Carrying a contemplative air of determined indifference, she neither arrived late nor on time. Time was conceptual, after all; a fleeting idea to those that lived in the ‘hypothetical ’ rather than the ‘now’. Now was too concrete, too real. What if’s, on the other hand. Now they held a gloriously abandoned presence that demanded not of its partakers, but indulged them in a romantically, extravagant way. For who, when given the opportunity, prefers caustic realism to the soothing balm of escapism? Not her. Not in any instance. Not in any capacity. She exists only to escape.
Her dreams and meditations separated her from the surrounding world. She flitted and fluttered through daily life, acquiescent to none but her freedom. Such a stark contrast from my life led in meticulously planned ‘perfection’. Perhaps this perfection I so desperately aspired to was a red flag for an unrequited vacancy in my own life. My plan did not involve dealing with those flaws, however. That would potentially derail my power-driven desires.
I took the bus as an act of scheduled defiance. Public transportation was (generally) on time; near perfect in its punctuality. More than I could strive for battling the transportation elements on my own. She took the bus because she couldn’t find her keys. She started riding the bus three months ago. Her keys are still lost.
The first time I met her, I hated and envied her instantly for she exuded an admirably abhorrent quality; tumultuous serenity. I hated that she had such power in her carefree demeanor. Such grace, giving her the ability to produce more action from her lackadaisical attitude than my hardest attempts at controlling any and every situation. She didn’t care to command, therefore, she was in command. It was on this day and in this way, three months ago, that I was forced to reconcile my Type A personality to that which had no title. Then I hated and envied. Now I pity and love.
The bus held no parameters for her presence. The masses of confined, rapacious riders parted for her effervescent persona. Carefree, sea-green eyes paved the way for her petite frame while freckles and vintage accoutrements adorned her porcelain skin. With a dream like quality, she glided effortlessly through the crowd, and sat, no alit upon the bench I occupied. The bus, whose departure was laid waste to one rider’s latent tendencies towards all things scheduled, crept into traffic as if her presence freed it from the bondage of the bus stop. Disgruntled, begrudged, and annoyed I stared helplessly at this subtle force that permeated my cramped existence. She smiled a smile, gracious in it’s intent yet vacant of focus. I looked straight ahead. Anger management had taught me to distract myself from potentially volatile situations.
Unobtrusively, she folded her petite legs under her body. The ability to sit ‘normally’ was beyond her. Every movement of hers was a grand defiance of the prosaic. There we sat, each the antithesis of the other. I in my starched business suit, her in a patchwork of flowy fabrics. My rigid stature; her nymph-like poise. Corporate America meets bohemian princess. Corporate America actively avoids bohemian princess.
I was uncomfortable. I was self-conscious. I was completely out of my self-assured element. I was….dare, I claim the word…nervous. All from a whimsical character that closer resembled fiction than actuality. A fidgety tap of the foot, an anxious cough and my laptop and paperwork landed on the floor. Inconspicuous, I was not. She, politely extended her outstretched arm to the floor in an attempt to help me pick up after my uncharacteristic oafishness. That graceful arm with nimble, delicate fingers, I will never forget it. For in its beauty it also held a darkness that rarely made itself visible to bystanders. Peeking over the edge of her sleeve lay the dark markings of a past not so savory as her nymphish qualities predicated. Gouges, both raised and deep, carved themselves into the perfectly pale pallet of her skin. Fiery purple, deathly crimson these scars edged over a sleeve meant to obscure not magnify. A few fresh strikes emblazoned themselves as indicators that this past was not so distant. The knowledge that came from a glimpse of mere seconds, took my breath away. She heard, she saw, she knew that I knew. That on her arms and wrists were the reminders of why she chose to escape reality. Why time was conceptual. Why her air of haphazard indifference was no more than a guise used to distract from a torment that long ravaged her heart and mind.
“Are….do…can I help?” I managed to utter in the most hushed of whispers. Not one to acknowledge my own faults, I found it nigh unbearable to offer help to another that suffered from something obviously more incapacitating than my workaholic mentality.
I had barely looked at her as I spoke that which was never meant to be said, but having stated the unmentionable, I raised my eyes to meet her swimming green pools frozen in horror and shock. One lone tear escaped to trace a feathery trail down the landscape of her cheek. This particular gaze was not vacant nor was it wistful. In her eyes, I saw a depth of anguish only equal to that of death. She was dying. Not the death of a cancer stricken patient but the death of a woman whose soul was being extinguished. I had discovered her ugly reality. The façade of chaotic peace was shattered. The ugly and the chaos, they collided.
Her lip quivered so slightly that had I not been fixated upon her stricken face, I would never have caught the tremble that prefaced the emotional turbulence pressing to be released. Though it felt to be an interminable amount of time, two minutes had passed. Two minutes was all that was needed to destroy two individual’s perfectly sculpted pretenses. In that span of time, she went from free-spirit to caged animal. I, from stoic narcissist to empathetic protector.
Unnerved and having tapped into an unknown maternal instinct, I reached for her. In a swift motion meant to comfort, I pulled her sleeve down and lay my hand atop hers. She neither resisted nor encouraged this act. Human touch seemed foreign to this hapless beauty. Or maybe it wasn’t foreign enough.
Our bus ride continued. Stop after stop. Minute after mile, there we sat. Two strangers. Two compatriots. I, heart-broken over the unsaid atrocities that afflicted this delicate soul, mulled over situations, possibilities of outlandish horror that had dethroned this bohemian princess. She sat in silence. Not the silence of one whose daydreams have captured their thoughts but the silence of ones whose thoughts were captured by nightmares come true. The bus drove on.
We never exchanged names or phone numbers. We never discussed details. Our lack of words meant nothing, for in our silence we spoke volumes. Those scars, that evidence of the hopeful forfeit of life, they screamed her pain. My involuntary act of compassion shouted my comfort. Together we conversed through the foreignness of emotions oppressed. Suicide? Cutting? Rape? Molestation? Her past unspeakable. My prayers; voluminous in their silence.
I see her most days…when she arrives on time at the bus stop. On those days, we sit next to each other. Daily we exchange glances more meaningful than our initial encounter. Each day we sit silently. The days I don’t see her, I’m left fretting and worrying that her livelihood's strength has been extinguished at her wrists.
That day, three months ago, I never arrived at work. That day I was forced to be self-less, not selfish. That day, I rode the bus with a broken, disenchanted princess.