I wrote this piece in response to prompt on dream sequences.
Penn Station. I look for the train to Northampton, Massachusetts. I want to go home, and the woman in front of me is taking forever to get her ticket. I am pressed for time, alone, and anxious. I dig around in my bag for my wallet. I open my wallet, pull out every card—insurance, membership, library—until I find my credit card. I hurriedly purchase my ticket. While I put my wallet back into my bag, the train pulls away. I run to the platform and shout “no” as an amusement park train, bright red with gold lettering, rounds the bend away from the city. The train conductor in his striped overalls is oblivious to my distress. I turn to see my daughters playing stringed instruments and dancing.
This dream stays with me for days. My daughters dance, and I want to go home.
Somehow, just now, I realize that my daughters are adults. Ridiculous, I know. College graduations celebrated a decade ago. Both girls survived graduate school and launched careers. Meghan joined an architectural firm, married, and has two children of her own. Three years ago, Natalie made a big move to New York City, opened an acupuncture practice, and fell in love. My daughters are fully in their own lives. For days after this dream, my emotions tangle up in my throat.
My throat constricts around these emotions as I tell my husband, not their father, that I miss them. I need to spend time with my girls. I could take the train to New York to visit Natalie. Maybe Meghan would join us. Could she take a weekend away from her young family to spend time with her mother and sister?
I rehearse the trip in my mind, but my imagination doesn’t take me far. I have no idea how to get from Penn Station to Queens. I flip through memories of transit systems. Boston. Chicago. Washington, DC. Seattle. Salt Lake City. Atlanta. Paris. All are infinitely easier to understand than New York City Transit, with 472 stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (the T): 149 stations.
Washington Metro: 91.
I grew up in the Boston suburbs. As a teen, I learned the T with its Orange, Red, and Green lines. I know the open weave of these color lines and the order of the stations (Sullivan Station, Community College, North Station, Haymarket—please drop the “r”). I know when to make my way toward the doors to exit.
Seattle perplexed me with its the honor system on the Light Rail. Riders purchase tickets from a kiosk but there are no turnstiles, and no one checks your ticket before you board. TRAX in Salt Lake City is similar. Fare inspectors supposedly circulate through the trains, but I never saw this happen.
The Atlanta transit system is clean, safe, and easy. MARTA is the cheapest option to get from airport to hotel, and to local tourist attractions. Rather than Uber or Lyft, I waited on the Peachtree sidewalk for Bus 816 to take me to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum.
The Paris Métro is a tighter weave of colored lines that serves 303 stations. Despite jetlag and the limits of high school French, I quickly learned the routes to take me from a rented apartment in Montmartre to destinations all over the City of Lights. I finessed the flick of the wrist necessary to unlock the train door handle before exiting.
My one experience with New York City transit was more harried. There are multiple lines that will theoretically get you to where you want to go. Express trains breeze through your intended stop. Some trains run only on the weekdays. Some trains alter routes in the evening. Some lines run parallel to each other with identical station names, but the stations are not the same.
In my dream, I want to go home. And that conductor in the striped overalls? He commands the Explorer Express at the EcoTarium in Worcester, MA. Those train tracks curve through the museum grounds. I want to climb aboard for an open-air family excursion through forest and meadow. In my dream, the Explorer Express left the station without me, and I turned to see my daughters in their adult lives.
I text my daughters—could we plan a visit? I offer to get tickets to the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. Their excited responses fill my heart. Throughout their childhood, we listened to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on Christmas morning. The aroma of cinnamon and balsam filled our home. The taste of peppermint and chocolate filled our mouths. We decide on a weekend in early December.
I cannot imagine how I will travel from Penn Station to Natalie’s apartment in Queens. Instead, I imagine stringed instruments and dancing, cinnamon and balsam, peppermint and chocolate.