Feel the Pain
Lying down, shivering on the last seat of school bus 161, pinned by his teensy doggie gaze, which is completely 100% cute—I’m such a girl, I know—I say, “You won’t believe the bull I had to endure today.”
My legs are propped up against the window, toes pointing toward the roof so that the poodle skirt I made in Life Skills class settles around my midsection. Yeah, it’s the twenty-first century and I wear poodle skirts. I like dogs. I’m a freak. So what? And before anybody reading along gets too jazzed up thinking about my skirt flipped up around my waist, my lovely getaway sticks exposed, allow me to say there’s no teenage flesh to be seen here.
I have on two pairs of sweatpants, three pairs of wool socks, two pairs of gloves, a big old hat that covers my freakishly little ears, and three jackets—because I don’t own a proper winter coat and it’s extremely cold sleeping on Hello Yellow through the dismal January nights.
I can see my breath.
Ice sheets form on the windows.
My teeth chatter.
Sometimes I wake up because my lungs hurt so bad from taking in so much freezing air. It’s like gargling chips of dry ice.
My water bottle freezes if I take it out of my inner coat pocket.
Forget about peeing, unless you want to shiver your butt off—literally.
And it’s pretty lonely too.
Because I am holding him up above my head, Bobby Big Boy (Triple B) looks down at me, panting with his perfect pink tongue hanging out of his mouth. His breath stinks like the butts he’s always trying to sniff whenever he’s around any dog women—BBB’s an awful flirt even though he is totally monogamous and loyal to Ms. Jenny—but I want to kiss him anyway, because he is a sexy mutt and the most dependable man I know. He’ll never leave me—ever—which is why I don’t mind the smelly doggie kisses. Plus he’s wearing his dapper plaid coat, which I also made in Life Skills class, and his doggie jacket makes him look beautiful. His hair is mussed around the ears like Brad Pitt, or maybe like he needs a bath, but his eyes are loyal and kind.
As I finish my confession, I keep him waiting, suspended above me, his little legs running like he thinks he’s on a treadmill or something. There’s no rush. We are alone, we have all night, and Bobby Big Boy digs air running above my face.
I’ve been sleeping with Triple B for somewhere around a year now. I found him in a shoebox half starved—no tags. No lie. He looked like a sock that had been flushed down the toilet—having traveled through all those gross pipes—only to be spit out of some sewer grate into a wet orange Nike box set up sideways like some elementary school kid’s diorama. PATHETIC ALMOST DEAD MUTT, the exhibition would have been labeled, had some little tyke taken it into the science fair. Needless to say, I rescued his butt from the curb and nursed him back to health, mostly with scraps of meat I initially stole from Donna’s dinner table until she caught me and started buying BBB dog food.
Did I put up Lost-Dog-Found posters?
I’ll put it to you this way—if I ever meet the people who let Triple B get so skinny, watch out.
Bobby Big Boy is still air-running like a champ, and will keep at it until I lower him.
Regarding time, the parking-lot streetlights go out around eleven, and then there is no reading or writing—because I can’t risk some curious passerby seeing me using a flashlight. That would blow our cover. With no lights—all alone—things can get quite weird, which is why I like to keep Bobby Big Boy around. But it’s only nine-something now, so I’ll have plenty of time to do my homework, after I’m done confessing to Triple B, who doubles as my at-home priest, of course, because Father Chee is only God’s servant and not God, so therefore, not omnipresent. I have priorities, and keeping my soul white with a nightly confession is high up on the list. I’m a pretty good Catholic; I’m still the big V. Momma Mary and me are, like, five-by-five; I’m a holy teenager of God, sucka! And Mom won’t be back until after the bar closes, and maybe not even then. She’s gone a fishin’ for men, as Jesus says.
“Today, I kicked Lex Pinkston in the shin,” I tell 3B, his legs still going like mad, “which I know is a sin, especially since God made man in his own image, so He probably does have sympathetic (divine) shins prone to the unmerciful ache of a swift kick to the holy shin bone, and those Roman thugs probably kicked good old JC in the shins a few times before they nailed Our Lord and Savior to a tree, making Him equally sympathetic to the plaintiff’s case, but before you go telling God all about my sin of punting teenage-boy shin, Father Big Boy, let me stress that there were extenuating circumstances. Lex made Ricky echo something filthy again—and I warned that plebian, Lex, like fifty times—so I let him have it. I kicked him square in the shin, and he started hopping on one leg—his friends laughing like hyenas, or maybe apes. Scratch that. Primates are cute, and way smarter than Childress Public High School football players, who suck and never win any games, because they are too busy being morons.”
I could be wrong but—with his legs still running—Father BBB sorta smiles at my story, like he might even appreciate a good shin-kicking inflicted on an exceptionally evil classmate—which makes Father Thrice B seem almost human for a second. Or maybe I just want him to be human.
So anyway, what happened was… while I was throwing away my trash, Lex told Ricky to tell Ryan Gold that her “boobies are lovely,” which Ricky did, of course—not because he is one of God’s special children but because he is a guy who can get away with such things because he is special—and Ryan Gold turned bright red before she started to cry, because she’s still a prudish virgin pre-woman, like me, and Ricky just started robot laughing—“Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!”—like he does whenever he is upset and confused, and boy, did it make me mad. Especially since Ricky knows better, and is trying to earn the right to take me to prom. Donna would be devastated if I told her what her only son said today in the cafeteria.
