“For all my life, I’ve wished I could be someone else. Somewhere else. New York. I remember being a kid, flipping through magazines at the one dentist office within a five mile radius, looking at the glamour and flashiness that the models and actresses flaunted in their pictures.”
“Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere” – Journey (1981)
For all my life, I’ve wished I could be someone else. Somewhere else. New York. I remember being a kid, flipping through magazines at the one dentist office within a five mile radius, looking at the glamour and flashiness that the models and actresses flaunted in their pictures. I remember the article I was reading, something about the Big Apple, with a beautiful picture of Lindsay Lohan in the right hand corner. You know. Before she got sent to rehab.
She was in a red dress that skimmed the floor with these big hoop earrings. I flipped to the next page where there were even more A-List celebrities, carrying around their mini dogs in their mini bags before it was passé, and I fell in love. From that day on, I knew New York was my town.
I wouldn’t stop bothering my mom for a dress just like Lindsay’s. She got me one from the thrift shop that looked and smelled like it’d been worth about two dollars. Mom told me she’d gotten it for one. Did I care? No. I wore that dress until the fraying sleeves wore down to threads and I had had to cut up one of Dad’s old shirts for makeshift straps.
Idaho wasn’t ready for a star like me. And I made sure everyone around me knew that. My friends got tired of me talking their ears off about how great New York was and how terrible Idaho was. Can you blame me, though? We aren’t called the potato state for nothing. There’s nothing else here. It’s not exactly like you can party it up in a silo or anything.
So I made a plan. My town had one train station about two miles away from where I lived. Maybe I should have bought my tickets a little earlier, considering the fact that the only tickets left were for a train leaving at midnight. The only problem was that the ticket fare for a cross country trip was close to $200. Which meant that I would have to ask my parents for the money.
The closest I’ve ever been to a cross-country trip is driving to my Aunt Tilda’s house about two hours away from mine. My parents aren’t exactly what you’d call well-traveled people either. So I expected them to be a little protective of their only child going to a far away city and whatnot. They laughed. And when they saw how upset I looked, they stopped for a second.
“Why do you want to go to New York?” Dad asks, not even looking up from his newspaper. I could tell they weren’t taking me seriously.
Okay, so maybe I had already threatened to run away from home in eighth grade. They probably thought it was just one of those phases that I went through as a kid. But I’m not a kid anymore! I’m almost 18!
“I’ve looked at the train fare already, and it’s close to $200.” I showed them the online train schedule. I’ve already established that I’m an adult by showing them that I’m responsible for looking up the train times. To ask anything more of me would be overkill.
“And you just expect us to give you the money?” Mom stops peeling potatoes long enough to exchange glances with Dad. I know that glance. It’s the should-we-entertain-our-delusional-daughter-or-tell-her-how-the-world-actually-works glance. Which is ridiculous. I’m not delusional, and this isn’t a phase.
“It’s not just giving me the money, Mom.” I roll my eyes. “Think of this as an investment. I’ll go to New York, I’ll make money, and when I get rich and famous enough, I’ll buy you and Dad a house someplace better than Idaho.”
“How, exactly, do you plan on making this money?”
I stop for a second. Do I even know what I’m planning on doing in New York? Whatever. I’ll figure it out when I get there. They don’t need to know. God! Why can’t they just support me? It’s just $200. And the money I’ll need to rent out a place or stay in a motel. And the money I’ll need for food and a ticket back. But it’s not like I’ll be coming back anyway, so I don’t even need that $200. I’m already thinking ahead and saving money. So I go about convincing my parents the only way I know how: begging.
“Please? Please? Please?” I stretch out each syllable and make eye contact with my parents, hoping to send across some kind of subliminal message that says, “I need to go to New York now, and if I don’t, I might die.”
