The only thing that's worse than being really drunk at a party is to be the only one who is sober. You see so much. Too much sometimes.
She threw the empty beer glass into the corner of the icily illuminated shelter that made up the bus stop. I had looked away for a moment, and jumped a little, I guess.
"That was good", the woman next to me on the wooden bench said. It was as if the messages, carved into the bench with keys and small knives held for protection and imaginary respect, became animate and audible. The only thing that had separated me from this woman - the only thing creating a dividing, physical space between the two of us - had become an enemy. "Did you know that I have never done that before in my life? Did you know that? Never. But it felt good." She was speaking clearly and without hesitation, but she covered the same points over and over. Over and over, the same points were covered.
"You should do it more often, then", I said in a hesitating voice, trying to sound as if I knew what I was talking about - and, even more so, why I was talking about it. "At least you're not hurting anybody. Just shattering a little glass." I wondered if she heard me at all.
(These days I wonder if she didn't shatter more than just that glass.)
"You know, I just love kids. Teenagers. So innocent. I just love you kids. You're still innocent. Still a little angel. What do you know about life? You don't know anything about life. Nothing." It was cold. I had my legs tight together, leaning with my arms on my legs, and my hands hidden in the sleeves of my winter coat. "You don't know anything." I tried to think of her as a television showing a program I didn't care for. My eyes swept over the almost empty parking lot and the bus stop on the other side of the street. A group of people stood there, waiting...
...for a bus going in the other direction.
"What do you know? You think you know", she claimed.
"Do I? Have I said that I do?" I asked, trying not to sound too provocative.
"No, but your eyebrows. Your eyebrows say that you do. Big and dark." I looked out over the parking lot again. "What do you know? You're just a spoiled little kid. You get your jacket from your parents. You get your jeans. You don't know anything about the real world. You know, I'm sorry to come across as rude or whatever, but I'm just honest, you know. You see, the ones who talk, like me, the ones who talk at night... we are just honest, you see. We are true." I looked over in the direction where the bus should come from. Darkness. Even the street lights illuminating the concrete seemed dark. I could see the woman's reflection in the glass making up the shelter's walls. "You sit there and you think you know what the world is like. You think that the school weekends are the world. You think it's the same for everyone. See, I work six days a week. Six damn days a week! I never have any time. Can't make any plans. How fun is that? I've been working all week. I worked today. I have tomorrow off. That's all." Now she looked in the same direction I had looked before, glanced at her watch with a facial expression like it had told her absolutely nothing. "Where the hell is the bus? I'm gonna take 421. Out to the woods. I'm going home. To the country. What bus are you waiting for?"
"418. Should be coming shortly." (I wished.)
"I just want to get home to my bed", she said.
Big pause. A small group of kids on mopeds came riding over the parking lot across the street, like knights on horses of black, polished chrome. Only more pathetic.
"See those kids, they think they know. See, I've done it all. Do you know what I have done?"
"I have done it all. I have done everything there is to do. They think that's it." She nodded in the kids' direction. "They think they're so cool. Do you think I think that's cool?"
"So... do you think I think they are?" I murmured. I doubt she heard me. I doubt I even finished talking before she -
"So, you be happy while you can. You laugh at me now, but just wait until you get older. You think you know now, you're 16 and you think you know what life is, but you don't."
The buses finally came. First 492. Then 418, and behind that one, 421. She didn't see it, and she was still swearing because she thought it hadn't come when I showed her where it was.
I was upset on the way home. Who did she think she was to tell me what I know and don't know? Maybe she was right, and I don't know what life is, but I never claimed to do. And my eyebrows... Is that my fault? It's in the family, that's all. They don't really say anything about me, do they?
I know enough. I know more than I want to know.
That night I had been to a party. Unlike the previous time, when I was the first and the worst drunk, I had been the only sober person today. I had only had a beer and the occasional sip here and there from people's shots (four different kinds of liquor and two kinds of soft drinks mixed with some of the original contents of the beer can serving as the Holy Grail of youth drinking). And then I'd been outside for a while, so I was completely sober.
The reason I had been outside was that I talked with a friend of mine, or rather, let him talk. About his messy family life. About how his parents got divorced and he has had to move around over half the world because of his parents and their professions. How coming to new places desperately trying to make new friends had been his whole life. About his ex-girlfriend, who, at the time they were still together, would always call him with the razor in one hand and the phone in the other, leaving him with the task of talking her out of it.
So there he was, down by the bridge, telling me his life story, taking the occasional break to take a piss out in the water. No big deal, perhaps - the things he told me. I guess everyone has their share of the pain in the world. The things that happened to him weren't worse than what I had heard from others, but it was the way he told his story, his memories, the things that had shaped him. I felt sorry for him, and my own problems with my parents' shaky marriage and my breakup a few months ago with a girl I still loved - all seemed irrelevant. The reason why I felt sorry for him was not in the things that had happened to him, but the impact it had.
The scenery passed by outside the window of the bus. Trees, houses, lakes. My old school.
That woman had bent time. Despite meeting me only after my friend had the conversation with me by the bridge, she effectively interrupted him in the midst of his monologue, wiped out his words and diminished all his experiences. I was left with the thought that I still didn't know enough. The world lay ahead as a dormant beast, which I only now came to understand would be inevitably uncovered as the headlights of the bus glanced over the narrow roads, wrapped in winter darkness and spread with winter chill.