I Dreamt of the Future
Have you noticed how when people run for the bus, they're nearly always smiling? Most especially when they make it onboard, but often before that becomes a certainty, too. It's the element of the chase, perhaps, muscle memories from childhood; swatting the branches and leaves aside, during the time when laughter and sunshine ruled the world.
It's dark tonight, southbound 15th in the U District, and they're facing away from me, but you can somehow tell those two runners are smiling. They're giggling with their bodies, racing my bus to the next stop.
If it was rush hour, I wouldn't wait for them, but it isn't rush hour. It's 12:11 in the morning. Am I going to pull over in between stops and save them the extra block of running, speeding things up for everyone? Of course I am.
I want to see the smiles on their faces.
They're a young couple, likely undergraduates, each bumbling into the other now in an effort to stop. They finish each other's sentences, flowing in and out, a sprightly African-American student and his bubbly east Asian girlfriend. There is an ability among millenials to overlook race and gender differences, take them in stride, with an ease no generation prior has been able to accomplish. It's one of my favorite things about being alive right now.
"Tight!" says one, as other finishes: "he's stopping!"
"It's not the bus!" the boyfriend exclaims.
I echo his statement as a question– "is it not the bus?"
"No, it's a 49," he yells back, seemingly for the benefit of both myself and his lady, "and we want the 48! But thank you so much for stoppin'!"
"No worries," I holler in return with a grin in my voice, catching the rhythms of their excitement by proximity. "Have a good night!"
"My nigga! You too!"
There was an exhale of almost surprised relief somewhere in there, an effervescence in the timbre of his cry. I shook my head as I drove away, smiling too wide for a stationary face. Replaying the moment, figuring out why I loved it so. You heard the realization in his tone: that guy's like me, another unjudging young person, who didn't think twice about pulling over for us, more than happy to do so. There are folks like that.
When we see the best parts of ourselves reflected in the person before us, we come alive all over again. When I see how this goodness lives so easily in anyone, so utterly ignorant of race and class and preferential differences, I shiver with delight at the possibilities. Let the youngsters lead the way, where we have not tread before. I love moments like this in part because they don't happen all the time. We are not yet living in a post-racial world.
Except when we are.
It's a system of peaks and valleys, life is. At this moment, somewhere last year, I was in a valley. You know the feeling, I'm sure, where you drift through the days and nights at half-speed, troubled, knowing you should probably talk about it, but stymied by the sensation that doing so would be pointless. Who, after all, knows the full situation besides you? The bus is a welcome distraction. It demands so much present concentration, focus, and consideration of others that there's no time leftover to think about one's own problems. But sometimes the thoughts sneak back in, especially as the night wears on and the city begins to clear out.
"Heeey, man!" exclaimed this vaguely familiar face, all smiles, thrilled to see me, with no idea how low I felt, how little I felt like talking. I almost verbalized something along those lines, but I can't do that. Life is bigger than my little woes. He asked, with exuberance and terrific speed, nearly talking over himself: "hey I haven't seen you in ages, how you been?"
He could have been forty, or fifty, bald but with a baseball cap tonight, dark olive skin and almond eyes like mine, wearing your dad's sweater and faded tennis shoes.
"Oh, pretty well," I replied. "How 'bout you?"
"Man, I got broken into!" It was the funniest thing to hear, that sentence, voiced as it was with the timbre of his excitement at seeing me. "I was jus' taken a shower, they came in and took my wallet, took my–"
"No way, up on Capitol Hill?"
"No, I live over here. Busted right in middle a the day,"
I'm really listening now. "Wait. You were at home?"
"Took my wallet, loose cash,"
"You were at home? They came in while you was at the house?"
"Yeah, I was in the shower. I came out ready to go to work." Readygotowork. So fast! This guy should do the voices for audiobooks. He could get you through The Brothers Karamazov in an hour. And yet, unlike many fast-talkin' folk, it was easy to detect the very real sincerity in his voice.
"Oh, no," I said. "Oh, no! That's terrible!"