“Let’s say you did go. Where would you even stay? We’ve only left you at home alone once while we went to Marcie’s wedding.” Mom starts to cut up the potatoes into little chunks. It feels like the potatoes are my dreams, and my parents are just willing to cut them up into pieces for soup, or whatever dish we’re having tonight for dinner.
“I’d stay in a motel,” I answer quickly. “They’re cheap, and I’d be able to stay there for a while.”
They don’t look convinced.
“No.” Mom goes back to the potatoes. I can feel my dream slipping through my fingers like a wet bar of soap. Ew.
“But that’s not fair!” I feel tears gathering behind my eyeballs. I can picture it now. Me, years from today, in another house just like this one. I’m peeling potatoes, or washing dishes, or mucking out a cow yard. I’ll be just like… my parents. My boring, mediocre parents. I can feel the walls of our tiny kitchen start to close in on me. I have to get out of this state.
I manage a smile and try to make eye contact with my dad. “Okay. You’re right. I’m not responsible enough to stay by myself, especially in a whole other state.” I force a laugh but end up sounding like a car backfiring.
Mom pushes her mouth into a straight line and nods. “I’m glad you see it from our perspective.”
“I’ll just go to my room and get ready for dinner.” I turn to walk upstairs.
Dinner that night is kind of weird. Unusually quiet. But that might be because I’m trying to think of how to execute my master plan titled, How I’m Going to Get Out of Idaho by Stealing Money from my Parents While They’re Sleeping.
I mull over my options. I don’t have access to any of the things I see in the spy movies, which means I’ll just have to sneak into their room. They keep this ceramic bottle somewhere on their nightstand that has our emergency money in it. This is an emergency.
We finish eating in silence and go upstairs to wash up and go to sleep. Once I hear the faint snoring coming from the room across the hall, I know it’s time for me to put my plan into action.
I roll across the bed and plant my feet on the floor as softly as I can. I start to make my way to my parents’ room. Barely three steps into my plan, my foot and the floor create this awful creaking sound that gives me a heart attack. I reach the door and turn the handle slowly, wincing a little when it squeaks. I stop for a second and listen for any sign that says they’re awake. When there aren’t any, I turn the handle the rest of the way to let myself in.
I tiptoe my way to Dad’s side of the bed and reach around on the nightstand trying to find the ceramic bottle. I make contact with something cold, smooth, and cylindrical. Score. I shake it around a little to make sure it’s the right thing, and sure enough, the money inside makes a faint swishing sound as it hits the insides of the bottle.
My dad grunts in his sleep, and I almost fall back, but catch myself on the edge of the nightstand. I come back to my room and switch on the lights. I uncork the bottle and pull the money out with a pair of tweezers.
There’s about $500 in 20 dollar bills. I decide to take all of it. I empty out my school bag and pack a sweatshirt, some jeans, three shirts, and four changes of underwear and socks. I stuff the money into a fanny pack that I’ve put on under my hoodie and get downstairs as quietly as I can.
Once I make it outside, I do a little victory dance. Now all I need to do is get to the station. I check the time on my phone. 10:46. I have around an hour to get to the station before midnight. I walk down the driveway connecting my house to the road. It’s a quiet night and close enough to summer that I can feel the shirt under my hoodie start to stick to my skin.
I’m doing it! I’m finally getting out of Idaho!
It takes a while for my eyes to get adjusted to the lighting at the station. I see the ticket desk as soon as I get inside. There’s a pimply, tired looking kid around my age sitting behind it.
“Hi. One ticket for the train to New York?” I slide the money into the little compartment under the speaker. He looks up and types something into a machine and hands me the ticket. I wait for him to be impressed, maybe ask some questions about why I’m going to New York. A couple of seconds pass. Nothing. I lean with my elbow on the counter. “Yeah, I’m going to New York. By myself. I just decided I needed to get out of Idaho, you know? Who knows how long I’ll be gone.” I check to see if he’s listening. He’s not. “I might meet some celebrities there too, no big deal. I’ll ride a subway or two, go to Central Park. I’ve heard it’s all very glamorous.” The guy finally looks up. Yes! A reaction! He opens his mouth to say something. Maybe about how cool it is that I’m taking this journey? Or maybe about how he’s always wanted to go to New York too and how he’s so jealous I’m living out my dream?
