When I stay in my house in far Southeast I've started taking a new bus in the mornings. The mornings when I don't wake up next to my love and the commute is already long, the buses crowded and full of frustrated and damp commuters. Everyone sitting on one another and crowding each other's space bubbles, personal boundaries already compacted to fit the special etiquette of public transit where strangers touch legs in tight seats but don't talk or make eye contact.
The bus that makes the most sense is the one a couple blocks from my front door that drops me off right in front of work. But each bus has a personality, a genre of people who inhabit it and this bus is grumpy and miserable. No one says good morning or offers a seat to people struggling or elderly. No one assists with arms full of too many bags or even says I'm sorry for stepped on toes. I imagine this bus is what a big city like New York feels like. Crowded and yet so lonely, no human connection at all. The empath in me is exhausted before the day even starts to touch arms with these folks. It's too much, too cruel, too cold.
The route also goes by my former house, the site of which still saddens me, forces me to remember my dog friend the literal love of my life who is just suddenly no part of my life at all. Break-ups are hard enough but breaking all ties with a roommate who used to be a pal never occurred to me. I never thought to keep my heart to myself when it came to the dog we were co-parenting. So there's a pit bull shaped scar at the center of me that I don't know how to heal. A hurt I can't fix and is too awkward for most anyone to talk about.
“Just be friends with S find a way to figure out your differences for the dog.” As if it's that easy. As if I can forget the harsh words. The lies. The abusive partner allowed to move in. The passive aggressive hatred and jealousy he allowed them to direct towards me. That partner’s threats of violence. The constant substance abuse. The once friend's ability to forget all I did for him and our dog friend, to push me towards possible houseless all because I asked if our dog friend had been fed that day.
As if I can forget or forgive the unnecessary cruelty of yet another so-called friend choosing a partner and a drug (alcohol and the high of co-dependence in this case) over our friendship. I can't forget and I can't make due with continuing to be mistreated in the name of occasionally seeing my dog friend, an animal I loved so deeply she's thanked in the inscription of my book. So I've ripped off the band aid and moved on, no more abusive relationships no matter what I’ve promised myself.
So I found a new bus, one where the people are kinder. They smile and follow the rules of we're-all-in-this-smelly-form-of-public-transit-together. It’s also a bus that skirts that part of town completely, the part with so many strange hurtful memories. Instead it drops me in the heart of downtown Portland. There tall buildings are topped with gargoyles and other decorative stone frippery. Where buses and trains and streetcars all meet and share crowded roads with cars and pedestrians. The smell of petrichor wafting off the bricks. Pigeons argue. Pan handlers sell Street Roots. Stores advertise sales and display oddly dressed mannequins.
And the people. All the beards and flannel and North Face jackets. The hippy lady with the orange leg warmers. The gentleman in shiny shoes and equally shiny hair. The woman in fishnets and leopard print coat, seemingly immune to the cold. The man living on the streets, face grizzled by time and weather who has a life likely infinitely more difficult than my own who smiles and says good morning, knocking me out of my selfish internal whinging about jobs and roommates. And I carry that smile on to a woman across the next street who seems lost and saddened by similar thoughts. She smiles back and seems a little lighter.
All these odd and wonderful strangers going about their day. So many of them looking like extras cast for a movie set in the Pacific Northwest (did I mention the beards and flannel?) And I'm reminded why I stay in this city even though it's difficult. Though I constantly feel on the verge of being priced out of housing or frustrated into quitting the newest in a long line of dead end jobs. I stay because this is the closest to feeling at home I've ever had. And for that morning reminder, those fleeting smiles, that pay forward momentary sweetness that creates the feeling of we are none of us alone, for that I'll walk 20 minutes to work and take in the city that I love. It's a frustrated love but what love isn't.