They wouldn't let me smoke.
We'd been orbiting the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel for hours, stuck in some perverse automotive lover's quarrel. I had watched the same parking garage's garish neon sign pass my window three times in an hour before I started playing with my Zippo, the heavy Click Thunk reverberating across the aisle and making the other passengers twitch. Everyone else was trying to sleep, but not me. I couldn't breathe (yeah, and a cigarette'd really help that, wouldn't it?) and it seemed like the bus driver owed me a little something for my troubles. Alms for the poor.
I didn't dare. Get kicked off the bus and I'm right back where I started. Exactly where I started, actually - I watched the terminal creep by the other window and tried to hide in my overly upholstered seat, curling up into a ball and wondering why on earth the air conditioning was on in the middle of February.
I had written you a letter in the bus terminal, trying to explain why it was so important for me to get away. It was long-winded and contradictory, the kind of thing one writes when they try to be honest and raw that ends up being rambling, hackneyed, and lame. I hadn't mailed it, thinking a postal stamp from, well, from wherever I landed would help explain - "Greetings from St. Louis!" in post office red would say things I couldn't, would make up for me being a coward. I knew, just knew that if I had to justify myself to you face to face, I'd get one look at those baby blues of yours and melt, quivering, into your lap.
You had this knack of making even the simplest conversations take on the air of a confessional. Even shopping lists were an exercise in humility.
I was walking home after work today and just kept walking, past our street and on to the Port Authority. I even whistled a bit - with songs in my head even the most mundane actions looked like a music video, put a little spring in my step to help distract from the fact that I was doing something completely insane.
I even had my return planned. I'd smile, call the trip my bachelor party, my one escape before I learned how to listen. I'd make friends on the bus, split a forty with the haggard looking guy on his way to visit his wife in prison upstate or with the college freshman on his way home, shellshocked from his first few months of school in the big city, the kid returning to his father's industrial vacuum cleaner repair business to lend a helping hand in his free time. You'd be more confused than hurt, and I'd tell you not to worry, that it was fine and I'm home now, secure.
I wrote you a different letter, sitting on the bus waiting to pull out. I'll be back. That was it. It's not you and don't wait up and I love you all rolled into one. I'll be back, as if to say grant me this, and for you I'd do anything. Prove that you trust me and I'll scoop you up, carry you on my back like a double-decker bus. I'll show you all the worlds you've never dreamed of, try to teach you how to see the vibrancy that lives millimeters beneath the surface of everything and everyone, even me.
I had both letters still, tucked into my coat's inside pocket, keeping warm. As close as I could get to writing them in blood.
The bus plunged into the tunnel, secure in the knowledge that the time lost could be regained on the highway.
- - -
When I returned a week later you were gone, my letter to you unopened on your pillow.
I lit a cigarette, numb, and watched it burn.