Bobby Douglas

bus ride

After everything failed, I moved in with Stan in Northeast Portland for a few weeks until I could get my own place. Once the baby came I’d have something worked out, was my hope. I’d sold the Datsun for five hundred and started taking the bus to and from the Meadows. The scenery down Vancouver Avenue into the fields was all right—not that it mattered—and I generally just spaced out on the road home and listened to my Walkman.

I’d been listening to LZ IV (feeling classic-y these days, like the stories from those rock ballads have been told since ancient times) when my Walkman died and I noticed a couple next to me on the bus. They were younger than me, wearing these soft, oversized hooded sweatshirts. They looked like street kids, something I’ve never been able to abide. They’d stumbled a bit when they’d climbed on the bus outside of the G Club, a strip club near the Meadows.

Their manners, their falling together and apart again, were what drew my eyes across the aisle. How their foreheads touched and withdrew again and again, like how in a wind tree limbs rub one another’s woods. How much do you think I’m willing to forgive? she asked him. I waited with her to receive his answer. Solemnly, I waited to absorb the evil that feasted on her question in silence. Tell the truth, I doubted he’d say anything because any answer that would suit her was coiled within coils of his drunken brain.

As I listened to them talk, it was as though the song was still rolling. I thought of the dead man; how little I knew of his habits. Later, when my baby came along, I’d visit La Pine, place of our birth, and scavenge the trailer we’d abandoned there. Little would be all I found. Except for this yellowed greeting card my dad had written to my biological mother, who lived with us for a few years until she was off again:

Was taking care of Junior, but the day was too fine and I bolted work with a guy from the shop. Dude listens to shit, let me tell you what. But had a time with him. Went to a hippie party. Some hot dirty girls, like you, ha ha. Came back and the kid was just sleeping like a baby. Was still fine, so I held the kid for a while and watched hawks while he dreamt. Anyhoo, happy mothers day. —BD

Point of this story was that the troubles of this couple made me think less of my own. I thought of L. and of the dead man and of the new man about to enter my life. The evil in aching hearts was not mine to care for, I told myself. Digging through my pockets, I found two batteries and popped them into the Walkman and made my plan to find my father’s grave. I listened and told myself to remember these songs to sing to the new man. All these dreams aren’t as hard as they seem, you know.

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