We were up at 4:30am and moving. Mom and Douglas more slowly than me. I was in high gear slinging bags on the commode, wrapping and clipping straps to hold it all on. I’m used to my system now. I was the first downstairs. Most of the lights were off in the lobby. It was creepy. The guy at the front desk was for sure on weed. There were blue lighting flashes in the sky. It was hot, still dark with innocent flashes like a strobe light. We exited the security gate and walked across the street. It was like the movie the babysitter, the scene in the movie where her friend is in trouble at the train station. There were people sleeping everywhere outside wrapped in garbage bags or old blankets. I felt bad for them. But at least it was a warm night. Inside there was more of that. We checked in a assistance, they kept us inside their waiting room. Technically not opened until 6. While we were there other travellers would knock on the Locked doors, nothing we could do about it, but they were knocking desperately as if to get in to escape the riff raff outside the waiting area. The man at the desk turned many away. Someone asked why we were in there. Because they are awaiting accessible travel. He felt ripped off for being turned away. A woman at the counter was making fun of mom’s pronunciation of the letter G. Our departure gate. In English it’s pronounced exactly as the letter J is in French. This caused a lot of confusion. I had to intervene. We got on the train no problem.
We were comfortable inside and Douglas had his bi pap machine hooked up. But our train was delayed by more than 20 minutes leaving as a raging storm came in hitting the train station like loud gun shots and trains. We powered off and powered on few times, while lightning lit up the skies and thunder crashed and cracked and scared us each time. I love thunder and lightening storms, I feel it’s electricity pulsate through me and surge like I’m a dead battery getting a jolt of life. Maybe I am a dead battery at this point.
I love the sounds. A train attendant fell and roared on the wet ground in the storm. It looked painful. Some people came to his aid. We were waiting for the conductor to give the ok to go. It still likely wasn’t safe. Lightning actually hit the train. Thankfully we were already booked on the 12 o’clock train. There was no way we were making the 10:10 now. And thankfully I hadn’t cancelled the taxis, we would still need to make good time from station to station still. We all closed our eyes and listened to the storm. I realized how strong Mother’s Newfoundland accent was… in the quiet train at 6:32 am I hear a sudden, waaaaaaaah!? in a total Newfoundland harsh, nasal accent. I think the other few passengers in the cabin may have been startled. She was simply saying “what?”, to Douglas. It was funny.
We saw lightning light up the sky behind the big marseille Hollywood like sign on the hill leaving. If that wasn’t an ominous sign I don’t know what it was. Then the karate kid’s sensei got on. Things are still feeling twilight zone like. I swear I’m taking my medication. The trains have pull up seats so Douglas can wheel right in. I’m not sure if I trust flying if they can’t come up with the technology to get a wheelchair in. And aren’t advanced enough to understand the importance of the wheelchair to someone with special needs. It provides all their needs. They are outfitted to hold them where they need to be supported, not just roll around. I’m not sure, I no longer trust flying or airlines. Mom thinks if Richard Branson can get people orbiting space he can get a wheelchair on an airplane. I told her to give him a call. He seems adventurous maybe like even being in a wheelchair wouldn’t stop him, he’d understand my brother and other’s desire to travel and see the world. Who knows?
As usual the countryside was beautiful as the sun came up we passed fields of sunflowers with their heads still down while long bolts of blue lightning hit in front of a dark foggy mountain in the background. Newly hydrated, now lush forests and jagged white and sand Mediterranean cliffs. Farm houses with Terracotta tile shingles and worn weathered stucco cement walls. Cement Nuclear towers like where homer works on the Simpsons. Tall slim pointed trees in perfectly straight rows and exaggerated rounded trees spread out sporadically. Rows of crops and lavender fields. In the distance a veil of midst rising, preparing to be burnt off by the rising sun. Old ruins of old castles or churches in the hills. Ugly industrial areas, pointless spray paint not even trying to be art. Fields of soil with debris from crops that have already been cut down. Shorn sheep. Cattle. Horses. Rivers and Ravines. Tiny towns in hill tops, tiny town in valleys. Other trains at top speed. We went from southern France to the top of France and to the east side of France.
I hope I’ll forever remember these sights even when I’m 90 and can’t remember what I’ve eaten for breakfast. I can’t begin to prepare myself for a time when my brother is just apart of those long distance memories. Like a ghost. I was on watch while Mom and Douglas slept and had a hard time staying awake but I did. It was like language class all over again; Rules I have obviously thrown out. I remembered the train was delayed so we’d be delayed arriving to our taxi. I had no way to get ahold of them. I hoped checking the train schedule was part of their procedure for pick ups at the station.
