This goes out to all of the folks on the bus who rock back and forth under a blanket with no shirt on while clutching diamonds, who shout at the voices who accuse them of coming home too late, who screech at the driver for closing the window in favor of turning on the AC, who molest unsuspecting passengers and who smoke weed and drink booze while in transit. Here’s lookin’ at you.
Denizens of the Bus or Immigrants to Nowhere—Part 7
It’s been a long day. After three buses, four metro trains and another bus ride still to go, I’m exhausted. All I want is to sit quietly in the dark and stare at the red blinking lights from inching cars and traffic lights against the inky night. But no. The bus’ femininely tinged robotic, nigh unintelligible stop announcements blare. We stop at the train station, five passengers disembark, and we creep forward. The grey-bearded gentleman in his fifties who was previously seated behind me, staggers and and sways to the beat only known to the highly inebriated.
He barks and slurs to the driver, “Aaaaaare we goooooing to the TRAIN staaaation?” We just past it. “Well, kin we go baaaack?” Nope, we have route and schedule to keep. Sorry. “Shiiiiiiit! Goddammitfuuukkkin’sonnofaBIIITCH! I’ll miss my AA meeting feeer SURRRRE” the drunk man yells with sour breath as he sits down behind me again. “Did I hear that right?” I wonder to myself. Yes, yes I did, and he repeats it over and over again for the next fifteen minutes. He curses his luck, the bus driver, and the admittedly miserable suburb we’re in the middle of, and I’m trying hard not to laugh out loud at the most ironic situation I’ve ever found myself in. I chide the man in my head, “Can you hear yourself right now? You’re this close to being falling-down-drunk, and you’re worried about missing your Alcoholics Anonymous meeting? You should be glad you missed your stop and just go home.” Then things get serious.
Enraged at his circumstances, the man takes off his windbreaker, and starts thrashing himself and the window we share with it. The window I’ve been leaning my head on, by the way. Occasionally, the zipper punctuates his obscenities by sharply clanging against the plexiglass and window bracing. I freeze in my seat, thankful that the backs of these seats are higher than most then try to slink further down to avoid the makeshift whip, praying that my face won’t get cut, or that he won’t suddenly start pounding the back of my seat instead. Then he starts kicking the side of the bus. My eyes widen in fear and I slow my breathing down to make my presence potentially less noticeable to the three year old who has possessed this grown man and is throwing a dangerous temper tantrum. In the midst of my cowering, I marvel at just how blind someone can be to his own faults and responsibility for his misfortune.
As we finally start to pull into the last stop, the helpful, empathetic side of me ponders telling the man that there will be no fewer than four buses he can choose from in order to make it on time to his AA meeting at 9:00. I consider doing this for a few minutes until my sense self-preservation and justice kicks in. I decide that it’s just a fool’s errand to reason with really drunk people. Especially angry and violent really drunk men. “You know what, sir,” I want to tell him, but have the sense not to, “you should be thanking your lucky stars that you missed your AA meeting. Then you won’t be as pathetic next time when you do go—hopefully then you’ve learned your lesson and don’t drink right before showing up.” I let him get off first to let him go back to where he came from, and pray that I may never be as blind to my shortcomings as he was and swear to take responsibility for myself as an adult. With another hour before my bus home and enough adrenaline for me to bolt off the bus, it’ll be a long way before I sleep.
On The Sacredness of Steam or the Tao of Tea, part 3
Unlike most college kids, I moved onto campus during my senior year. Living with mobs of shrieking girls who used “like” and vocal fry as verbal punctuation marks was in stark contrast to life in the cave at my parents house. This sudden flurry of activity, of expected intense social interaction with strangers was a slight shock for that frazzled, tense girl who was mostly fixated on obtaining her vision of perfection through good grades. Luckily for me, my three closest friends lived on the floor above and one autumn night after mid-semester break, I brought some of the tea my mom gave me to share. Tazo’s Wild Sweet Orange was a hit and Hailey in particular loved it. Soon, on nights I when needed a study break, I went upstairs to Hailey and Kara’s room, citrus and lemongrass wafting from the tea sachets and we created a sanctuary apart from the insanity of the rest of the girls in the dorm. We would sit together, fiddling with the strings of the tea bags, bemoaning the quality of boys on campus, making cultural observations, and generally solving our world’s problems over a cup of the slightly fizzy tea.
What we all knew but never really understood was that Hailey had been sick for as long as she could remember, that her body refused to absorb the nutrients she needed to function. On days that I heard that Hailey’s insides were disagreeable, I’d slide a tea packet under the door, hoping not to disturb her sleep, the one escape she had from almost constant pain. Because she had skipped so many classes and was unable to complete assignments as a result of being sick, Hailey had little choice but to drop out mid semester of our graduating year. The same time a year later, Hailey’s health rapidly worsened, and she nearly died. After this close call, two of her acquaintances and I collaborated to send her a care package to encourage her. Along with a movie, some lip-gloss to make her feel pretty, a photo collage and paper cranes, I contributed her a box of Wild Sweet Orange. I wrote a little note on each tea bag to make her smile, laugh or just feel a little less awful, to let her know that she wasn’t alone.
The girl I saw a few days after we sent the package was a shadow of Hailey. I enfolded her in my arms and felt the column of her spine, her ribs poking out of her back. Hailey’s spark that lit up her eyes, her smile, her laughter was gone, and replaced with a vacant, exhausted daze. As I made plans to visit her in a few months, I somehow knew she wouldn’t live to see Christmas. She never got the package; she would never drink the tea again. Every day for weeks I felt like I had been hit by a truck, and I’d wish I had been. I placed the Wild Sweet Orange box at the back of the drawer so I could forget about its existence, and try to erase the pain of Hailey’s absence. Months of sadness blended into each other, enveloping me like the unfurling orange tea in my cup. It would be half a year before I could encounter the memories with gladness instead of tears. Sometimes I think of how we’ll never send photos of each others’ kids to each other, how the four of us will never sit on the retirement home porch together. I think of how this year I’ll be Hailey’s age when she died—next year, I’ll always be older than her. But with each sip of our tea, I’m transported back to Hailey’s tiny dorm room, remembering its faint vanilla and lavender scent as I sit on her satiny blue bedspread. I can hear the laughter we shared and feel the tears we shed as its steam warms my face.