Monday, September 10, 2007

Part Two.

As I stretch and look for my shoes, I see Tracey and 2 of her kids jump off the bus and take deep breaths of early morning Californian air.
“Get back on the bus,” Sheldon, our 20 year old Stoney Creek busdriver says to her.
Then he turns back to all of us, “Stay on the bus. Please.”
He and Charlotte step off and stand at the side of the freeway, talking while I continue to force myself awake. I finally notice the white smoke haze while I fiddle about, adjusting my clothing.

Drew has that look in his eyes again, and I know this latest hiccup is not sitting well with him. “My stomach doesn’t feel so good,” he says, confirming my thoughts. “And my chest feels like there’s an elephant sitting on it.”

Dave and Glen suggest we get off the bus, and Sheldon agrees, on the condition that we stay way back from the freeway and stand near the fence. As Charlotte makes phonecalls, we watch the puddle form from the dripping engine oil and the shadows move across the hills as the morning sun rises in the sky. One is prettier to watch than the other.

Our mishap occurrs at 7 am and by 8 am decisions are made. A road-side service truck is on its way over, maybe to fix (?) or possibly tow the bus to a repair shop. If it can’t be fixed quickly, Stoney Creek will get their two 15 passenger vans brought up from Mexico. And after the big bus drops off the other kids at Six Flags, it’ll come back to pick us up and take us to Six Flags.

It’s suggested that rather than waiting by the side of the freeway, we should walk over to the McDonald’s we had just passed at the last exit.
“Only take what you need for the day at Six Flags,” Charlotte suggests. “Leave the rest on the bus. You can get it later.”

Taking her advice, I remove from my backpack my rain jacket, my ladybug beach towel, my pink nalgene container and three books. I grab my cash, Visa, bank card and drivers licence, stuff them in my pocket then leave my purse and wallet behind. Because my feet are on fire, I take off my socks and runners, slip into a pair of flip flops, take off my hoodie and place it all on my seat next to my pillow.

The AC hasn’t been effective on that little bus from hell, and it was WAY too hot to be wearing pants on that bus, so at our last stop the night before, I had changed out of my track pants and had put on a just-above-the-knee length beige denim skirt. I now note that my legs could use a shave, but really, who’s going to look? With my camera around my neck, my daypack on my back and dread in my heart, I leave the bus and join the others for our trek.

We barely walk 10 minutes and it looks like we need to get off the freeway for safety’s sake. We crawl through a barbed wire fence, yes, in a skirt with a camera, backpack, and unstable hip. Then Ernie, at the head of the line, runs up the steep, dirt and rock covered incline to get to the top of the aquaduct crossing. As rocks and debri fall with each step he takes, he leans forward and uses his hands to stable himself as he continues to climb.

“Hello? God? Umm. I can’t do that. No way my hip is going to stay in it’s socket if I start scaling that hillside. No way. And I’ve got a skirt on. And why is this trip turning out this way? Why couldn’t we have been on that other bus? The one that would have simply taken us to our destination without all this drama? Remember me praying about walking? And how I prayed that there wouldn’t be much? Because remember this hip thing? And the flip flops? I can’t climb that in these. Are you going to make me face every stinking fear I had before we left? Because so far, this has not been easy. Or fun. And now I have to let everyone know I cannot climb that steep hill. I have to walk way over there, were the slope is gentler… and I’m going to hold everyone back. And they’ll think to themselves why did she come along if she’s so out of shape?”

So I walk over to the old lady slope and even then one of the guys has to give me a hand as I negotiate my way up the loose dirt and try not to fall over.

We cross over the freeway, and encounter another barbed wire fence. Again with the deep lunge to get myself and all my attachments under and again with the right hip clicking out of, then into, place. We walk along a deserted road parallel to the I-5 and attract a lot of attention from passing semi trucks.
Our next obstacle is a locked gate that one cannot simply stretch open. More gymnastical moves are required and I feel like I am being tested on a level that far exceeds my ability.

We are now at the bottom of another ramp, this one a freeway exit, so we climb again, cross over the freeway again, and jump over another fence to land on McDonald’s front doorstep.

Our stay extends from the anticipated one hour to five.
And Drew’s stomach? The one that isn’t feeling so good? Needs to be emptied every few minutes. And his chest? The one with the 10 ton weight on it? Has started to loosen up in the form of a mucussy cough.
“I don’t want to go to Six Flags,” he says. “I want to go home. Where are Clint and Max? Can’t we just go to them?”

When we finally get dropped off at Six Flags, I tell the others to go ahead without us. Drew and I will tour the park, bathroom by bathroom.

We wander for hours. And hours, looking for his brothers, or even any of those senior boys. We are both desperate to connect with someone familiar from our other life. The comfortable one, the one where you don’t have to carry all that’s most important to you on your back.

