After my long chemistry lecture and lab, I decided to make my Tuesday even longer by going grocery shopping. I think I figured I would just get the bulk of my work done in one day so I could stay in my dorm room and watch Netflix the rest of the week.
I stepped onto the bus bound for Meijer, quickly swiped my card and rushed to grab a seat in an empty row. I dropped my backpack in the seat by the window and sat in the other one. After only a few seconds, the bus doors wheezed shut and we were off. I dug through the front pocket of my backpack and pulled out a few extraneous mechanical pencils before finding my iPod, then stuck the earbuds into my ears and put the songs on shuffle. The opening riff from “Thunderstruck” began, and I leaned back and closed my eyes.
Even with the lyrics blasting into my ears, I still saw equations for chemical reactions scroll on the back of my eyelids. The worst part is that they weren’t even in my handwriting; they were notes that my chem buddy wrote in my notebook. He kept getting frustrated that I was taking too long to write something down and stopping mid-equation to stare out the window. I’d been out late Monday night getting my Halloween costume, so I had a great excuse to be a bit spacey.
The eradication of chemistry from my brain was almost complete by the middle of “Immortals”. I tapped my knee on every other beat and let my head roll back and forth. I swayed forward as the bus came to a stop, but kept my eyes closed and pressed the earbuds further in. When I felt a tap on my shoulder I first pretended like I hadn’t noticed, but after the second one I stuck a smile on my face and looked up. “Uh huh?”
“Would you mind if I sat next to you?” is what I’m pretty sure she said. Fall Out Boy made her words kind of garbled, but the woman had her hand on the back of my seat in an obvious gesture. I leaned back and stared at the three empty seats just across the aisle, then narrowed my eyes at her.
“Sure…” I scooched over and rolled my fat backpack onto my lap. Resting my head on top of it, I watched the lady sit down and place her leather purse on the seat. I’m guessing she was either my age or a couple of years older. She was dressed like she was going to an upscale party, or maybe she just enjoys wearing fancy dresses. I watched her pale beige high heels tapping on the floor of the bus as she crossed her legs. The maroon fabric of her dress shifted across her knees, catching flashes of daylight in its folds.
After a few seconds it became painfully apparent that she was looking at me. I lifted my head up and looked at her nose for a heartbeat before taking one earbud out. “Yeah?”
“U of M student?” she asked, smiling at my Go Blue! shirt. Her long black hair swooped down her face as she tilted her head.
I nodded. “Yup.”
“Yeah, me too.”
I put my chin back onto my backpack. The bus took a right turn. The song ended and there were a few seconds of only the rumbling of the vehicle.
“So where are you headed?”
I groaned. “Meijer.”
“I’m going to Joann Fabrics, so that’s the stop I’ll be taking!” The lady squinted at me and smirked. “Do you want me to stop talking?”
I’d planned on listening to my iPod for the full forty minutes, but after only one more song I found myself skipping all the rest because none of them felt right at the moment. Finally, I turned the iPod off and stuffed it back into my backpack. I turned to stare at the lady. She was fiddling with her phone.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
She smiled and put the phone down. “Elaine. You?”
“Margaret.” I studied her more closely. “You’re not in one of my chem classes, are you?”
“Chemistry? No.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small notebook. She held it up in front of her face, the cover of the notebook displaying the words “Diff EQ” in curly purple writing. “I’m an engineering major, so if you’re in any of those classes I might be there.”
“I haven’t taken differential equations yet,” I admitted.
Elaine set the notebook down on top of her purse and nodded at the bus driver. “What do you think he’s been talking about?” she asked. After I adjusted myself to the random change in subject, I glanced up at the driver. He was having a conversation using his radio, but from the seat in the back all I could here was a garbled mess of static.
“Sometimes they get calls about some person who doesn’t know what bus they need to take,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s one of those.”
After about ten minutes, we discovered the actual topic of conversation. My stomach lurched as the bus suddenly took a turn it wasn’t supposed to take. The road we were on now was unfamiliar to me, and as I stared out the window I suddenly got the feeling that the bus had shrunk to half its normal size. A loud buzzing started in my ears, so I couldn’t hear what the bus driver had started saying to the passengers. It felt like my chest was too thin and my heart would just pop right out of my body so I pressed the backpack closer to me, but the feeling persisted. To my horror a stream of tears decided to pour out from my eyes, so I stayed facing the window without actually registering what was going on outside.
“Are you okay, Margaret?” Elaine put a hand on my knee and I flinched.
“Yeah yeah, I’m good,” I gasped, the words coming out more strained than I’d hoped. “Just…just casually having a panic attack, no big deal.”
“Panic attack?” Out of the corner of my eye I saw her fishing for something in her purse. “Here, want some water?”
The part of me that was freaking out told me that I should just sit there and suffer, but my rational part won after a few seconds and grabbed the water bottle that Elaine was holding. I took two sips and sank low into my backpack.
A minute later and I was completely fine. “Well that was embarrassing,” I mumbled, handing back the water. “That hasn’t happened in a while.”
“No, it’s all right,” Elaine consoled me. “I know a couple of people who get panic attacks about things. Oh, I think this is our stop.”
“What? It is? I didn’t hear anything the bus driver said.”
“Oh. The section of the road that Meijer is on is blocked off because of some kind of accident. We have to get off on this road and walk. I wonder if the road’s blocked off for pedestrians as well.”
“Guess we’ll find out when we get there.” I shifted my backpack around and put the straps on as the bus came to a halt. Elaine and I thanked the bus driver and stepped out onto the sidewalk, looking around to take stock of our current location. We were on the same north-south road as Meijer, and my always reliable inner compass located the direction in which we needed to walk.
We started off in silence, which I broke after a minute by blurting out “See this is why I don’t take the buses.”
“You mean, the panic attack?” Elaine shifted her purse strap on her shoulder.
“Yeah.” I grimaced. “I hate buses and I hate unexpected changes. You combine the two and yippee, you get the exact right condition for a Margaret-style claustrophobic spectacle!”
“Are you okay now? Do you want me to carry your backpack for you?”
I laughed. “You can carry my backpack if you want, but besides the feeling like there’s a weight sitting on top of my chest I’m fine.” I stretched my shoulders and pointed to the spot right in the middle under my clavicle. “This right here. But that’ll be better in a little while anyway so it’s all cool.”
Elaine nodded. “If you don’t want to take the bus back, I’ll walk with you to campus.”
“I said it’ll be better,” I protested. “And you’re wearing high heels!”
She grinned and shook her head. “I’ve got friends who get panic attacks, remember? I’d be fine with walking. Besides, I wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time with you.”
I stuck my hands in my pockets and blushed. “Yeah, alright. You seem okay. Like, not the murderous type or anything.”
She chuckled, and I looked into her cool green eyes. I could feel the pressure lifting off of my chest already.
“Oh, one condition though,” I added.
Her eyes sparkled as she raised her eyebrows. “And what would that be?”
“You get to carry my backpack on the way back.”