I awoke with Dena shaking me. “Kim! Kim! Get up! It’s our stop!”
I was still half asleep on my bench seat on an overnight train. We had spent the day before in Frankfurt and then hopped on this overnight train to arrive in Prague the following morning.
It was my first time in Europe—backpacking for two months with my friend Dena. I was 22 years old. Fresh out of college. Dena and I were taking this trip because we had survived a bit of a trip ourselves a few years earlier.
A car accident in college. Pretty bad one. So bad I was thrown out of a moving van as it was rolling over and over in a highway ditch. I remember so clearly my Subway sandwich flying out of my hands while the van rolled out of my hands. As I was flying through the air I kept trying to catch it. Priorities.
While flying through the air, I also noticed my friend Dena mid-flight. She was apparently also thrown from the rolling van. “Hope she’s OK,” I remember thinking to myself, unaware of my own dire situation. I eventually landed and somehow lived. I never did get my Subway sandwich back. I did however get a bit of a settlement for damages to my body, as did Dena. And so travel the world, or at least a chunk of Europe for a couple of months, we would. Which brings me back to that fated morning on the train.
“Get up, Kim! We have to go. Hurry!”
We had set an alarm in order to wake up with enough time to get dressed and re-pack our packs before getting off the train in Prague. That’s right. We unpacked—in the general seating area of an overnight train to Prague. We unpacked. Also, I had on pajamas. Yes, pajamas. My bra was off and hanging on a hook. My next day’s clothes sat out. I was in for the long haul. Bra. Pajamas. Unpacked. We clearly had never traveled on an overnight train before.
But where was I?
Before I knew it, Dena was in the hall, beginning her European adventure without me. I tried to quickly shove all my clothes back in my pack, but those of you who have backpacked before know how difficult that is. It never all goes back in. I did what I could and finally stood up. I was a wreck: pack half unzipped, boots unlaced, and I was holding my bra. I pushed myself through the small doorway, barely fitting with my over packed pack. Dena was in front of the train’s exit door.
“I’m gonna open it,” she informed me. I was almost to the door, still holding my bra.
Dena made a loud grunting noise as she jimmied her fingers in between the two sliding door panels. She grunted more, exerting even more energy, as I simply watched, still half asleep. Finally, she succeeded. The door opened. And just then the train made its backward lurch in anticipation of forward motion. We looked at each other. The train started to slowly move.
“I’m gonna jump,” she said. Holy crap.
And before I knew it she did.
I moved to the door frame and watched her take a couple of hop steps, get a little airborne, roll and land on the platform. OK, now I was awake.
Deja-vu. The last time I watched Dena fly was out of that van. How is it possible to see the same person fly twice in a lifetime?
I stood there—pack unzipped, boots unlaced, holding my bra as the only person I knew on this continent went flying off our train.
Remember, this was before cell phones or beepers or apparently emergency separation plans. We had no emergency plan. Day 1 and the only person I know on this continent is getting smaller and smaller in the distance.
I looked at her on her back on the concrete platform and she looked at me and yelled words I will remember until the day I die: “Jump, Kim!”
Was I a jumper? Was I someone who jumped? I was afraid. I think the accident made me afraid. I mean if it’s that easy to die, shouldn’t we all be a little afraid? Shouldn’t we all be more careful? But was that how I was gonna live me life? Afraid? Or was I a jumper? Will I voluntarily throw myself into the air, despite the dangers?
“Jump!” her words brought me back. I stood on the threshold a moment longer. What was I going to do? The train was really moving now, much faster then when Dena jumped. Not fair. Crap. Not fair at all. But what else was I going to do?
And so with my pack unzipped, my boots unlaced and me still holding my damn bra, I jumped.
Aaaaaand I rolled. And rolled and rolled and rolled until I finally stopped, alive. Bruised and battered, but alive. Again. After I caught my breath, I turned my head towards Dena. We looked at each other from far ends of the platform and smiled. Success! We did it. We wouldn’t be stopped by Europe or a closed train door or a bad car accident or anything! We did it! We’re alive! And in Prague!
And then suddenly the train stopped. Then the train reversed. We laid there not moving, equal parts shock and fear. Then the door opened and a tall man who looked remarkably like a conductor stepped onto the platform and looked at us disappointingly. Shaking his head and waging his finger at us, he said in his best broken English, “Not main station,” He reached for my hand to help me up and then quickly ushered us back onto the train.
We had jumped off at the worker stop about ten miles before actual Prague, where the doors actually open and lots of people actually get off because it’s a large city on a major train route. Every single head had popped into a window frame wondering why the train had stopped and reversed. We hobbled up the steps as those same heads watched the two stupid Americans re-board the train, one of them holding her bra.
Yes, in fact I was somebody who still jumped.
Kim Schultz is a Chicago based actor, writer and corporate trainer. After traveling to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in the fall of 2009, Kim was commissioned to write a new play to draw attention to the Iraqi refugee crisis. No Place Called Home is the result. Kim recently published a small journal-style book about her experience in the Middle East called Story Diary, with The Veterans Book Project. She is also a prize winner for a short story on Fieldreport.com and a NYC Moth storytelling champion for a story she wrote and performed about falling in love with a conman. She is currently working on a memoir about her experience of falling in love with an Iraqi refugee called Three Days in Damascus.