I lower Bobby Big Boy down to my chest. He stops running and licks my under-chin in an effort to console me. The weight of him on my chest makes me feel less alone—sorta loved—which I realize might be whack, but we get love wherever we can, right? At least that’s what Mom says anyway.
“So am I forgiven, Father B3? Off the divine hook? Bark once for yes.”
“Rew!” BBB says, just like I taught him. He’s a good little doggie. Truly.
When I finish writing the above essay, I rip it up and sigh. It kicked apple bottom, and yet I had to rip it up.
Bobby Big Boy runs south, ducks his little head, and burrows up under my jackets and shirts, snuggling up against my barely bumpy pre-woman chest and keeping me quite warm without scratching up my belly so much, because he is a frickin’ gentleman.
Maybe you think I had to rip up the essay because it was sorta a confession, and therefore private, but the truth is that I trust Mr. Doolin, my English teacher, the guy who asked our class to write a slice-of-life story. He’s pretty hip and lets us express the truths of our lives in our writing, gaining our trust so that our words can be more authentic, which is cool of him, because I’m sure our writing honestly—the truth—pisses off some teachers and parents, even though all freaky teenagers keep it real when we can.
Maybe you think I ripped up my essay because I didn’t want to narc out my friend Ricky or those moronic football players, but I don’t really care about narcing them out, because when you say or do repellent stuff in the lunchroom, that’s public knowledge as far as I’m concerned. True? True.
I wouldn’t want to turn in an essay that made Ryan Gold look bad, because she is a nice person, but I would have turned this essay in if Ryan was the only thing stopping me, because sometimes—when it comes to writing—you have to sacrifice the feelings of other people to make a statement. Serve the greater good and all, which Mr. Doolin says almost every day.
But the truth is that I don’t want anyone to know that I am living out of Hello Yellow—that my mom’s last boyfriend, A-hole Oliver, threw us the hell out of his apartment, and that my mom has to save up some dough before we can get four walls of our own. I mean, it’s a pretty pathetic story, and I’m not really all that proud to be my mom’s daughter right now. Homelessness reflects badly on both of us. True? True.
I’m sure there are people who would let us crash at their houses, because the town of Childress is full of good-hearted dudes and dudettes. Word. But charity is for cripples and old people and Mom is sure to come through one of these days. I still have Bobby Big Boy, and Mom still has her job driving Hello Yellow, all of our clothes and stuff fit in the two storage bins between the wheels, below the bus windows, so it’s all good in the hood.
Except that sitting here with my legs up and BBB on my chest, I can’t think of anything else to write about—especially since my original essay was so killer.
The quiet of an empty Hello Yellow can drive you a little nuts.
Bobby Big Boy and I just cuddle until the streetlight blinks out and everything goes black.
I can rest my eyes, but I can’t really sleep until Mom gets back from fishing, because I worry about her.
She’s still pretty.
Bad things happen to pretty women who have daughters like me and can’t afford to do jack crap for ’em, which makes said pretty women desperate for a Prince Charming—only Prince Charmings marry hot young chicks my age, or maybe a little older. Mom’s almost forty, so she’s pretty screwed when it comes to men. Sometimes I like to think about her marrying an old rich dude, who would act all grandfatherly and leave Mom tons of money when he croaked. That would be cool, but it ain’t gonna happen. Truth.
Another thing: Mom’s taste in men is akin to a crackhead’s taste in crack coc**ne. Any old hit will do. And it sucks for all nearby loved ones (me) when mi madre is hitting the man-pipe again, because she sorta loses her frickin’ mind—to put it bluntly.
All alone on Hello Yellow, I think about Mom for a long time.
She sucks at being a mom. Emphatically.
She’s so ridiculously irresponsible and socially dumber than Ricky—who is diagnosed with autism—but I still love her. I’m a sucker for love and having a mom in my life. Call me old-fashioned, maudlin, or mawkish.
When I hear Hello Yellow’s front door being keyed into, I freeze and hold my breath.
Should be Mom.
Must be Mom.
What if it’s not Mom?
I’m in a creepy parking lot outside of town; it’s full of eerily similar school buses parked in perfect lines. Too much symmetry can be daunting. There are train tracks on one side of the parking lot and creepy woods on the other. Bad stuff happens by train tracks and in woods, because some men are inherently evil, and left unchecked, these dudes will do bad hooey—at least according to such cool cats as Herman Melville, who illustrated this exact point through that evil Claggart character from Billy Budd, which we just read in my Accelerated American Lit class. The Handsome Sailor. Budd Boy spilling his soup on Claggart in the mess hall—when Billy does that, it’s a metaphor for accidental homosexual ejaculation according to Mr. Doolin, who has coitus on the brain 24/7, and sees a sexual metaphor in just about any old sentence. “Handsome is as handsome did it too.” Herman Melville. Funny stuff. Truly. But being in a bus alone at night near train tracks and woods ain’t so ha-ha, believe me.