"Yeah. Well. I'm okay at least. Tell me 'bout you, how are holdin' up? You look even younger now! I want your genes, man!"
"But you look more mature somehow."
"Hmm. I hope so. Maybe I learned one or two things in the interim!"
"You been doin' okay, everything good?"
"Yeah, I can't complain. Things are good. Things are fine." Somewhere in the middle of that I remembered my father, speaking on how important truthfulness is. Amazing, the speed at which the brain dashes from thought to thought. I decided to just tell him. It was the middle of the barren night, a weeknight. There was room for conversations like this.
I said, "actually, I just got dumped."
"Awww, that's, hell, that's worse than gettin' broke into!"
"Oh man, it kills me. It just kills me."
"Wait. Somebody broke up with you? Do they know what they're missing?"
I laughed. "Aw naw,"
"It's a done deal or she just you know,"
"I think it's a done deal, yeah,"
"What happened? I can't imagine."
"Oh, it's, uh. Um. well, okay. We were trying to resolve an issue, but before I could come to a decision on how to resolve it, she just said hey, I'm done, this is done."
"Awwww. How many years you were together?"
"Oh not long at all. Three months, something." Could it really have been that short? "So it's not all that you know, but it was so intense! You know how sometimes it's a short time but it's so concentrated, and it figgers larger in your head?"
"So that's kinda what's been on my mind."
"That's funny, I thought you were gay."
"Ha!" It was the loudest I'd laughed in two weeks. What a ridiculous sentence, and so perfect, sublime, really. Just the leveling needed in that moment.
"I mean no offense,"
"Nothing wrong of course I just always thought okay, I thought you were gay the whole time,"
"I know, everyone does. I don't know why. Because I'm friendly? Or I like art? I can't help myself!"
We laughed and laughed, climbing the ladder together.
"Man. Yeah, I split up with my wife after [unintelligible] years, we were livin' in Santa [Clara], one' most expensive neighborhoods in the world, we were just arguing all the,"
"It's no good if you're just makin' each other unhappy,"
"Yeah. You know something like eighty percent a relationships fall apart cause of–"
"–Financial issues? Yeah!"
"Yeah, I seen the ad that mentions that. I mean, if you guys are always arguin' about the rent,"
"Exactly, and she was workin' all the time trying t'cover for stuff,"
"But it's not a failure because it ends. Everything ends. It's never a failure just cause it ends." I often tell that to people. I need to voice it, just in case they don't know. I think he knew, though; he was way too happy not to. "Okay so what did they take when they broke in?"
"My wallet, my keys, cash. My bus card,"
"Oh man, especially the wallet, that's a bummer. Take forever to replace."
"Yeah." Listen to the effervescent bounce in his voice, infectious: "It'll work out though." Practically bubbly. "I'm stayin' at this guy's house right now, landlord's house but it's no good, he's ninety and he always has all these women comin' over. He's ninety and bunch a women half his age be comin' over to the house,"
"Hold up wait, he be ninety years old? Did you say ninet–"
"Yeah, and he has all these lovers!"
"He has lovers at ninety! I wanna know about his genes!"
"I don't wanna be no player, 'specially at that age–"
"Yeah that sounds painful. Ninety? I wanna be reading books."
"Exactly. Should be lookin' at birds and stuff. Talkin' about bowel movements!"
"Ha!" I laugh so hard the only other passenger looks up from his headphonic din, confused.
"Well, I'm sorry we both had bummer times goin' on."
"Me too, but it's good to talk. Talking's good."
They don't have classes on how to live life. They'll teach you everything else–everything else, as long as its quantifiable, binary, literal– but they won't teach you how to break up or when, to question how you define your self-worth, how to feel when your wares are stolen, how to move on from the death of a loved one. When it comes to matters of actual consequence, we're all beginners in this racket. The singsong rhythms of his resilient ebullience were the lesson I needed then, the gentle confidence of guidance offered unknowingly. No better way to teach someone.