“Hey, look! It’s Brendan!” Drew says with enthusiasm mixed with relief. After hours of walking from end to end in the park, we haven’t seen a single person from our group. It feels like the rapture’s occurred and we’ve been left behind.

“Brendan! Hi!” Drew calls.
Brendan, who’s been running, is a little out of breath. “Oh, hi.”
“Have you seen Clint? Or Max?”
“Clint’s right behind me … see… over there.”
He rushes off, and we greet Clint like he’s our long lost family member, back from years of fighting crime or taming lions. It’s after 4 pm so he and Kevin and Brendan and Adam are hoping to catch one more roller coaster ride before they have to meet up with everyone else from ‘the big bus’ at 5:00. Drew and I, starving for conversation, join them in the line-up and hear about their troubles on the ride down; “the air conditioning was SO cold”; “everyone kept using the bathroom on the bus”; “the movies they watched while traveling were so lame”. Oh yeah. My heart? So bleeding all over the place for them.

Drew, delighted to have an appreciative audience, shares our tale of woe, and before we know it, and before they get a chance to actually enjoy on the ride, they have to go. It was nice that Clint looked torn about leaving his pathetic mom and needy bro, knowing we’d have to continue with our wandering pattern for another 3 hours. (The bus was going to take it’s original occupants over to the church at 5, drop them off at 6:30, then come back for us at 8, dropping us off at 9:30).

We check out a few more bathrooms, keep buying water, test out park benches every 20 minutes or so, did a WHOLE lot of people watching and theme park comparing. (Six Flags is no Disneyland.) Buy and eat a quarter of a funnel cake…There is also a fair bit of complaining happening… about all the horrible things I’d done this summer; starting with signing him up for teen camp at Stillwood and ending with me forcing him on this trip to Mexico.

At 7, we meet up with the Garrett and Kara crowd, and BLESS THOSE BOYS, they invite Drew to hang with them for the last hour.

I sit by the gate and pray. “God? Holy cow. What am I doing here? What exactly is going on? Could this have gotten off to a worst start? Should I be handling things differently? Please, please, please help Drew settle in to this new environment. Even though he’s younger, could you help him fit in with these kids? Please help that cough to disappear. Please make that diarrhea go away. Please allow him to sleep well tonight. Please chill me out. Please have someone slip some valium in my water tomorrow. Show me what I’m supposed to do on this trip. Am I here just to look after Drew? What about those girls I promised to keep an eye on? I haven’t seen them for more than 5 minutes since we left Abbotsford. I feel like I’m a waste of a bus seat. I’m not contributing to this trip, just taking up room. I’m dusty from our early morning walk, I’m sweaty from spending the day at Six Flags, I’m tired of aching, and even more than that, I’m tired of complaining. Change my attitude, God. Fill me with your strength and peace. And please give me wisdom on how to handle Drew. And I’m serious about that valium…”

At 9:30 we get delivered to an awesome CRC church that has allowed us to crash in their gym. Two vans are in the parking lot, freshly driven up from Mexico, and we’re told that those of us originally in the handi-dart bus, will be driving the rest of the way in those vans.
“It’s 9:40 now, and we have an early start in the morning. For those of who just arrived, get out your bowls, spoons and plates and get some supper from the kitchen. When you’re done, wash your things, set up your beds and get ready for the night. Lights out, in say, half an hour. Is that cool?”

A sense of panic descends on me. I can’t find my bedding bags that were originally stowed under the big bus, nor can I find the stuff I left on my seat of the mini bus. All I’ve got is the possessions I’ve had on my back all day.

I hunt down Max.
“Hey, have you seen any of my things? Did you help unload the bus earlier?”
He’s not relieved to see me. He’s with his friends, comfortably lounging on their sleeping bags, playing with their DS’s.
“Nope. Check in that corner. Or over on the other side. Everything got brought in.”
I love you too, I think to myself.
I find my sleeping bag. Princess bed. And battery operated pump. I can’t find my other bag; the one with my clothes, dishes, bible, so I ask Clint if I can borrow his bowl. The clock is ticking and I’m feeling pressure to get it all together before the lights go out.

By 9:50, I’ve slurped back the soup, found my big bag, and blown up my bed. I set it up at the very edge of the girl’s side, so that Drew can find me easily in the night if he needs to.

“Hi Charlotte, do you know where the stuff that was left on the mini bus ended up?”
“It’s all on the front table. Everything was placed there.”
We look over at the table and it’s empty.
“But where would my stuff be?”
“What are you missing?””A jacket, some books, a beach towel, shoes, purse …”
“None of those things were left on the bus.”
“I put them on my seat this morning, along with my pillow …”
“Nope. I’m telling you I personally packed up the entire bus while you guys were sitting at McDonald’s. I can tell you, because I know nothing like that was left on the bus.”

