Notes from the Train

I’m on the San Joaquin # 714 Amtrak train bound for Bakersfield.  It’s the only time Bakersfield is a destination for anyone. On the Amtrak in the no man’s land time between Christmas and New Year’s, not many people are on the train.

Well dressed black men speaking French and clearly from Africa are here, along with white stoner snow boarders whose car broke down dude, can you pick us up in Fresno? There are men on this train fresh from rehab meeting up with their children for the first time in months. An excited young woman with an electric guitar without a case talking about how she had a gig in Sacramento last night and tonight she’ll be playing an Indian casino outside Turlock. Doesn’t get better than that. The conductors are looking younger and younger or perhaps I’m getting old. Too many people are eating bad cheese pizzas and it smells like it in here. 

It’s the last trip south for the year. The Year 2012. The Year of Taking it Seriously. The Year of Isn’t Quite Done.

In 2013 My discount on my student loan is done and I’ve got to pay up big time with money I don’t have. That will be interesting. How is that going to happen? I say $500 bucks a month is too much. How about $250. They say it’s not enough. If I don’t want to pay I have to a) not work, b) become disabled, c) go get a PhD. I want the D that doesn’t exist.

I started the end of 2011 much like this one, headed for southern California for my annual see my friends and family in the crack between the years. The kids get cousins and grandparents and museums and aunts and uncles and Canter’s deli and real food and real films and I get a time to analyze.

I didn’t see 2012 coming. January was just a holding pattern, February Diego turned 9 and I had to call snow day on my aunt who was showing her art somewhere in the Sierras with roads covered in ice and I’m too chicken shit to drive. And then I did something wacky—I tried out for a show—the Listen to Your Mother Show in San Francisco at the urging of an ex-editor friend of mine. They said they’d have me.
It was an odd thing to suddenly be in a show in SF complete with rehearsals and time spent away from family ironically because of writing ABOUT family.

I spent quality time in the office writing away, submitting away, and generally hiding out while the kids were in school. I went to a conference in April where an editor liked my idea /book proposal and so naturally it immobilized me for months because that’s unfortunately how I operate. Sometimes the loser takes over.

In May—June–July I did my show in the City and felt all kinds of proud of myself. People started accepting my pieces more and rejecting them less. I read at Beyond Baroque this summer in Venice which was a big old giddy teenage dream come true. I wrote an awesomely depressive chapbook of poems no one wants (yet).

My kids went to summer camps in LA without each other and without me and I felt like this weird taxi driver driving the city each day talking to virtually no one. My son’s was at UCLA and he remarked how he felt ready for robotics camp until he got there and then felt like everyone was years ahead of him. I leveled with him. That’s how UCLA felt to me too. Diego and I cried together and I realized that no matter how much I’ve tried in vein to keep the evil of shitty people out of his life, it’s been for naught. The shitty people always find you. Paloma on the other hand had no use for parents after camp each day and seemed to get into the borrowed car with attitude of why are you still here?

Summer: reading my work to strangers, kids going to camp, spouse long distant and longing, and friends emerging and re-emerging in various states of decay. But then a miracle occurred and the Wayward Writer Retreat was born and wayward writer chicks from Vancouver to Oakland made their way to the mountains during a forest fighter to eat, drink, hang out, write a little with their kids. It was amazing and refreshing and made me feel like I have friends.

And then there was the fall, which started almost normal. The air was unbreathable. The fire had been burning for 30 days. I had a bit more work. Some people don’t know I’m a 15 year old trapped in a middle-aged body. Some people give me work like I’m an able bodied adult. But then it started going down hill and uphill at the same time. How can you have a crazy great time on one hand—doing readings, writing more, eating well, losing weight, making friends, and then have deep dark days at the same time. Like living in a pristine forest that’s on fire with a red dwarf sun to remind you that this is supposed to be the year of Apocalypse.

Friends died. Friends got sick. Friends left their wives. Friends left their husbands. Confirmed straight women had lesbian affairs. Confirmed atheist bachelor’s married extreme orthodox Christians. It kept getting weirder. I kept watching documentaries on GMOs and stared at corn in the market like they were serial killers. My elementary school aged kids could answer questions my college students could not. I started reading about environmental degradation and got depressed and guilty over having kids in the first place. What kind of world are we leaving them? The rain wouldn’t stop. The river rose. The snow wouldn’t stop. The river rose. I dreamed of floating. 

My best friend of 27 years emailed the day before Thanksgiving to say that I was toxic. That my love and care meant nothing. I wasn’t Christian. I wasn’t in need of saving. I wasn’t worth it. Yeah, yeah I know, fuck him. But there’s a hole in my heart that I can’t deny is there and there for the duration.

More people are looking death in the face. More people hatching escape plans. An agent wants to see one of my projects and I’m frozen stiff and have gained the 10 pounds I lost this summer. I found them. They’re in my belly, my ass, my motivation. My kids aren’t little anymore. It dawned on me that this is the reason people have more children.

I didn’t realize I would end 2012 the same way I started it: moving down the central valley staring out at endless toxic crops wishing there was a way to make this part of California shorter. Wishing I had more time for other things, for other people. The people still here. The people I still so much want to know.

About Margaret Elysia Garcia

Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of short story ebook collection Sad Girls and Other Stories, and the audiobook Mary of the Chance Encounters, and the co-founder and lead playwright of Las Pachucas, theatrical troupe. She teaches creative writing and theatre in a California state prison.
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