The bus thumped down the road. Pedestrians waxed and waned in size, the sounds of car horns and miscellaneous shouts raised and lowered in pitch. Jesse didn’t mind the soreness radiating through her furrowed brow. She pressed the corner of her forehand against the glass so firmly because watching the lines in the concrete was worth the pain. Those lines were beautiful in their brokenness. They were white and yellow invitations to play Hide and Seek. They were predictable surprises, for she knew she could find them stowed away just under the side of the bus when they were temporarily out of sight. She looked forward to them every time the bus abandoned one road for another, making asymmetrical left turns across unsuspecting intersections. Those lines were the only delight of her morning bus ride and she needed their company now more than ever.
At 7am on a Friday, Jesse would normally find herself still-birthed beneath a comforter somewhere in her Seattle loft. She would normally have two more hours to sleep in, one hour to get dressed and thirty minutes to catch the bus to work. But this Friday was a special occasion. And although the bus driver was still rude when she entered the bus and it was still uncomfortably cold outside, she was determined to honor the special nature of the day…
all by herself.
“Is someone sitting here?”
The question plopped into Jesse’s right ear.
“Ma’am,” the voice nervously intruded again after a brief pause. “Do you mind?”
Jesse reentered reality and turned to join the conversation.
“Umm, yeah. Sure. I mean… no. Go ahead,” she stammered.
She wasn’t always so clumsy with words, but there was a man in a black suit hovering over her in hopes of sharing her bus seat. The part of her that wished to enjoy a bus ride without a random person sitting beside her- the same part that was preoccupied with the sounds of special Fridays and the sight of beautiful street lines- all but quietly wrestled with the part of her that wished to be polite. She was at odds with herself. And what better way to manifest such internal chaos than to awkwardly stumble over the first words shared with a stranger?
“Thanks! I always have trouble finding a seat on Fridays. Makes no sense! I’m Randy, by the way.”
Jesse shook Randy’s extended, moist hand as he sat down beside her.
“Jesse,” she dryly replied.
“Nice to meet ya! I see you and the window are awfully close this morning. Does that hurt?”
It took a few seconds for Jesse to trace Randy’s gaze to the spot on her forehead she once had pressed against the bus window. She could only imagine how red and distracting the mark must have been.
“Oh! Umm…” Jesse chuckled bashfully.
“Yeah, I don’t know why I do that. Every bus ride too. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t bruise easily,” she said.
“Ha! True! Or else you’d get a few more weirdos like me bold enough to ask about it,” Randy quipped. “But, hey, I hope I didn’t offend though. Really.”
Jesse noticed the change in his posture immediately. He was mousy, skittish, fidgety. He was frail. He spoke with his head bowed and his eyes slightly widened compared to the expected size of casual, conversational eyes. But, most noticeable of all, he was sincere.
“No, no! Not at all. I’d be curious too,” she assured him.
Randy’s expression relaxed as he chuckled and signaled a thumbs up. He removed the messenger bag from his shoulder and Jesse reasserted herself upon the window to her left. She was happy to ease his discomfort- for whatever it was worth. It was probably true that he didn’t mean to offend and Jesse figured it wouldn’t have done any good to inform him that he had in fact offended her.
The bus made a left turn at Jefferson and 5th Street and Jesse’s thoughts were suddenly racing down another path. She figured she very well could have thrown Randy’s comment out of proportion or simply informed him that he had overstepped his boundaries. In fact, there were surely plenty of people in the world who would have been very supportive of her choice to do so. Who did he think he was anyway? What right did he have to make such an intrusive observation? Her contrary choice, however, was the mark of someone who knew all too well what it felt like to sacrifice one’s dignity for the sake of normalcy. Randy wanted normal, bus-seat-buddy small talk more than he wanted to appear socially savvy. And Jesse once wanted a normal, shortened, drug-induced lifestyle more than she wanted to retain a bit of the dignity she had left.
