Defiance. Ohio.

“Are you guys having dinner?” Debbie Purnell asked, meaning, “So is our uninvited guest going to eat our food?” I said, “No, I had a Slim Fast and a plum today. I’m all set. But thanks!” My response caused her to tilt her head just like their dog does, after it finds out you just might mean business. Her double chin practically slid sideways to accompany the weight shift in her face.

She announced, as she tore the tin foil away from the fatty freezer patties drenched in imitation tomato sauce, “Slim Fast is high in cholesterol.” I think that in the back of my head, just behind my composure, I knew it was the beginning of the end.

After dark, I walked Mandi back to her house so she could get her purse. I just collapsed in back of their van and waited on the driveway. When a car went by, I’d twisted into an “accident” position in case it would look freaky to them, this person just lying there like that….and my head kind of hit the pavement and I saw the stars and I felt like I had been hit by a truck.

I had asked Mandi while putting those Slim Fast cans into my bag, if it would be cool to bring a fifty along so that I could put gas in her vehicle for a ride home on Sunday. She had assured me that plans were mutual and settled. But she changed her mind and decided to use me as a burdoen and ask everyone else in her world first, if they would do her a favor. Then she put the responsibility on me, lecturing me for having no friends besides her and Gay Dan. We have had a running joke ever since someone anonymous commented in LJ that “apparently a lot of your friends are homosexual”, that “all of my friends are gay. And blonde. And named Dan.” Well, Dan wasn’t answering his voice mail and one of Mandi’s last attempts was at the recruiting office across the street from Solid Rock.

The Army guy has a flag up on his wall with a bulldog. It must mean something. I asked the guy, but he shrugged. I guess he doesn’t think to find out about those kinds of things. You know. About the things representing what he stands for.

He was bitching about how the keychains he hands out say “Made In China” on them (“Can you believe that shit? What the hell kinda message are we giving these kids who come in here?”) and then later on admitted to driving a Honda . I wanted to say something, but didn’t. Because Mandi was trying to use these people.

Some army guy was in there, trying to get info on where he was supposed to be, or what kind of help could be offered to him – I didn’t pick enough up to understand the situation. But the officer said, “Sorry, can’t help ya. I don’t know ya. -pause- I don’t know ya! You’re in the army. –shrug- So what?”

I realized just then, that they didn’t give a fuck about Mandi, much less about helping Mandi’s friend. After his comments about wanting to “blow up General Motors” before he went back to Germany and telling some young man that he probably recruited, to get the fuck out of his air-conditioned office, I lost my containment.

“Wow. That must be why they call it An Army Of One, huh? Fuck this shit.” I proceeded to the first adult I saw. And I asked them to tell me where the bus station was. No more Mandi. No more of her “help”. She’d spent so long dicking around that her parents read the miledge on the van and realized she’d taken a forbidden trip to Michigan, and confiscated the keys to the Ghetto Beauty long before this urge to do something for myself…but give me a break for my delayed realization. I was pretty hung over.

Let me say one more thing about the Purnell husband and wife. It’s pretty bad, when people like them move into the shadows and even darkness wants them out after a couple of months. It takes some royal fuckups, to give the edge of Defiance a bad name. The Purnells are going to be in trouble when the last hiding place denies them access. I gave their dog a bath, paid to let their kids go swimming, jumped off the high dive because their older sister became a fat pansy, and kept my mouth shut after countless remarks such as the Slim Fast one, so they could kick me out?!?!

They had one of those study guide Bibles, and I’d read 8/9ths of Jonah before falling asleep on the couch the previous night. (I just kind of eased into it like a cold lake, knowing that I’d seen the dog jump up on everything and lose bladder control across couches and chairs alike, but was just getting too tired to care.) God was obviously forgiving Jonah in this story, and I wanted to think about that whole thing about the…him being upset about the perishing tree or whatever. And I wanted to know if Jonah sat there pissed off until he dehydrated to death, or like…got up and walked away like in the Veggie Tale movie. Hadn’t gotten to the end, though.

“I was going to borrow your teen Bible, but I think you guys need it a lot more than I do.” The dog tried to jump up on my way out. “And this bitch needs some discipline,” I snapped, grabbed her by the skin of her neck and hurled her back into the living room before slamming the door behind me.

I guess our mothers conversed over the phone, too, as I understand it. Debbie didn’t believe me when I’d said that my alcoholic father couldn’t come get me, or that my mother can’t drive to Flint without breaking down from anxiety. She called Cheryl up and said I had been inconsiderate to Mandi, whenever I got on their computer or “promised the kids she’d be home soon and broke her promises”. I couldn’t be Big Sister and Best Friend, equally, and they had tried to grab my arms and split me into two the entire weekend.

It was poor judgement, for me to abandon Mandi’s siblings like that. To just walk out on Erica and Alex’s last day of summer, on those terms. We’d just been to the pet store, holding baby bunnies.

I… think I’ve lost them. For good.

