Strangers On A Bus

by Dan Walsh

I met a stranger on the bus last night. We used to be best friends.

The human, as a machine, is incredibly good at avoiding pain. Pain is a precursor of death, so we have all of these systems to avoid it, and thereby avoid death. We panic, we fight or we flight, we disassociate, and we forget. It always seems impossible during the crisis, but humans have an amazing capacity to let go and move on.

When my friend and I broke up a few years ago, it felt like the hurt would never end. In some ways it was worse than a romantic breakup. There was more rejection. We only get one romantic partner, but we can have multiple friends. Dating is a struggle to find that one person who fits us, and we them. We can only have one so we must let go of others. We don’t have to let go of friends though. There’s no limit. A dating breakup sends the message, “I found someone better.” A friend breakup can only send the message, “you’re so flawed that I have to take active steps to remove you from my life.” It’s a more thorough and fundamental rejection. It cuts deep and it hurts like hell.

That pain takes a long time to go away. He saw me on the bus first. He said hi and found a seat not far from me. It would have been rude for me to leave it at that. Ignoring him would have empowered my darker emotions, so I moved to a seat near him and started small talk.

We were strangers. A casual observer would have thought maybe we were old work colleagues or had a few classes together in college. The conversations was stilted as we both struggled to find safe topics to discuss. We had a facade to keep up, after all.

It’s possible to move on. I knew the years of inky black emotional turmoil were over when he asked me, “what’s new” and I had nothing to say. Despite the thousands of newsworthy things that have changed since he and I stopped talking, nothing was worth sharing with him. I could have created a mobile chatting app and sold it to Facebook for 3 billion dollars and I wouldn’t have told him about it. I suppose I wouldn’t have been riding the bus either.