Crescent Southbound

Strangers, family, Pride.

Gwen Frisbie-Fulton
Human Parts
5 min readJun 7, 2024


Out the train window, somewhere between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, headed south. Photo by author.

I am headed South toward Lynchburg with my forehead pressed against the cool glass of the train window, letting my eyes lose focus and the landscape swirl and spin. When the train slows enough so that the clacking of the wheels on the tracks falls behind us, I can hear the scream of 13-year cicadas emerging from June’s deep green underbrush, and think about time.

I rode the train once from Montpelier to New York City, in the days I imagined myself a city girl. I was 18 and lived in a small three-room apartment piled high with roommates, crumbling cakes of glittery eye shadow on the sink edge, and high heels strewn in the corner by the door. There were so many of us in that tiny apartment– four, sometimes five living on top of each other, cooking ramen putting soy sauce on our eggs, working odd jobs and paying rent in cash, wadded up dollars from our back pockets, change found on the street.

I had traveled for the weekend to my great grandparents’ house way out in the country, a small white house sitting in a bright green field, a red barn behind. I had slept up in the attic room, tucked under the eve, lacey curtains filtering the sunlight, a yellow crocheted doll on the bed. In the fall Pop would rake up all the leaves from the maple tree and bag them up in big black garbage bags and line them up against the foundation of the house, winding around it like a big glossy black snake, to keep the drafts out. I remember that spring when I went to visit it was already warm but the garbage bags were still out there, so I collected them up and burnt the leaves in a fire, standing watch over it with the hose in my hand, realizing my great grandparents were getting too old to be out there.

When it was time to leave, my great-grandmother fussed over me, making me a sandwich and wrapping pickles in waxed paper. She wanted me to take the crochet doll, but I told her I wanted it to stay on the bed for the next time I visited and she liked that answer very much. “Well, at least take something to drink,” she said, “It’s a long trip.”

I watched her make her way back into the kitchen from the porch, screen door slapping behind her, her small, shrinking frame nearly at level with the kitchen counter. She picked up a Mason jar by the sink and screwed the lid on tight and stuck it in my bag.

Hours later on the train, I was seated next to a man who was also going back to New York City. He had spent the weekend on Lake Champlain with his mother where she had a boat. It’s a beautiful little boat, he said, with polished wood decks and cushioned lounge chairs where you can sun yourself; he rolled back his sleeves to show me his tan. But the boat had been small so the quarters were close, which is how she overheard him telling his cousin about his boyfriend and he found a note on his pillow when, later that night, he climbed into the V-berth to sleep. He pulled the note out of his duffle bag to show me:

Jacob, I thought you had stopped being gay. It’s humiliating for us. You can catch the first train in the morning. — Mom

“Goddamn, I’m sorry man,” I remember saying, not sure what to do. He was twice my age and now starting to cry as we sat there listening to the train squeal, darkness falling around us, New York state folding out under us, mountains somewhere nearby.

I reached into my pack and pulled out the Mason jar my great grandma had packed me and, because I often find silence unbearable, the need to console someone too heavy a task, and said to the man I now knew was named Jacob: “Want some?”

He smiled and said sure. I handed it to him, embarrassed that all I could think of was to offer this man water as if we were crossing the Sahara on foot, not New York by train.

Nevertheless, he took it politely and took a gulp and said, “Whoa, that’s good!”

Amused at his enthusiasm, I put the jar to my lips and took a taste myself, flinching back a moment as I realized it was vodka; 16 ounces filled right to the brim.

As small towns came and went out the train window, Jacob and I giggled and sipped away at the vodka. He told me stories about all his artist friends in the city, their vibrant colorful, fun lives. He talked about their art shows and avant-garde performances that, as we sipped and sipped, he admitted he didn’t understand but he loved them, he loved the city, he loved his boyfriend, he loved the grand magnitude of it all.

I’ll never know if Grammie meant to pack me that mason jar of liquor or if she thought, as I did, that it was water, but Jacob and I arrived at Union Station tipsy and laughing. He flagged a taxi for us and we went to a tiny theater on the West Side where we climbed up a long staircase to meet up with his boyfriend and the three of us together watched a show that, best I could tell, was about an octopus that was born with only three tentacles who married a clock, but it was all in French so I am not sure.

Tonight I’ll arrive in Lynchburg sober and drive my truck out into the night, past Spout Spring and Appomatox to pick up my son who has been staying with my parents. That night on the West Side was two cicada broods ago, and I wonder where Jacob is and if he is still in love. I wonder about his mother and if she got lonely on her stupid boat after sending her son away.

I’ve written a note to my own son that I’ve stuck in my pocket, it’s folded in thirds. It says “August, I’m so proud of you, always come, always stay.” Of course, he is a teenager and will roll his eyes when I give it to him, but he doesn’t know I wrote it not just for him, but for me and for Jacob, for the cicadas, the cold window glass, the crochet doll, the vodka, avant-garde theatre, and the night sky.



Gwen Frisbie-Fulton
Human Parts

Mother. Southerner. Storytelling Bread and Roses. Bottom up stories about race, class, gender, and the American South. *views my own*