I didn’t get out much while growing up. Between a lack of funds and having problems at home, my summer vacations consisted of visiting my Aunt to use her swimming pool and pretending to smoke candy cigarettes at the park.
That’s why when my best friend bought my roommate and I tickets for a New York City bus trip, I almost fainted. I had just completed my first semester of college, barely. I scraped by with C’s while attempting to sleep away my depression. I needed a change and a grand adventure to The Big Apple came at just the right time.
I went home that weekend and told my mother I’d be going on my trip the next day. Her boyfriend overheard.
“You think you’re a big shot now?! Big time college girl going on a fancy trip to New York City?” he grumbled.
He was miserable and therefore we all had to be as well. My happiness made him uncomfortable and he was determined to let me know. This only made me want to go even more.
After being fun-shamed, my mother secretly approached me and handed me $20 to take along my trip. It wasn’t much, but it was her blessing that I was allowed to go do something for myself.
The next day I woke up at ass o’clock and met my two friends at a parking lot, where we waited for our giant steed on wheels to carry us off to New York. While we stood there discussing which Sex and the City character we related with most (I’m part Miranda, part Carrie), I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was exuding so much optimism and enthusiasm that as soon as I finally stepped onto the bus I yelled “Haaaiii!” at the bus driver and tripped up the stairs.
We soon settled into our seats, preparing for the four-hour ride. I opened a crisp new gossip magazine and naturally pulled up a Nickelback playlist on my mp3 player. They were a hot new group that would surely remain relevant and astonish us all with their talent for years to come. I sat back with my music, snuggled in my favorite hoodie that proudly displayed the name of my University. It was going to be a good day.
Halfway to our destination the bus driver announced we’d be stopping at a rest area. As the bus came to a halt, I sat upright and looked around at the other day trippers. Most riders seemed eager to step out for a few moments to stretch their legs. I noticed the woman sitting diagonally from us balled up under a blanket with nothing but the top of her head peeking out.
My friends and I stood up and slowly began making our way up the aisle. As I approached the blanketed woman I saw her begin to rustle and assumed she was also about to stand up. I was so, so wrong.
Blanket lady suddenly popped up like a jack-in-the-box and spewed a fountain of foul liquid all over my favorite sweatshirt. The few people left on the bus gasped and then froze in a Zach Morris time out. All space and time stopped as several eyes darted from my face, to the lady, to the vomit dripping off of my shirt and onto my shoes. Blanket lady meekly apologized as tears formed in the corners of her eyes.
“It’s alright,” I blurted out at the first sight of tears. “Don’t worry about it.”
I scurried off the bus and ran straight to the restroom where I vigorously scrubbed my sweatshirt with soap and water. I also wet a few paper towels and dabbed at my sneakers, though I couldn’t get them too wet as they were the only shoes I brought for the day.
I headed back out to the rest area with a water soaked shirt, wafting the smell of cheap sawdust-scented soap behind me.
I found my friends who were sitting down, nibbling on breakfast foods. As soon as they saw me they burst into laughter. The entire event was hilarious to them and I’d eventually find it hilarious too, in only twelve more years. Until then, I was furious that they weren’t more sympathetic to my situation.
When it was time to get back on the bus, blanket lady and I avoided any and all eye contact. She sat down and put her blanket back over her head, becoming a sickly ball once more.
“Good job scrubbing, dear. You can’t even smell it,” a random elderly woman assured me while patting my back.
The next two hours to New York City I gave my friends the silent treatment. I wanted to cry but even after being someone’s barf bag, I was more excited than mad.
As the bus parked a block away from Times Square, my sweatshirt was dry without a trace of the upchuck assault. And with only $20 in my purse I couldn’t afford to buy a replacement even if I wanted to. My defiled sweatshirt and I saw all the big sights together. It was a shitty situation that could have ruined my day but instead, I made the most of my time.
I spent my money on lunch and had a few dollars left over to purchase an I Heart NY shot glass, because what 18-year-old didn’t collect shot glasses? I had never taken shots or tried alcohol, but dammit, I’d be ready the day it happened.
I also snagged a dollar postcard that pictured the NYC skyline behind a floating Carrie Bradshaw quote.
On the bus ride home I still avoided eye contact with blanket lady, though she was now happy, smiling, and seemingly over her motion sickness. She and I both ended up having a blast, despite how our morning began.
That night when I arrived home I threw my hoodie in the washer and then ran into my mother’s boyfriend in the hallway.
“Oh, you’re back? You look rough. I heard it drizzled in New York all day. Must have been miserable." he smirked.
“Oh no, actually it was a great time. I got you this...”
I reached into my purse, handed him the post card, and walked away as he looked down and read the words: Maybe you have to let go of who you were to become who you will be.