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April 24, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
I sat in the fourth row from the back, on the right side of the Megabus. I always sit on the right side of buses. I had every intention of sitting in the back row, so I could drift in and out of sleep as I listened to the playlist I made for this ride, which included Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.”
But I couldn’t sit in the right corner, back row seat because an elderly man with a newsboy cap was already there. A mother with a newborn filled the next seat. And the seat after that wasn’t occupied, but the man on the opposite side reeked of bologna and French fries.
So I sat in the fourth seat from the back, put in my headphones and tried my best to rest my head against the window in a way that the sill would not dig into my shoulder.
A man, who looked to be about 18, sat down next to me. I didn’t care as long as he didn’t interrupt “Tiny Dancer.” He did. The bus had barely made it to the interstate before the man tapped on my shoulder.
“Hi, my name is Matt,” he says. “I’m a baseball player at CMU. What do you do?”
As I told him my major, I could tell he was one of those people who only stayed silent long enough to wait for his next turn to talk. So I stopped talking and turned back to Elton.
“How do you know if it’s time to break up with someone?” he interrupts. “My girlfriend is mean. Really mean. I just think it’s time, ya know?” He wore his baseball cap backwards.
I nodded because I knew he didn’t really want my opinion. He wanted a listener.
The proceeding two-hour bus ride to St. Louis didn’t include John or Dylan. Instead, I listened to the trials and tribulations of young love. You see, he told me, she didn’t understand his need to play Call of Duty with a Coors Light in three-hour increments. Nor did he see her need to take 1,000 profile pictures with Lauren for her Facebook to get the “right one.”
He impersonated her nasally laugh and her shrill, “I’m fine!” when he knew that she wasn’t. It wasn’t until the Wentzville exit that he sent a text to end it all. I helped him craft his cold breakup. A sickening feeling in my gut told me I would like her much more than him. I felt a wave of empathy for this stranger, and this compelled me to make sure his impersonal message was as delicately woven as possible.
He thanked me as we packed up our things to get off the bus and then added one cheery salutation of closure.
“On the bright side,” he boasts, “I can hook up with my high school girlfriend this weekend!”
I felt car sick as I stepped onto the pavement of Union Station.