This bus. This is the same bus I take to and from work all of the time. Same routes, same drivers, and generally the same people.
Not a whole lot changes in my life. Steady job, happily married, a resident of my neighborhood for more than two cumulative decades. It is not monotonous in the slightest. It is stable.
Because, regardless of the things that remain concrete, I am always evolving, always flowing, and fluctuating. I am up; I am down. I do not have the luxury of having a constant mental state, where everything is perceived exactly as is was yesterday, and the day before that. Also, I do not have consistency within myself and my emotions to risk tipping the scales. The cost is too great.
I am more than content to go on living my life in the same way, unlike many others. Why? Because I have endured so much and worked so hard to get to this point. Right here, where I undoubtedly believe that there are concrete things to grab onto when I’m sliding, and I have at least a modicum of clarity about myself, my present, and my future.
It’s this clarity that keeps me intact.
The predictability that I am going to wake up next to my husband, poke around on WordPress, play with my son, feed us, walk down the street, and hop on the same bus, at the same time, with the same driver to go to the same place I went the day before.
I do that backward in the evening.
I wrote this to a friend, soon after I wrote Pause. Skip. Fast-Forward.
“My mind feels like it fell from a skyscraper and shattered on the ground, 100 stories below. That’s the kind of wreckage we’re talking about. Not only did I leave an impact crater, I’m practically dust at the bottom of it. I can’t think, and I’m overwhelmed by this horrid, damaged feeling.
. . . I was handling it pretty well from moment to moment because they were pretty pronounced from one another, and rather short. Now, I’m pretty sure something tipped me off of my precarious ledge. It doesn’t matter what the causation was, because it’s not going to act as an antidote.
It was coming anyway. Three months in the making.
. . . I can’t trust anything I say, think, or do right now . . .“
A few nights ago, I found myself standing at my same stop, waiting for my same bus, having a conversation with C.S. about our respective days. They had been rough ones. C.S. was dealing with a defaulted loan, and several accounts that were flaming turds at work. I had bombed an observation at work, and was dealing with a potential denial from unemployment regarding my lack of work over the summer. Everything was off kilter, and I had been for several weeks prior to these events.
In the 99 Quirks of Lulu, in #2 and #5, I describe certain phobias I have. So, when I board a bus, I naturally take the seat right in front of the backdoor. On these buses, there is a plexiglass barrier between that seat and the door. I am positioned properly, and it alleviates claustrophobia. I can see everyone who can get to me. I am close enough to the front of the bus, near the driver, without occupying a disabled seat, and I have an easily accessible exit.
Of course, I always survey my surroundings, without making eye contact. There were five other people on the bus with me. A larger, middle-aged man in jeans, who sat two seats in front of me. A 50-something year old woman, with short poofy hair, dyed auburn, with grey roots coming in, seated a seat behind and across the aisle. A man occupying a disabled seat in the front, and a male and a female in the very back.
I chatted with C.S., upset by the events that were simultaneously occurring. It is the same ritual that occurs every night, usually minus the serious conversation. And everything was in it’s right place.
I take notice of when anyone moves around on the bus. I have been accosted more than once while en route, so I am always cautious. The man had been casting me glances, obviously unaware that I had noticed. The woman got up, and leaned across the aisle to speak with the man. I continued on with C.S., still perfectly aware of what was going on around me.
She leaned in toward me, close enough for my eyes to focus in on her greyish, crooked front teeth, and scolded loudly, growling, “You know, there are other people on this bus.”
Typically, I go unprovoked. I would ignore such a person and prattle louder, in the attempt to defy the other person. But, something triggered. I could feel it in the millisecond before my response. It was like the click of hammer when a gun is fired. And the projectile came out.
“Oh don’t worry, I’ll be off soon enough,” I replied bitingly, knowing my stop was just a few minutes away.
She snarled, sinking back into her seat, “You know, you don’t have to talk so loudly.” Funny thing was, I was not talking loudly. I was speaking in my normal voice, on a bus quiet enough to rival a library.
“Actually, this is me talking loudly. Just so you can tell,” I retorted, even louder this time. I did not swear, threaten, or get up.
“As if it’s all that important.” Clearly, she was regarding me as some teenage idiot prattling idly to her boyfriend on her cell phone, gossiping nonsensically about this and that. Looks are deceiving. She should have learned already in her long life to never take anything at face value.
And I raged, speaking to her as if I were scolding a student for extraordinary misconduct, “Yeah, actually it is important. This is about my life. Not your life. And if you were actually listening as you clearly indicated you could have been by the volume of my voice, you would know what I was talking about. But no, you don’t, because it’s all about you.” She didn’t have anything else to say. Her body language indicated she was terrified, as she became smaller, and smaller in the corner of her seat.
Meanwhile, C.S. was in my earpiece talking me off the ledge. “Stop talking. Ignore her. Just stop talking to her,” he repeated.
I got home, and we were fixing dinner. He said to me, “I didn’t tell you to back off because I thought it was the right thing to do. I was sitting there, listening to this, thinking to myself, ‘What would I do if someone fired their mouth off to me after a bad day?’ And I thought, ‘I’d probably punch her in the face.’ Or at least, I’d want to. I wasn’t about to bail you out of jail tonight.”
The thing was, physical violence didn’t occur to me until I was already home, ranting about that scene with C.S. I said to him, “Her posture indicated that she was actually afraid of me. She should have been. She clearly didn’t know who she was dealing with.”
I continued, “I’m going to go ahead and assume that she is near retirement age, by the greys in her hair, and likely had to stay late at work, in a job she hates, because I’ve never seen her on that bus before. She had a bad day, was irritated, and was looking for someone to take it out on. So, she is irritated by what looks like easy prey. I hope she learned her lesson.”
After a few days of mulling this over, I realized what the click was. I perceived her as a bully. She matched multiple descriptions of my personal definition of a bully. Clearly, she didn’t live in my lower-class neighborhood, because she was not even close to gathering her belongings for departure. In all likelihood, she was riding to the Park N Ride two townships over, so she could drive the hill to the well-to-do part of town. Match number one, someone with higher socioeconomic standing. Match number two, she was older than me. She had a sense of entitlement, as if I had to do what she said, just because she felt a certain way. Match number three, some kind of social standing, or concept of authority.
Three strikes, you’re out. I fought back. Like I’ve been wanting to do my whole life. And guess what? I won.
Unfortunately, it took being severely unhinged to do it.