I suppose almost everyone who writes is afflicted some of the time by the suspicion that nobody out there is listening ~Joan Didion
Its like this: You get on the bus, you get off, you get on. Its red. Its blue. It doesn’t matter what color it is.
It’s trudging along down the Putney High Street in London. Its speeding down the expressway in New Jersey. You’re on it. That’s the point.
You’re on it and you are always getting on and getting off and taking bags unless you have none but the day you have none hasn’t happened yet, so you get off or on with your bags and you find a seat and you go where the bus takes you. Again and again.
You didn’t know when you got on (not at first, anyway) where the bus was going. But when you see the other passengers, when the lady next to you tells you she talks more, I talk a lot, since my husband died. He was 82- you know. You know exactly where this bus is going.
You tell her: It’s ok. That you will listen.
So you listen.
Here’s what she says: We were married a long time, four kids, nine grandkids. He had an affair, twice. I forgave him. You ever forgive someone like that? Do you know what it’s like just to outright forgive someone like that?
There was the time in ninth grade when you walked in and your best friend was kissing the guy you were sort of dating (but totally loved!) and you forgave her. That same guy, whom you reunited with ten years later, after seeing a video camera on his desk the whole two weeks you stayed with him in Philadelphia, you nervously suggested: Why don’t we, you know, video ourselves the last night I’m here? Then watching the tape he sent in the mail (in the mail!) and Oh My God I can’t believe I’m watching this and then realizing that the last night wasn’t the last night at all, but the first and the second night and every night thereafter.
He’d recorded the entire two weeks without your knowledge. A fluke that you happened suggested it that last night. But what if you hadn’t suggested it? He would have still been recording you those other nights and what then? A betrayal you don’t know about- a betrayal nonetheless. Or is it?
If a betrayal falls in the forest and no one knows, does it make a sound? If he records you having sex without your knowledge and you never find out, not when you are thirty, or forty, or say, even on your death bed- does it affect the natural order of things? Have you been betrayed if you know not of it? Does the betrayal still exist?
It was your idea he’d said, you wanted to do this, when you confronted him with all the gumption you possessed in your late twenties. And you forgave him, but you didn’t really, you didn’t know what else to do, you’d never done anything like this before and maybe this is the punishment you got for wanting to be intimate with someone you thought you (totally!) loved by fucking in front of a video camera. Maybe this is what you got? All your kisses and blow jobs recorded without your knowledge and maybe you didn’t forgive at all but rather, stuck that little VHS tape in your back pocket so you could throw out the window of the bus, down into the river? Maybe you didn’t think you had a right to be angry, or that you deserved to have a voice? Maybe you thought you were the one that had to say I’m sorry? So many maybes when we look down the barrel of the past.
Watching yourself on that dumb mailed VHS tape and thinking: That is me.
That is me and that is me, and right there? That is me, without me knowing its me.
What an asshole, you think.
You have permission to throw him down the river, although with time the asshole-ness will fade and you will shake your head at the outrageousness of it all, and the I can’t believe I got that upset-ness of it all. He will still be an asshole although he may be less of an asshole now that he has kids and has grown up a bit, but that is neither here nor there, is it? He betrayed you and you forgave him, but not really. Not fully, not until you throw him from the bus in the rain and watch the stupid VHS tape drown in the dirty river while people watch and wonder what did that chick chuck from the bus window?
And you think that if they knew you were throwing away anger and resentment and betrayal and not speaking up for yourself and drunken sex that they would understand and clap there on the sidewalk but the truth is that there are no people- no one really cares, they are all too busy fussing over their own scandalous sex tapes and lies and misgivings, and in fact, you threw nothing from the window at all. You just stuck your head out for a little air.
Then there was the woman your father was screwing. Before he died. She’d done it with other men as well. You knew. So young, seven years old, and you knew. You know her name (but you won’t say it, not so many years later, not here,) because she probably has her own grandkids now, it was so long ago. She could be like the woman sitting next to you on the bus, for all you know. She could be chatting up a stranger on a bus, trying to talk to anyone who would pay attention. Isn’t that what most of us spend our lives doing anyway? Someone please listen to me? Pay attention.
She started like a cold. No big deal. Then all of a sudden, a full blown flu, like a I think I need to leave my wife and kids flu except that isn’t how you and your mom and sister are left. You are left in the he dropped-dead-in-the-middle-of-the-night-by-choking-on-his own-vomit kind of left.
You forgave that. At least his death.
The woman, the affair, and let’s face it, his death- they’re still with you on the bus with all your other shit.
On the way to London my suitcase cracked. The airline damaged it and claimed responsibility. They offered to replace it and send over a new suitcase. I was tempted to say: No, I don’t want to take anything back. Let me leave it all. Every last thing. All my dirty underwear and sweaters and mismatched socks. Who needs it anyway?
My husband: Babe, you need it. You need a case.
Literal, logical, loving husband.
I told the woman all of this on the bus. The beautiful black woman who was 80 but looked 50. The woman whose husband had been with her all of her life (but cheated twice that we know of) and had just died. And now she was left talking and talking and who was listening to me now? she often asked no one in particular, in bank lines and bus stops.
New suitcase came. Black with purple satin inside. Like I was royalty. My old case was orange and plastic with wine stains from when a bottle of red wine cracked in it in Paris. It was ugly and stained. And broken. But hell, if I wasn’t sad to see it go. How I wanted to fix it, salvage it, and drag it on and off every bus for the rest of my life.
The old woman on the bus says: Take your shit back with you. Take what you need. Leave the rest.
I lean over and touch her nonchalantly. She’s real.
She says: Get off.
This is your stop.
Or maybe she didn’t say that. Maybe she didn’t say any of that. Maybe it was just time.