Thursday, May 15, 2003

October 31, 2001
French border- The Netherlands (sunny/cooler)

My last night on this journey turns out to be like my first. I am awakened in the night by my bladder. A full bladder is hard to ignore while lying in a stationary bed and it is impossible to ignore in a bed that is being jiggled by the motion of a moving train. This time I manage to make it to the bathroom and back without any injuries.

When we arrive in Paris I realize the only money I have is in Spanish pesetas. I need French francs for the subway ride to the next train station. I am worried that I do not have time to exchange my money. I am also worried that the exchange booth here at this station is not open yet. As I walk down the platform I can see Ian and R waiting for me at the other end. Ian wants to make sure I get to the Metro station so he and R walk me there. On the way I ask him if he has any French francs that he can give me in exchange for the pesetas. He gives me 20 francs and tells me to keep the pesetas; I can exchange them later. At the Metro entrance I give Ian and R hugs goodbye and thank them for all the have done for me. As I watch them walk away I realize I have been fortunate to meet wonderful people on this trip and I know I will remember them the rest of my life.

The Metro ride to Gare du Nord station is quicker than I expect and when I get there I have enough time to find a cafe and have a light breakfast. After I eat I walk over to the big board that lists all train destinations, departure tracks, and times. This thing is huge, at least 12 feet tall and works mechanically. In front of it are rows of seats attached to rows of bars. The seats are like stiff swing set seats and they flip forward after you stand up. I sit down and examine the board, looking for my train and track. As I watch, the information starts changing. Each bit of information is listed on a placard. One placard for destination, three for track number, two for the hour, and two for the minutes. The placards start flipping and the effect is a waterfall of changing bits of information cascading down toward the bottom of the board. The placards flip so quickly that they sound like hundreds of BB's rolling off a metal roof. The whole thing is mesmerizing.

I and other passengers sit in tense silence watching the board, waiting. When is it going to change again? Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Then the BB's start rolling and, when the new information appears, some people get up and rush away to find their trains. No one looks at them; we just sit and watch the board waiting for the next change and the chance to find out if our trains will be the next ones listed. This is almost as suspenseful as waiting for the outcome of the Kentucky Derby. Finally my train is listed and I jump up and hurry to the departure track.

The trip to Maastricht is a blur of getting on and off trains, with each successive train being smaller than the one before. By the time I pull into Maastricht I am on an elevated small electric trolley and very tired. On the last two trains I was worried I would miss my stop and my connecting trains. But I make it to Maastricht and get off the train and start walking down the stairs from the platform to the station. People are hurrying up and down the stairs, some passing me on their way down.

All of a sudden I hear my name and my sister is standing right in front of me on the stairs. Then the strangest thing happens, I realize that I saw her before she reached me but I did not recognize her until she spoke to me. I stare at her feeling nothing. Not numb, nothing. I don't feel happiness. I don't feel joy. Nothing. I am totally disconnected; it is like I am looking at a stranger. It is like I don't know how to feel emotions anymore. Am I that tired?

After we get in the car my sister hands me a container of pasta salad that she has made for me. I eat it and after I am finished I feel better and not so disconnected. It feels good to be sitting next to her and riding in a car again. By the time we reach her house the disconnected feeling has disappeared and I am grateful that she is here with me and that I am here with her. I am also grateful my journey is over.

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