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Catching a Bus

By the time the last plant closed, there was hardly anyone left in town to bitch about it.

Don Zuzula

I got married straight out of high school. She wasn't what you'd call a high school sweetheart, we knew each other then, but we didn't date. I didn't date much in high school at all. I didn't have a broad social circle, just a few people I casually hung out with during school hours, almost never after. I was a kid of few interests which meant that I didn't really find connections with many people. I didn't play sports, or have any hobbies, I wasn't a book worm, I wasn't attached to a musical genre, I mostly liked being alone. By the time I hit my adolescent years I spent a lot more time alone in my room, reading comic books, jacking off, smoking weed and listening to old prog rock records that I had found in a box in our basement. My parents were never home and I had a much older brother who'd long ago moved out and had a family of his own. I picked up all of my interests from him and the stuff he left behind.

I was a latch key kid. Both parents worked and left me to my own devices. We'd all meet up for dinner and they'd both fein interest in me, then the family would retreat to the living room where mom would read and Dad would fall asleep, pants-less in his easy chair with a half drank beer and snooze until proper bed time. I barely had a family life. It's not that there wasn't any love, it's just that in a house where two parents whose incomes are needed to get by, so much gets pushed to the back burner. There wasn't much left over for any real family interaction at the end of the day.

Sheena may have been the love of my life as far as I can tell. There hasn't really been another, and never will be if not by desire then by design. I'm certainly in no shape to love or be loved again. Regardless, I got little to no attention from other girls, or none that I ever recognized anyway. As interested as I was, I never really had any game, a lot of that comes from not having a proper male role model when I was a teen. Sheena liked me, she came on strong, like really strong. Followed me around. She liked quiet bookish types and I guess fooled her into thinking that I was that type. I was enough of a geek to spark her interest and something about me intrigued her enough to keep her stuck on me. She forced herself on me and sucked my cock in a public bathroom around the back of a gas station and I was hooked for life.

Like I said before, I didn't have a ton of friends. Pretty much from the time we started dating, all of my friends were her friends, that was a group that I assimilated into in the short time between high school ending and them running off to college. We were those people who didn't proceed into real adult life, not in the way that modern society says it should be done anyway, higher education and all that. A pathway to a brighter future, if there is such a thing. We chose a slightly antiquated romantic lifestyle and got left behind by a lot of people as a result. I think one of the reasons for that is Sheena didn't have a home life either. Her parents were divorced and she lived with her mom. There was an endless parade of casual men who never quite stuck around to give her a stable male role model. Her dad lived three states away and had a decent job and his own family, wife, kids, dog... The whole shebang. He loved her, called her, always paid his child support, took her in for a few weeks every summer and in vacations, but wasn't really there for her. She was as ignored as I was. We were always finding time to be alone. It was fantastic at the time, looking back on it now, it was fucking sad.

She was the type of girl who needed attention. I was the type of goober who put her on a pedestal. I didn't mind. I needed someone to be with in my lonely life. She was the only person who I ever felt had truly given me love. Without a doubt, we did love each other. I'll never say that we didn't have that and I'll always be grateful for it. It's a warm memory, and bittersweet.

It's been shit without her…

I knocked her up at the end of the summer the year after we graduated. We were going to get married anyway, that much was obvious. We were just fucked up enough that we wouldn't work with anyone else. I wouldn't have wanted to be with anyone else. I still don't. I never will. I got work, we wed in a courthouse by a justice of the peace with her mom and one of her many “friends” there as witnesses. We bought a cheap city home, not necessarily in the neighborhoods you don't want to be in, but just within pissing distance from them. Shawn was born when I was a cunt-hair over twenty, she was still nineteen. We were a much better family than either of us ever had. Things were easy on her. I did my share with the kid, bills were paid, we had all of our necessities covered and a little left over for fun. Never put anything meaningful away, but didn't see a need at the time. There was no indication that things would ever change. Looking back on it, as I often do... who the fuck am I kidding, I dwell on it, but anyway, shit was great. She was great. Life was pretty good.

That's what made it the most devastating when I was laid off. We never knew bad times before that. We weren't equipped to handle them. When shit went bad, we both turned into our parents. It's funny how that works, you go right to what you know when things get stressful. It really hurt the first time she called me a loser. I always tried my best to give her everything. I already felt like a loser. When she said it she was trying to be hurtful in a fight, but it was an underlying feeling that I had in my mind. That's the first time I owned it though, and after that I never came back from it. It's been a spiral ever since. It became a self fulfilling prophecy. I just needed that little push over the edge and I was in a free fall. This is where are now.

