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Journal 7/5th

May 29, 2010 by · 4 comments

Jason F. McDaniel

Photo: tourist_on_earth

I want to be dead. I am not thinking about divorce or mothers crying to God as their sons are taken away or the two guys in my company who were killed driving down a thousand year old street. I am thinking about my life and all the life that surrounds me and flowers and sunshine. I want to be dead.

My apartment is within walking distance from work. That had been my only criteria when I had moved out; I needed an apartment within walking distance from work. I woke up, brushed my teeth, took a shower, dressed, and walked to work.
I was the first one there and made a pot of coffee before sitting down in front of my computer. When Erica got in, she smiled and asked if I had coffee ready.

“Just put the water on,” I leaned my head around my computer screen and smiled back at her.
“Would you like a cup?” she asked. Erica was wearing a bright blue shirt with white polka dots. The shirt was silk or fifty-fifty. She put her bag down at her desk on the other side of the office.
“Sure,” I got up and grabbed my cup.
We both headed for the break room. We stood next to the counter and waited for the coffee to stop dripping. I filled the pot almost full, up past the twelve cups mark.

“I have to leave early today,” I told her. “I have a doctor’s appointment.”
Erica’s mother and father are both sick. She has been shuttling both of them back and forth to the doctor for months. No one has said anything about the days she taken off early. “What time do you need to leave?” she asked.
“Just after lunch. My appointment isn’t until three but I have to catch a bus out there and so I need to be at the bus station by one twenty.”
The coffee finished dripping. Erica took the pot in hand and offered to pour my cup.
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s too bad having to leave so early but that’s how the buses work here.”

Erica poured her own cup and we walked back into the front office. I sat down. Erica stood next to my desk. Her blue shirt just grazed the wall behind her.
“I’ve been riding the buses here since I was a kid,” I said and put my cup on my desk to cool. “My family didn’t have a car or if we did it wouldn’t run. My mother took the bus to go shopping.”
Erica smiled, cocked her head to one side and listened.
“I got a new Navigator last year as soon as I got back from Iraq.” I needed to convince her that I’m not poor anymore, a reflex left over from childhood. “But I’m letting Shyrece keep it until the divorce goes through. With the kids and all, she needs something to get around. And my lawyer says I shouldn’t make any big purchases until after the papers are final.”
“I used to ride the bus.” She held her coffee with both hands up to her face and took in a deep breath. “When I was a college student we rode the bus.”

We drank our coffee; the morning passed. I was able to get some work done. Erica took her lunch early. I left when she got back.
It was a hot day. I walked home, quickly got out of my slacks and put on some jeans. I checked that I had change in my pocket and grabbed my backpack. I walked to the bus station, just a few blocks from my house past the post office.
When I was a child, the buses made a loop downtown. You could catch the bus on either the Main Street side or the Vine Street side. Now all the buses meet at one downtown location under a parking structure. There are nine bays marked by giant columns and spaced a couple of bus lengths apart.

In the middle of the bus station, there is a booth with a glass window where a man sits during the day. I went up to the window and tried to read the schedule taped up on the inside.
“I need to catch the South-side Connector,” I told the man through a hole cut in the window. A metal grate covering the hole amplified the sound of my voice and made it sound artificial.
“Bay seven,” he said without looking at me. His head moved in an odd way and I realized that he was blind.
“Thank you,” I told him.

I walked toward the column marked with a blue number seven. People were sitting on benches or standing in circles waiting. I walked by a man wearing a green jump suit marked “Corrections” in yellow letters on the back, a low security inmate from the jail on work release to pick up trash. He had his hair braided in rows. He leaned against the wall smoking a cigarette and chatted with the people standing around him. He looked familiar. His family lived in the same projects as us, but I couldn’t recall his name. He said something I couldn’t hear and everyone laughed.

I sat down on a bench and opened my backpack. I had made some notes to give to Dr. Rosenberg. In my journal I’d condensed a month’s worth of entries into just a few pages telling why I wanted to start therapy and what I wanted to get out of it. I knew I only had an hour for the first session and wanted to be able to get down to business right away.