He wasn't doing anything besides being himself.
Where and How it All Began
I used to have a great fear of being in social situations where everyone there knew everyone else, but I didn't know anybody. I forget the number of events I didn't go to to avoid this circumstance, and I also forget exactly when I started to find the experience strangely enjoyable. Probably when I began noticing there was usually someone who recognized me from bus-land, or art-world, or both. It's a little scary, going alone, but you're free to roam about as you wish, without strings, engaging as much or as little as you please; if the folks present are friendly, then all the better.
In 2012 I was invited to just such an event– an art show featuring work by the boyfriend of a passenger. Virginia was a grad student and regular rider on the 4 whom I'd driven home for– months? Years? I can't quite recall. Long enough for our brief interactions to slowly build into friendship, a point of connection of which was that her boyfriend, also named Nathan (or Nate, to be precise, don't wanna step on any toes here), was also a photographer like myself.
This blog exists because I chose to go to Nate's photography event at Theo Chocolate in 2012. It exists because Virginia was kind enough to extend the invite, and because I was able to get over my mild nervousness about going to an event where I would barely know anyone. It exists most potently because of a long conversation I got into with the three delightful ladies pictured above. One is a photographer; another with a background in medicine; the third owns an interior design company.
I had come directly from work (there I am in my little Metro cardigan!), and after discussing bus-land they broached the idea of a blog. I stood there and tried to come up with excuses to justify not doing so. It sounds like a lot of work. It involves large amounts of time documenting life instead of living it. It means sitting in front of computers too much, which I don't like. The moments with the passengers are private and special and writing about them would dilute their power. No one's going to be interested because the events are positive. The events are too small– things like eye contact or fistbumps can't be interesting as focal points for stories… or can they?
How great that they correctly called me out for being lazy and making a bunch of lame excuses. Just try it, they said, brightly. People love stories. The conversation was valuable enough that I became late for where I was going afterwards– something friends will know I'm loathe to do– but it was so worth it. This whole enterprise might not exist otherwise. "You need to write about these stories," the ladies insisted. "You need to share them. People need to hear them, and they'll love them."
Even before the blog existed I would write little notes on transfers, in a journal, on napkins, strictly so I could remember the moments for myself. The first time I ever did so was when a teenage boy got off my (now defunct) 253 at Bellevue Transit Center. He was a Pacific Northwest teenager, with oversized button-up plaid and skater shoes, and he thanked me with enthusiastic presence before removing his BMX bicycle.
You knew he'd never seen a driver near his age before (I was just twenty-one at the time), and likely hadn't run into one with my put-all-of-yourself-out-there approach. I forget his exact words all these years later, but I can still see his attitude. In his keen ardor you felt the rising spirit of new possibilities, the beat of new horizons. Kids know how big the world can be. You can conflate coolness and kindness, high functioning and inclusiveness. He wheeled back and forth across the street, not ready to leave my sight, too excited by the new understandings forming in his head; insights on a summer afternoon, new ways we as young people can be. I was as energized by his unconcealed verve as he was by me. He waited til the light turned green, and I started to drive out.
Me, tossing an upward nod his way, big wave, and he's grinning wide as he returns the gesture. Our generation.
These are the little births I treasure. I hope you enjoy reading them.
"We spoke boastfully in bass voices; we used the word "nigger" to prove the tough fiber of our feelings; we spouted excessive profanity as a sign of our coming manhood; we pretended callousness toward the injunctions of our parents; and we strove to convince one another that our decisions stemmed from ourselves and ourselves alone. Yet we frantically concealed how dependent we were upon one another."
-Richard Wright, on his childhood circa 1915
A century has passed by and the kids act out just the same. The reasons are like a virus you can't remove from the bloodstream, something deeply embedded into the fiber of the state of things. There are teens I encounter who try with such strenuous effort to convince everyone they're stone-cold killers. Sometimes I want to say, "guys. Stop trying to persuade the world how hard you are. We all have emotional highs and lows, tender spots and tickle points… do you really think you'll be able to get the world to think you don't?"
