I remember taking a bus between towns one summer. It was early in the season, so we were still in school, my cousin and I. This was in the late 1980s when the insides of long distance buses were still upholstered in brown instead of grey, and you could smoke on them as long as you sat in the back half of the vehicle. I remember that, because my cousin and I were sharing a pack of cigarettes made of red and white cardboard, and I can see her fingers stuffing a rectangle of tinfoil into one of those aluminum ashtrays that were mounted into the back of the seats. There were half-circles pressed into a strip of metal across the middle of the ashtray that you could squeeze your cigarette into if you needed both of your hands and didn't want the cigarette to roll onto the floor.
A girl near the back of the bus smiled when we boarded. My cousin and I sat in the rearmost seat, and the girl popped up over the back of hers and asked if she could hang out with us. We said yes, because she seemed lonely. Her smile was too broad for someone who was actually happy to be sitting by herself. I began to wonder, though, if maybe she had that condition that some people get when their mothers drink during pregnancy, because she lacked social inhibition. She was far too happy that we were talking to her. As soon as the three of us got into a conversation, she told us everything she could about herself. It all bubbled out of her with her eyes overly bright and laughter in between her sentences. She made me think of a wide-open, empty box.
She told us that she came from a town called Love, which really does exist, because I looked it up later to see if she was telling the truth. She spelled it out in red ballpoint pen on some school notebook paper with a fancy heart to stand in for the O in the middle of the word. "I want to be loved," she said, "and I come from Love, so maybe it'll happen." The only time that she didn't smile was when she said that. Part of me wanted to touch her arm then to let her know that things might be okay, but a bigger part of me wanted the trip to be over so that I could get away from her and become a stranger again.
I have not been able to shake her from my mind in all this time. If she is still alive, she is no longer that teenager from nearly two decades ago, but I find myself thinking back to that musty bus with seats upholstered in mashed-flat terrycloth, and I still fear for where she could take herself. I still loathe her, that nameless girl from L♥ve. I still wonder if someone has ever loved her. Nineteen years later, I still can't let her go.
I am a participant in NaBloPoMo 2008, a challenge to write 30 posts in 30 days during the month of November. "National Blog Posting Month is the epicenter of daily blogging!"