Jul 21 2008

The Harrowing Highway

Published by Brian at 6:28 pm under contributors, memoir

Un-spun by DJ Skrotekkki

I boarded the bus in a slight hangover haze and sleep-deprivation daze, looking forward to snoring my way through the ride that awaited me. As soon as I settled into a seat next to the window, however, those hopes were lost. Between the seat’s build and my own, it was impossible to get comfortable enough to nod off. In retrospect, I should have given it a try and at least pretended I was sleeping, because by the end of the trip I would find out just how uncomfortable that particular seat could be.

I gazed out the window through the enormous sunglasses that were hiding more than my eyes until I couldn’t stand it any longer. The young man who had gotten on the bus at the last stop was half my age, but even so I was attracted and couldn’t help but entertain carnal fantasies about him. I decided to break the ice. “There’s no need to remain silent.”I turned to look at the woman addressing (undressing?) me (with her eyes?) from across the aisle, thinking “Oh, there may very well be.” “What’s your name?” she inquired. I leaned toward her in an almost confidential manner and answered: “DJ Skrotekkki.” She introduced herself and asked if I was going to Spokane. I said yes, although I was just passing through. “I’m going to Coeur d’Alene,” she commented, as if I’d asked. After an inward sigh, my politeness got the better of me. “Why are you headed there?”

Without hesitating, I told him: “Husband beat me up, so I’m running away.”

“That’s as good a reason as any, I guess.” I’m often not as empathetic as I should be.

Despite myself, I laughed. Then I took off my sunglasses, a tear rolling down my right cheek. “He hit me here,” I said, pointing at a bruised bump on my right temple, “here” - a scuff on my left temple - “gave me a black eye,” my left eye, “and kicked me in the shin.” I rolled up my left pant leg and pointed at the welt on it. “My heart… is breaking,” I confided, wondering why I found it so easy to share such information with this person.

I never thought of myself as particularly approachable, and wondered why people find it so easy to share such information with me. “I imagine so. That’s terrible, I’m sorry to hear it.” She made a noise and shrugged, as if to say “It’s not your fault,” put her sunglasses back on and turned back toward the window. I looked out my own window, thinking that was that. But she was far from done.

“I called my cousin in Coeur d’Alene and said ‘I’m in big trouble… big trouble’ and she said ‘come live with me, I’ll take care of you’, so that’s why I’m going there.”

“That’s very kind of her, your cousin sounds like a good person.”

“Do you have a cell phone?”

After struggling for a moment to get it out of my pocket, I handed it to her. She dialed, held the phone to her ear, then with a sigh of frustration said, “It says I need the area code.”

“For Coeur d’Alene? 208, I think.” Curious… shouldn’t she know that? She dialed again, held the phone to her ear again, then turned, dismayed, and said, “It says I’m out of the service area.”

“That’s okay, you can try again later,” I said reassuringly. It seemed to work. She flared up again after a short pause.

“Why do men think they can beat me up?” He shook his head and shrugged. “I’m smart and brave and strong. And educated! I’m a registered nurse. I can show you my credentials.” I dug into my purse, pulled out a large collection of cards and paperwork, and started sifting through them. “Social security card… driver’s license… ah, here it is. Registered nurse, see!”

I had no doubt that she was a nurse, but knew that saying so wouldn’t have stopped her. Nodding, I asked, “Where do you work?” By now, our conversation had garnered the attention of a man sitting two seats in front of me. He slowly turned his head to better hear. “St. Joe’s in Lewiston.” Lewiston. I should have known.

The man ahead of me chimed in: “Are… you… Lap… wai?”

Alright. Frankly, this is getting a little boring and it would take forever to write the whole story anyway. So I’m just going to summarize the interim shit and skip to the good stuff. She isn’t Lapwai, she’s Northern Cheyenne, the tribe responsible for Custer’s death: a fact she was rather proud of. I got to see the paperwork verifying her heritage as well, even though I didn’t doubt that either. She showed me a nickel-paper help-wanted ad for a job she intended to take after settling down in Coeur d’Alene: a driver bussing campers to and from a campsite. “Because I have a perfect driving record,” she said. She served her oppressor - country, I mean - as a marine during Desert Storm. She’s a mother of two and a grandmother of one. She’s Catholic.

Also, she may have been suffering from a concussion, or may have been missing some marbles to begin with, because she tended to repeat things (a lot) and asked the same questions many times.

Unsurprisingly, her being a registered nurse was bought up again. I asked where she went to school. “What?” She asked loudly. “I’m a grandmother - hearing not so good.” As if one led to the other. I repeated my question. She decided it would be best to sit by me.