Last month I decided that I was finally going to get help. It had taken the VA a month to get me this appointment. Shyrece had been telling me I needed help since I got back. But I didn’t tell her anything about going to see Dr. Rosenberg. This wasn’t for her. I made sure the notes were in my backpack and then closed it and waited for the bus.
A quarter past the hour the buses staggered into the station. I stood in line and took the change out of my pocket. I counted it one more time to make sure it was exact.
As I dropped my change into the slot, I asked the driver if this bus meets the South-side Connector. He nodded his head and said something under his breath. I wasn’t paying attention and took a seat near the middle of the bus. Someone had tagged the seat in front of me with a black marker.

The South-side Connector is the only bus that does not stop at the station downtown. It connects two large shopping malls on the south side of the city. Between the shopping malls, the South-side runs past the VA Hospital where I had my appointment.
I could hear the driver’s radio talking about the South-side Connector. The dispatcher was trying to find out its location. I double-checked inside my backpack for the notes I had prepared.
The bus turned in behind the mall. I pulled the cord, ringing the bell to let the driver know I wanted to get off.
The driver eased the bus toward the curb at a place where a small blue sign marked a bus stop. I stared at the shopping mall, the fresh black asphalt, the glass, and the concrete. There were many cars in the parking lot and many people entering and leaving the buildings. I stepped off the bus.

With my back turned to the mall, I was looking at a large field. The field lay fallow and was surrounded on one side by a parking lot, on one side by construction, and on one side by the road. Tall grass and wild flowers, blue and yellow, were growing in the field.
I remembered a park behind the project apartments where we lived when I was a child, only three or four years old. There was a field like this there. It had been a whole world to me on days when I would run and play.
I looked down at my watch. There were only a couple minutes before the South-side Connector was going to come. The sun was shining. A cool breeze was blowing. I breathed in deep and stared at the tall grass swaying.

A couple of minutes went by, then a couple of more. After ten minutes, I took out my cell phone and dialed the number printed on the small blue bus stop sign.
“Transit,” a woman said.
“Hi,” I said into the phone. “I am waiting for the South-side Connector.”
“Just a minute,” the woman said, “I’ll put you through to dispatch.”
I waited.
“Dispatch,” a man said.
“I am waiting for the South-side Connector,” I told him. “It should have been here ten minutes ago.”
“Hold on,” said the man. “Let me check.”
I heard him use the radio to find out the bus’s location and which way it was headed. I heard the driver say over the radio that it was heading away from where I was.
“The South-Side has already gone,” the dispatcher told me.
“No,” I said. “I was here waiting for it. I’ve been here the whole time.”
“Well,” he said, “the bus has already gone.”
I hung up.

I walked across the parking lot, to the front of the shopping mall. The asphalt was hot and felt soft and sticky on the bottom of my shoes. I went toward a large store. Inside, I found an ATM and took out twenty dollars. I walked back outside. I stood out front by the automatic doors and called the cab company. I asked for a taxi.
“Your location?”
I looked around at the name of the super store and told the woman. I asked her how long it would take before the taxi arrived.
“Ten to thirty minutes,” she told me.
Next, I called the VA. I told them I would be there in forty-five minutes. Dr. Rosenberg’s receptionist had to check but told me it would be okay.

I paced up and down in front of wood pallets stacked with bags of soil and a display selling potted plants. There were rows of plants that looked a little like miniature palm trees. A rack running behind the pallets along the front of the building had hanging plants, like spider vines and some flowering plants with large flat green leaves.
When forty minutes passed and the taxi had not come, I called the VA again. I told them that I would have to cancel my appointment. The receptionist said that was fine and asked if I wanted to reschedule with Dr. Rosenberg for another day.
“I will call back another time.”

When I got off the phone with the receptionist, I searched through the saved numbers on my phone and called the bus dispatcher again. I explained about missing my appointment at the VA because of the South-side Connector. He said there was nothing he could do and transferred me to central office. A woman answered and connected me to a supervisor.
“Hi,” I said to the supervisor at central office. “I have a problem.”
“How can I help you?” the man asked.
“I was waiting for the South-side Connector and it never showed up,” I told him. “I missed my doctor’s appointment.”
“Hold on,” he said. “Let me check on this.”

