I blinked, finding that I hadn't blinked in almost a minute. It happened from time to time, I'd find myself lost in my world beyond the one outside the bus window. I sat there, hands clasped together in my lap. My mind was focused on just one thought; the one detailed thought that haunted every single day of my life.
I could still hear my friends. I couldn't understand what they were saying, I was too far off in my world for that, but I could hear what they were doing. Someone said something and they roared with laughter. In the back of my mind, I saw myself laughing with them. It was a small, insignificant thought created in amongst the jumbled chaos within my mind. That thought was lost to me shortly after its creation; lost to me, lost to them, lost to anyone who may have cared enough to listen to it.
I blinked again and realized that my friends had stopped laughing and talking all together. I knew what that meant; it always led to the same thing (Why can't he just leave me alone?). My friend Ian turned in his seat beside me and watched me as he always did before asking about this. I could almost count down the seconds before he spoke, and every time he did, I wished he could understand.
"What's wrong?" he asked in his seemingly caring way.
As I usually did, I looked down at my hands and blinked a few times, breathing a heavy sigh. "Nothing," I replied in my most monotone voice.
"Well, there must be something wrong. Why are you so depressed?"
(If only he knew…) "Sometimes I just like to be quiet. That's all. Nothing's wrong, believe me," anyone could tell that I was lying, I'm sure. I looked back out the window as the world flew past in nearly a blur. I could still sense him looking at me, be he soon looked away. Randy and Phil were discussing something important (probably cars…) and he needed to be a part of it. I knew he wanted to help, but how could he? How could he help a guy who was probably to frightened by the concept to talk of it with his own shadow? He couldn't. Nobody could, I knew that and it was all my fault. Who's fault could it be, if not my own?
The original thought returned then, but this was more than just a thought. It was a deep and complicated concept, a simple idea. The idea was always based on the same theme with the same purpose. That was the worst part about it. Each thought had a different setting, a different story line, and reasonably new characters, but the plot was always the same. Imagine watching the same event from someone else's life over and over again. Seeing it from different angles, giving it new dialogue, placing yourself in new locations to see if it made a difference – it never did. It's almost enough to make a man go crazy. I suppose that could be what happened…
Love is probably the greatest thing that can ever happen to you. But while being that, it can also be the worst possible thing you would ever want to inflict upon yourself. And that's what you do; you inflict it upon yourself. No one else can force you to love somebody, only you have the power, or the ability to do so. The things love can do to the mind – to the soul – it's unbearable. Sometimes I amazed myself.
Ian decided to try again, "Come on Jim, cheer up," I could have, if I wanted to. I liked the silence. It was far from silent on the bus, but I could drown out all those sounds leaving me with an artificial silence like that which I sought after. It was in this silence that I found my comfort, my solitude. I didn't want to cheer up.
"Make me," I said with a fake smile, hoping to draw him into the false impression that I was joking. It seemed to work.
"Come on man, you're starting to make me depressed. There's got to be something bothering you."
"Nothing," my constant use of this word didn't please him, and still I stared out the window. I wanted to tell him to leave me alone, but I couldn't tell him that. I couldn't do a lot of things. I could feel his frown burning into the back of my head. He was thinking…so was I.
"Why don't you tell me?" the question pushed me, jabbed me, taunted me with the chance for relief. But would it be relief? Still I held out. I couldn't think of anything better to say than: "There's nothing bothering me."
I looked at him to say that. I looked him straight in the eyes hoping that I could mimic the look of a person telling the truth. He knew I was lying; I could see it in his eyes. It was only a matter of time now before he found out the truth. He wouldn't have to be told by me, or anyone else for that matter; it would just come to him. All I could do was ask myself how long it would be until it happened. Nothing can be kept a secret forever as long as somebody knows. Somebody always knows.
We both looked away at the same time. He also had his hands clasped on his lap and we each stared down at our own. I could see him out the corner of my eye, and I quickly looked back to the window, just so that we wouldn't look the same. I was so afraid of my appearance in public, why?
I could have explained it to him. I could have told him everything. That would have made him happy, and somehow I believed it would do the same for me. But I couldn't gather up enough courage to tell him or anyone else. The only problem was that I myself didn't fully understand it. Every day I would come up with another theory explaining my purpose, my life (sometimes I prayed for the end).
My stop wasn't for another ten minutes or so. I watched as the usual buildings and cars passed as the bus followed its route. My mind wasn't on the shops or the route or the fact that I would eventually have to get off and re-enter my pitiful existence outside of school. My mind remained focused. Sometimes I tried to think about something else, but it never worked. I either got a headache or wound up hurting myself mentally. The images of love seemed to be burned into the back of my eyes where I could see it perfectly. She was always there. I could see her behind every corner, in every dark room. I could sense her, even though I knew she wasn't there. Every time I closed my eyes, I found her there, waiting for me. This is what was bothering me, but because of who I was, I couldn't find the words to explain it to Ian. I could never pick the right words out of my mind; I guess I didn't know the words that could properly express the extent of these feelings. That was probably one of my biggest problems.