The bus station was a Laundromat with a counter. The luggage tags, ticket, you name it – was very primitive. I had to ask, “So. The bus just. Pulls up here ?” Right into the parking lot next to something called the Butthutt? Dried up spider plants decorated the tops of the washers and a mentally challenged person wiped the windows down. The crippled woman who got me all set, used her walker to cross the room and make change from my fifty. I felt bad for making her have to move.

I had a brief image of that man being Christopher, and that woman being me. The man’s head grazed the bottom of a fly strip as he went along. Tearing up, I immediately pushed my imagination back and concentrated on the small oscillating fan blowing hot air onto my hot body.

Half an hour late. Maybe this greyhound is in the old bat’s head? I walked outside and conversed with a man who had gotten off the phone from something that went like:

“I went in there and I told em no to everything they asked. I said, ‘Man I don’t even drink!’ –laughter- Like they were gonna believe that, with all my tattoos, right? Naw man I think the most you’ll have to do is those two days of service and maybe watch a video.”

We talked about the heat, Kid Rock, which led into Southern Boys, which wound up with my destination to D-town, back around to music to cars and back to the heat. He has long, black hair and does his laundry there. A dragon embroidered into his car seats. The bus pulled up and I started to head for it, when he called back and asked for my name.

“Autumn May!”

“Autumn May! Well Autumn May? I’m Robert – my friends call me Moondog!” he yelled, as I nodded and stepped into a small world of cool air and tinted windows.

Did you know that busses go like…all kindsa places?

There were ones that said Orlando! New York! Signs above the gates that said Chicago! And they go through town with huge buildings! I saw the MGM Casino…The White Stripes’ Hotel Yorba… 8 Mile…a group kick-boxing lesson in an upstairs gym… a black kid hopped on in Toledo, rapping loudly to his 50 cent disc like it was the gospel word. I got off and transferred in Detroit.

During my three hour wait, I was sitting across from a 22 year old mother of two. Her oldest could walk fairly well, but kind of wobbled. She had dark hair and brown eyes, and some gaudy outfit on. I’d just bought two pop tarts when she came over to me.

I broke off a little piece and asked her. She said, “No” and proceeded to reach out and TAKE my other pop tart sitting next to me. And she drooled all over most of it. And she had the wrapper it was still in…walked over and threw that away, saying, “Garbage.”

Her mother was thankful, because apparently Adrienne hadn’t been eating all day. I know I should have reached out and corrected her, but I suddenly…lost my appetite, looking at how hard her mom was struggling. And bitching and screaming. And talking about nonsense to everyone around her like some chatterbox. Adrienne pointed to my Cherry Pepsi and said, “Your Coke.” She went over to her bag and brought back her own. “My Coke.” She sat up next to me after a great climbing struggle (and this was all after a huge crying fit I’d heard from across the room at the vending machines) and we dined on poptart and Coke while everyone watched us, musing.

Then I handed her my pen and got her a paper and she scratched up Angelina Jolie’s face on the cover. I laughed. She looked at what she had done to her and laughed pretty hard, too. She’d gone for the lips, first.

An hour went by. Adrienne hung out with her mom for a while until they started fucking up and bitching and crying again. “It’s past her naptime” and other excuses for this loud interruption. I threw my headphones on her and she said, “Music!” and took them off, holding them out to everyone and yelling, “Music!” before putting them back on and looking so…stunned.

Another hour went by until I’d put my book completely away and realized that I couldn’t relax being so tense, anyway. So I played with her a little, finding things for her to do. “This one?” she’d ask, pointing to a face. I’d nod and she inked them out. She’d get so excited laughing at their inked faces that she’d throw the paper around and rip it. “Garbage,” I said. And she’d throw that part away.

Then she was gone for a while, and I was minding my own business. Shortly, she came back but realized that someone had taken the seat next to me. So she crawled up on my lap with her bottle and just sat there.

I felt weird.

“Is she annoying you?”

I bounced my knees a little, an old college text back in my hand. “Uh?.. not really. I’m alright.” I was reading about women’s desire for soap operas – how they never seem to end and go on and on, and how it’s all because women, unlike men, need that sense of ongoing familiar chaos and “ongoing visions of eternity”, whatever that meant.

She fell asleep.

She woke up a half hour later, when her mom said it was time to go back to Chicago. She told her mom no – that she was going to stay with me.

I put her down and got up and walked away. Circled the station. Played pinball. Came back. Sat down…

Here she came, crawling under the seats. I could just hear her mother screaming her name, like she had been doing every ten minutes before settling down next to me. Great. She was making me look like a kidnapper. What the hell do I do now? I thought they’d be long gone.

She stood up on her toes and kept…leaning left to right. I bent down and we..I tried to ask her what was up. Dodging her, I moved, too, and she got really frustrated and reached out and GRABBED my face like a disappointed teacher and pointed to my cheek. “Right There.” She had her lips puckered.

“Oh.” God, I was stupid.

And she kissed me goodbye.