I answered the question and decided to show my credentials in case there was any doubt that I was, in fact, a registered nurse. Filing through the many cards and papers tucked away in my purse, I was distraught when I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

“It has to be in there somewhere, you showed it to me earlier.” She acknowledged the truth in my statement, but it neither calmed nor stopped her. “Here’s my birth certificate.” If I had any doubts that she’d been born, they were now soundly put to sleep. She came across an old, worn article clipped from a newspaper. Handing it to me, she explained, “An accident I was in.” I quickly read over the clipping: she’d fallen asleep at the wheel while driving somewhere in Montana and flipped the car, nearly killing the passenger. “I keep this to remind myself that I almost killed my husband with my ignorance, my stupidity,” she said as I handed it back to her. “It’s uh… good reminder.” Hmm… didn’t she claim to have a perfect driving record? A near-fatal accident seems far from perfect to me.

Eventually I found my nurse’s card. “Why were we looking for this, again?”

Hadn’t the slightest. “I asked where you went to school to become a nurse,” I said. She laughed and answered again, then playfully patted my knee. Not the kind of thing that would normally bother me, but I had started to pick up some strange vibes from this woman.

“You’re very special.”


“Does God let anyone love?” I asked. “I don’t know,” was the answer.

“You’re lonely, too.” she said. Am I really that transparent? No, I can’t be - not to this woman, anyway. “A little bit,” I said. “Why?” she inquired. I made something up, mixing in a few half-truths.

She just looked at me for a moment.

“I just want true love. To love and be loved. Someone to have an intimate relationship with. Someone to make love to every night and to cook me breakfast every morning. Sausage and Eggs. I just want true love… with sausage and eggs.”

I suppose that’s all anyone can ever ask for. I said as much, and realized she was looking into my eyes. Can’t say I cared for it. I turned away and looked out the window.

“You have beautiful eyes,” she said, resting her hand on my knee. “Thank you for being such a good listener and friend.”

“Oh… yeah, no problem.”

Taking her hand away, she said, “I’m very blunt.”

I hadn’t noticed.

“I think you’re very nice, and I find you attractive.” He remained silent. “I would like to rendezvous with you.”

Whoa, hold on now. I often think it would be nice to have sex with women younger than myself, but it never goes farther than that (mostly because it would be illegal). And I certainly don’t broach the subject with them! And who says “rendezvous” anymore? I just sat there, awed. Finally, she said, “You’re very shy.” True. “I’m too old for you.” Also true. “You’re the same age as my son. I shouldn’t think these thoughts about you, but I do. You’re very sexy.”

She clearly had me confused with someone else.

“And look, you barely have any whiskers.”

Okay, lady, that’s it: No one makes fun of my facial hair. “Yeah, it’s a little sparse in spots.” She laughed, I pretended to. She tried another strategy: “When I make love to my boyfriend… he’s not really my husband, we’re not married.” Wait, wait. Another change to her story? Or was she making this up so I would think, “Oh, you’re not married? In that case, let’s screw!” If so, it didn’t work. She continued, but I’ll spare the grisly details. Honestly, I didn’t want to hear it and have since purged it from my mind. I will say, however, that if she was trying to convince me to “rendezvous” with her, it wasn’t working. Not at all.

“You seem uncomfortable,” she noted, finally through bombarding me with details of her more intimate affairs. No kidding. “Yeah. These seats, huh?”

We were nearing Spokane, so in an effort to get her to shut up, I handed her my cell phone and said, “Here, it might work now.”

“Oh, yes. Auntie won’t like this call, but oh well.” Auntie? Wasn’t it her cousin before? And hadn’t she called her already? I began to wonder how much, if any, of her story was true.

Again, she failed to get through, but at least the effort took some time. Returning my phone, she said, “I think we should be friends. I’ll give you my name and address and you give me yours?” I didn’t like the idea, but she began writing her details down before I could protest. What was I going to do? She tore off her info and gave it to me along with the pad and pen, so I could write my own down. After a quick calculation, I figured what the hell, and jotted down my current address. I’d be moving in two weeks anyway, probably just enough time for a crazed husband or boyfriend or whatever he was to come kill me.

Mercifully, the bus pulled into the station a few long minutes later. I politely bid her farewell and promptly left.

The only problem was that she had a longer layover than I did.

One Response to “The Harrowing Highway”

  1. Kurt Olsonon 22 Jul 2008 at 1:21 am

    This is one literary genre that I would love to see take flight…
    or at least take an awkward bus ride.

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