I can remember times when I hated myself. That hate usually led to depression, which usually led to more hate. There's irony for you. It was at these times that I would think about how vain my life was. I would try desperately to distract my mind, but it was as futile as forgetting about her. If only I could have succeeded, maybe then I could have enjoyed my life. The only times I really did were with her.
On a daily basis, my heart existed in a very sad and empty place. After a while, I'd get used to the feeling of loneliness and pointlessness, and I might actually feel all right. Most of the time, it felt like my heart didn't beat in my chest, but in her hand. When I was close to her, it was like she was reaching into my chest and beating my heart for me, giving me a brief moment's life. The emptiness left there when she wasn't around was more than unbearable, and yet I somehow managed. You see, just being near her was enough to brighten my day.
Knowing Ian, if I had told him the truth, he would probably encourage me to go after her. How could I possibly have explained to him about why I couldn't? I would have to explain the very intricate parts of my logical thinking, and I didn't even understand them. I would have to explain that in telling her how I felt, I would be risking everything. It could result in never being able to talk to her again and that would be even worse than death. I would prefer the latter. She could say that she felt the same, that's a given, but the odds were too great. I doubted myself and believed that I had no chance. It was always the doubt that held me back. I doubted everything; I often found myself preplanning conversations with people, just to make sure I didn't screw up. Sometimes, in my wording of things, I'd set it up so that the conversation would occur the way I planned. This was another of my problems.
I wanted to tell Ian, if not Ian than someone else. The images in my mind were so hard to understand that the only way that I could was to try and explain them to someone else, someone who cared. I wish now that I had.
A person got on the bus then. She was about my age and fairly attractive. I looked, as I always did when I saw movement out the corner of my eye. I saw her and blinked, not really looking at her. I still noticed her look back at me and I looked away. I remember seeing her do the same. People always did that, though, there was nothing different about her. I often watched people boarding the bus and they often looked at me. They all acted as if they were checking out the people on the bus, just to see if there was anyone worth talking to. There never was. Ian also noticed the girl. He leaned over close to me and whispered, "Hey, check out the chick," he gave a casual chuckle to follow the comment.
I hated it when he did that. He almost always did and I would never responded in a way that I felt he would accept. "I saw her," I said in a low monotonous voice.
"Isn't she hot?" he asked as he usually did.
"I suppose," I said in a similar voice to the last. I always seemed to say that, and it was a dangerous thing to say. People can get different impressions by what and how something is said. After saying it, I wondered what he was thinking.
Ian simply huffed. He turned and said something to Randy. As usual, I hadn't noticed Phil get off; I could never remember what stop was his.
We came to a stop at the lights for one of the major intersections that the route crossed during the day's service. The bus stop was on the other side of the road and I glanced out through the bus's windshield. I could see people standing around and preparing to board the bus. I looked away, only to realize that I recognized one of them. This didn't happen too often and I looked back to see if I was right, and if so, who it was. I was right, and what was worse, was that the person I had seen was her. I couldn't believe it; I tried to figure out why she would be there, at this stop, at this time of the day. It didn't make sense, having just come from school. I remembered then that I hadn't seen her at school that day. I found it odd that I had forgotten, I had been depressed all day because of it (I couldn't stand going for too long without seeing her. I suppose you would call that sad or pathetic. I know I would.).
My heart began to race as the light changed to green. I could feel the hairs on my face, my arms, and the back of my neck start to stand, as if they were royal guards standing at attention for their queen. I grew excited as we approached, but tired to hide it by freezing myself in the same position, staring out the window. I sat with careful anticipation of her inevitable greeting. I loved the sound of her voice; it hummed like the song of an angel. The memory of this sent an excited shiver up my spine and I felt as though I could melt at any moment. The bus pulled up to the stop and I froze. This always seemed to happen when she was coming over to where I was, even though we were friends. After she spoke to me, I would loosen up. I had to, otherwise I would never be able to respond to her and she'd think I was angry with her or something just as untrue. The hiss of the door nearly made me jump. Two people boarded, the first with a pass, the second paid in cash. She boarded after these people. She walked up the aisle and she saw us as she scanned the seats for familiar faces. She waved with a gleeful grin on her face. The bus seemed to light up with that smile. Randy and Ian waved back and hailed her with hellos. I smiled and nodded to her, it was all I could bring myself to do. I looked back out the window and I watched her sit next to Randy in the reflection. I realized that my heart seemed to have stopped beating and a feeling of peace and tranquility had come over me. For that moment, my mind numbed and I was happy.
I listened to their conversation, no longer concerned with the silence of my mind. I listened carefully to the delicate sounds of each word that she spoke. "I had a doctors appointment," she said in response to the inquiries from Ian and Randy.