But theirs is the solution for when you have a support network of one. Without role models, or with lousy ones, when the home is in a state of collapse and the world outside is even less concerned, when the subtle but immovable might of institutional racism proliferates with an insidiousness nigh impossible to overcome… wouldn't you entertain a similar attitude if you were afraid and alone in such a hostile environment? What faces do we wear on our way to combat, our way to prison?
AJ fronts as hard an image as he can muster. He's short, thin, expressionless; the girls would think he was cute if he wasn't trying so arduously to remove every trace of emotion from his face, all the time. The teenage years are vulnerable ones, and he hasn't yet crested into that bewitching moment of easy confidence where he feels okay just being himself. These are the years beforehand, when we evaluated the cliques at school and chose one, wearing our false confidence with great energy, trying to be a vetted and existing "type," for fear that we might be found out as mere individuals who don't completely fit in anywhere– which, of course, is what we all have in common.
His slanted eyes don't react when I greet him. I lean towards the philosophy of "trying and failing is the only way to succeed." Regarding interactions, he seems to lean toward the opposite ethos of "don't try, because you might fail." Better to ignore something, for fear of no reciprocation. His friend Marcus spoils the effect, however: Marcus is tall, gregarious, and friendly, with a assured smile and a knack for conversation. I know their names because Marcus introduced us all long ago.
One evening AJ sauntered up from the back, slowly. Marcus was with him, but stayed a few steps behind and looked really awkward. No one else was aboard. AJ stopped right next to me and waited, as if searching for how to begin. I preemptively asked him how he was doing.
"Hey, me and my friend were kinda hungry tonight," he said. "I was wondering if maybe we could have, like, five dollars."
"Aw man, I appreciate you askin' me, but I gotta say I can't be carrying no money when I'm workin'. Especially on this number 7, you know? You know how it is. You know I would help if I could, but yeah, best I can offer is this transfer right here, but other than that…"
"I'm helpin' out in spirit!"
"I know that don't change things, but you know! I appreciate you askin'."
"Yeah," he slurred. "Iss all good."
I'll never know the degree to which he was telling the truth. From his highly suitable dress and well-kept friend the thought of him being actually hungry wasn't immediately believable; given Marcus' hesitancy during the interaction and AJ's general devil-may-care attitude, I'm more ready to assume he just wanted money. I'll also never know how close I was to getting jumped. I want to believe he instead asked me for money out of respect, in exchange for the appreciation and respect I've proffered him so many times. He didn't have to ask, after all. We will never learn the true extent of the dividends of our kindness. I couldn't help but think of the scene in Fernando Meirelles' fact-based City of God, where the two young boys board a bus determined to rob the conductor, but can't bring themselves to do it because the conductor was "too cool to rob, too friendly!"
Some months later I was driving a largely empty bus up Rainier Avenue, my last trip out of the Valley. A boy was slouched in the middle high-seats. Earlier he had sullenly gestured for a free ride at Othello, and I'd happily offered one. I try to always say "thanks for asking," "thank you for asking," or somesuch. I want the kids to know I appreciate that they offer the gesture of a request. They could just walk on without a word, and they know it. I'm moved when they treat me as human, and the sentiment seems to have gotten out: Nathan appreciates the human touch. On occasion I'll get a whole line of high-schoolers stepping in, each one taking a moment to verbalize it. "K'ai 'ave a ride? May I please have a ride? D'you think ah coul' get a ride?"
Isn't it positively delightful?
Halfway through the trip I realized the slouching boy was AJ. I knew he looked familiar. He's harder to recognize when Marcus isn't with him; the "Laurel and Hardy" component is missing. As he got ready to leave through the middle doors, I fared him well, calling him out by name: "Alright, AJ!"
That's a smile! Reader, imagine my blissful rapture! We're talking about AJ here!
"Alright," he said, registering with nearly hidden pleasure the fact that I'd remembered his name.
"Have a good one!"