But this Friday- this new day- was special.
It beared a fresh truth for Jesse. It was white and yellow lines in the concrete truth; a truth that was inviting, predictable; a truth she thought she’d always find hidden beneath every bus and in between the lines of every conversation. It was an undeniable truth. It had smeared its way down the meridian of her life’s journey just three months before. It was five doctor’s appointments, a series of tests, and then a bleak prognosis truth: Lou Gehrig’s disease would claim her life in about six months. But Jesse’s truth required that she live outside of those terms.
The pain in Jesse’s forehead returned. It had been thumping against the window now for another three blocks. She didn’t recognize the scenery, but she knew perfectly well the significance of her location. The bus was still driving down 5th street. And according to MapQuest, there were just two more stops to go: 5th street and Principium Avenue, then the 5th street entrance to St. Raphael Medical Center.
Randy stirred against Jesse’s right arm.
“Welp! Guess this is the end of the road! You got much farther to go?”
Jesse turned and revealed a stiff smile.
“No, not too much farther,” she replied. She watched him as he zipped his bag and placed the strap across his chest and over his shoulder.
“Good! I’d hate for you to have to be out here in the cold too much longer. I hear the roads get icyer as you go down 5th.”
Jesse forced another smile. While her manners prevailed, she was growing more and more tired of the conversation.
“Thanks, I appreciate it. I should be fine though. Just a couple more blocks.”
“Sounds good,” Randy said. “And hey, nice meeting you by the way. Create a great day!”
Randy was already up and awkwardly shuffling down the aisle before she could reply. She sat and watched him until he stepped out of the bus. Somehow she still felt the impression of his presence at her side and the echo of their conversation replayed in her mind. She was struck by the delicate delivery of his phrases. He was so anxious. It was almost as if he feared offending during their conversation almost as much as he wanted to have it. He was cautious yet so ambitious. She had certainly never met anyone who spoke or acted like him before. And it was hard to shake him off.
The bus screeched to a halt.
“St. Raphael,” the bus driver flatly announced.
Jesse suddenly felt heavy. I’m here, she thought. She knew it was time to get up and get off of the bus, but something wouldn’t let her move. This was it; the culmination of her special Friday, her special occasion. This was the moment she had been awaiting for three months: three months of reading the pamphlets, three months discussing her Last Will & Testament, three months dreaming of what it meant to exist like any person deserves- with dignity. But despite all that preparation, all that built momentum, she was now sitting on a bus with nothing but the coat on her back and the wallet in her back pocket, too weighed down to get up at her stop.
“Last call.” The bus driver was still irritated. Still rude.
And Jesse was still heavy but somehow dug up the strength to stand and move her right foot.
She exited the bus and walked under the St. Raphael bus stop awning. It had been a difficult journey to that ordinary point on her special day. She had spent years in a hyper-emotional state, prone to dropping things and to falling unexpectedly. She had become noticeably thin, was always sick, in pain and inept at breathing quietly and normally. She was forty-five and her health was failing. And according to state law a certified physician could help free her from all of this. All she had to do was walk into the hospital, sign a few forms and pick up a perscription.
That was it.
But soon another bus thumped and jostled down 5th street. The gust from its passing wafted against Jesse’s skin and quieted her anxious senses. She looked across the street and noticed busy pedestrians waxing and waning in size as they strolled in and out of the cafe. The distant sounds of car horns and miscellaneous shouts reminded her of Fridays past. And the biting scent of winter settled in her nose and pressed gently against her sinuses. Jesse still didn’t mind the soreness radiating through her brow. She found herself, quite suddenly, missing the sensation of bus window glass firmly pressed against her forehead. The lines in the street were still beautiful to her. She still looked forward to them, still yearned for their captivating brokenness.
Jesse began walking toward the crosswalk. She eyed the cafe and glanced both ways down the street. Randy swiftly crossed her mind. Create a great day, she thought.
“I could sure use some coffee.”