"And your parents took you out of school for the whole day?" asked Randy, sounding a little stunned.
"Yeah," the sound of the trailing 'ah' from her mouth seemed to slice through my mind and tear it apart, "they're a little odd, but I'm glad I didn't go to school." I wasn't.
I wanted to tell her, right then and there. I always did. It would be so easy to just turn in my seat, look her straight in the eyes and say, "I love you." Easier said than done of course. Every time I saw her represented another missed opportunity to tell her the truth, and I really wanted to. "Yeah, school sucks," said Randy, blatantly.
In the split second before Ian said it, I predicted that he would. When he did, it didn't surprise me in the least, "Not more than a vacuum cleaner."
It was one of his favorite lines, and I thanked him for saying it – in my mind at least – because it made her laugh. I loved the sound of her laugh almost more than the simple sound of her voice. I quickly looked to the bunch with a sliver of a smile on my face. In the mere minute or two that she had been on the bus, my mood had flipped from bad to good without anyone noticing, not even myself. For one thing, I was smiling now for almost no apparent reason (not to anyone else that is). Their conversation carried on like this for the next five minutes. My heart seemed to come back to life for the time being and I seemed to be showing actual signs of life. But then, looking back out the window and recognizing the surroundings, I realized that my stop would be coming up in less than a minute. I sadly reached up and pulled the cord announcing my wish to depart from this place of happiness. "Aw, you have to go, that's too bad," her words stabbed into me like daggers as I stood waiting for Ian to shimmy out of the way, "well, see you later I guess," she sighed.
"Yeah, catch you later Jim, and cheer up," said Ian, softly punching my arm. I gave him a blank look that said, "Stop bothering me," and gave a half wave to Randy.
At that moment, she reached up and put her hand around my wrist, "Bye," she said. I looked at her, right into her deep blue eyes and suddenly time froze, but it really didn't, it only seemed to. I smiled and nodded. Her hand slipped away and they went back to their conversation. I pushed the rear door open and looked back one last time. As my foot touched the ground, I felt my overlying world shatter and tumble to the sidewalk bellow, leaving me with the harsh reality that was my life. I continued to walk away, despite the loss of my temporary reality, and the door closed behind me, sealing her out of my world. I walked, dazed yet still aware of the bus traveling away, up the road – out of my life – forever.
As I walked, a sharp pain shot from my chest, up my back, spiraled around my neck and attacked my mind. It wasn't a physical pain, as one would expect, but an emotional pain. I nearly lost my balance and toppled over, but I caught myself on a telephone pole.
My house stood on the opposite side of the street and I always crossed ahead of time to save myself the inconvenience of the extra ten or fifteen meters. As I fought to control my mind, I became overwhelmed with the pain in my heart and mind. I could still feel the warmth of her hand around my wrist, and smell her perfume in the air. I closed my eyes and tried desperately to control the thousands of images that flashed before my eyes for every second. It was then that I stopped caring.
I stepped out into the street, my eyes still closed, and even if they had been open, they would have been too unfocused and blurry for me to see. The thousands of images flashed past my eyes like a moving picture. I could see every tiny detail of her face and I could have sworn that I could count the tiny lines in each blue iris. I could see every change, each tiny curl at the corners of her eyes as she smiled. A ripple of emotion rolled down my spine and I almost lost my balance again. Over the course of only two seconds, I must have had an entire conversation with her in my mind, all about how I felt. Everything I'd ever wanted to say to her, I said at that moment and everything I wanted her to say, she did. It seemed more like reality to me than the screeching tires of the oncoming car, or the crash and bending of metal. As I fell to the ground, pain should have flown through my body from everywhere, but I felt nothing. My head must have hit the ground, but I didn't notice. I had removed myself from that reality. Reality had died and I now lived within my mind, inside a new world. We fell in love there, she and I. We grew old together and lived happy lives. I experienced every moment of that life, all of nearly seventy years. I completely forgot about the previous one, the life of the timid, quiet, shy young man who died sad and lonely. In my world, I died in my bed, lying with my wife, facing her. She smiled; I smiled. I stared into her effervescent eyes and watched, as they slowly turned stagnant, with a deathly shade of gray. I felt a trickle of blood seep from my mouth as I lay on the concrete, several feet from the crinkled hood of the car that had hit me. Still I stared into her eyes as she died, taking me with her. I watched her smile fade and the tiny wrinkles from around her eyes slip away. I became tired and let my eyes sag. I was happy, I had never been happier. People around me were asking me if I was all right, their voices nothing but faint mummers in the world I had lived my whole phony life in.
As darkness engulfed my elderly world, the last things I remember seeing were her eyes staring back at me. I looked at her old and wrinkled face looking back at mine, but all I could see was the young and pretty face I had grown up looking at. I single tear trickled down my cheek. I had found truly happiness. It was then that I was given something that I had always wanted from everyone, including myself – silence.