When it opened in 1908, The New York Times called the PATH train one of the greatest engineering feats that has ever been accomplished: perhaps greater than, they noted, the ongoing Panama Canal project, which wouldn’t be up and running for six more years. Spanning only three and a half miles, the PATH train from Hoboken to Manhattan took about ten minutes to cover the unimaginable distance between New York and New Jersey, and drew crowds numbering in the thousands: to see it take off into the black unknown; to see it appear in another state, as if by magic, minutes later; to ride. President Roosevelt, who’d taken an interest in the project, flipped a switch in the White House to turn on the lights inside the PATH tunnel. It was a national thrill, being able to get out of New Jersey so easily.

When I was seventeen, on a spring Saturday, she and I took a NJ Transit train to the PATH station in Hoboken, and then the PATH to New York, though we could have come more directly by bus. Buses are decidedly less sexy than trains. On a park bench in a park, whose name we didn’t know, we ate chicken Parm sandwiches half-wrapped in foil, cheese and hot grease sliding between our fingers and onto the concrete between our legs. Nobody we knew knew where we were; we had told no one we were leaving our cars at the train station by a Starbucks in a neighboring small town, that we were on our way somewhere nobody would talk about two girls who never allowed more than a few inches of space between them.

This young woman at the small-town Walgreens check out thinks I am seventeen, like her, though I will turn thirty in two months. Transitioning is like that: in some ways you regret the adolescence you never had, and in other ways you get to have it. In the eyes of the world I have turned from an adult woman into a teenage boy. A modern engineering marvel, a human aging rapidly in the wrong direction. The checkout girl looks me dead in my face, smiles big, says, I like your hat. She laughs a little when I say Thanks. The girl I loved at seventeen and I did not kiss that day or any other day for the years we pretended we were best friends. We never spoke about what it was. Nobody that I can remember ever flirted with me without secrecy or shame, then.

The PATH train was quiet—Saturday morning empty—when we took it that day. When the PATH opened, the demand to ride was so great that Cornelius Vanderbilt had to stand. Reportedly, his friends made fun of him. In response, he said: I would rather ride under the Hudson today hanging to a strap than ride to Albany in a private car.

Everyone, after all, just wants to feel like everybody else.

Krys Malcolm Belc’s collection of short essays, In Transit, is forthcoming from The Cupboard Pamphlet. His work has been featured in Redivider, The Adroit Journal, Sonora Review Online, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a 2017 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. He lives in snowy Marquette, Michigan with his wife and three sons and is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University.

Photo by Lauren Crux