16 hours on the bus

When the bus stops around 4 AM, I fish my glasses out of my purse and stumble into the bus station. I check my ticket – this is the longest layover. Almost three hours. No benches, just metal chairs. I sink down in one, put my head down, and sit back up after 30 seconds, too wide awake to fall back asleep now. A guy resembling Matthew Broderick on Ferris Buehler’s Day Off sleeps on the floor to my right, his head propped on a worn navy knapsack, while the girls next to him try to figure out who he reminds them of. A guy not much older than 17 slumps in a chair, talking about how much he’s missed his daughter in the ten months he’s been gone. A couple other guys kid him, calling him ‘Christmas tree,’ due to his faded green converse sneakers and red laces. Several guys, all wearing basketball shorts and t-shirts, complain about the cold. An old woman and a girl with a stud in her lip the size of a small marble sleep side by side. Another girl sits in the far corner, whispering into her cell phone. A big man with a goatee and tattoos quietly picks up a big box an older woman is struggling with and carries it for her. I read my scriptures, and the guy next to me asks if I am Mormon. I say yes. He looks at me sideways, and then away. “You don’t act like a Mormon.” I laugh and ask him why, but he just shakes his head. “She’s a Mormon,” he points to an older woman asleep behind me, “and she looks like one. But you don’t.” I still don’t know what he meant, since all I'd done was sleep and read.
A man in his late 20's pulls out a guitar and begins playing, asking if anyone in the room would sing. People smile, but no one responds. A few minutes later, an old man in the corner of the room begins singing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” altering the melody and rhythm to fit the guitar. The man with the guitar laughs and keeps playing.

On the bus again, I notice that I have never once see any headphones. Everyone is quiet, though I occasionally hear the low murmur of voices. The sound of the bus is louder than anyone riding it. I watch the woman across the aisle. She’s been reading a mystery all morning, her hair pulled back into a tight bun with a lime green scrunchie. She’s wearing Bratz doll sneakers and black socks with cat faces on them. Every so often she pushes her glasses back up her nose, or sets her book down to gaze out the window. The man in front of me has pale hair and eyes, his flannel shirt a faded gray. He has no book, no headphones, nothing. He does not sleep. He sits and watches the trees through the window of the bus, and I wonder what he is thinking that he never once turns his head away from the window. And I feel guilty listening to my music, that I can’t seem to take the immobile silence of the bus as well as everyone around me.

I turn off my music and watch the trees bringing me closer to home. Home is filled with trees. Some keep to themselves, not touching even when close together. Others stand alone, but reach out as far as they can in the hope they’ll eventually touch something else. Some form walls, packed close together like a box of toy soldiers. Some tower over every other living thing, glorying in their height, while the trees around them sit, content to stay small. Some are at the gawky adolescent phase, past their first years, but still not having attained the grace of the sweeping older trees, with their thick branches and thicker trunks. Most have seen more than I ever will. I wonder if I were a tree, would I be domesticated, living docilely in the suburbs? Or would I be like the giant tree planted by itself on the side of the freeway, surrounded by dry grass and stretching fiercely in every direction?

A petite German woman named Herta gives me two mini cartons of apple juice, and tells me about how she left Germany in 1952, her still thick accent sometimes hard to understand. She smiles when I manage to pronounce her name correctly, and asks if I have any Austrian blood. I don’t. She smiles again and talks quietly about different forms of yoga, and the power of positive energy and thought. She says there is power in words, and if we think negative thoughts, they’re more likely to happen - “We can never have a single negative thought, without it hurting us.” She gives me a card with a quote on it, part of which reads “I am the Light of God, shining every hour.”

I sip my apple juice and contemplate trees and words and people.

When I reached Yakima, I was almost sorry to leave the bus.

I already miss all of you. But it’s nice to have my own bed again.

Speaking of which, Sis. Morgan, go to bed.


Sky said...

I would love to go to bed, but I've decided it will take surgery to cut out memories, which start up with every new season change. Your bus description is an incredible treat to read. Each line is a deft original stroke that paints each person as a complete individual. As a veteran of many bus stations, I could almost smell that sour urine bus smell and feel the hard floor and bedroll under my own head again. I'm really wondering if you shouldn't apply for MFA programs instead of PhD. You're very good, Crystal.

Sky said...

I think you don't look like a "Mormon" because you have a quietness about you (which we should all have), instead of the usual predictable "busy-ness." You lack the frantic I-got-to-get-there-now-and-get-out-of-my-way" cultural attitude. That's why I call you my little "hippie chick."

iBo said...

Gosh girl, you can write.

Chan said...


Crystal said...

That's still no excuse for not going to bed.

You know, you're not the only person to refer to me as a hippie. Though you are the only person to call me a little hippie chick.

(PS - Sis. Morgan is allowed to call me little, because we're the same height.)

Leanna said...

Wow. Sorry this comment is so late, but it's hard to get a chance to read this blog anymore, let alone respond to an amazing entry like this one. (I can't even eat cereal anymore without it getting almost inedibly soggy.) Anyway, amazing writing, girl. I got lost in all of the descriptions, and I felt like I was there, too.