On Independence Day weekend 2005, I was working in the Image Collection at DePaul University’s library. Students and teachers were away celebrating their holiday. My boyfriend and I had separated, and although I accepted, along with my friends, that our parting was for the best, I felt desperately alone. I had recently turned 27 years old and impulsively dyed my hair denim blue. Blue was the perfect manifestation to reflect my temperament at the time. I liked to color my hair when I needed a change. It was an easy way to transform into a different person in roughly one hour. However, the alteration was always ephemeral, and eventually I started itching to break free of, well, everything really.
As I sat in the empty office that day, I felt a familiar itch. I daydreamed to myself with a silent sigh, I could leave and no one would even know I was gone. Then, somewhere, a light bulb illuminated. I COULD LEAVE, AND NO ONE WOULD EVEN KNOW I WAS GONE! I shut down my computer, turned off the fluorescent lights, marched out of the office, and fled the library. I drove home, grabbed a small suitcase, flung in a handful of whatever was on my bed, and strolled out the door.
I hiked downtown from Ukrainian Village, directly to the Amtrak train at Union Station. I purchased a round-trip ticket to New York City. The ride was approximated to last 18 hours due to a route through upstate New York, but I did not care. I was doing something! I was going somewhere! I rationalized the journey by reminding myself that my mate from Surrey, UK was visiting New York, therefore the least I could do was convene with her.
From the instant I entered the waiting room, the following events could have been the plot of a Richard Linklater or Michel Gondry flick. Trains were delayed, and travelers, probably returning home from holiday, were mulling around with large packs. One cherubic boy, dressed casually in a T-shirt and baggy, jean shorts, caught my eye. He was sitting on the floor about a yard ahead of me in line and lounging on one of those sturdy travel/hiking backpacks with an aluminum frame.
Ordinarily, when I traveled via train, I effortlessly got an entire aisle to myself, but this trip was an exception. Once I boarded all but a few sparse seats, in my coach, were claimed. I would be fortunate if I could locate a place beside someone who would not flirt with or aggravate me, I thought. My eyes frantically searched for a woman, since she would feasibly solve one concern. I saw an opening alongside a shaggy blond mop of hair and hurried to the neighboring seat’s occupant.
“Is this seat taken?” I asked before even looking at her.
As it turns out, she was a he. In fact, he was the same youngster I noticed in the waiting room. He shook his head, but made obvious to me by his expression and general demeanor that he had also desired to have an aisle to himself. Whatever! At least I knew he would leave me alone, and I would not be distracted, since he was not my type (not that I have a type, but if I did, he would not have been it). I pulled out a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a book I had checked out before I left the library. I pulled my portable CD player (remember CD players?) out of my bag, put on my headphones, and pressed play.
For the following four hours, I either read chapters of the James Joyce book or listened to Embrace’s song Madelaine on constant repeat. Just a few weeks prior on June 30, 2005, the day after my birthday, Embrace performed at the Double Door in Wicker Park in Chicago. Somehow, I got roped into doing grassroots marketing for Filter Magazine in preparation for the show. While I was shoving things into my suitcase earlier that day, I chucked Embrace’s Looking As You Are EP in with my luggage. From the first measure of Madelaine, I was in love. Finally, the CD player battery was about to die. I put away my materials and planned to take a nap.
Two elderly women entered the car at the previous stop and sat directly across from us. They watched a comedy on DVD without headphones so everyone could hear the movie, and they guffawed uproariously. I sank low in my reclined seat attempting to ignore the noise, but found no immunity. Suddenly, a loud snore sawed through the amalgamation of sounds from a row somewhere behind mine. I looked up at my blond neighbor, who also appeared disturbed.
I abandoned my vow of silence and solemnly stated, “Just so you know, I toss and turn in my sleep. I might, unintentionally, slap you.”
He glared, and I noticed his blue eyes (like mine).
“I also snore VERY loudly,” I said in the same earnest tone.
A smirk spread across his thin lips. And with an English accent, he forbearingly stated, “I’ll kill you.” Continue reading