As we long haul it across the country, I’m reminded of a man I met on a bus maybe 3 years ago. We met in Atlanta.
He was an educated man. In his late 50s. He was interested in poetry and philosophy. I can’t remember if he was a lawyer, a real estate agent, or a psychologist. Regardless, we talked about everything from consciousness to entropy. The way the world is simultaneously falling apart and evolving. He told me about his passion for collecting tribal art and his interest in drum circles and spirit animals. He was a bear. He looked like one. He told me about his grandmother and the Native American blood running through his veins.
After chatting for a short time, he came around to telling me he had just gotten out of jail. He kind of slipped it in there. I guess he wasn’t sure how I would take it. On the one hand, I wasn’t surprised. It’s a strange thing that happens to me. I don’t know why, but it’s not the first, second, or third person I met on a bus or a train who had just been released from jail. Often times, the characters are rough, rambling, and unapologetic. One guy I talked with told me he was more or less a lifer. I asked him what he meant by that, and he said, pointing at his watch, earrings, and tattoos, “I like expensive things. I like to dress good and eat good. I love to party. I make easy money, and sooner or later, I get picked up, spend 3-5 in the pen, get out and live it up until I’m back in again.” He had a gleam in his eye, a kind of cackling madness. He lived side-by-side with danger and didn’t give a shit about death. It made me smile.
But the man I was riding with from Atlanta, he was different. He wasn’t a jailbird. He was completely broken. His skin was flaky and dry. His arms were full of sores. His eyes, heavy with bags. He described the terrible conditions he experienced- the hard plank of a bed, sleepless nights, the meager portions of fake, processed meals, the lack of sunlight & cramped space, “And to think, I was only there for two weeks! I’m just grateful to be out. The one guard felt bad for me and started slipping me some of his food.”
He split with his wife about a year prior. She was full of spite and bent on making his life a living hell. She took all his money, all his possessions, and remarried very soon after their official divorce. As a kicker, and because she had high-power friends, he was thrown behind bars. After all that, he was left with a duffle bag that he clutched close to his body, as if it was the only thing protecting him and his heart from final ruin.
I wanted to lean over and give him a hug, but didn’t. I imagined how awkward it would be reaching over to him in our cramped little seats on the bus. Instead, we continued to talk. He was still wearing the spare clothes he was given in jail: a raggedy white t-shirt and grey sweatpants. His eyes were bloodshot. They looked perpetually on the verge of tears.
He told me his plans. He was going to stay with his daughter in Texas. “She and her husband need help fixing things around the house. Fences, doors, a shed out back. And now I can spend time with my granddaughter. I have the chance to watch her grow, to tell her stories, and even teach her grandfatherly things…” He paused, and looked off for a moment, “You know, it’s odd. I feel light. Like there’s a new beginning. I have nothing really except my family.”
I didn’t know what to say right away, so I just looked at him. I could see weight slowly lift from his weary body. He came out of his self-reflection and asked me about my life. I told him I was a writer. I shared some of my work with him, and read for a while before returning to conversation.
“How old are you?” he asked. “25.” “So young. A rambling poet just wandering the country. Talking to people along the way and writing stories. Folks like you still exist, huh… Where are you going?” “To Dallas for a full moon celebration.” “Go on…” I related more of my story, how I traveled from South America to Philly to Central America to Oakland to Colorado, Chicago…
“I don’t how it happened. I just tapped into something. Got lucky. Struck gold. Met great people. And kept on creating. I feel like it’s happening to a lot of us. I mean, everyone’s experiencing it differently, you know, the zeitgeist. The apocalypse. This grand transformation of life is occurring, whether we’re forced into it by outside circumstances or maybe we accept it willingly and engage it.”
He looked at me with one of those questioning looks people give me when I slip into ideas like that. Then a kind of half smile breached his lips. “Yeah, I get it. Consciousness is evolving whether we like it or not.”