I was looking across the Hudson River at West Point, the United States Military Academy, as I waited for the train. The chain-link fence beneath the platform reverberated and sizzled as the train drew near, finally sliding in and greeting me with a gentle huuuuussssshhhhh. I took one last look at the tower of the chapel I planned to be married in reaching above the gray buildings of the Academy, turned around and boarded the train destined for Grand Central Station.
The train was filled with people, the soft sounds of music breaking through the headphones of Ipods and Walkmans floated through the air as I searched for a vacant seat. I lugged my overnight bag and my purse through the aisle, settling next to a young redheaded woman absorbed in a Cosmopolitan magazine listening to Z100 radio station on her headphones. I plopped down next to her, knowing there would be no awkward conversation to follow, no "Where are you headed?" or "Where are you from?" questions to be asked or answered on the hour-long trip to follow.
An alarm buzzed to mark the closing of the doors, and the train bucked and lurched to a start as I unzipped my bag to search for my book. I'd read it before, but I needed something to occupy my eyes and thoughts as I rode along MTA's tracks toward New York City. I didn't want to think of West Point, my years spent there as a young engaged woman, the trip I was taking alone, the fact that "alone" has become an all-too-regular word in my vocabulary, or even the fact that I was visiting my friend whose wedding would take place in three weeks. I wanted to lose myself in two hundred pages of short stories, filled with characters with their own dramas, their own worries, instead of my own.
Because it had been so long since I'd opened this book, I hoped to read it with fresh eyes; I'd hoped I'd forgotten the conflicts and climaxes within its pages so that I could fully appreciate the stories. But within the first few sentences of each story, familiarity crept over me, and I knew that I would never be lost in these tales; I'd found my way through and out of them already. So, instead, I watched the Garrison train station's surroundings disappear and took in the newer sights that were revealing themselves: The trees lining the banks of the Hudson, small boats gliding through choppy waters, people fishing off of docks, cars abandoned near the tracks, graffiti along tunnel walls. I wanted to write in the journal I'd brought, but the girl next to me was too close, too liable to read my personal musings. So I stared out of the window, my sunglasses resting atop my head, and tried to focus on what Dominique and I would do later that night.
But a group of girls in the back of the train car shrieked with laughter, and the man across from me turned around to glare at them. Clearly, they were disturbing his reading. He had claimed a set of two seats for himself, spreading out his briefcase, newspaper and a package on the vacant seat next to him to deter anyone from occupying it. He was engrossed in a novel, stopping only to occasionally shoot hateful glares at the pre-teens behind us. They just cackled at him whenever he did this, strong in their group of ten. Surely, were any of them riding this train alone, they would never be so bold. From time to time, they would get up and walk through the car toward the restroom. They were covered in makeup and trendy clothing, trying to act so old and independent. But I didn't see one of them walk the length of the car alone; Always in packs of two or more, right on each other's heels, eager to stay close together.
I inhaled the musty air of the train and rested my head against the back of my seat, remembering when I was one of those girls. Only, for me, it wasn't on a train to New York City, it was in the hotels along the Strip in Las Vegas. My friends and I would dress up in what we thought looked like adult-clothing. We'd pile on eyeliner and lipstick, sure that it made us look mature and college-like. We'd prance along the carpet between banks of slot machines, trying our hardest to give the impression we could gamble, we just didn't want to. We flirted with men on vacation from places like Omaha and Des Moines, telling them with straight faces that we were eighteen or twenty. That we lived alone, worked in the MGM Grand as cocktail waitresses and attended UNLV. It meant nothing to them, but we had our pretend lives down to apartment addresses and class schedules. We'd leave the hotels in just enough time to get home to our mothers by curfew, laughing as we sped down Tropicana and onto Pecos about how utterly convincing we had been tonight. As we pulled up in our driveways, we'd throw sweaters over the revealing tops we'd worn out, and get our stories straight. "So we'll just say we went to Tyler's house and watched a movie, right?" Which movie we'd watched and who was there was discussed, then we'd scamper through the dry Vegas nights across our lawns, unlock our front doors and enter our real lives, the ones we were so desperate to escape.
Like the girls scampering through the corridor of the 6:02PM train, I was in a hurry to grow up. I ran in ahead of my mother in the grocery store, I lied about my age, I wore a fake wedding band at seventeen to give the impression I was a young married woman, not a senior in high school. I cooed at children, and planned what I would name my own someday. At nineteen, before my boyfriend even proposed, I was engrossed in being his pretend-wife. I made sure he studied for exams, had his uniform pressed, called his parents. While other girls my age were counting down the days until they turned twenty-one, I was reading The Officer's Wife Handbook to learn the finer points of hosting a military dinner party.
I live my life constantly feeling like I'm too something: Too dressed up, to underdressed. Too smart, too airheaded. Too tall, too short. Too focused, too unmotivated. Too scared, too trusting. Too young, too old.
Because now here I am, twenty-four years old, with the house and the job and the independence I so craved at seventeen, feeling less like a twenty-something and more like I'm nestled into midlife. The thought of walking into a bar filled with young hipsters trying desperately to get laid, fills me with dread. I feel like I belong home with a husband, not in a club talking to a guy trying to impress me enough to get me to remove my pants. I feel too old to frequent clubs, but I'm told I'm too young to be married. Surrounded by people who share my age bracket, I feel out of place. I don't feel young, I feel like I'm late for the life I'm supposed to be living.