Unaffected | Jen Harris


It started on the bus home, the sickness. No, it wasn't nausea. I wasn't bus-sick from the bumpiness or the four cups of coffee brewing in my stomach. It was the blind woman's dog. A fuckin'seeing-eye-dog made me sick. Sitting diagonal from this dog, a Golden Retriever type, or a, I don't fuckin' know, I know jack-shit about dogs, I began to feel sadness emanate from his body.

 

I looked at the dog, soaked in sidewalk muck from today's rain, breathing heavily as he watched through the window the passing bus stops. He had on some harness-type get-up, and a tight leash attaching him to the blind woman's hand, and I felt ugh, I just felt so sad for him. It was like he was depressed -- like he knew he was doing a good deed guiding this woman around town, but he was miserable. He was torn between goodness and happiness. And then it happened. As I stared at this dog, analyzing his thoughts, wondering if he wanted a different life, as if dogs think about life the way I do, he flinched. He didn't flinch at me, he just pounced a bit. And it was her fault. Not the blind woman. The chick next to the blind woman. The chick directly across from me. The fake tanned, bleach blonde, freckled chick with headphones on. She fuckin' stepped on the dog's tail. Oblivious to her faux pas, she stared at some spot above my shoulder, avoiding eye contact at all times. Not only avoiding eye contact with me, but blinding herself to everyone and everything around her.

 

I began to hate this girl. And not for the reasons you'd think. Some would say I hated her before she even stepped on the dog's tail, for she stands for everything I hate: fakeness, materialism, plasticity, all those San Diego-esque qualities. But I swear, it wasn't those things. I began to hate this girl (ugh, I know this is a strong word to use so maybe I should change it) I found myself disgusted by this girl because as I surveyed the bus -- from the sad dog, to the blind woman, to the woman next to me with the baby who needed his diaper changed, to the stoned Mexican who looked like Billy Crudup, weird I know, to the black woman with the pink-gendered toddler with long eyelashes, to the eight-year-old or six- or seven-year-old girl next to me with a mother who must have been her grandmother, to the woman who looked like a professor I had at U of C, to the black man sleeping, to the buzz-cut bus driver who I swear was an Ultimate Fighter on the weekends or least he definitely ordered Ultimate Fighting on Pay-Per-View -- I realized she was utterly unaffected by, or disaffected to, all that surrounded her. And I became pissed off.

 

I looked at her as she sat there probably listening to 103.5 pop tunes that, sure, I listen to at times, or fricken' Dave Matthews band, losing herself in the lyrics, or dazing off into John Mayer's Wonderland wondering if her Abercrombie and Fitch stylized boyfriend actually cheated on her when he went to Vegas with his boys, or I don't fuckin' know. All I know is she gave two shits about the world around her. The bus world. Whereas, I felt a fuckin' blanket of pain over me. Blindness. Discontent. Innocence. Numbness. Fear. All of these things were stabbing me. And I was jealous. I was jealous that she could not feel those jabs. That she could just sit there chomping her gum to Justin Timberlake beat-boxing, fantasizing about her next sorority formal. So, I tried to catch her stare. I tried to send my thoughts to her, through her headphones or something. Like fuckin' mental telepathy exists. I tried to awaken her from her trance -- to make her see in my eyes, what I was feeling.

 

But she was too skilled. Too disconnected. She knew exactly how to cut herself off from the world -- from the bus -- from reality. And for that, again, I hated her. Or envied her. It's all the same anyway. Hate, Envy. It's like when my friends say I would "totally hate" some girl. What they fail to recognize is I don't really hate her. I envy her. She has what I don't. She is what I could never be.

 

The bus stopped in front of the Newbalance store, right past Fullerton, in the heart of Lincoln Park. I watched her squeeze through the bus crowd, stepping over the sad dog, past the blind woman and the baby who smelled like shit, departing without even thanking the bitter bus driver. I glanced out the window to see, well, I don't know what I was looking for, maybe to see if she'd do something else that annoyed me, and she disappeared.

 

I turned back around only to feel the brush of the baby's hand on my shoulder, and I looked to the right, right into his big eyes. His big eyes connecting with mine. And he smiled at me. I blinked and turned back to face the bus, to face the blind woman, to face her dog wagging his tail. And I realized that dog had been wagging his tail all along.

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