“Did you say something?” He takes out the earbuds that I’ve just noticed and looks at me with a unimpressed, mildly annoyed expression. The earbuds play loud rock music that cuts through the silence of the station.
“Um. Nothing. Have a nice night.” I take my elbow off the counter and walk quickly to the seating area. Okay. Not exactly the reaction I was looking for. Not really a reaction at all, if I’m being honest.
But it’s okay! In about 15 minutes, everything about this garbage state will be history. The train will arrive, and I’ll be off to live the life I always knew was for me. I go out to the platform and sit on a bench with my hands tucked into the pocket of my hoodie and wait. Then, the train pulls up.
I enter the car and shuffle all the way to the back. I hoist my duffel bag up into the compartment and sit down in a window seat. It’s all dark outside with the exception of the lights from the station. I’m ready to reenact the victory dance from when I left the house when I notice there are two other people sitting in the car with me. I shrink down into my seat.
There’s a lady sitting in the seat across from me. She has hair that looks like it’s been dyed, and even though I’m sitting pretty far away, the smell of cigarettes and cheap perfume wafts from her direction. I feel kind of awkward, but it’s not like I’ll have any reason to talk to her anyway. I settle down into my seat and lean back into the headrest. I’m just about to doze off when a guy gets on and sits in the seat in front of me. From what I can see from the back, he has on a Pistons jersey.
The train jerks forward a little, and we start to move out of the station. I press my hands up against the window like a little kid and move my face as close to the glass as I can and crane my neck up to look at the sky.
For all I complain about Idaho, it really does look pretty at night. We even got some national reserve for looking at the sky. The stars look scattered, like someone took a paintbrush covered in white paint and flicked the bristles until the dark canvas was covered with tiny dots of light.
We start to pick up speed. I hear shifting in the compartment where my bag is. Then, my bag tumbles to the ground with a graceful thump, articles of clothing flying everywhere within a four foot radius. Crap. I scramble around looking for the things that fell out and manage to locate two shirts and three pairs of socks.
The lady sitting across from me looks around her seat and finds another pair of socks. She hands it to me. “Thank you so much.” I take the socks from her and stuff them into my bag. I’m positive my face is bright red.
“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a small smile. “You seem to have packed quite a bit. Might I ask where you’re going?” Finally! Someone who shows interest. I’m going to pretend she didn’t just see my pair of socks with the embarrassing polka dot print on them.
“I’m going to New York by myself,” I say. The guy in front of me turns around and hands me one of my shirts. I don’t want to seem rude, so I thank him and ask where he’s from. You know. Small talk. I’ll need it for when I rub elbows with Taylor Swift.
“I’m from Detroit.”
“Ohhh. Like 8 Mile?” I hope I’ve hit an emotional chord for him. Like, maybe he really likes Eminem and wants to follow in his footsteps and reach rap stardom. He gives me a blank look.
“Nevermind. But isn’t Detroit way closer to New York than Idaho?”
He shrugs. “I stayed with some relatives here for a while.”
I turn to the lady next to me and ask her where she’s from.
“I’m a singer. I have connections with some friends in Brooklyn, and they said they’d book me a gig at their bar.” She brushes her hair behind her ears and checks her phone.
“That’s really cool.” I smile at the both of them. None of us know what else to say, so we all go back to staring out the windows, looking at our phones, and sleeping.
As the anticipation grows in my stomach, so does the exhaustion from all the planning and scheming I’ve done for the past five hours. I close my eyes. Hopefully I’ll wake up just when we arrive in New York. It’s kind of like a fresh start.
A fresh start for me and everyone else on the midnight train.