It is early morning outside a European city. I am riding a train from the airport. I am exhausted. I am exhilarated. I feel infinite.
It takes several legs and a few thousand miles to get here. Flights depart the east coast at night, usually 7 or 8. I am always jittery at the outset – the drive to the airport, the lines through security, the wait at the gate. During takeoff, I am relieved at finally being in motion.
The plane ascends. The adrenaline dissipates once the plane levels out in the sky. Gently, now in the dark sky, fatigue creeps in.
I used to favor the window. I would look out at the endless waves of the ocean, shimmering in moonlight, drowse in and out. Now I prefer the aisle, value the ability to stand up and move around a little more, even if it means getting jostled occasionally. I am more fidgety than I used to be.
Depending on the aircraft, there are screens in the headrests. Each passenger is plugged into their own small matrix, faces bathed in blue light. Hours pass. I sleep lightly, a series of stops and starts.
The plane debarks, connecting sometimes in Iceland, other times another city. There are endless corrals of lines through the international terminal, devoid of contact with any other travelers. I feel oddly between, definitely far from home but not quite at the destination yet.
The restroom light feels glaring. I brush my teeth in front of strangers. Other women comb their hair, splash water on their faces. I glance in the mirror. We all look tired.
Several more hours of a connecting flight, baggage claim, customs, and then anticlimactically, one final door. I emerge into the bustle of a foreign airport alone. Everything feels precarious, unreal.
At this point, it is 8 or 9 in the morning. I get a coffee out of habit. I am already wired from fatigue and the strange landscape, but this feels like a normal start to the day.
I get a ticket, usually at a kiosk. The wording on the monitor is stilted, something fumbled in translation.
I board. The train edges out of the station. My heart surges. This is one of my favorite parts of the trip, regardless of the destination. This flood of feeling. There is sunlight. It is daytime. I am tired and electrified at the same time. I look out the window, unblinking, trying to swallow the sight of everything.
Graffiti wraps the cars parked in adjacent lanes. These strange languages have always entranced me, made even more magical now, the letters like runes.
Sometimes, I am heading toward downtown. Highways run parallel to the track. I marvel at the different models of cars, the layout of highway signs, the sprawling skyline on the horizon. Other times, I am heading away from the city center. The train usually moves through an industrial area near the airport – a network of silos, warehouses, trucks – but then relaxes. Lines of trees buffer the train, breaking when towns dot the railway. I glimpse back yards, curtains wafting in open windows.
At an outside glance, it may look like I am simply riding a train. It is so much more. I am 12, 22, 32. The years fall away.