“May I sit down?”
Though none of us nodded yes, I smiled at her as she sat down next to us in the Amtrak waiting room. She was a petite, unassuming grandmotherly-type woman with permed blonde hair. Her long, black pants and bright red top looked like a smart choice for a train ride. She pulled her suitcase next to her chair and sat down, never making eye contact as she dropped her purse sat at her feet.
For the previous 15 minutes, the sweet, retired school teacher sitting to my left had been bubbling with excitement over her trip to Washington, DC. She’d be touring the White House, she told us, though the main purpose of her trip was to visit her extended family during their reunion. She had spent her career working mostly with kindergarteners and was living out her retirement taking train trips across the country. After all, she said, she was ready to retire when she realized today’s youth couldn’t write in coherent sentences and that handwriting had become a lost art.
“Melody’s a writer,” my boyfriend said. “She has a great appreciation for those exact things.”
“I wrote a book,” the blonde interrupted.
“Oh yeah?” asked my boyfriend. “What was it about?”
“Well, I married a gay guy and he went back to that,” she started. “And then I married a pastor and we lived as a fugitive from the law for 6 years.”
“Uhh… So it’s a memoir?” my boyfriend paused for a moment. “Melody’s writing a memoir, too.”
The school teacher said, “Ooh, what is yours about?”
The blonde interrupted. “Did you know it’s illegal in Indiana to take your kids — even if they’re your own kids?”
We all turned to look at her, but she wouldn’t make direct eye contact. I was certain my boyfriend was holding in a scream.
“We took the kids to Canada,” she continued. “Back then, you didn’t need a passport to get into Canada. So we went up there and my husband applied for a work visa. They told him all he needed to do was get a job with a church. So once he found a church, we stayed up there for six years, living as fugitives from the law.”
The teacher interrupted her. “How many kids do you have?” she asked.
“Six,” she replied, a stoic look on her face. “Well, technically, nine, if you count the step-kids. I have three kids from my first husband, three from my second husband, and he had three kids from his first wife. They are ages 49 all the way down to 32.”
There was nothing but silence in the room as we stared in disbelief that this tiny woman had kidnapped her step-kids and thought nothing was wrong with that.
“I’m going to Detroit,” she continued solemnly. I waited for a hint of excitement in her voice — but it never came.
My boyfriend, the more outspoken one between us, broke the silence that hung over the room.
“What’s in Detroit?”
“My son,” she said. “He got a very good job there. He went to K-State for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He taught English in Japan for a few years. And then he married his Japanese teacher.
“Honestly, he was in love with another woman and would have married her. He was ready to drop out of school and get married. But she died in a car accident. So it all worked out I guess. He married this Japanese woman instead. And they have two kids, ages 5 and 7.”
She grew quiet, so I interjected. “Does she ever go back to Japan?”
“Sometimes,” she said. “Her dad died last year. She used to work, but she doesn’t anymore. I don’t understand why she doesn’t now that the girls are in school. But my son has a really good job, so maybe that’s why.”
She continued robotically a bit longer, mentioning that her daughter was sending her to Detroit, that she was certain some hoodlums in Detroit had wanted to rob her at the train station the last time she was there, and again referring to her daughter-in-law as “the Japanese woman.”
The train finally pulled up and the blonde jumped up, ready to hop on the train. We lingered slightly behind, and once we realized we were safely sitting several seats back, we laughed, full of confusion and joy that we finally found our own escape.