Letters

Dear Woman Riding the Bus in Chinatown, San Francisco, CA;

You and I are both alone on this very crowded bus. You have bags at your feet. I have a bag on my back. I am carrying a notebook, some Hemingway, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and stale, empty feelings. I forget the last time I took off this bag. I am 25 years old and my shoulders curl forward like an arthritic’s. You are sat in calm contentment, chin in your hand, lucid sunlight painting shadows on your face. The driver pulls the gear stick down. The bus hiccups. Everyone jolts forward and backward from the hip like jellyfish horizontally propelling and rappelling. No matter how much this ride shakes me, I can’t seem to drop this feeling, this clinging. It is a two-year-old heartbreak in residence in a heart that is still in a body that is in love with the man who broke it. I don’t want to let him go.

This city is so magnificent and magnanimous that it seems unreal to me – as if when we reach the crest of this hill that is California Street, I will see its descent, and the lights, camera and crew will become apparent. I will understand that all of this has been an act. This is what I want – to pick up where he and I had left off. The neon-tube marquees, hand-painted signs, cyclists, pedestrians and Victorians on the other side of the window stretch and smear into colors and colors. I cling impishly to the hanging support straps which are too low for someone my height to find their footing. I am a monstrosity. I tower.

I can pump my music louder, I can walk every hill in this city, throw myself into the frigid Pacific, but nothing seems to ease my discomfort, this inside-break. This is something I’ve never felt. It’s as if my blood froze, my internal body temperature dropped and every single ounce of me is shattering like icicles in the thaw of new spring. We continue steadily upward. But, here on this bus as I watch you, I hear something shifting other than the gears. The orchestra that is orchestrating this life of mine is about to change keys. I hear consonance approaching like the hills. The vibration is picking up. It’s beginning to ooze out of every value and key, every pore of me. Some of me is staccato, some legato. Maybe I will break again.

The bus lurches. Up and up. The gray and bald scalps, the folded foreheads, bob. I look to the floor—all heels dug into rubber, knees bent. Bracing. The bus kicks and jerks. It growls. It’s teetering on the edge and finally up becomes down. All the momentum picking up. I feel it in me. I close my eyes and I dig my heels into the still bus floor. I have wings. I am piloting this vehicle. I see the conductor’s wand in my hand. This is my movement. This body is my instrument. This magnificence is me. These people are feeling something too. Aren’t they? Are you? How did you arrive here, on this bus, with heavy-lidded eyes, placid?

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