I’ve had our LYNX tickets for months. An hour after tucking the tickets into my wallet, I knew where my son, Adam, and I would go for our bus ride. Immediate plan: We’d get on the bus at the stop nearest my house (he’d have to drive the 1.5 miles to my house, then we’d drive or walk to the nearest bus stop—three miles away), and we’d ride the bus to the apartment complex where we lived when Adam was twelve and thirteen and I was thirty three and thirty four. That’s twenty years ago. Twenty! I chose this destination because I knew it would make for a safe trip along a somewhat familiar route, wouldn’t be too long (at least, the riding the bus part wouldn’t be too long), and would provide us both with ample emotionally charged material to create some sort of artistic collaboration.
And yet, somehow I couldn’t find the time to make the ride. After the first month passed, I offered to give the tickets back. I wasn’t sure why I felt paralyzed about the trip. Perhaps I thought my essay (artistic rendition) about the trip wouldn’t have any significance to anyone except me (does art exist for anyone except the artist?), or perhaps I thought it seemed too inconvenient to walk three miles from my house to the nearest bus stop, wait for the bus, get on the bus, stop at all the little stops along the route, get off at the nearest stop to the old complex, walk to the complex, spend time there, make our way back to the bus stop, get back on the bus, ride back, and walk back to my house. Then there was the timing things just right so that we didn’t get there too early or too late. Adam would become agitated and I would get bored if we didn’t time the arrival at the bus stop just right.
All this in-my-head planning drove me nuts the entire first month and a half—the tickets still cozied in my wallet. Every few days I’d get online, check the LYNX website to look at the route and time schedule. It’s not that I thought the bus stops or times would change, but having lived in the suburbs northeast of Orlando (and therefore requiring a car of my own), I don’t trust the bus schedule, primarily because the traffic is unpredictable.
By the time I had the tickets for two months, I wondered more about my reluctance. I’d chosen our destination because it would be, for me, a trip back in time. A trip to an apartment where my son, Adam, and I lived during his middle school years. A trip to a time when Adam was living through some of the most challenging times of his life. A trip to a time when I was finishing my first masters degree at the university. A single parent working part time, going to school full time, raising a twelve year old who didn’t seem to fit in at school or anywhere. Perhaps I’d been procrastinating because a trip back to that time would be too emotionally difficult.
As month two rolled by, I’d ironed out the kinks in my mind of the inconvenience, and I prepared myself for the possible emotional roller coaster. Still, I procrastinated. To kick-start myself, and my fear of what I might find “back there,” I staked out a bus stop just across the street from one of my favorite locally owned restaurants. I suggested to Adam that we drive to Senor Tequilla on Highway 434, have lunch, walk across the busy highway, hop on the bus, and go from there out to Altamonte Springs where we lived twenty years ago.
It is March 6, 2014, not quite three months after I got the tickets on December 15, 2013. Driving to and having lunch at Senor Tequila is always easy and good. Getting across the highway: not so good. So much traffic. We finished lunch at 1:30, giving us plenty of time to get to the stop directly across the highway. According to the schedule, the bus would come by between 1:40 and 1:51 PM, and we’d get to the apartment complex sometime between 2:10 and 2:20. Not a long ride.
Only a couple of people are already on the bus this afternoon, and they appear to be in their twenties. Ear buds in. Backpacks. Certainly, I figure, they’re coming from the university to wherever home is for them. We pass several stops, but only at the large intersection of 17-92 and Highway 436 does the driver stop to board any new passengers: a woman in a pink fleece jacket with a baby in a stroller, a toddler climbing in ahead of her, and two men who look to be about the same age as the woman in the pink fleece.
For the most part, the route looks familiar to me—same buildings I’m used to seeing, same Florida highway mishmash of signs, banners, advertisements, road construction, and traffic.
I live, now, in Winter Springs, and the apartments are in Altamonte Springs, and suddenly the ride seems much shorter than I imagined. But the day is rainy, and neither hot nor cold. A typical “spring” day in Florida. Mid-60s to low-70s, and wet.
Only after the bus passes under I-4 does the scenery change from what I remember twenty years ago: a few store changes, wider lanes (from previous construction). We pass the street that leads to Teague Middle School, where Adam attended middle school. Those years when he was placed in gifted and special needs classes at the same time. Those years when no one understood how brilliance and the inability to navigate the world could co-exist. Those years, when I tried to get him help, when I tried to keep the bullies away, those years when I did not know how to help him.
We’d figured out which bus stop we need to get off before we got on. Sure enough is is only a short walk to the apartment complex, but it seems long because of the weather (rain and wind—too cold for me). The complex has changed names from Chatham Harbor (when we lived there) to Boca Vista. We try to figure out which apartment was ours, but I can’t remember if it was #104 or #106—they all look the same. More important to both of us is going behind the building to see the pond where we spent most of our time when we lived there.
The pond seems smaller to both of us. I’d assumed that since I was an adult back then (actually Adam is now the age I was when we lived here), the pond would be the same as it has been in my memory for all of these years. It is larger than most of the sinkhole/drainage-ditches/ponds around complexes in Florida. But still, the smallness of the pond surprises me. We stand on the bank of the pond. Ibis, wood ducks, anhinga. And finally, my favorite—a red-winged blackbird. I’ve missed those birds.
At this moment—seeing the red-winged blackbird—it occurs to me that, of all the places where Adam and I lived, this was my favorite. The song of the red-winged blackbird is phonetically spelled Oh-ka-lee, which I like to translate into different phrases. Today it seems appropriate that the bird is saying, “Oh, don’t leave.”
We take pictures of the birds, the pond. Neither of us gives a hoot about the apartment. Just the pond, the grasses in the pond, the birds. I am reluctant to leave this place, to turn around and go back into my current life, my life twenty years in the future. My hesitation surprises me, since it was reluctance that kept me from making this trip in the first place. But we must go so that we don’t miss the bus, to take us back into the present.
On our walk out of the complex as we head to the bus stop, I wipe my eyes and cheeks with tissue. Adam worries that the trip has upset me, reminded me, again, of my sense of having been an inadequate mother. I could be crying, but no, it’s just my eyes watering in the cold wind. We climb back on the bus, and this time we’re the only ones. No one gets on the bus at any of the stops back to Senor Tequila where my car waits in the parking lot. Each bus stop sign we pass, there is emptiness. Maybe this is because it is the middle of the week, or maybe in this part of Orlando, no one wants to be inconvenienced by taking the bus or the extra time it takes to get to a stop or the uncertainty of the schedule. Each bus stop we pass reminds me of the past we’re leaving behind, the present into which we are moving.