To drop or not to drop

The book was barely a half-inch thick. On the cover was a 6-sided symmetrically colored mandala, full of the concentric swoops, like what you see when you’ve just looked straight into the sun, then closed your eyes. The title – Monday Night Class – was on the back, over a color photo of a gangly long-haired, bearded guy sitting, with knees bent into the air, on a low stage, evidently explaining a point to a large crowd of people. Inside the book, the print was purple. There were no page numbers. The frontispiece was a full-page portrait – printed in the same purple ink – of the bearded guy looking back at you, straight into the camera lense but more than that, right into your soul. It gave me a chill.

As we drove back across the Potomac River to our apartment in Virginia – after Anita’s announcement that she fully intended to join these people on their circumnavigation of the country – I found myself actively resisting the urge to join her, but she didn’t care. All she needed was for me to fix up the school bus she’d bought during the summer while I’d been in New Haven, vainly trying to start up our lefty political magazine.

As she’d told me, the bus caper was part of her life dream – to drive off into the sunset and “find a piece of land.” I hadn’t come to that place yet; I didn’t understand the bus, nor was I ready for the driving off or the finding of land. I’d visited a small commune in West Virginia with its goats, outhouse, pungent smells and pervasive dirt. The people were nice enough, but damn it, some substantive changes needed to be made in this country and…well, I just didn’t know.

I committed to helping her pull out the bus seats and build a bed platform from 2-by-4s and plywood. I wasn’t happy that she was so eager to leave. Our relationship was casual, but the fact that she had two sweet young daughters and I’d become their erstwhile male figure felt important to me. Anita was five years my senior, which meant she had gone through more life adventures than I. And here she was, going off for yet another adventure that I was choosing to miss.

Within two weeks, the bus was ready. Anita’s sister had agreed to go with her to help with Anita’s two beautiful young girls, Janine and Krissy. One small problem: only I had experience driving the bus, and  both occasions had been terrifying. A school bus feels enormous and uncontrollable when all you’ve ever driven is a car and a motorcycle. I agreed to drive them to where Route 66 split off from the Beltway and headed south and, in the process, provide them with their driving demo. From then on, they’d have to figure it out.

Aside from instruction about double clutching and warnings about the lack of power steering, not much was said on the way to the departure point. My friend and roommate, Tom, followed us. I pointed out the lack of synchromesh in first gear, then stepped down to the ground as Anita settled into the driver’s seat. Tom and I watched as she crunched the bus into gear, carefully accelerated, and hit the speed limit. Krissy and Nini waved goodbye from the rear window as the bus disappeared into the distance. I felt a pang of envy.

They were off on an adventure. I would continue slinging bags of Christmas mail at the airmail depot until midnight. Tom and I got into the car and, there on the seat Stephen’s picture looked up at me from the book cover as if to say, “So now what are you gonna do?”



  1. March 23, 2009 at 1:45 am

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