A day at a time, a moment at a time, just by being ourselves...
Above image courtesy A24.
"We explore, like, America."
Synopsis: A teenage girl joins a band of misfit magazine subscription sellers. Tribulations ensue. Watch the trailer.
It's the type of experience where you walk out of the theatre shaking your head, unwilling to talk to anyone, hardly able to think about anything else. I went alone. I enjoy going to the pictures alone, as much as with friends. In Hollywood everyone did it. On Monday morning anywhere in the entertainment industry (I worked at Capitol Records), the question wasn't, "did you see A Scanner Darkly?" It would be, "What'd you think of A Scanner Darkly?" The assumption being built in that you'd already seen the weekend's latest releases.
My habit for going alone formed before I moved back to L.A., however. There's something so potent about experiencing the film medium singly, with no interference, no intermediary. As I love traveling alone, so too the cinema: as a friend once explained after she'd surprised me by selecting a particularly intense film for the night, "I want to feel something."
Who you see a film with alters the experience significantly, even if you never speak while it's playing (I can't talk during movies). When you're the only one there, your thoughts are yours alone, communing between the film and yourself, the silver screen an ever-turning mirror for your musings, reflecting and refracting the thoughts of ourselves. Some of my most intense filmgoing experiences occurred alone: Mulholland Drive, Apocalypse Now Redux, The New World… the private, potent drenching you receive, known only by yourself, and that richly satisfying feeling of wandering about in a daze afterwards, where you're still in another world and there's no one to talk to about it.
American Honey is the sort of overpowering sensual experience this sort of approach best rewards. It's a sprawling, magisterial work, dense with color, energy, and youthful verve, popping with wall-to-wall music and the language of freedom and dance. Director Andrea Arnold's 162-minute magnum opus is gigantic and intimate, a highbrow portrait of lowbrow worlds, a work of startling compassion and stunning technical proficiency. Boyhood was a gentle, involving portrait of childhood over time; American Honey is an adrenaline shot in the arm, capturing the true, high-impact spirit of head-over-heels adolescence. It's Walt Whitman's Pioneers, O Pioneers brought to whirling, effervescent cinematic life.
How do you come back to normal existence after this? I was less disappointed to do so than euphoric at the prism through which Arnold asks us to consider humanity. The characters are impoverished, from squalid and broken homes, lacking in education and prospects, but poverty isn't the subject. It's the brimming vitality Arnold sees and wishes to celebrate, and celebrate she does; the film positively throbs with a raucous soundtrack parade of partying and song. It's amazing, the range of music she finds use for.
I guess I should hold off on the superlatives long enough to actually mention what the film is about. British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (most known for Fish Tank, the searing 2009 bruiser and best reviewed British film of that year, about a headstrong girl in the Essex housing projects, co-starring Michael Fassbender) began exploring America in earnest after reading a 2007 New York Times article on door-to-door magazine subscription sellers. She went on about ten solo road trips, mostly in America's south, east coast, and midwest. The resulting film, itself created on a 12,000 mile road trip taken with the cast and small crew, spends its time in the vast tracts of what we forget most of the US landmass is: the sparsely populated interior. She doesn't look down on the quality of life there, but sees the irrepressible human spirit at its best, bursting through the gauze of wayward youth. Her protagonist is Star (newcomer Sasha Lane), a soft-spoken girl from Texas who falls in with a group of teenage magazine sellers headed by Shia LeBeouf (never better, even with a phenomenally bad rat-tail hairdo).
We watch as Star and the gang cruise about, dancing, singing, boozing, talking, and all the rest… Star is more observant than the others, and more we often see her silently reflecting. There's a world behind those eyes, growing into itself as we watch. It's not a plot-heavy picture, relying on an anecdotal series of vignettes layered in and about each other. That we're engaged the entire time is a testament to Joe Bini's sensitive, rhythmic editing. The pacing is indulgent, but would you really want to miss any of this? Star learns that life is not a neatly arranged narrative, and by extension so do we. We luxuriate instead in incidents of character, the fragments of moments she'll remember when she's older, moments she doesn't yet know are formative.
