Every morning, I’d stand at the bus stop with books in hand and a black tote bag that weighed heavy on my shoulders. Sometimes,there would be a driver who stared at me blankly, merely waiting for me to pay the fare and find a seat. Gotta get moving. But sometimes, I’d get a driver who was really kind; who would call me sweetie and smile encouragingly. Who would give me a bit of a boost, even if only for a moment. You see, I was rather fragile in those days.
I’d find a spot for myself and put my earbuds in, while trailing off on various thinking spells. An absurd ‘what-if-this-happened’ fantasy. A wistful ‘reconciliation-with-my-ex’ fantasy. Free association. Tangents. Logistics. I hope I can figure out that video project for class. Got to go over my psych notes during lunch. Stop off at Memorial Hall to ask about that paper I got in the mail. And so on and so forth.
An obese man sat across from me, seeking conversation. Looking for answers. I’d be polite and respond. But I didn’t know how to play therapist. Not that early. Not then.
Another man sat near both of us; I could tell he was timid. Reticent. A light brown curl fell across his forehead, shaping his face. He’d peer at the floor most of the ride, but would occasionally listen to the obese man asking me questions about his life.
You know the tales our grandparents would tell us — the ones that are supposed to snap our privileges into perspective? The tough, nitty gritty times where they’d walk miles upon miles in the snow without shoes? Well, I wasn’t in those kinds of dramatic straits, but I couldn’t help but recall such references when the bus dropped me off far away from the university.
I’d walk across the turnpike, climbing over icy piles (in the winter months) and stand at intersections, antsy to cross. Striving not to get run over. I’d then walk up a flight of steps to an overpass and would follow its path to the other side. Yet, I still had more walking to do till the gates of south campus came into view.
I-pod at the ready, Vanessa Carlton would sing about a broken heart along the way.
But you’ll always be my golden boy, and I’m the summer girl that you enjoy; some melodies are best left undone. I feel the time pass away, but in my songs, you’ll always stay. I don’t need you to tell me I’m the one. You’ll never know that I was the one.
Daylight was fading, slowly but surely, while I’d wait for the bus ride home. On some late afternoons, I’d indulge in one of those sticky, cinnamon-y coffee rolls at Dunkin Donuts, allowing myself to be what I was. A mess.
And on other afternoons, I’d sit inside the McDonalds on the corner, not to eat, but to get a head-start on my homework. Teenagers from the nearby Catholic high school would come in their school uniforms, chatting incessantly over shakes and french fries. Guys from the seedy area would hang there, too, yelling, jostling, joking. I did my math problems alone in a booth, checking the time. Checking to see if the bus arrived.
Minutes before its arrival, I’d wait outside. There was one, particular instance where an older man, donning a cap and black wool coat, started to talk to me. He said I could be a teacher. He said I could be on television. He said I could be known. He said a lot of things. Before his bus came, right before we parted ways, he said that I shouldn’t be afraid of failing. He said I shouldn’t worry. And then, poof, just like that, he was gone.
The bus ride back to where we started usually featured the same people. Except this time, the obese man didn’t have much to say. This time, the man with the light brown curl ignored us completely.
Heavy heads. Tired bodies. Repetition as we tried to figure it all out.