I woke up Tuesday morning and my primary thought was something like: how do I get out of volunteering for speedskating today?
But alas, other than ‘I have an inch-long scab on my finger’ I really didn’t have sufficient cause for withdrawing from my commitment. Hence I walked back over to the school and got on the same yellow bus with the same driver and smiled the same friendly smile-while-avoiding-eye-contact.
I slunk into an empty seat – away from the muscle-car loving chatterbox and breathed deeply. For five seconds. ‘Can I sit here?’ I looked up, into the face of the girl whose skates I’d pried off her feet the day before.
Clearly the kindness and compassion I’d demonstrated the previous day had made a significant impact on her, so much that she sought me out to convey her thanks. Still, my five-second illusion of having a seat to myself had been shattered. So I accepted my lot in life and slid over to the window, in an effort to maintain the illusion of freedom.
If I had to, I could escape by crawling out the window.
Except: ‘I need to sit by the window,’ she insisted. ‘I get carsick.’
No, no, no. Even if the Hen had a banner day on the ice and turned out to be God’s gift to the speedskating world, it was clear I was going to have to suffer – deeply – along the way.
I relinquished any hope of freedom and switched sides with the Ruth to my Naomi. Unfortunately my Ruth had a case of verbosis (surely a made up word) so acute that all I could do was sit back, dumbfounded, while my inner dialogue went something like this:
‘Two days in a row? How is this possible!? What is it about me that says give me* your socially awkward, your verbally incontinent, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free? I need to record this because otherwise no one will believe me that this.actually.happened. If she even pukes, I, I don’t know what I’m going to do but…I will not clean up somebody else’s puke.’
‘Spell PIG backwards,’ Ruth demanded. ‘Gee I pee,’ I complied. She slapped her knee from the mirth of it all. ‘Now spell ICUP,’ she persisted. Because no one else on the planet has ever heard this joke before. ‘I see you pee,’ I complied. She laughed even harder at my ‘folly’. Clearly she didn’t know who she was dealing with – I’ve been spelling ICUP for years. Years!
‘Once, my mom was really proud of me, we were driving and I told my mom that I was feeling carsick and she pulled over and guess what happened?!’
Let me guess.
‘I b-a-r-f-e-d and then my mom said she was really proud of me for telling her.’ Just as my scalp starts to itch the second the school sends out a note about lice, I started feeling queasy at the mention of barf from a self-professed barfer. Because this immigrant girl with bad clothes and poor English has also puked in the car a time or five.
‘I’m crazy,’ she announced enthusiastically, roughly four inches from my face.
In lieu of ‘you don’t say,’ I gave her a semi-polite, barely-smile to both mask my fear and seal my lips.
I crossed one hand over the other, and she caught a glimpse of the scar on my left thumb. ‘Whoa, what happened there?’ And just as I was about to say, ‘um, it’s from tying your skates,’ she yelped ‘Wait, are you the person who helped me with my skates yesterday, the person who cut her finger? I had nightmares about that last night. About the blood.’
So not only did she not remember my kindness and compassion from the day before, or feel any deep connection to me – she was just sitting in my seat? For sport? Telling me my bloody finger gave her nightmares?
I held out my hand and smiled thinly. ‘Yep, that was me.’
If I thought she was going to offer her thanks or mention something about how I’d changed her life, I was sorely misstaken. ‘Whoa, your fingers are so long! How are your fingers so long?!’ I assumed some sort of compliment, or at least the standard ‘piano fingers’ comment would follow shortly, but instead she said. ‘Oh, my goodness, that is so CREEPY. I’m going to have nightmares about them tonight. How do your hands look like that? I hope my hands never look like that.’
At which point I just burst out laughing because, to quote Anne Lamott, what fresh hell is this? I was like Bridget Jones’ one-hit-wonder friend who assumed someone had approached him in a restaurant to shower him with praise for a song he’d written, but it was only to tell him that his chair leg was on top of a fellow diner’s coat.
‘Why are you laughing at me? I don’t like people laughing at me!’
Says the person who just called my hand creepy?
‘I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you,’ I clarified, noting we were only halfway to the Oval.
‘I’m starting to feel a little bit like I might barf,’ she interjected.
‘Eat something,’ I begged, looking around the bus for my escape route in the event that she tossed her cookies. Because Mother Theresa I am not.
‘We’re not allowed to eat on the bus.’
‘I’ll take the blame.’
At last the bus pulled up to the Oval and I sprang from my seat with an over-the-shoulder admonition to the Hen to leave his belongings on the bus. I raced inside to report for skate-tying duty and was pleased to note my first customer was my seatmate’s friend. Or at least that’s what I inferred when she looked at my finger and said: ‘oh are you the one who cut her finger? I heard about the blood.’
I tied a few more pairs of skates and as soon as everyone was on the ice, I speed-walked with another volunteer to the Starbucks in the Student Bookstore. We’d just returned with our red cups when the Hen saw me and stopped dead in his tracks on the ice. Tears threatened to fill his eyes.
The three blisters from the day before had turned into five and, call me a short-sighted dream-relinquisher, I couldn’t bear the thought of stuffing his five-blister feet back into those skates and sending him out on the ice again.
‘Do you want to just sit here for the rest of the time,’ I asked. Though, I’m not going to lie, I did perform a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis that went something like this: $40 for ‘skating’, 6 hours of my time, 5 blisters and an undetermined amount of emotional damage [mine].
‘Yes,’ he nodded sadly, before perking up at the sight of the red cup on the seat beside him. ‘Can I have some of your coffee?’
‘Sure,’ I sighed.
*Paraphrased (edited) Emma Lazarus quote from the Statue of Liberty