Long Way Home


ago
5 min
90
readings
2
Finalist
Jury
My mother told me I should never date a guy who didn't have his own car. She said that it set some bad precedent, mixed up the lines between provider and provided-for. There's nothing more ladylike than the passenger seat, is what she said to me. She's always been a bit old-fashioned in that way. I kind of got what she was saying. Who wants to be with the guy who's always asking around to borrow somebody's truck? But then again, I was a little desperate. My mother and her standards didn't take into account the dating pool's dire state. So I decided instead just to never drive a guy around anywhere. I won't be the chauffeur.
I met my beautiful bus boyfriend at a house party beneath a cloud of smoke. He had these gaudy rings on his fingers, the type you buy at an arts and crafts fair on a Saturday morning. Curly, unkempt hair. I'll never be so stupid as to say it was love at first sight, but I saw the potential. I'd take the rings off his fingers, take the cigarette out of his slender left hand, pin the curly hair behind his prominent ears. We'd be magic together.
Maybe bus boyfriend is a bit of a misnomer. He didn't drive a bus or anything. I just think of him as my bus boyfriend because we spent so much time together between destinations, refreshing live updates on his iPhone 5, bumping along poorly paved asphalt. More than his bedtime habits or table manners, I knew his side profile, his posture at bus stops. I noted the difference in the timbre of his voice when he hollered to thank the driver before we exited the vehicle. He always paid for my fare.
We took the bus to the lake for picnics, we took the bus to our college friends' dinner parties, filling our glasses with no talks of a designated driver, careful to retire before the last route of the night. We killed the hour it took to take the bus over the bridge into the city by inventing games: I had to guess the country he was thinking of with no geographical hints, only telepathy and luck. He had to think of a bug starting with each letter in the alphabet. In the hard plastic or soft upholstered seats, we melted into each other. As the metal box lurched and shuddered, I felt we were one beating heart.
It wasn't just the bus. We dabbled a bit with the trains, light rails, and ferries, too, but it was a bit harder to have a good conversation on those, with all the noise. When we ran out of childhood memories to recite or games to invent, he'd slip me one side of wired earbuds and we'd listen to late 2000s pop music, oddly his favorite genre. He pantomimed the drum breaks with his pointer fingers, and I laughed until I snorted like a pig.
Aside from the transportation, we had good memories in a lot of different places, though most of them were public. He stuck his tongue down my throat thirty yards away from a youth soccer practice once. "There are kids here!" I exclaimed in disgust, though secretly I loved it, to be wanted that bad out in the open. He held my hand until we both were sweaty in the city library, greasing the yellowed pages with our shared perspiration.
After a few months, I started to wonder if he felt embarrassed about bringing me to his place. I was by no means rolling in dough, but I had enough for my own room with a south facing window in a shared house. I had enough to make my car payments. Maybe he was intimidated. People can be weird about these things. He said he had a really strange roommate he met off Craigslist, that he didn't want me to meet the creep. Once he signed a new lease in August I'd be over every day. "If we put our salaries together, we could get someplace real nice," he said. I didn't hold on to the words too tight. Just a few months together, after all. It was hard to imagine settling into a place with him, the two of us choosing to stay still together. So much of what worked between us involved moving vehicles.
We were reading together on the beach on one of those few sweltering days when he suddenly sat up and told me he didn't have a driver's license, like it was a confession. I knew this already; he had told me the night we met. Of course he didn't have a license. "I just didn't think I would ever need one. Growing up in New York. Being so close to the city here, too. But now I'm 25, and it's starting to get embarrassing. There's so much out there to see, but I have no way to get there on my own. It took us two hours just to get to the beach today. It's not sustainable."
He knew I had a car but had never seen it. The Kia had been a silent yet looming presence throughout our relationship, like some absent-minded God. But now he wanted me to teach him to drive. I've never been much good at teaching anything, but I agreed.
At first, the passenger seat was hell, nothing "ladylike" about it. He packed my silver Kia straight into the recycling bins during our inaugural lesson, he forgot the difference between the brakes and the gas on the freeway of all places. After that, I told him no music until he earned it.
The day of my bus boyfriend's driving test, I sat waiting on the bench at the DMV as he expertly pulled into a diagonal space. A part of me was hoping he'd fail and that we could float back into our previous existence, planning our lives around timed transfers, five minutes behind schedule at all times, but I could tell by the smile on his beautiful face that an era was over.
He didn't sign a new lease in August. He stayed with the creepy Craigslist roommate and used the money he was saving to get a used car, a convertible. I never expected him to be a car guy — he was my bus guy after all. He spent all daylight hours of his weekends just tinkering with the car. He honked when Jeeps cut him off at stressful exits. He sped through residential areas. He kept increasing the acceptable radius for social activities, finding bars to try in cities farther and farther away. It was like he'd found his calling. He drove me to the beach, and we got there in thirty minutes, the radio blasting above the possibility of chatter. He didn't want to kiss in the park, under the sunshine, anymore. He preferred the tinted windows of the backseat.
I tried to be happy for him, but something was different.
After a few months like this passed, he told me he had something very important to ask me. I wondered if he wanted me to move in with him, despite never having seen his place. I'm not sure how I would have answered if that were the case. Instead, he told me he was drawn to the open road. His life had been so confined before. Now he needed to drive through the desert, needed to see every little rock in this country. He wanted me to come with him. Be his perpetual passenger. The city was too small for him now.
He was concerned with space. I was concerned with time. I didn't want to sit for hours and days and weeks seeing nothing but the right side of his furrowed brow. The games we played at the train stations and bus stops never translated to the car. He was too occupied by the road. I was lonely.
I thought it would be hard to say no, but it came out of me just like that. I don't think he was too bothered.
I saw him off the day he left. We woke up in my queen bed, and I made pancakes from a boxed mix. I told him to give me a call if he ever found himself back in town. He kissed me on the cheek before he left. I tried not to feel so sorry for myself when he drove away, the wind blowing through his stupid curly hair. It was almost moving. He had the whole world waiting for him.
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Lia Smith · ago
You captured some of what makes using public transit enthralling...the slowness, the give and take, the structured unstructured time that allows relationships to grow. Once this narrator realizes that the convertible driver drove into the sunset pursuing loneliness, she'll find her true love.

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