A Long Way from There

Trains, well, I’d only ever ridden on the subway before. That, and the restored trains that ran through Connecticut, green and gold through the wooded hills, pointing out historic points in the landscape. Maybe the BART counted, too. With my Easy Card in hand instead of a paper ticket, I didn’t quite know what to do. The swipe terminal was for transfers only. So I stood on the platform, wondering how to go about this thing, this riding the train. I was off to a job training 45 miles from my home, blearing into the six a.m. sunrise.

This is my favorite kind of mundane adventure, at least these days, even though I can remember it in my body, in the sweat on my brow and the clenching in my chest what it felt like the first time I took public transit alone.

Down underground, a turnstile to one side, and the BART line that ran all the way up Telegraph Avenue beyond. On my side was a machine. Where you got your tickets. Paid your fare. Gained entrance. I walked up to the machine, set into the wall, and the directions swam in front of me.

It wasn’t just the directions. There were people behind me. There were people tapping feet. There were people shifting uncomfortably. And I could not read the directions. I could not make them make sense. One more frustrated sigh… it didn’t even take that. They knew I had no idea what I was doing. They knew. So I fled.

Back up the stairs, running east (ish), two blocks, before I hunched in the shadow of a high-rise. Back against cool stone in the October air, I slid, shirt dragging, back scratched, until I was crouched safely away from the BART. People walked by. They were looking at the weird girl who had started talking to herself.

Do you know what I said?

“Hey, Story. It’s okay. It’s okay. First, take as long as you need to get calm,” I said aloud to myself. People gave me wide berth.

“First, breathe. Good deep breaths. There. That’s it. Now, I want you to know you have permission to be a freaking weirdo. You have permission to not know how to do a thing.”

Okay, so far so good. I’d stopped crying, and my chest didn’t feel as though it was under an elephant.

“Good. Good. You’re breathing again. I want you to stand up, slow or fast as you want to…”

I shot up and brushed myself off.

“… and I want you to walk slowly back to the station.”

West it was. I went back down the stairs, and faced the ticketing machine again.

“Take your time. Read all the directions. Don’t worry about people behind you.”

So I took a good eight minutes to look over the fares, and calculated the exact amount based on the tables given and where I’d hop off. It’d be a long walk from the station up to UC Berkley, and the co-op where my friend lived. But that was in the future. With a steady confidence, I pressed the buttons, and the machine spat out my pass. Then I checked in through the turnstiles. And I was on my way.

Standing on the Tri Rail platform, I thrilled at the flutter of wind as the train pulled up, no idea how to handle my Easy Card. It didn’t seem so big a deal. In retrospect, neither did the BART. But this is Story-now looking back on Story-then, and they are not the same person. I am trying to uncover her, this me who was afraid to buy a ticket. She’s been all but erased, and I can barely make out her shape when I look back over my shoulder. I want to hug her and tell her that it’s all going to be okay, look at how she’ll turn out. Maybe I already have.

But for the day at hand, I stepped into the car, and off to work.

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