The first time was in the back seat of a Honda CRV.
It was unexpected. I had anticipated the opposite that morning: the day was supposed to be the beginning of one month alone. Before the magic in the Honda, I arrived to the Albany train station and reminded myself that I had resolved to be fine with being alone. In fact, I had decided that the month-long artists residency would be all about me and my work. I would be alone by choice. No distractions, no contact, no company, no intimacy, no sharing.
I exited the Amtrak train I had caught at Penn Station after my husband B dropped me off. On the platform, I walked behind two lanky college boys, shaggy haired, wearing Tevas in the rain, and pulling their wheeled duffels. They talked excitedly, all “Dude, it’s so cool your folks let me stay” and “Anytime, man. We’ll hang with my friends at the bar.” Dude’s mom greeted them in the train station, then left to drive her Subaru right up to the station entrance so the boys could stow their luggage into the trunk. I imagined their car ride, catching up on news, arriving to a familiar home, Dude dropping off luggage in his childhood bedroom, Man making himself at home, and both being treated to favorite foods.
Everyone at the train station was awaited and greeted by someone. There were hugs, cars pulled up to the entrance of the station to minimize the time spent in the rain, insisted “let me take your bag.” And there I was: a small, mid-40s woman, hauling a big backpack that held my laptop and pulling a wheeled suitcase with enough comfortable underwear for a month. I was alone. Just like I had wished.
The email earlier in the week from the artists center staff had informed me the meeting place was the one coffee shop in the train station, a Coffee Beanery. It had not occurred to me that it was possible there were multiple coffee shops in the Albany train station, it being more than two hours out of the immediate orbit of New York City and the packed urban centers where I lived my daily life and had my choice of bodegas or overly precious coffee bars or Dunkin Donuts.
I knew someone from the artists center would be at the station to meet me and other artists arriving on the 1:45 pm train, but I had no idea whether it would be a male or a female nor who the other residents were or even how many. There was no one displaying a sign among the people all geared in rain jackets due to the downpoury weather. I circled around the roped-off seating area outside the main café space. I looked for small clusters, people who looked artsy or lost. Everyone looked like they knew each other and where they were going on that raining afternoon. I walked around with all the stuff I had thought I could not live without for one whole month, and resented it for feeling heavy and cumbersome, and resented the people around me who seemed happy in their reunions.
There were three women standing off to the side of the main café area entrance. They were young, white, two with wheeled suitcases, one also with a guitar case. Music is artsy, as were her leopard print jeans and red clogs. They were conversing, but it didn’t seem hesitant and awkward as if they’d all just met. I had already lapped around the area outside and within the Beanery three times, slowly. People would begin to wonder why a small Puerto Rican woman stalked the area like a Jehovah’s Witness about to offer a pamphlet about the end of times. Did they get Jehovahs in train stations up in Albany?
I had to go to the bathroom. It would be easiest to leave my backpack and suitcase with whomever I was supposed to meet so I could go to the ladies room unencumbered. As time passed, I feared the artists center staff and residents would think I was not in the station and leave without me. The staff had my cell phone number. However, the center had stated multiple times clearly in its materials that cell phones were prohibited; yet there I was with my two-week old smart phone, my first. If they did text or call, did I dare answer and expose myself as a rule breaker? Yet the train station was not the property of the artists center and the residency did not technically begin until I was on their property, so I decided I was in the clear.
There was no call or text. I didn’t have a contact number other than the office number at the artists center, which was two hours away, and I really had to go to the bathroom. I decided that a guitar case clearly meant artsy and that I should approach the three women. They did not turn toward me or look at me as I got closer. Shit.
I reminded myself that I have survived things worse than approaching strangers and asking if they were the group I was supposed to be meeting. I was a big girl, a grown woman in fact, not a ten-year-old extending invites to a sleepover or a sixth-grader asking to be included on anyone’s team in gym class volleyball.
(End of the third in a series of related posts.)
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