“God? Hello? Me again. I’m not going to be ready to go to bed in a few minutes. I feel rushed and scattered and out of control. That bathroom? With three sinks and 42 girls trying to groom all at once? I need some privacy. Just half an hour even. I need some space. I knew I would. I knew I’d struggle with this. I knew that I’d crave this more than chocolate. I want to spend a few minutes with just Clint and Max and Drew to reconnect and see how we’re going. Well, Clint and Max are probably doing fine. I need some of that to rub off on me. I’m running on empty here. And look, everyone is wearing cute pajamas and I’ve got a dumb night shirt. Why didn’t I buy pajamas? I don’t fit in. Oh man. I’m going to have to brush my teeth in front of these girls. CRAP. Look at my hair. Should I wash it tonight like they’re all doing? Will it dry? Or just look greasy in the morning? My feet are so very filthy. I can’t imagine putting them into a clean sleeping bag. God. What am I doing on this trip? And where is my stuff? You know where it is, can you uncover it for me?”

The bathroom eventually empties out abit, and I change into my stupid-for-this-trip but most-comfortable-at-home yellow nightshirt in one of the stalls. I pull back my hair, crack open the Neo-strata products and squeeze up against the wall, and start cleaning two days worth of living off my face. My face emerges from under the grime looking tired and old. The other faces sharing the mirror are unlined, unpocked, not-prickly-with-chin-hairs, and glowing with excitement for all this trip has been so far.

“God? No way I can do this. I’m in way over my head. I hang out with boys. My boys and their friends. People who don’t share mirrors or bathroom space with me. I am insecure. I don’t know these girls. I don’t know how to giggle about the things they’re giggling about. Can’t there be a private bathroom somewhere where I can just be by myself for a few minutes?”

The bathroom door opens and Charlotte pops her head in. “Lights out in 2 minutes. Time to quieten down and get into bed.”

I decide right then that I’m not going to rush. I’m going to wash my hair. And if I can somehow arrange to get my feet into the sink, I’m going to wash them too. Not at the same time as my hair. That would be impossible, even for a contortionist.

I leave the bathroom to get shampoo and rinse and to borrow Max’s towel. I drop by the corner that Drew is camped in to see how he’s doing. He needs cough medicine, so I rummage through my things and find a Tylenol cold and cough tablet for him. We borrow Clint’s nalgene container and fill it with water and leave it by his side for the night. And then I go back to the bathroom.

The crowd has narrowed down, only about a dozen girls left, each micro-managing their faces … inspecting their eyebrows, changing earrings, applying multiple lotions … I ask if I can use one of the sinks and set about washing my hair. I take my time, and again am warned that the lights will be going out – please finish quickly and go to bed.

I wait until I completely alone in the bathroom and I swing one foot into the sink. Oh the luxury of having a cool, clean foot. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my right hip to cooperate, so I used some diaper wipes and cleaned my right foot with those.

Just as I’m leaving the bathroom with wet hair, a sparkling face, one magnificently cleaned foot and one not so much, I’m reminded again that its lights out.

I carefully lower myself onto my air mattress, dry swallow a sleeping pill and wait for my thoughts to turn off. I write a blog post in my mind and wish I had my laptop and an internet connection handy.

“God? We haven’t even made it to Mexico yet and I’m burned out. How can I be effective for you if something little like sharing a bathroom or being told to go to bed sends me reeling? What is with me? Why am I not having fun? Why am I not laughing? Why am I not filled with joy? Is that Drew coughing? Oh, it sounds awful. God please calm his cough. Help him to settle in. Make that cough go away. Help it not be annoying those around him. Help him get a good rest tonight. Help that pill I gave him do it’s job. And why am I still awake? I took a pill too… aren’t I supposed to be asleep? How come these things take forever to work on me? Still awake.

Still awake.

Still awake.

Is there a reason you’re keeping me awake? Do I need to pray about something? Something other than my discomfort, I mean? Dear God, please protect us tomorrow as we continue to travel south. Plop your angels on top of those vans and the bus. Protect us from further breakdowns. Protect us from accidents, illness, disharmony. Heal those of us who are not feeling well. Give us wisdom on how to handle the situations that will arise. Fill me with your spirit of peace. And love. Give me a love for the Mexicans we’ll be meeting. Show me why I’m on this trip.

Still awake.

He’s still coughing God. And I don’t want to embarrass either of us by going over there. Could you rub his back for him? Help him relax? Help ME relax?

Still awake, God. Can you make me fall asleep soon?

Still awake …

To be continued…

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