since my parents split when i was eleven, i spent a good part of each holiday traveling. at the start, i only took amtrak trains, which traveled directly between erie, pennsylvania (my dad) and chicago, illinois (my mom). the in-between-ness of the trip would leave me in a sort of persona limbo; i hadn’t yet figured out who i was independent of who my parents were.
so i would pretend to be someone else.
at first, this manifested itself in only thinking about things on the train i wouldn’t allow myself to think about elsewhere. since i was such a devout catholic, the thinking was usually done about sins people commit, why they do so, what happens to them, to their victims, when they do.
(sociology 101. always my father’s daughter.)
later, when i hit puberty, i stared at people a lot, and even let myself get so far as think about kissing them before i beat those feelings down into their proper repressed place.
then there was the accent.
i would affect a (horridly americanized) british accent, and talk to people. my mother is an excellent actress and has a full command of accents and dialects, because that’s her job. i picked up a few of the general nuances from being around her so many years, and i even spent a summer at cambridge university, but i cannot pretend to be very good at any of it. in fact, i know i’m frightful. i didn’t then.
one trip i decided to sit in the lounge – where the sinners (read: cool people) sat, talked, played cards, smoked, drank – and write in my journal. i immediately noticed a group of three people slightly older than me when they entered laughing and toting a box of froot loops cereal and a deck of cards.
i was entranced. i watched. the girl had short, dark hair and olive skin, pixie-like; one of the boys was blond and fair, and the other had darkest brown skin and dreadlocks. they were all so together and just the sort of people that this me would want to know. finally, somehow, i worked up the nerve to join them at their table, and struck up a conversation about the froot loops in my faux british accent.
they bought it. oooo, where are you from? they wanted to know. i had done so much thinking about what i’d tell anyone if ever asked that i came up with this entire background, most of it fueled by the places i saw when i was in england.
i can’t exactly remembered how we all got to truth or dare, or why we incorporated it with the “spin the bottle” random choosing mechanism, and i definitely don’t remember why we used my trusty plastic cow instead of a real bottle, but there it is. it didn’t take long for the two “couples” to pair off, both brunettes together and me with the blond, gawky, utterly charming artist boy.
one dare involved the two girls wearing our bras on our heads for ten minutes; another involved asking someone sitting in the lounge car for a sip of their drink and then chugging the whole thing. (what newfound freedom! what little beasts we were! four of us against the whole train!) both truths and dares soon turned to sex, of course, albeit the most innocent kind: the very last dare involved the boy kissing me for exactly one minute and no tongues were even involved. it was that movie-star, closed lips-to-lips mashing sort of kiss, and i remember it so fondly: it was the first time i had forgotten to feel guilty for happiness.
when we opened our eyes, the other couple had disappeared, presumably to give us privacy. the boy and i spent the rest of the time sitting together back in the coach, holding hands, talking about our lives – i had a life? o yes, that drab old thing back there – and promising to write letters, to keep in touch. to somehow hold onto the innocence of kissing cleanly a stranger whose last name i would never know.
i remember him, though. i remember the letter that came in the mail just a week later, that i never responded to. the old-me just didn’t know what to say.