June 17, 2014 – PTSD - Post Time in Solitude Disorder
Semi drunk dude sits next to me on the bus. He talks practically without breath for three hours straight. For the past two months my conversation has been limited to the occasional phone call and to my exchanges with the cat (and/or the ground squirrels). Semi drunk’s stream of consciousness stream is almost too much for me. I need something more gradual to reintroduce me into society. But this is not to be. My subtle attempts to quiet him go unheeded. So I listen with one ear to my music and one ear to the conversation, keeping my gaze focused out the window on Montana (the reason I’ve taken the bus in the first place), and interjecting a timely “uh huh” or a repeating of his last words to show that I’m paying some sort of attention as needed.
“The world is changing,” he says. “The mountains aren’t the same.” He points out the windows at the mountains. “They’ve changed over the past twenty years. I’ve seen it happen. I think that in the next fifteen years we’ll be in another freeze.”
“An ice age?” I ask.
“An ice age. The whole world is going to freeze up into an ice age.”
“Better buy a warm coat,” I say.
He laughs then turns to look at me, his face serious again. “But it’s really going to happen. Science proves it. Science is cool.” He pauses.
“Science is cool,” I repeat his words under my breath.
He’s beyond that now. He’s blasted on to a new item and jumps right in without preamble. “The church and God are real,” he says. He looks over at me. I feel this out of the corner of my eye. But I’m watching the sky, the layers of mountains tucked one after the other, the shifting colors of light, the storm rolling in from some place far ahead of us. “They’re real. You just have to believe. Those people who don’t believe. Those atheists. They’re just fucked up in the head.”
He proselytizes for miles, using obscenity for emphasis until he’s exhausted his line of thought. There’s no altar call when he’s finished, and he’s on to the next topic, shifting from subject to subject seamlessly, as if all things are connected. “I take the bus because I don’t like to fly. I have before, but I don’t like to be off the ground. Some people let fear keep them from trying new things or moving to new places. But not me. I do what I want. Sometimes I just leave without telling anyone anything. My friends try to find me and they all say, ‘Man, you’re different.’ My parents raised me to be like that. They let me figure things out on my own. I mean, they made sure I had things that I needed but when it came down to it they always said, ‘You figure it out on your own.’ That’s the way to learn, by doing things on your own.”
The bus rolls on. I miss a thread of thought, he’s on to something else. I’m thinking about human needs and human kindness. His need for connection is overwhelming my need for silence. Maybe long stretches of solitude are bad for an introvert like me, they put me at a disadvantage when I’m placed back in a position to interact. Here and now, when what I want is to watch the scenery pass by and think my own thoughts, I’m not inclined to be solicitous, considerate. This barrage of conversation works like a stressor on my system and I have to remind myself to relax, to be, to calm down. How does a person talk this much anyway? He must say every thought that comes into his head. I’m almost impressed.
A few miles later, he pulls a card from his back pocket and shows it to me. It’s his Cheyenne Indian identification card. “I’ve been married twice and been to twenty-eight states,” he says. This confession with the presentation of the card comes across like a catalog of his successes or of his charms. Are marriage and state to state travel analogous achievements?
I wonder how many states I’ve been to.
More than once he lifts a bottle out from under his shirt and takes a swig. I can smell the alcohol like forsaken dreams in the air between us. The driver had told us alcohol was not allowed. I want to ask him not to drink on the bus. I want to ask him not to talk any more. But I don’t. “I’ve been thrown off the bus before,” he confides. The bottle’s vanished once again under his shirt. “One time there were a bunch of us in the back and I got us all fucked up. We were partying in the back. We all got thrown off.”
I don’t ask about the consequences of that, of where he ended up, or how he got to the place he’d been going. I don’t ask anything, my curiosity for The Story is drowned by the flood of words. I’m drowning in noise. He touches my arm to get my attention then he points at the range of mountains up ahead of us. “Those are the…” he thinks. “I can’t remember their name, but they’re different than they were even five years ago. If it doesn’t become an ice age then the whole place will become dry.”
“A worldwide desert?” I ask.
“Everything completely dry.”
And I’d thought his conviction about the impending ice age had been so certain.
The moments pass, the miles add up, we drive through the rain, and then soon enough back into the sun. With semi drunk dude in the seat next to me, I’m thinking that humans are unpredictable, dangerous, and scary. They’re needy and complex and strange. They’re noisy and boisterous and sometimes drunken. I’m thinking that the wildlife I’ve just left behind in the Wyoming wilderness is easier to live around. Civilization alarms me. I’m stuck in this bus with all these humans. I’m stuck in this window seat with nowhere to go. I don’t even have my own thoughts to hide myself inside. A surge of panic forms deep, takes on cyclonic shape.This ride was a bad idea. I want the easy terror of bears back. I want the emptiness of the sky and the promise of a geese and ducks and the occasional coyote sighting. I want grass in place of concrete. I want the smell of pine and sudden storms. I want the shrill warning whistle of the ground squirrels. These things I understand. The cyclone gathers force. Stop it. Seriously, I tell myself, Stop. Your fear is irrational. You know how to behave around humans too. Oh yeah. I do. I settle into my seat and the panic evaporates.
All the while, semi drunk dude talks on and on. “Have you heard of The Secret?” he asks without waiting for a response. “If you want something you think about it, you believe it, you create it.” He talks of portals in the ocean. “There are Ariel portals in the sea,” he says. Ariel the Disney mermaid portals? “Because how else would the mermaids get around?” He talks of biology, the history of gold mining, how the look in his children’s eyes is more powerful than anything else in the world.
Just at the moment that I’ve decided to say, “Sorry, nothing personal, but I need to zone out for a while,” he says, “Thanks so much for talking to me.” And I bite my words away and sit there beside him and listen.
Only twenty-four more hours to go.
It’s enough to drive me to drink.