Marlena boarded the train. As her feet left the platform, she let in a new breath of air. It smelled like fabric seats and old warm carpet. She sat down under a fluorescent light next to a white man watching House on his tablet. “Well, at least he’ll be quiet.” She thought. The train doors closed and Marlena felt the ground beneath her begin to pull as the train strained out of the station. “No turning back.” She thought with a smile, and promptly fell asleep.
Marlena awoke 30 minutes later. 30 minutes later? After an 8 hour workday on less than 5 hours of sleep, she couldn’t believe it. But her nerves were electrified with excitement. How many days had her body been filled with this feeling?
She looked up at her bag hanging in the overhead rack. It was a small black duffel bag filled with just three outfits, her toothbrush, a pair of turquoise earrings, and a bottle of Shea Moisture. The sight made her stomach flip and she felt a wave of nausea, but her lips curled into a slight smirk as she thought about the night before, as she had pulled out every sweater to see which 3 would make the cut for this journey. Her stomach flipped back over. Am I 16 years old again? She asked herself, hand pressed against her belly.
No. I am a woman finally going to get what I want.
Marlena had spent so many months untangling herself from “love”. Untangling herself from the abuse and neglect often justified with “love”. She looked through the window at the billowing clouds tumbling away with the wind… and thought of her ex. The one she so desperately fought to never call “ex”. And yet, in the end it was the only word to sum up the conclusion of the violence.
With bitter resoluteness #NeverAgain had become the dogma of the internal movement that experience with him had launched her life into. #NeverAgain would she laugh off another misogynoir comment or joke, or tenderly explain her resulting pain in the hopes it would be validated. #NeverAgain would she accept “love” defined by anyone other than herself. #NeverAgain would she settle. #NeverAgain.
#NeverAgain would she waste her precious, finite energy on trying to repair emotional destruction caused by someone claiming “love” in order to maintain control. Because why? Why waste precious, finite energy? The most priceless gift one could ever receive from the Universe? A gift given to one for reasons they will never know. Why waste a moment of it?
Who am I as a woman? She asked herself. Words crossed her head the way the train crossed through frost-covered fields… Strong. Loving. Honest. Black. Mixed. Queer. And yet so far she had only experienced… men. Has it been fear or desire that has kept me in their arms? The arms of men whom she had seen and felt use their positions in her own life and the lives of her friends to manipulate them, to control them, and to hurt them, both sexually and physically. Who am I as a woman that refuses to accept that? And the only answer she heard shatter the silence in her mind was: Alone…
Marlena accepted that a life of “love” defined by her, might be a life of loneliness.
Sometimes this answer filled her with fear. And in her darkest moments, she had to wonder: Am I crazy? Am I the only one to feel these struggles? She knew the answer to both questions were “No”. She had read enough books and articles, watched enough videos and talked to enough women to know that she was not alone in her desire to be fully recognized as human.
But, so many of the women in the books were old or dead. And so many of the women whom she talked to seemed to drain their worries into the air as they drained the contents of their coffee cups into their guts while sitting across from Marlena in a small cafe, only to head back to the men that caused their dissatisfaction. In her darkest moments, Marlena had to wonder: Is society right when it whispers “This is the way of the world” in every microaggression she’s faced? Are they right when they say “Don’t fight it”? Should I give up? But she knew the answer to those questions as well, although it didn’t change the conclusion: Her future looks like one of solitude.
And yet… there she was. On the train. With these thoughts in her head and butterflies in her stomach fluttering around inducing concentrated waves of nausea whenever she thought of her destination. And the person awaiting her there. A man.
Another story to be told…
Another experience to be shared… shared.
How could these desires and fears exist inside of her simultaneously? And how many days had her body already been filled with these feelings?
The train jolted as it changed tracks. It was now at top speed as the sun slowly set behind the eroded hills on the horizon. A 6-hour train ride after an 8 hour workday on less than 5 hours of sleep… she couldn’t believe it. But her nerves were electrified with excitement. “Kaffee oder Tee? Kaffee oder Tee?” A white man wearing a blue suit called out as he pushed a short black cart full of steaming paper cups down the aisle-way. She laughed at the irony. She wanted both.
Both coffee. And tea. Both alone. And someone. The freedom to be herself in everything that that encompasses. The freedom to choose what time to eat breakfast and who to love with the full capacity of her heart without that person (or people) using their emotional leverage to try and cap that love for themselves. Is it really so difficult? Can it not just be as simple as Coffee or Tea? Both?
It was exactly why she had booked the ticket less than 24 hours before. She had breathed, and she had listened, and the Universe had sent her a gift. The gift was not this man to be taken as her own, to possess and control or to endure him imposing that treatment on her, even if disguised as “romance”.
But sometimes people come into our lives to give us our own answers. Sometimes they’ve been in our lives for months or years already, but only when our lives open for them, can they deliver the assurances we need. That we are not crazy. That we are not alone. In a world using every medium to convince us that we are, these people are gifts from the Universe: The Universe not of chance, coincidence, or God… but the Universe that we will never understand, though we can feel it if we just breathe and listen.
In her pain, Marlena had harnessed every cell in her body to focus on breathing and listening to the Universe. Because only then could she ever hear herself; get out of the flow of toxic habits; and now feel the rhythm of her own truth. When the Universe sent warnings, she could heed them; And when the Universe sent gifts, she could open them.
She breathed. She listened. And she opened the books that had brought her world crashing down, but when the dust settled she found her new world was enlightened with truth and a desire for justice.
She breathed. She listened. And she opened her mouth to speak her experience even though a vicious tension could be felt in the patriarchal air. And more often than not she found that other women recognized themselves in her words and were awakened by the very curiosity that had led her to herself.
Should not every woman know herself? Is it not only in knowing yourself that you can know what you want for yourself and from others? That you can avoid abuse and being abusive? That you can feel life unprocessed by patriarchy and supremacy? Should not every woman know herself? Every person? Can’t one only discover the answers to these questions… alone?
Marlena and this man had been in each other’s lives for months, but only now had their lives opened in a way that they could express these vital assurances to one another: You are not crazy. You are not alone. The belief of friendship in the fullness of the word is noble. Companionship and Solitude don’t need to live in opposition of each other. Love is real. Un-entitled. Non-possessive. Respectful. Dynamic.
The train began to slow and Marlena’s thoughts synced with the speed. It was time to get off and meet the man waiting for her on the platform. When the train doors opened, out flooded all of Marlena’s fears, dreams, and questions… and in flooded the light of the train station and beyond. As her feet touched the platform, she let in a new breath of air. The doors closed behind her. “No turning back,” She thought with a smile, her heart pulsing raw excitement with the electricity of her soul.
I am a woman finally going to get what I want.
And she did.