Andrea Arnold's casting process is quickly becoming the stuff of legend. She found the lead for Fish Tank, non-professional Katie Jarvis, when Jarvis was screaming at a boyfriend on a train station platform. Arnold found Sasha Lane on a beach in Panama City. Talk about striking gold twice. Lane and LeBeouf have a chemistry beyond electric. The camera's undeniably capturing something real there– small wonder the two actors subsequently became a real-life couple. The sensitivity and nuance in Lane's performance, its gradual shifts of key throughout the film, not to mention the complete candor the rest of the (largely non-professional) cast possess before the camera simply leaves my jaw on the ground. How did Arnold get them to be so comfortable? I was pretty sure you'd never see teens acting this uninhibited in front of an adult Arnold's age, and yet here we are. The frankness, the vulgar vernacular, the dilapidated textures… it all ends up enhancing the beauty of what's really taking place.
A word needs to be said regarding Irishman and Arnold regular Robbie Ryan's cinematography. Take another look at the trailer. Notice the unusual Academy (square) ratio, forcing a different compositional sense inherently antithetical to the road movie, and more intimate; the plucky use of vibrant colors and deep blacks; the use of long lenses, adding depth to the frame, often focusing on just the strands of hair on a person's face or the edges of their fingers; the dreamy and indelible choices of imagery. As a photographer it's rare I watch a film with compositions I've never seen before. Here I was leaning forward from frame one.
I admire filmmakers who aren't afraid to go big, to boldly throw themselves into the making of audacious works that manage to be maximalist expressions of form while simultaneously possessing the subtlety necessary to show us meaningful slices of existence. There are certain films which look upon their flawed and human protagonists with a certain warmth of gaze. In the same way you feel Paul Thomas Anderson's genuine affinity toward his misfit characters in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Arnold doesn't look down on her cadre of youngsters. This isn't a turgid slog through everything wrong with destitute middle America. It's a buoyant celebration. Why was I moved so tremendously by this picture?
I wonder if I see a commonality between Arnold's gaze and my own toward many of my passengers: it isn't their poorness which defines them, but their humanity.
P.S. Also, can we linger for a moment on how brilliant the end credits are? Nothing but an alphabetical list of names, with no job descriptions, no "starring" or "directed by..." you'd never know who did what on the picture if it wasn't for the internet. Andrea Arnold's name is buried in there right alongside the extras and drivers. Talk about egalitarian!
-Director Andrea Arnold on the cross-country party that produced American Honey (The Verge)
-Andrea Arnold on her mesmerizing party on wheels, American Honey (A.V. Club)
-Andrea Arnold interview excerpts from the Cannes press conference (IndieWire)
-An insightful review from Cannes on reconsidering the notion of youth being wasted on the young (The Playlist)
-Andrea Arnold: ‘I always aim to get under the belly of a place’ (The Guardian)
-A crash course on Andrea Arnold– hallmarks of her style, focus, and background on her previous work (Vox)
"I din' know you drive up this far," said a woman who usually rides my 7 only when deep within the bowels of the Valley. We were downtown.
"Yup. It's my route."
"He likes the 7," a passenger nearby explained. "You go to the hood, then go downtown! Go to the hood, go downtown! Go to the hood–"
"He loves it!"
"You know what though?" I asked.
"Some of the friendliest people are on this route. Yeah."
"Even though it's tha hood?"
"This route has some of the friendliest people on it."
It was just a statement of truth on my part, but he heard that and more. It was music. In a singsong voice he began improvising, rhythm sneaking in unawares.
"It's the baddest hood, but it got the friendliest people. It's the baddest hood, but the friendliest people. The baddest,"
"Some of my favorite people are on this!" I exclaimed.
He was the backing vocal to our spoken-word poem. An older gentleman with a beret. I imagined him on a stoop on Sunday afternoon, tapping his knee to keep time as he did now, making music on the porch with friends.
