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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Inspiration Contest Winner- Road Warrior


As you read Marilyn Janson's story, consider her words of inspiration:

"Don't let others define your aspirations."



by Marilyn Janson

Don’t Let Others, Even Your Family, Define Your Aspirations

June 1990. Queens, New York

“I’m going,” I said, sitting at the kitchen table drinking pineapple-orange juice.

Mom stood at the stove. “Baby, you can't handle it. You’re just a kid. Poughkeepsie of all places."

Swoosh. Sizzle. From under the pan the gas flames reached about it like octopus tentacles. Butter burned and smoke spiraled from the gas stove.

“I’m 16. They must think I can do it."

Laughing, she poured the eggs mixed with shredded cheese into the pan. Mom and Dad always doubted my ability to do things away from the safety of our home.

“Baby, the overnight camp is six hours away. You'll be homesick when you get there."

Don't listen. I can make it. She's messing with my mind.

"You can't stop me, Mom."

"When you get lost, we’ll have to come get you.” Mom scooped up the finished omelet and put it on a plate.

"I’m been on the F train a zillion times, all by myself.”

“But not from Grand Central Station to Metro-North Hudson Line," Mom reminded me.

“I have the directions and a map."

What if I get on the wrong train? Or a guy attacks me?

Feeling hopeless and defeated, tears flooded my eyes. Mom placed the plate before me and sat. “The world is a dangerous place. You’ll be sorry, I can guarantee that.”

Straightening, I picked up a fork, and set it back down again. My stomach felt queasy. "It’s too late to call and tell them I can’t make it.” I pushed the plate away.

Despite renewing her license every ten years, Mom never drove Dad’s car. She was dependent on him for everything. No job or savings. An accomplished oil painter, she’d stopped making art years ago.

I was abandoning her. Guilt and shame made my stomach feel even worse. I was her confident, her friend, and her reason for existing. My lone venture seemed like a childish rebellion and betrayal.

Dad didn’t talk much with Mom. Her only friend lived hours away in Brooklyn. They saw each other once a year when Dad drove Mom. She could have taken the train to see her, but wouldn’t go alone.

"Mom… I'm not hungry. I'll get something later."

The clock above the Dutch bench chimed seven times. I stood up and Mom gave me a bone-crushing hug. “Nonsense. You’ll pass out without eating. You’ll be alone in that grimy train station. Who will be there to take care of you?”

My right leg shook under the weight of the duffelbag; its strap hanging on one knee. Stuffed with underwear, swim suits, Canyon–Creek Camp tee shirts with “Counselor Marilyn” stitched on the front pocket, a rain poncho, sweatshirts, jeans, shorts, and a spare pair of hiking boots, it felt like it weighed a ton.

I stared at the clock. 7:15 AM

Mom walked over to the refrigerator, opened it, and pulled out a brown paper sack. "Here, I packed you a nice, nutritious lunch. Apples, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Hawaiian punch boxes. Don’t forget to take your vitamins."

Seven–thirty. My parents were right. I can’t do this.

I inhaled shallow breaths and exhaled tiny spurts of oxygen. Mom plopped my lunch bag in front of me.

She's right, of course. The world was a scary place.

I shoved the sack into my bag. Terror mixed with excitement, I grabbed my stuff and left as quickly as I could, given the weight of my baggage. Fear and doubt filled my body. From my fingertips down to my toes, I felt the tingling — warning me of danger. Mom was right. I was like a goldfish in a sea of sharks. The world held so many unknowns for me.

Still, if I didn’t take this risk, I might never leave home for college or anywhere. Leaving my safe fortress, I walked down the four long blocks of Jamaica Avenue, a path I have taken thousand of times. Heart thumping, muscles aching, sweat pouring out every inch of me, I reached the Sutphin Boulevard train station.

The world is a dangerous place.

I was exhausted by the time I stepped into the dark, seedy-looking, and rancid-smelling station. But to earn my dad’s respect, I had to show strength, not weakness. He disliked quitters.

Mom and Dad love me, yet undermine my confidence, I feel like a delicate piece of stem glassware; about to shatter at any moment.

I bought my token, half-dragged, half-carried the duffel bag through the turnstile, and waited for the F train. The almost airless platform was crowded with men in suits, women wearing summer dresses, and college students in jeans carrying backpacks brimming with books. Heat and the smell of sweat seemed to rise like exhaust fumes.

The world is a dangerous place.

I watched everyone carefully. I knew I needed to look out for creeps who could harm me. When the train stopped along side me, I braced myself for the hordes of people rushing through the open doors before boarding.

Then, squeezing between wall–to–wall passengers I found a seat. I rode the express train for 45 minutes. As I looked around, I saw that some people fell asleep to the rocking and droning sounds of the engine. Others read the morning newspaper.

