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A Long Journey - a fiction short story
On her own
She looked out the window of the train box car at the passing wheat fields and farms along the Nebraska prairie. She blew her bangs out of her eyes in the hot and stuffy box car as the scenery flashed by her.
The ocean, when she got there would be cool, inviting and refreshing. She just knew from the pictures she had seen. She had never actually seen a real ocean -- only pictures of them. Heck, she had never even been outside of Nebraska. But, the ocean -- that was her destination; her ultimate destination.
This was the most free time she had ever had and for the first time she could just sit and think. The eldest of six children she had always been raising the other five to help her mother who worked three jobs. It was always chaotic at home. Her mother had a penchant for marrying alcoholic men and the marriages didn't last long. In fact, her mother seemed to be a magnet for alcoholic men and she was on her fourth marriage to one.
She had been close to her grandfather as a child and he had told her stories of riding the freight trains during the 1930's Depression years. When he talked, she listened. He had passed away ten years ago, but she had always held his stories close to her heart. So when it was time for her to leave, she had pulled his stories once more from her heart and decided the best way to go west to the ocean was by box car.
So far it was working well and she hadn't been detected by any train personnel. She was only seventeen years old and didn't even have a license to drive a car yet. She certainly didn't have enough money for a plane ticket or even a train ticket for that matter. She had scrimped and saved nearly one hundred dollars from her laundry job with Mrs. Peters, the neighbor next door for whom she had done laundry and ironing. But, she knew that money wouldn't get her far. So, it was the train box car for transportation west.
Riding on the train, the wind in her face, Lydia finally had lots of time to think. She was tired of the work of raising her siblings, doing laundry for Mrs. Peters, and putting up with drunken step-fathers. The chaos was never-ending.
This fourth marriage her mother had made had turned ugly. The fighting, the screaming, the throwing of dishes and the constant rows all hours of the night had taken their toll on her.
But, the worst part had been the leering looks this step-father had given her, Lydia, when they were alone in the house when her mother was working at one of her three jobs. He was constantly eyeing her up and down.
And, finally one night, when her mother was a work, and Lydia had just turned out the light in her bedroom and was settling to sleep, the step-father had entered her room and attacked her as she lay there in bed.
She had fought him off, a combination of his drunkenness and her athletic skills and a good crack over his head with her bedside lamp. She had prevented anything from happening.
But, she knew this wouldn't be the end of it. He would try again; that she was sure of. It was just a matter of time before he would be sober enough and strong enough to have his way with her.
Her mother noticed the broken lamp in the trash the next day, but Lydia had given her an excuse about her own clumsiness and her mother accepted the story. So, Lydia had resolved to leave.
The ocean out west had become her destination, her dream and her ultimate journey. She gathered up what little money she had, packed her few clothes in a duffle bag with some food and headed for the nearest freight train. It wasn't far as they lived near the tracks. She had left a note for her mother explaining the situation as to why she left but not where or how she was going. She didn't want to be found.
When a train came along going west, she hopped on just like her grandfather had described to her as a child.
The first three days of the trip went well. She had enough food with her and she was able to elude the train workers. But, the fourth day, when the train came to a creaky stop, she noticed the police talking to the engineer of the train. She dove under the straw in the box car with her duffel bag and hid. When the police checked her car, they noticed nothing askew. She held her breath until they were gone and the door slammed shut.
She rode the rest of the way in the darkened box car -- afraid to open the door and be discovered. After at least a day and night in complete darkness she felt the train slow down and come to a stop. She heard the train workers mention they were in California. Bingo -- she had made it west.
She opened the boxcar door a crack and looked out into the beautiful sunshine. She looked both ways and saw no one, so she opened the door and hopped out dragging her duffel bag with her.
She took off running away from the tracks and toward a huge hill in front of her hoping to find a town on the other side of it. She supposed she was in California, but where? She continued climbing the huge hill until she reached the top.
She stood on the crest of the hill and looked down upon a small village of homes, shops and businesses facing the ocean -- The Pacific Ocean. Her mouth opened and dropped as she blinked several times.
She had made it to the ocean. Her eyes filled with tears when she realized she really had reached the west coast and the ocean. And, it was beautiful, breathtaking and magnificent. Just like in the pictures. She stood there taking in the hills, mountains, rocky shore and sandy beach.
She stood there in wonderment and for how long she had no idea. It was all so beautiful and wonderful. She finally came out of her stupor and began walking down the hill toward the town. As she walked and came closer to the town, she finally saw a sign that said 'Dillon Beach, CA population 3498.
Oh my, she had come all that way from her tiny town in Nebraska. She was in wonderment. As she continued down the hill she came closer and closer to the small town. As she finally reached the buildings, she looked in the shop and restaurant windows. She noticed the people walking along the town. Could she find a job here? Could she fit in?
But, first, the ocean. She continued through town towards the beach and when she reached it she dropped her duffel bag and ran to the water. She flipped off her shoes and ran into the water. Oh, how cold and numbing it was! She ran back to the beach, giggling. There was a couple walking along the beach and the man smiling said to her, "First time at the ocean?"
"Yes," she giggled, "I guess it shows." The couple continued walking on and Lydia skipped back to the water, timidly letting the water wash around her feet, relishing the cold freshness of the water. This was nothing like Nebraska.
She sat on the sandy beach while her feet dried taking in all the sights and sounds. The smell of the salt air, the sea gulls flying above and floating above the water looking for food. She was mesmerized by it all. She noticed the small shells beside her on the beach and picked them up and examined them and them put them in her duffel bag to save. She marveled at the waves washing onto the beach.
Finally, she stood up. She had to put on her shoes and started walking back to town. She passed a clam sack or fish restaurant that was on the water, with a 'waitress wanted' sign in the window, so she walked in to inquire about the job.
One year later
She sat on the rocks looking out to the ocean, the breeze softly caressing her hair. It was exactly a year ago that Lydia had arrived at Dillon Beach. She couldn't believe how much her life had changed.
She did get the job at the crab shack and made a new best friend all at the same time. Deidre was the waitress she had first talked to when she entered the restaurant to find out about the job. Ed and Rosie owned the crab shack and she couldn't believe her luck. They hired her on the spot and over the year had become like a set of adoptive parents to her. They helped her with getting settled into Dillon Beach and finding her way around. They offered her a room in their house to rent, so she immediately had a roof over her head. Deidre became like a sister to her. They were two peas in a pod.
She had gone to the community college near by and taken the GED classes and then the tests to obtain her high school diploma. Deidre and Rosie had helped her study. Ed and Rosie were so good to her; they were going to adjust her work schedule so she could take classes at the college just like Deidre. Things were definitely falling into place for her, thought Lydia.
Best of all, she had made another friend, a male friend who had come to California to get away from some troubles in Philadellphia. They got along great. He, too, wanted to finish his college degree and had worked off and on at the crab shack too. He was busy right now with a job in construction nearby. They saw each other several times a week and they were a tremendous help to one another emotionally as their relationship blossomed.
Lydia did miss her mother and her siblings. She wasn't that hard-hearted. At some point she would contact her mother and let her know where she was and that she was fine. She hated having to leave like she did, but she did leave a note explaining why. Her mother had to understand.
She was happy and proud of the life she had carved out for herself and she knew she had made a good decision when she left home. There was too much anger, abuse and unhappiness there. Here, she felt good and strong. Here she would stay. Perhaps, she and her boyfriend would become permanent some day. There were all kinds of possibilities in her life now and she marveled at how the ocean ebbed and flowed as life did -- never knowing what the waves would bring in.