The Bus Ride Home This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 22, 2008
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The steady hum of the bus wheels rolling on the smooth cement fills the emptiness between us. You keep looking out the window, Dad, not wanting to face me. You said weakness was a bad quality to show, that a man is not a man if he is weak. That's what you told me, Dad. That's what you've taught me.

“Put it away,” you say, eyes still glued to the window. “Put that damn newspaper away, Charles. I don't care anymore about the Army or updates on the war.”

Your words drip down slowly for my ears to hear and my hands to take action, but I refuse to absorb what they instruct. I continue staring at the back of the seat in front of me, ignoring all that surrounds me and listening to the sounds of bus wheels, the sounds Eric would have been surrounded by in his constant travels, if it weren't for the lack of smooth roads like these.

I would like to trade this for that – to trade cement for raw gravel and dirt – to hear the sounds that once surrounded you, Eric. To hear what it was that made you say you felt “obligated,” “respected,” and “in the right place.” You wrote that in your letter six months ago. It was addressed from somewhere foreign to both me and my tongue.

Dad and I traveled to D.C. today. I'd never had much interest in going there, and I don't have any interest in returning. The ceremonies blurred together with words like “passion,” “hard work,” “heroes.” Sometimes the words were so elaborate, so convincing, that I had to remind myself they were speaking on behalf of thousands of others who were lost and killed. They can't tell me about how you were a great hero, a man of honor and respect – how you were the very raw spirit of a true American.

They can't tell me who you were, Eric.

I'm a passenger on this trip back home. Some here have been silent with indifference while others have been talking to those seated next to them. But, Eric, you got off at the wrong stop, many stops too early.

You knew the way to get back home even before you got your license that summer in June years ago. We went to the beach then, remember? Drips of salty sweat swung from your breezy hair as you ran along the shore each morning. I followed right behind you, in secret, tracing your footsteps in the sand, wishing I shared the same size, the same speed and suaveness.

“Don't worry, honey. There's no need to cry,” says a warm voice from the seat in front of me. It's a woman holding her child on her lap. Her brown curls hover just above her shoulders, and her slim arms sway by the armrest nearest the aisle. “Don't worry, baby,” she says to her crying toddler. “Just go to sleep.”

The curtains close, and with eyes now shut, dark oceans of silence and muted colors stand before me, with the highlighted ripples of the moving, cold waters. I used to be scared of this. I used to be scared of such darkness and how, when we were young and it was time for bed, everything in our room would become painted over in a thick layer of cold black. “Eric,” I'd whisper to the bunk above me. “Eric, are you there? Are you still there?” You always thought I was ridiculous.

The hum from the wheels continues, and your face, Dad, is still turned out toward the fields of farms and cows. I bet you've tried really hard to look past your reflection, but there will be a day, back home, when empty Corona bottles will surround you, reflecting the image of a drunk, empty man, a man you won't even recognize. I don't want to be there when you become like this. I don't want to be there when you actually have the courage to show your face, a face that has now lost its power and sense of self.

I want to follow Eric. I want to dive along with him into those silent waves, into the dark, murky waters where he now lingers, alone.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Kwigggggg said...
Jul. 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm
I love the description of the cold dark water, Ilove that you used that to describe death, good job. 
forgottenpenname This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm
Beautiful writing. Made me cry.
bobaya said...
Nov. 21, 2009 at 9:15 pm
Daimon, Demon said...
Nov. 10, 2009 at 7:20 pm
Andrea, I admired your character building, and your realistic, smooth tone. I encourage you to keep writing, and with practice, there is that attainable goal. Read "Opulence" and "A wish for her" to learn why the authors succeeded. Good luck. -Daimon
sarahbellum87 said...
Nov. 3, 2009 at 11:51 am
you made several errors involving the conflicts b/n the different branches w/ the military. overall a good story tho
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