Portrait of a Young Writer Sitting With Old Men

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I could have sat in that one spot forever, watching the buses steam up and unload dazed tired people onto the stained pavement and then roar into gear again, full of exotic promise bound to drop down disappointment on necrotic livers and wasted chances. I could have sat in that one spot forever breathing deep the odors of nicotine and thin coffee, jackets smelling of fifty year old must and fresh baked cookies. It was warm. It was where I belonged more than any other place. The small town terminal was like a travel agency for the heroine of a depressing novel in which the whole of the lonely earth is opened wider than the mouth of hell and is revealed to be much worse. I belonged in the mouth of hell and I wasn’t scared.

I spent hours in those orange seats clutching my romance novels close to my chest, hardly remembering buying them next door at the used paperback book store, hardly feeling them in my hands because I was busy living in the moment. I was busy blending in with old men. There was plenty of time yet to determine my own direction, to get on the damn bus and get the hell out of dodge. There was plenty of time yet to have my heart more broken, my eyes pinned open by a poverty of power so frightening I would never close them again. There was plenty of time to join my peers in a mad tangle of hoping and dreaming and sighing for an empty brand of love that shines in the morning light and casts dark shadows before dusk.

I recognized the crossroads for what they were. I came to watch the same parade of lost souls coming home, leaving home, never staying home. They stepped down gingerly, always clutching the rail as though it could give a more ephemeral courage than simply get them to the street whole, and they took a deep breath. They took that deep breath every damn time like they’d been holding it for weeks. Or years. They never looked excited like people getting off a plane. They looked like I’d felt my whole short life: like they slow-burned through time in a painful parade of small and large abuses of the flesh and heart until the flesh is turned grey and flaccid with it.

I took it all in with the old men, lost in the exact same reflections on life that inevitably connect the young and old if they’re alive to anything at all. I took mental notes. I stored up the smells and the sounds because I knew they would help me stay alive later when it would be the hardest to find reason. I sat there in my misfit clothes and my unfortunate haircut and the old men never stared or judged or pushed me out like the young people did. All they wanted was to drink coffee out of small Styrofoam cups all day and make the occasional quip to each other about neighbors and sports. All I wanted was to sit where no one was screaming or pushing or hating me. We wanted the same thing. It never once occurred to me to wonder if the ticket salesperson cared that we all kept their customer seats warm while going nowhere, buying nothing, and silently watching the crumpled parade of their real customers shuffle through the stop.

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