It was cold when I climbed on the bus, too cold for July in my mind. I had walked, alone, bag on back, full of clothes, books stolen from libraries, cigarettes. Not much money. I could see my breath on the air at 6am, and I moved quickly to the gas station that doubled as a bus depot in that tiny town.
I was the only girl to climb aboard, clutching my things to me.
I had said goodbye to my father through a haze of cigarette smoke and sadness that morning, my 16 years on the earth still not enough to say all those things I needed to say-I love you, but I can’t stay near you. You’re killing me while you kill you.
Love me father. See me, hear me, touch me dammit love me. I’m still your daughter. See through your pain.
I couldn’t say any of that. So instead, I invented a half cocked story about visiting friends back home, demanded money for a bus ticket and took off. He didn’t even look me in the eye when I left, my hand waiving away his offer of a ride.
I crouched in my seat, headphones to head, and watched the trees and stone of Northern Ontario flash by me. It’s a long drive, full of KOA parks, edges falling into the coldest lake, strange men with narrowed eyes in odd towns on dirt roads. The trees whipping by were better than words. Apologies translated into road.
Somewhere around White River, a slight South Asian man took a liking to me. He sat close, leaned in as I pushed myself again the window, annoyed. His breath was moist, and his hands-they wanted to be grabby. I stayed mostly silent, not out of fear, but out of that little girl need to not upset anyone. To be good. To be liked.
When the bus stopped at Sudbury, I fled, moved my stuff to the back of the bus, and hoped.
While waiting to leave, sitting eating grilled cheese and reading Androncles and the Lion, he walked up, all golden red hair and beard, tall. He liked my hair, David did, wondered why I was reading such a serious book on the bus of all places.
I told him it was stolen, and so it was only fair I read it after all that.
The asian simpered near, asked me why I moved.
“Because I don’t want to be bothered.” I replied, freed by the air, the green grass and the warm sun on my toes. David stared up at him as well, watched with me as he moved away.
“It’s always the south asians” I explained. “And I have no idea why.”
By Toronto, I had decided to visit with him for a week. By the end of that weekend, I slept with him. He looked at me differently than anyone else ever had. He saw me, saw a beauty in me I couldn’t see.
I told him I couldn’t stay. I went home for a few weeks, but everyone had moved on. They were people I no longer recognized.
I called David, said I wanted to come back to him. He lent me money for a train ticket, met me at the station.
I don’t even think I liked him if I’m honest with myself. I was stone cold with him-following the motions of how a lover should be, trying to be happy with him. He was bright, successful, destined to do something with himself. Maybe it was the Phish, or his hideous laugh, or maybe it was just the fact that I was too brittle to love anyone, to molten inside to relax into someone.
When I called home to tell my father where I settled, I neglected to mention that the friend I was staying with I had only known for 4 weeks or so, and that I was sleeping with him. I don’t think my father heard me anyway.