The cabs made no sense. They did not buy us any time. They didn’t have two waiting, only one and I sent Douglas and Mom ahead of me. I was a full forty minutes behind them. Mom got ripped off, her taxi was thirty euros more than mine.
This pissed me off. We shared the end of a bag of plain chips to save money on breakfast!!
I had one more look at Paris driving through. I remember in fashion school hoping to one day make it to this Fashion city and see the beauty. But I’m not able to see only the beauty in things anymore or hold onto romantic fantasy like dreams, I see the suffering too which changes the way I think about the world and everything from my school girl days; The shanty houses outside the city, the desperate words spray painted, people sleeping outside.
I realized I was wearing a Marilyn Manson t shirt and leggings. Not an old me choice for an outfit to wear in Paris. It would have been something skillfully curated but I have different priorities here now.
On our second train we were placed near the toilet with the stink. The door was broken so we had no escape for two hours. We had our own space again though however ragged it was. Douglas had to put on a second sweater, he can’t keep warm. Not enough meat on his bones. That’s why he loves the hotter places. Mom is so patient with him. He prefers her to do most things for him. She’s better at it he says. Well they have their moments but it’s like a friendly bickering. It’s hilarious sometimes the things they are saying. They have a very close relationship. “Mom legs don’t move that way!!! What are you doing?!” “Well it moved like that when you were a baby”, “I’m not a baby anymore Mom, I’m an adult man!”
A lady in our wheelchair section had to go to the washroom but the washroom was out of order. The only way closest was around a narrow corner and across the wiggly part where the two trains connect. Her wheelchair wouldn’t fit but she had to go. She had MS I’m thinking. So I offered to help her. She had a lot of trouble. I got her into the bathroom and had to hold the door because it wouldn’t close. I waited for her then helped her out. She used a lot of her strength and fell to her hands and knees and I tried to lift her. She was between the two trains. I couldn’t get her up and I felt so sad for her. A stranger was helping her and she couldn’t get up. I was mad at the train for putting her in the wheelchair cabin with no working bathroom. A woman came by and helped me get her up and around the corner. Mom pushed her wheelchair to her as soon as she could. This whole ordeal could have been avoided if they had a working wheelchair bathroom. I hope she wasn’t humiliated but I’d made me feel how vulnerable we can be and how sometimes you need the help of strangers. I hoped she had a wonderful family to greet her in the other side to make this train memory go away.
Aside from the wheelchair bathroom being broken, doors banging on both ends of the accessible cabin, the staff who assisted us out weren’t very kind. The woman was but the man with her asked if the commode, a non foldable wheelchair with his breather and first aid kit and yes two of our bags was baggage with anger. Yes, it’s baggage. He didn’t want to use the lift to get it out. His reason was they aren’t allowed to lift anything over 15 pounds. But you have a lift? You just gave to press a button? It’s a non foldable wheelchair. It’s his medical equipment. He said he had helped nine wheelchair passengers on today and it wasn’t part of the assistance. So he wanted Mom and I to take all our bags off one at a time and carry to wheelchair out? While Douglas waits on the platform? Mom’s back is gone from lifting him. I can’t lift that thing on my own and it’s a wheelchair…
He complained to a man in a wheelchair and his family about helping people get out of trains with a lift all day? Mom carries him more than once a day in her arms. I was upset too because he just got saucy with the lady I had helped when she asked if she’d be able to use the lift at her next stop. I am really upset with a lot of the experiences we have had with the transit system in France not just the infrastructure, it’s the attitudes. We cancelled many stops in France to avoid it. One more train and we are out of here! Douglas was ruminating over this treatment hours after we left too. Thinking of things he could have said to defend himself. “Do you think I want help or all this medical equipment” or “I’d push the button myself if I could.” That’s the last thing he needs on his mind.
We will try to see some nice sights while we are here but it’s left such a bad taste my mouth. I’m worried because we still have to get out of here and he very pleasantly said he will be working the day we leave. We will be subject to his attitude again. Douglas said the most evil people in the world are those who smile while being mean. It means a lack of empathy. And a lack of empathy is a serial killer basically. He’s right. This man enjoyed giving us a hard time. He didn’t even lift a finger to help his colleague. Caen train station staff member shout out!!!
The Normandy region is very nice though. And the weather is milder. Though Douglas spent it in two sweaters under his duvet after our transit, we will get him out tomorrow to enjoy something and try to erase this experience for him.