Ever since childhood, buses have made me carsick. It doesn’t matter if I’m on board for five minutes or five hours, I will spend the journey curled at the waist, trying to suppress the roiling waves of nausea that inevitably accompany this mode of transportation.
Tonight is no different. After the movie ends and the credits stop rolling upwards into the curtains, we join the line of passengers on the sidewalk and board the 11 to traverse the city crosswise. I hold Jon’s hand as we climb aboard, and pick a front-facing seat directly behind the driver. Concentrate on the tail lights of the cars in front of us. Breathe slowly and regularly.
I’m so focused on keeping my dinner down that I begin to tune out his questions. The movie was fine, I say automatically. I run my thumb over the back of his hand. No, I’m alright. Yes. No. Sure. Fine. Wait, what?
“I think I might be moving to Chicago.”
My eyes turn from the road beyond the windshield. “Chicago?”
“That job I told you about. With my cousin.” I stare.
“I told you about this, remember? A few weeks ago?”
“I thought you were kidding.”
His mouth pulls downwards at the corners. “I’m sorry.”
The bus gives a lurch and I brace my arm against the edge of the seat. Swallow and try to think. I do remember this conversation. We’d just finished washing the dishes and were snuggling on the couch, watching The Blues Brothers on AMC. “Maybe I’ll go to Chicago,” he said, while commercials for laundry detergent and vegan dog food played colorfully across the screen. “I have a cousin there, he could probably get me a job.””Sounds good,” I think I said, hitting mute to release the characters from their silent charade.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” he says, looking concerned. “I called my cousin on Monday. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you until now, but I didn’t want to bring it up until we had time to talk about it.”
“This is how you’re telling me?” I ask, as the bus pulls forward only to stop suddenly for a running late passenger. My stomach swoops and I feel saliva gathering in my mouth. The bus stinks of unwashed seats and stale air. I’m afraid I’m going to throw up and I wish desperately that we were anywhere but on a fucking city bus, having this conversation.
He shrugs. “I guess so.”
Chicago. Moving. Job. I knew he wouldn’t stay here forever, that his dreams of fame had been quickly washed down the drain along with his savings account. I’d never doubted him, but nor had I believed in him. I’d just met him, slept with him, and continued to date him while the months faded in and out of our B-movie romance. He was sweeter than anyone I’d ever met, and I couldn’t imagine myself without him. Not right now.
His guilty look appeared before he even opened his mouth. “Wednesday.”
My stomach heaves again and I swallow another mouthful of spit. Tonight is Friday night. Which means he’s leaving in five days.
“I know it’s kind of sudden.”
Leaving for good. Without even asking me.
The driver hits the brakes at the corner stop and I feel the vomit churning in my stomach, threatening to break free and all over his lap. It would serve you right, I think, as I stand, my knees quaking and my whole body rocking with the movements of the bus.
“You’re an asshole,” I manage to say before I take three shaky steps forward and down the steps of the bus. In seconds I am free. The night air envelopes me as I lean my palms on my knees and retch loudly onto the sidewalk. The bus pulls away before he can follow me, and my dinner splatters onto the concrete. I stand up and take a deep breath of city air and feel momentarily better, until I remember the conversation occurring before my great escape. “Fuck,” I say out loud, and stand on the corner, deciding which way to go. Home is east, but at least several miles lie between me and the pink stucco apartment building we’ve been sharing since June. I take a step, then pause. Remember Jon’s guilty face as he stated his imminent departure.
I turn and walk quickly west, back towards the ocean, leaving a puddle of vomit for him to find in my wake. My phone has begun to vibrate in my pocket and I ignore the leftover queasiness in my stomach and begin to run, the thick rubber of my boots connecting with the pavement in heavy thumps. After four blocks, I run out of breath, and I turn left at the corner and take a parallel street, looking right every block to reassure myself that I haven’t gotten lost in residentia. The bright lights of the boulevard follow me westward and my phone blinks and beeps in my pocket, pushing me on towards the lights and sound of the boardwalk. Unwilling to be surrounded by drunken Friday-night crowds, I turn left and walk past groups of tourists and couples leaning dangerously over the low concrete wall to the beach. Someone calls after me and I walk faster and put on my don’t mess with me face, my best defense. A tingle of uneasiness makes its way through the anger and hurt and nausea and I find a half-lit stretch of wall to sit on, holding my phone anxiously unanswered in my lap. Jon’s name lights up and die every few seconds. 4 new text messages. 5 mew text messages. 2 new voicemails. 6 new text messages.
Stop it already. I’m crying before I even realize. My body is still weak from throwing up, my arms and shoulders and hands and knees shaking from adrenaline and cold. Tears run down my cheeks but I bite my lips to keep from making a sound and drawing any attention from the late-night passerby. I have no idea how I got here, no idea what’s running through my head, and no idea how and when I’m going to get home. It occurs to me that I have a shift tomorrow morning starting at 8 a.m. The realization makes me want to tip myself over the wall where I can curl into an uncaring heap among the prickly shrubs and mounds of greasy trash. I can smell the salty ocean surf under the smells of fried food and car exhaust and I think of swimming out in the cold black waves, letting the rise and fall of the current sweep me farther and farther out. Until I stop thinking. Until I stop caring.
My shivers become more violent. I can feel my teeth clamping together to stop the tremors, and I pick myself up off the wall and begin to walk south, along the ocean front, faster and faster until I can feel blood rushing back into my limbs. I wonder if I can just walk all night long, past hamburger stands and sunglasses huts, all the way to Mexico. I walk until my feet ache and my empty stomach emits groans of hunger. Maybe a few miles. The ocean roars comfortingly along beside me, and I continue to put one foot in front of the other, letting thoughts of Chicago and Jon and tomorrow slide behind me.
Eventually my phone begins to ring again and I put it to my ear without even looking at the screen. “Fuck Chicago,” I say loudly and clearly, despite exhaustion and hunger and unacknowledged sorrow. “I’m walking to Mexico.”