I am traveling. On the second floor of a train, knees pressed to my chest; I have not slept in two days, my mind is a terrible place.
The trees are barely visible in the swollen dark, but thin branches spread up and out, gracing the curves of my peripheral vision; they tremble a little, a colorless, sleepless parade spiraling out along the tracks. The train is an incautious and indelicate creature, shaking hard, making disconsolate sounds. My face is dirty, and my hair lies in a dry coil at the base of my neck. Sweat dotting the insides of arms, coffee stains like animal stripes on the sleeves of my down jacket: it’s easy to see where I have been, the symptoms and saviors of my life are all about me, visible, deducible. I’m a victim at the scene of a crime, silhouette traced out in yellow tape, what’s the cause of death? And what are you going to tell me when I peel myself off the hardwood floor, scratch at the fingerprints of blood at my collarbone and ask where the nearest subway is, if I can go home now?
I’m not getting any rest tonight, that much is certain. So I pile my bags at my feet and keep watch, as wide swipes and swatches of land come and go. Patches of city, blurred out by motion and the gray morning hours, as though partially erased by a fidgeting and forgetful goddess. Spots of yellow-orange light flooding warehouses, parking lots, silver trucks. A factory, huffs of smoke, expanding and retracting in the air, like blood flowing down the tar roads or rainwater tonguing lazily at rock, just like your legs stretching out from underneath the sheets, curling around the piles of slightly wet laundry at the foot of your bed. Train tracks clot and congeal, dipping underneath bridges, around lakes that shine like oil spills in the night, skimming the surface of the planet, taking us along with it: anywhere, everywhere.
I don’t know where I am, sometimes. I’m caught between worlds, pinned underneath a membrane. Living feels like an out-of-body experience; see Emma walk, see Emma run. Someone I don’t know is walking around in my clothes, and I hang from traffic lights, watching them cross the street in the old jean jacket I took from my mother, in my black slacks and chapped lips. I won’t grab at their shoulders, yank them into an alley and steal it all back, I won’t pull my fleshy, stretch-marked skin over my knees and talk with my real eyes. I don’t feel safe, or trustworthy, not yet. Is this what growing up feels like? Is that what growing up is (deciding: I am dangerous)?
Cities split into suburbs: neat rows of pastel-colored houses, lawn ornaments. Then the sidewalks disappear and green-bright, nut-brown fields whiz past, lines of buds tended by old hearts in wife-beaters, blessed in the springtime by the bees that lay low and silent now, pressed into the cells of their golden hives. Boarded-up convenience stores, iceberg blue water towers, red barns: a little chewed-up at the edges, but all the more beloved. These towns don’t warrant a mention on the map, but there are men here who will be born in puddles of slick blood on cotton blankets and who will be buried near the fringe of trees, caked by cold and dirt, underneath Midwestern petunias; they will live out the entirety of their days in homes that are more unknown to the rest of mankind than the outlying strips of the universe.
It’s seven in the morning, now. I’m eating an overpriced chocolate bar, rolling sugar in my mouth, and my head lolls against the seat, and I am fighting sleep. The train turns a corner and I see the river; the first river in over a year. It hits me hard in the face, a fistful of gunshots, gold dust. I never realized that those threads and layers of water, strung out across the bowl of the land, could mean so much; my heart grows in some indeterminate but definite way. The sky, rubbed raw, is softening slowly; there is sunlight coming through the creases, cracking the ribs in the curvature of the Earth, soaking in like ink through paper veins, like time oxidizing faces, fire through the cover of trees.
I am in a moment of my life and I can’t decide if I like it or not. I’m awfully confused. But, all things considered, this is a pretty world to be confused in.
I remember a good song and tap it out on the carpet, I finger the ticket stubs in my pockets, I watch warehouses, men, rivers and it reminds me of the places I have been, the people I have been in those places. I have been the dollop trollop, I have been lady disquiet, I have been the corpse under your floorboards. I have been the songbird, the murderer, I have been the child lost in the forest. I am dangerous now, but I have been safe. Where do I have to go, to be safe again?
I am traveling. I have not slept in two days; my mind is a terrible place.