He put me on hold. I thought about the minutes on my cell phone and wondered if I was going to go over this month.
When he came back, he told me, “The South-side Connector was there but has already gone.”
“No,” I told him. “I was here and the South-side Connector wasn’t. I caught the bus from downtown. I waited. I called and the dispatcher told me that the bus had already gone but I had been here the whole time.”
“The bus you were on was late,” the man said.
“But,” I asked, “Why didn’t the South-side wait here?”
“We did not know it was going to be late.”
“Yes you did,” I raised my voice, attracting a few stares from people walking from the super store to their cars. “I heard the bus driver say it before we even pulled out of the station.”
“We can’t hold every bus every time one is late,” he said.
“Why not? How am I supposed to get to where I’m going? How is anyone supposed to get anywhere?”
“With traffic and everything, a bus might be late sometimes. We can’t control the traffic,” he said. “We can’t hold buses for everyone just because one is late.”

“Sometimes?” I was shouting. “I’ve been riding these buses since I was a kid. I’m not new at this. I’ve been riding these buses a long time and they’re always late. Always been late. I spent more time waiting for buses than I have actually riding buses.”
“I’m sorry there is nothing I can do for you,” the man said.
“But there is,” I told him. “You can try and get your buses to run on time. Or even easier, just change the schedule. You know you’re late all the time, so just add the time to the schedule so people know what to expect.”
“Sir,” the man said. “I don’t want to argue with you.”
“Good I don’t want to argue either,” I said. “I just want to see the buses in this city follow the schedule. It’s bad enough you run an hour apart and stop altogether at night.”
“Sir,” he said, “I am going to hang up now. This call is over.”
“Why do that? It’s-.”
He hung up.

I called back. The dispatcher reconnected me with central office. A woman answered.
“Hi,” I said. “I would like to speak to a supervisor.”
“There are none here,” she said.
“What?” I asked. “I was just talking to one.”
“He stepped out of the building.”
“Well then who are you,” I asked her.
“I am the operator,” she said.
“You’re trying to tell me that the man I was just talking to has suddenly gone from the building?”
“Yes,” she said.
“And you are the operator?”
“I am. I just answer the phones,” she said.
“You just answer the phones?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. “Well then, I guess, have a good day. I hope you have a good day. I mean it.”
“Is that all?”
“That other guy,” I said, “I don’t hope he has a good day. I’m not wishing him harm. I just don’t really care. Okay?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Good bye,” I hung up the phone and put it back in my pocket.

I walked across the parking lot, between parked cars and around the buildings. I was crying. My breathing was rapid. I exhaled through my teeth in short, quick moans. I went behind the shopping mall to where the bus had stopped by the field and walked out into it. My shoes crunched the tall grass.
I walked out to the middle of the field and dropped my backpack. It was hard to breathe. I fell forward, unable to hold up my own weight. My face rested against the leaves of grass. I was sobbing. My cell phone started ringing. My fingers felt numb. The phone weighed a ton, but I managed to lift it to my ear.

“Hello?” Shyrece’s voice was so close, right in my ear like on weekends from the calling stations.
Tears choked me.
“Hello? Hello? John are you there?”
Snot ran out of my nose. I sniffed and sucked back the mucus.
“John! What’s wrong?”
All I could do was moan; loud and long like a hurt animal.
“Johnny! Oh my God! You’re scaring me!”
I hung up the phone rolled over on my back and stretched out. I stared up through the grass and flowers at the sky. The cell phone rang again. The display said “Honey Bunch” but I didn’t answer.
I remembered the mothers whose sons we’d put into zip cuffs, the wives who screamed as we took their husbands and sent them I don’t know where. Their homes had smelled so strange, their meals uneaten and spilled out on the floor. How foreign they had sounded calling out to God.

I remembered myself as a child, running and playing in a field behind our project apartments, spinning in circles until I collapsed, breathless and staring up at the sky. I thought about another time, not really very far away when I will be in a field on my back staring up forever through the grass and the wild flowers. I was grateful.
My cell phone rang again. It took me a minute to hear it and know what it was. I took the phone out of my pocket and answered it.
“This is the cab company,” a man said. “You called for taxi service?”
“I won’t be needing a taxi anymore, thank you,” I said and hung up.
I sat up, took out my journal, and started writing in this journal.

The grass is smashed down where I was stretched out. But it is thick, tall grass and most of the blades are unbroken. I am sitting near a patch of blue flowers, blue petals with black in the middle. Growing low near the ground, there are also some small purple flowers that I didn’t notice before.
I can see tiny bugs flying around the field, just over the top of the grass. One of them is hovering near me. I can hear its wings buzzing. I think it might be a dragonfly.

Categories: Frontpage · Prose



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