Three Seats Back and to the Right

October 10, 2009
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I am sprinting down my dark driveway. Yes sprinting, it is exactly 6:51 am, or it was a few seconds ago according to the digital clock on the stove in my kitchen, and I am exactly one minute late. Though I may be behind schedule I still revel in the aloneness, the few seconds of solitude before I face the crushing mass of humanity known as public school. I know the frozen gravel is crunching loudly, even though I can’t hear it over my MP3. Somehow I always end up running. Some days this is because I am genuinely late and have to hurry to catch my bus, but mostly it’s just a habit. As I reach the top of my driveway the lights from my house fade and the only illumination comes from the full moon, still clearly visible. I must not be late after all; there is no long sweep of headlights from the top of the hill or distant rumble of bus made thunder, just me and the moonlight which literally turns the tops of the cedar trees white. I think it all has to do with the shadows, at night the moon is so bright that everything is cast into high relief, like an etching. The fading moon of morning allows deep shadows to form at the bases of the trees, it’s not gloomy, but it is eerie. Lighting aside, I can’t confuse this morning with the night before, the air is all wrong. Night is slightly warmer, and not as still as morning, and right now everything is frozen into motionlessness. The long grass, stiff with frost, couldn’t wave in a breeze even if it wanted to, even if there was a breeze.

The bus arrives, breaks screeching wildly as it comes to a gravity defying stop at the bottom of the hill. It’s the same routine every day, climb aboard, smile, and say good morning to the grandmotherly woman who has driven this bus for the last ten years that I have been riding it. Pass sleepy blurs in the dark. I reach my seat and the bus begins its jolting forward motion before I have quite sat down. Still the pattern continues, I catch my balance and then swing my legs up on the seat and lean my head against the window behind me so that I face the opposite row of seats, push play on my player and glance back. Three seats and to the right back to be precise. And as always, he is there. I may have known his name at one point, or I may not have, but like me he is an old hand at the delicate art of bus riding. Like me, he listens to a music player and wears a heavy sweatshirt against the cold of an hour long ride with minimal heating. I always wonder about people like him, it’s a game I’ve played since I was very young. Most people are easy enough to figure out; the young middle school girls with their dyed hair and the latest cell phone, chattering loudly to one another, or the ninth grade boys carefully eying the girls and attempting to appear nonchalant as they wrestle and argue in the back. But he, with his wild hair, hair that says he doesn’t care about what I, or anyone else thinks, he is less easy to read. Idly I wonder what he is thinking, is he bored? What is he listening to? Does he see me? I would say yes to the last one because when I look back he is looking at me. I tuck my hair behind my ear and half smile, not necessarily at him, as far as he knows I’m really enjoying my music. He turns away and I smile wider to myself.

Do you know what it feels like when you spin around really fast, arms flying up to your side and feet slipping effortlessly on a wooden floor? When you stop suddenly and slowly allow the world to right itself? It’s a bit like losing control of your eyes. Everything blurred and a wonderful soaring feeling, exhilarating. This is what sitting sideways and staring out the opposite windows as the bus roars down the narrow road feels like. The dense trees bleed into one another and even in the dark there is a whirl of color. It’s like a monochrome painting in dark greens with sudden flashes of yellow and orange. The first dead leaves of the season. And above it all the moon is still there, even though it is fading as the sun rises. Black bare trees, their branches spindly and delicate looking are highlighted against the sunrise, a backdrop that fades from a darkest blue, to burgundy, to a light gold. I focus my eyes and from just the right angle I can pretend that the trees are holding up the tired moon in their boughs.

Does anyone else play these games? Do they smell the rich wood smoke from someone’s fireplace, always on the same part of a stretch of road, and immediately think of corn mazes and raking leaves? I like to pretend that in that seat, three to the back and to the right, the nameless boy has similar thoughts. I can’t be the only one who notices. Although I know for sure that the majority of the boisterous and self conscious children all around me don’t. But still I pretend that he does. Because I think that is what human beings really want, a connection. We don’t want to be alone, even in our own minds.

It’s not really a flirtation this game, the small glances we throw at each other are just tiny snapshots we take, trying to see if the other is paying attention. It’s almost like that hyper awareness you have about your first crush, you know their schedule based on when you pass them in the hall. I am simply more attuned to him than I am to the other nameless people on this bus. Well, they aren’t actually nameless, I see them everywhere in the halls, even talk to a few of them. But he is an unknown, and this foreignism makes him interesting, exotic. It’s almost like he himself has become like the personality I have imagined, make-believe, and he can only exist on this bus. Or maybe he doesn’t really attend our school; I never see him anywhere but here. He also seems to lack a past or a future. When I get on the bus he is already there, and I get off before him. It annoys me a bit that he has this window into my life, the top of my driveway, and I don’t have a similar view into his. If only I could attach him to something, a building or a stretch of road, then I could categorize him like I do with everyone else, put him in a neat little spot with a label. But with no better details than scuffed boy shoes and unruly hair I can’t put him anywhere.

It all comes back to that hair, it’s curly in a wispy way and the color is so blonde that it’s almost white. It’s not long, but no one would call it short either. I’m not sure he brushed it this morning; I can clearly see a spot where it is tangled. I know that someday we will talk to each other. Maybe he will remind me that we had English together freshman year, and all at once the mystery will vanish and he will drop into his carefully prepared spot in my mind. Or maybe we never will. Maybe one day it will all become too much for me and I will simply yank his hood over his hair as I pass him. Even though I know that that won’t change the degree of fascination we seem to hold for each other. But until then I will continue hiding and seeking with my eyes. And I will keep hoping that he can see the trees too.

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