I got off the train at Grand Central Station and found myself in the crush of people rushing every which way about the building. I walked to the counter and waited in a long line to buy another ticket — this one for my destination.

While watching and waiting for danger, I wondered if leaving home was worth all this effort and anxiety.

If I turned back now, Mom and Dad would forgive me, but will I ever forgive myself? Probably not.

Ticket in hand I sat on a wooden bench, reached in my bag for Mom’s lunch sack. I guzzled down the juice, ate the peanut butter sandwich, and munched on the fresh apple. Just as I finished, the loudspeaker announced my train to Poughkeepsie.

Legs feeling like lead, I dragged my bag, and pulled myself onto the Metro-North Hudson Railroad car, and dropped into a seat. Air-conditioned compartments and the wide–apart seating arrangements were a relief from the sweaty and congested Sutphin Boulevard line. I felt comfortable for the first time that day.

Two hours later the train jerked to a stop. I opened my eyes to the blinding glare of the sun. Groggy and confused, I was shocked to have slept through the entire ride.

Mother’s ever cautionary words sounded loudly in my head. Checking my pockets first and then reaching for my bag, I found nothing was stolen and my clothing was intact.

Was the world really such a dangerous place, after all?

Maybe not.

Mom and Dad will be proud when I call them from camp, I thought.

With renewed energy and a sense of excitement, I heaved my bag onto my shoulder, got off the train, and onto the platform.

“Welcome to Poughkeepsie,” a huge sign said.

The sweet smell of evergreen and pine trees filled my lungs with hope and happiness. A crowd of young people, their green duffels piled in a corner, talked all at once.

With a bright smile, I introduced myself to a woman with a clipboard.

‘I’m “Marilyn June Conviser.” The woman wore a name tag showing she was Marty, Head Counselor. She said. “You’re in bunk 8, the Falcons, 10–12 year–olds. Veronica, your co-counselor is already here.”

A teen with fluffy, abundantly long brown hair, came towards me.

She grinned. “Hi, co-counselor.

"Hi Veronica, I said.”

With a slender, purple polished finger nail, she pointed toward the cabins. I nodded and we walked over. Veronica sat on her bunk. We chatted while I put my clothes into the cubby holes.

Talking to Mom

Mom sounded disappointed that I was so excited and happy. “See you in a few weeks,” Mom said.

“I won’t be gone forever, Mom. Will you paint one of your masterpieces for me?” Mom laughed. “I haven’t done that in a while. It will be just awful.”

“Please, pretty please…”

“Okay. I’ll give it a try…”

“Gotta go to orientation. Bye, Mom. Love you.”


I became good friends with Veronica and the other counselors. We had fun taking our gaggle of campers swimming, hiking, organizing volleyball and softball games, cooking-out, roasting marshmallows, and singing by the campfire. Once a week I went to the stables with my campers and took riding lessons with them. I even learned to sail that summer


Looking Back

Despite Mom’s warning, “The world is scary place,” I decided to take risks that summer. Some decisions, I suppose, could have resulted in disaster. For example, on days off, I hitchhiked to different towns with a few other women counselors. I figured that if the driver had something sinister in mind, he was one guy against three women.

Still, Mom’s words haunted me for a long time.

This was my first job and I succeeded. My confidence soared. The summer camp counselor position changed my life.

A New Outlook

Instead of “You can’t do that!” my attitude became, “I can do anything!”

I was not that frightened little girl any more.

Years later, I’m not totally free of Mom’s outlook on the world. I’m still cautious in crowds, alert on vacations, and overly careful driving at night.

But my camp counselor experience opened a new and exciting world for all the “firsts” to come. I went away to college, earned a 3.05 GPA, and graduated Cum Laude with a Master’s of Science Degree in Education.

For years I rented an apartment and taught school. I even opened my own business before marrying. Now my husband and I travel to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, Cuba, and throughout the US. My husband enjoys planning these adventures.

And what about me? Instead of listening to Mom’s voice in my head, I look forward to “What’s next?”

About Marilyn Janson:

Multi-award-winning writer Marilyn June Janson is the author of six children’s chapter books. Her poetry, essays, and short fiction appear in publications worldwide. Contact her at


I hope you'll consider my message for your own life:

"Don't let others define your aspirations."

~Marilyn Janson


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30 mei 2023
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A wonderful story so many of us can relate to Marilyn and your descriptions memorable - love the metaphors and similes.


25 mei 2023
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Marilyn, thanks for sharing your story of that first, scary, brave step you took to venture out and away from your parents care and their concerns.........I can feel your relief and sense of summer joys to come when you say; "The sweet smell of evergreen and pine trees filled my lungs with hope and happiness." The reward for taking the risk!

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