. He waved to her and just as he was turning to leave with his father he turned back, looked at me and waved and smiled. He reminded me of my nephew, Hayden. He was about the same age, just a little taller than Hayden. I miss him already.
There were no more stops before I got where I was going. I eased back and enjoyed the familiar hardness of my seat. I gazed at the passengers around me and then back out of the window. We were almost there. I knew that because this is not the first time I had taken this trip. I estimated about five or six more stops and I would be there. I would be in a place I had not been in five years. It was my happy place and the only place in the whole world that felt like home. Although I hadn’t grown up in this place I had felt like a native. I counted twenty three trees and six hillsides where countless numbers of horses were grazing with a couple of goats. I looked at my watch and it was almost 8 am. I had seen the sunrise and the heaviness was slowly lifting from my soul. I felt like I was finally able to breathe. The water was not drowning me anymore. I was swimming to the top, the air was coming, finally coming.
The train stopped at my final destination, Port Myers, Mississippi. I gathered my bags and looked out of the window one last time. I was looking for my person. My person was standing right where she always stood in the middle of the station, her head swiveling around looking for me. I walked as quickly as I could over to her.
“Aunt Kaylina.” I screamed.
“Justina baby!” She screamed back.
We embraced each other in the biggest hug ever. I didn’t want to let go. I was home.
“Justina, let me look at you.” Aunt Kaylina said, take a step back.
Aunt Kaylina took a long look at me and smiled big. She hugged me again and this time a little tighter.
“Justina, you are going to be alright. You’re home now and I can’t wait to meet that little baby in your belly.” Aunt Kaylina laughed.
“When I am with you I am always home.” I said.
We both walked a little slower and much happier to her car. It was true. I was home and home to stay for a while.