“I was thinking—“ But it ended there.
“No, please continue,” he insisted, shifting his weight on the lop-sided seat and scooting closer to the driver. “I like to be close to the door,” he explained. “Don’t want to miss my stop.”
“Well, I can’t help but thinking I made a mistake.”
Arms folded across his chest and legs hugged the curve of his wobbling seat. “Oh this is going to be a long conversation.”
“No! I mean—well, it might be. I was thinking of something specific though.”
“Your know how often you do this?”
“Spell out the damnable weaknesses that inevitably bind you to sin and imperfection, resulting in nothing more than a cyclical affirmation of your own self loathing?”
“Oh. That. Twice a day?”
“Try every thirty seconds. You think about punishing yourself more often than most guys think about sex. Seriously, I think you just need to get laid.”
“I never thought I’d hear you say that.”
“Well, I like to surprise people. They weren’t expecting me on a cross, were they? Except the prophets, but Dad clued them in.”
“Is this about me or about your saving the world blah blah blah?”
“Don’t get snippy with me! I know all of your problems and I know how to solve them. I don’t really need to hear you talk about them because I was there when you generated the thoughts that made the words that you’re going to say…now!”
I paused to prove him wrong.
”I can wait,” he assured, flipping his sandal with his big toe.
“Ok, ok. So you’ve heard it before. But can I just do this? For my sake?”
“That’s all it’s ever for. I don’t need to hear it. But please, for your sake…”
“Thanks. So I think I screwed up. I’m deathly afraid of loving somebody.”
“That’s odd. I thought you were deathly afraid of spiders.” I didn’t laugh. “Ok, sorry, wrong time for jokes. So you’re deathly afraid of loving someone. Care to explain?”
“It’s not about me loving—I don’t think. It’s more about being loved back.”
“Ahh! Genius! I never thought we’d get here. Have you considered counseling? Spa treatment? A stuffed animal?” I glared at him. He put his foot down and signed. “And?”
“And I think that I can’t love myself well enough to be loved by someone else.”
“Hmmm…curious.” He stroked his chin, but there was no beard. “You know, this would work better if I really were a Caucasian male, 5’10”, 160 pounds with long brown hair and a trimmed beard. Why didn’t anyone ever think to paint a picture of me like that?”
“Christ! I’m being serious here! While I lament your lack of beard-age, there are more important things at stake—like my general worth.”
“That’s not at stake, dummy.”
I choked. ”Did you just call me dummy?”
“Yes. It’s my prerogative. I’m King of the World, Universe, Heaven, etc.. Really.”
“Right. So, back to my love issues.”
“You know, this would make for a good Oprah episode—“
“Sorry, please continue.” I looked down, fiddled with my backpack, and found my place in the conversation again.
“I think I’m guilty of pushing away before I can be pushed away. I find fault and use it against someone—well, not against them, but to separate us. No damage then, right? And so I move along and tell myself them maybe I’m not built for relationships.”
“What?! Why on earth am I dummy? Because I’m human?”
“No, because you ask others to trust you and then throw it in their faces when you won’t play by your own rules. He picked at his cuticles. They really needed work. Caught off-guard, and yet not surprised, I looked down at the floor.
“Listen,” he said, “this isn’t about others’ faults. You spend enough time picking out your own. And that’s the problem. Do a little housekeeping, a little self-redemption. Here—try this.” He pulled out a business card and flipped it over. “Don’t ask. I’m getting someone to do my taxes for me. You guys really stymied God on that one. Anyway…” He scribbled a word on the card with a gnawed pen from his pocket: thoughtful. Showing me the word, he asked—more sincerely than I had yet heard—if I would use that word to describe myself. I halted. Part of me wanted to say yes—to shout yes. But a large part overshadowed the urge. I couldn’t answer.
“Work on that. Everyday, write down a positive word to describe yourself. Sounds cheesy, I know. But do it. Make it something I would like to say about you. Then go about your day living out that word – in what you say, do, and think. When the day is over, take some time to see how you it fits you—not just because of the day, but because of your whole life.”
“I can’t do that,” I said. “It seems so selfish, so self-centered. A day spent all on me?”
“I’ll tell you what’s self-centered, Jeff: beginning to love—as you genuinely want to do—and then, for your own defense, pretending to cut it short. I see you seek out the best in people, but quickly magnify their flaws when they come too close. That way, you have reason to push back. You have reason to avoid what feels like the inevitable: abandonment. Because, according to your mind and heart, who would possibly love you?”
I remained silent. He handed me the card and I took it. But I couldn’t look him in the eye.
“This is my stop,” he said. “Give it some thought. And remember—for God’s sake—that you are loved the most when you are most yourself.”
The rickety bus paced to a stop and the doors drew open. Looking off to the sun, he stepped on the sidewalk and began walking. I don’t know where he was going. Uninterested, the bus driver continued on his serpentine route.