I draw on memories

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I met him on the bus to Anaheim.

Well, I shouldn't say that I met him. I don't know his name. Neither of us revealed interests, backgrounds, or anything remotely identifying. He was axiomatically older than me and, presumably, we had nothing in common. He was carrying a guitar case that I assumed did not hold a guitar. He was tall and slender and unkempt and indisputably batshit insane. Behind his worn frames he had two very normal, very muted eyes that, provided they were attached to somebody less overwhelmingly dingy, I would have gladly stared into contentedly for days on end. He reminded me of somebody I'd never known. Somebody I'd read about a thousand times but didn't know was real. He smelled of too many days' musk and too many crackhouses. He perfectly wore an old fedora hat and it reminded me of the black and white pictures on the Rat Pack records my mother had owned – Frank Sinatra laughing onstage behind a piano. Sammy Davis, Jr.'s geeky mid-laugh smile. I remember his touch, an eerily gentle hand that touched mine for a split second. Physically, that's all I can recall.

Emotionally, I was a wreck. Things were a blur. At the time, I couldn't tell whether I should have been scared when the smelly, drab man sat directly across from me. I remember rationalizing it, assuming the best and going back to what I was doing.

"Hey." His voice was scratchy, whiskey and cigarettes. But soft. Oh so soft. He asked if I was drawing. He asked what I was drawing. I told him I didn't know, because I didn't. He went back to fidgeting with the stitching along his guitar case's side, trying in vain to unlace it. Or maybe he wasn't trying to do that at all. Again, I wasn't sure of any of his intentions.

Ten minutes later, he cleared his throat. Neither of us took notice.

Two or three minutes from that, he reached into his pocket.

Five minutes after, he pulled a photograph from it. A small four-by-six Polaroid. When he handed it to me, I noticed that it was frayed along the edges and worn, but it had been taken care of – there were no scratches in the image, no tears. I was astounded at the amount of effort that had been put into preserving it. It was a woman, a picture of her face. She was, in a word, beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. The colour was faded but her hair was a light brown, curled, or maybe naturally curly, and it fell past the frame of the image. Her eyes were the same as his, soft and subdued, but green to his blue. Her nose was perfect, straight, her skin milky-pale and clear, her smile wonderfully genuine. Looking at her made me forget why I'd been sad, and that's not an understatement.

"How long will you be here?" he asked, having handed me the photo.

"Erm... I've got another few hours."

"Will... would you draw her?"

I had no reservations. Immediately, I turned a page in my sketchbook. Immediately disregarded the doodle of the visible bus machination. Immediately, then, I was focused on drawing this woman.

He watched me. He followed my pencil strokes. At first I thought he was watching to see if I would draw her to his satisfaction or up to a certain standard, but never once did he say a word or even make a sound. He sat next to me, apparently happy to observe. His expression had changed completely since I'd first seen him get on the bus.
It turned out we were destined for the same stop. Neither of us asked the other during the ride, but when the bus stopped we both rose from our seats.

I handed him the sketch. He took it, tilted it, took it in. He tucked it into his jacket, unfolded, and zipped it up. The driver yelled at us – we were the only ones standing. "Go out the back door, for God's sake," he said, and released the seal on it to allow us to push it open.

The blue-eyed man and I stood on the sidewalk for what seemed like hours but was probably 60 seconds at most. It was only then that I realized just how much taller than me he was – at 5'2", I found him larger than life. He looked me up and down, my dark brown hair, my rather large nose, my raggedy sundress, my bare shins, my Keds tennis shoes. I wasn't worried – I'd just sat on a cross-state bus with this guy for six hours and he hadn't pulled anything. He appeared to just be considering.

Finally, he said, "Thanks."

I asked him if he wanted a phone number or anything. I realized I hadn't signed the drawing.

"Nah, man. I'm happy to have shared a bus ride with you, is all."

I nodded. I felt the same way about him.

Without saying anything, we turned in unison and began walking away.

I turned back. "Hey," I called, in a voice only a bit louder than how I spoke normally, "Who was the woman I drew?"

He turned around, and I took him in from a distance for the first time. His guitar case was slung over his shoulder. He smiled, not false, but a warm, inviting, sincere smile. "To me or to you?"

I paused. "To both of us."

He scratched his forehead. "Somebody I barely remember and wanted a refresher on."

He walked away.

Created: Dec 10, 2010

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