I'm twenty eight now. I haven't felt the warmth of so much as a hug in so long that I can't remember what a human feels like. It hardens you. You get cold at night thinking about how badly you just want to hold someone's hand, a kiss, a pat on the fucking shoulder. I'd like to just burry my face in someone's neck and hold them close to me, smell their hair, not their perfume or anything, just a person's everyday smell. It sounds creepy I know, but I long for that closeness. Once you haven't felt that in so long, you can't come back to it. You can't even begin to understand how there's no replacement for another human's touch. Only thing that has even come close is liquor. It numbs you until you don't have feelings. You drink it at a bar just to hear another humans voice, just to stop being alone for a while. If you didn't have those moments, you might as well be drifting alone in fucking outer space.

I couldn't get work. I wasn't qualified for much, and I didn't have money to relocate. It's pretty fucked up how that works. The factories all close in your town, there are job openings across the state where industry is booming, you're so poor that you can't afford to pick up and go to where the jobs are. So you're stuck here, doomed to remain destitute until they take everything away. You can go to where the jobs are, but no one will hire you when you're homeless. You need a permanent address and phone to get a job. The system fucks poor people with a big red-hot iron dick. You get stuck into the cycle of poverty.

It's funny because I'd seen the whole situation unfold before, when I was a kid. Growing up in the heart of the rust belt, where I watched a great industrialized powerhouse of a city wither away into a ghost town, ridden with crime and abandoned factories occupied by the disenfranchised rejects of the American dream. I've had a front row seat to the shrinking of the middle class, when I was being raised by a family who owed our prosperity to the auto workers union through my father, grandfather, and all of their friends long term employment in the hey day of the most bloated and greedy portion of the line workers days of having an upper hand over the company bosses. I also got to watch as the auto industry began to struggle under the weight of it's own poor business practice and the promise of free trade to bring about better days for the board members and stock holders. Plants began to close, people began to worry, the security and prosperity that a job in the shops had offered non high school graduates with large families, a boat, a cottage and a mortgage began to wane. Jobs were lost as the steady work week turned into early retirement buy outs for a fraction of their promised amount. As the unions failed them, these people began turning away from the practices of support, they began unwittingly voting for leaders against their own interests because they were being wooed by the prospect that their troubles were caused by their previously bad leadership, and not by their stolen overtime, long paid vacations, missed quotas and yearly strikes to get undeserved raises and superfluous benefits.

By the time the last plant closed, there was hardly anyone left in town to bitch about it. I had always expected to finish out high school and then do my 20 years in an auto plant placing car doors onto a rack, or maybe bolting in a seatbelt for $38 an hour plus benefits. It didn’t matter because that time in American history is gone. We don’t make anything anymore, except for the robots that make things. Since then, companies seem to periodically purge people en masse just to keep from getting too bloated. I watched it as a child, then lived it as a young man.

After my own job was gone, I started drinking because I couldn't take the stress and as an escape from the reality of my personal failures to secure a decent means for the ones I loved. It caused more strain on our relationship than the unemployment. Eventually she left with Shawn because she couldn't watch me flush myself down the toilet. Or more likely she just didn't want to go down the toilet with me. I suppose I could have been more brave, tried to be a rock and held the family together by force. I know that it was important to me, if I wasn’t it wouldn’t have hurt so damn much.

I'm weak.

Instead of finding the courage to make things work I crawled further inside of the bottle and tried to drown the hurt. The shitty thing about doing that is the more you drink, the more you try to hide it, and the more it pains you. You drink, and drink, and drink, then you become so fucked up that you lose your inhibitions and it all comes pouring out like a waterfall of anger and shame. You find yourself one night writhing on the floor in a puddle of your own vomit and self loathing, screaming obscenities and cursing everything that's brought you to this point in your life, you're a bitter sonofabitch who doesn't even want to feel better, and it's not that you don't have it, it's that you don't even want control of your life anymore. Then you wake up one day and you’re all by yourself and no one even left a note to tell you why you're alone. It’s because you should already know why. They told you to your face when you were too angry and stupid to listen. You know exactly why you feel this way and why everything happened. You have no problem taking the blame. You had a front row seat to the entire thing. Now that you're here though you really just want someone to say it to your face because you've beaten yourself up enough to be willing to listen, but there's no one left to say anything to you at all. Not you fucked up. Not I love you. Not goodbye. They already said it and you weren't listening. I drink because I'm alone. I'm alone because I drink. There's an irony.

Don Zuzula is a combat veteran, graphic artist and songwriter/guitarist for Michigan's own Folk Punk group The Tosspints. Catching a Bus is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of his upcoming novel 99 Ways to Die.

Copyright © Don Zuzula. All rights reserved.