My second train trip to Portland had a shakedown element to it as well. I’d purchased one of those eVests to carry all my valuables on my person while traveling. This would increase the security of those valuables, as well as making access to things like passport, money, tickets and tablet a matter of unzipping the right pocket on the vest, rather than packing and repacking Claude to get at those things. Smart travel move on my part.
Paul Theroux is my train travel mentor. Tom Zoellner is my train hero. Nevertheless, when I head to Spain, Italy and beyond, I have no intention of attempting to travel in either of their footsteps, or according to their goals. If you chose to vicariously ride along with me, you’re going to be riding First Class. If First Class is full, we’re sticking around town an extra day until there’s a seat. I’ll ride Second Class when that’s all that’s available on a short haul, but that’s as déclassé as I’m getting. If you want to share a low-rent travel experience with me, just wait a bit until I check into the hotel.
When Carolyn had told me that she’d never been taken out for Valentine’s Day nor had even received roses or a card, I realized there was little I actually had to do for her to please her. That’s when I decided I’d try to give her a Valentine’s Day she’d never forget. There were roses and a card in the kitchen when she walked in for coffee that morning. There was a stretch limo on order to take us to and from the restaurant that evening. (“Madameoiselle, your chariot awaits,” I had regally announced.) And finally there was me, decked out in suit and tie, which I only wore if someone had died or was getting married. I don’t know what she’d actually thought of all this pomp and circumstance that first year; she never stopped giggling like a besmittened schoolgirl long enough to tell me.
It occurs to me that as a sorrowing widower, I’m a lightweight. Readers who have commented on the blog talk of marriages that were twenty, thirty and forty years old before they ended in the death of the spouse. Carolyn and I were together for five years and married for less than four. Relative to time, where do I get off comparing my situation to any of theirs? Seriously, where do I get off?
I remember holding Carolyn’s hand as the nurse confirmed Carolyn had taken her last breath and she was now dead. In that single instant I believe I felt shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance all at once. It was a tsunami. Since that moment there’ve been one or two true tsunamis of grief, but most have been waves. But even the waves contain elements of all six of the so-called “stages” of grief. Eight months later, I still find myself shocked, in denial, angry, then I’m bargaining, depressed and finally accepting. All at once and in the space of time it takes to pour a cup of coffee. (And yes, one full of clouds, too.)
I’m about halfway between my first two solo European train adventures. A short four months ago, I was still struggling whether I could even conceive of traveling without my beloved traveling companion. With my second Eurail pass already in hand for a six week’s trip starting in March, I can foresee a point in late April when I’ll have completed The Year of Living Alone. (I capitalize only to highlight to myself that this will be the first year since I was twenty-five that I have actually lived by myself.)
Since this first Christmas without Carolyn is a first rate train wreck, it’s appropriate I’m riding Amtrak’s Cascades line to Vancouver, BC. Upon boarding, I did stifle the impulse to ask the conductor to show me the emergency brake, just to prove to me he knew where it was.
It was when I got around to vacuuming the living room rug, and recognized some crumbs from something I’d eaten a couple of weeks earlier that got me to thinking about some of the differences between living alone, especially as a widower, and a happily-ever-after married life.
I woke up Friday with a hankering for a train ride. It would also be a good opportunity to shake-down my Christmas plan of taking the bus to Amtrak’s King St. Station, and then buying a ticket to wherever the next departure was headed. I hadn’t ridden Amtrak in more than thirty years, and I knew my comparisons to the sleek French railway system I’d ridden this past September would be both unfavorable and unfair. So I set my outlook on positive, threw a change of clothes into my daypack (“Mini-me”?) and took off into my next unknown.
Fortunately, I entered widowhood as an avid reader. In fact, reading is my preferred social activity. With simpatico writers like Peter Mayle (breezy and wry) and Paul Theroux (self-deprecating and intelligent), their books provide all the companionship I seem to need in these first months without Carolyn. I tend to get into a jag with an author and read multiple books by him or her before moving on. It’s as if they’ve come by the house for an extended visit. It was that way with Bill Bryson a couple of years back. I miss him. Perhaps he’ll be stopping by again soon. My house is always open.