"The baddest hood, the friendliest,"
"I don't know how it works!"
"Friendliest people. The baddest,"
"But I keep comin' back!"
"I can't help myself!"
"The baddest hood, the friendliest,"
"It's a crazy world we live in!"
"Nice," a nearby resident passenger grinned. I just hope they knew I meant every word.
We were talking about a random sampling of things. "I'm goin' to the hospital tomorrow," she said. "I got an abscess in my cheek. It hurts real bad. Do you know my sister, Charlene?"
I like Melody. She's part of a crew of middle-aged Native Americans who log heavy hours in upper-middle Rainier Avenue, often at Mt. Baker or Martin Luther King, passing the days drinking and talking with the other locals. Cops don't make arrests for public alcohol consumption in Rainier Valley. Bigger fish to fry. If most of these folks are happy– if unruly– drunks, Melody's the happiest. You may get problems from others, but not her. She staggers about, mysteriously in excellent control of her manners, meek and mild as ever.
Tonight she's uncharacteristically close to being sober. There's an urgency in her voice, fueled by the pain in her jaw.
"Yeah, Charlene," I was saying. "I haven't seen her in a while either. Is her name Spupé?"
"Yeah, but her native name, is it Spupé? Am I saying that right?"
"Spupi. I gave her that name!"
"Oh, whatdaya know!"
"Yeah, Spupi. It means turtle woman."
"She walks kinda slow. Spupi means turtle. You know how she's always kinda slower?"
We rambled together. There's room in the late night for expansive conversations. She regaled me with her heritage, speaking of the Blackfeet Indians and her native Montana, where she hopes to travel soon. Her voice carried a childlike quality, vulnerable, someone's daughter telling you their cherished truths. She seemed to appreciate a kind ear.
"What was my name again?"
"Your name's Melody! Do you remember my name?"
"Is it Nathan?"
"It is Nathan! Wow!"
"It really hurts. My cheek."
"I'm sorry. Well, in twenty-four hours it'll be all better. Hope you can get to sleep tonight, you know?"
"Reading can help. Reading helps me fall asleep."
"Yeah. Nathan, d'you think if I go to Swedish tomorrow they'll do something about my pain?"
"I don't know, Melody. Are you thinkin' about going to Swedish, or Harborview…"
I was trying to distract her away from the pain, talking about different hospitals, but she was groaning. Tonight was hard. She was ready for tomorrow. "D'you have a stop by DESC?"
"Yeah, I'll stop right up here at Yesler."
At Yesler she stood to leave, but others scooted around her slow-moving form, eager to reach their destinations. A couple leaned in with questions for me. Somebody yelled thanks from the back doors… a lot was going on. One of the men rushing off my bus asked me to honk at the bus in front of me, and that noise added to the hubbub. Amidst all this movement, the ruffling of clothing and exchange of information, the exigent transferring of passengers between buses, doors opening and closing as I tried to acknowledge and address each individual, I heard her voice.
Melody was on the sidewalk by now, having painfully stepped each step, careful not to fall. She took the time to turn back and face me, waving through the still-open doors. In between my honking at the other bus, in and out of more people coming onboard, I heard her voice, plaintive, struggling to reach my distracted airs.
"Thanks Nathan," she quietly cried out. "You'll always be my friend."
Of every noise I heard that night, every song, yell and murmur, hers was the most meaningful. You could see that her speaking up took effort, especially now, but some sounds cut right through the clutter. I had the image of a newborn bird, or the fragile "I love you" a spouse says after being yelled at: a lack of armor which stops you in your tracks. It was a bald and delicate sentiment she needed to express, naked though it was. Because on the street you never know when, or if, you'll see someone again.
More crucial in that moment than any other concern was making sure she knew I heard her. "You too, Melody, good to see you," I loudly exclaimed, leaning forward, practically yelling through the people who were in the way. They can be confused. I yelled after her with urgency, yelling in love.
I think she heard me.