The Stories People Tell

The Stories People Tell July 12, 2016

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My little town in the Ohio Valley is just big enough to have its own bus service– eight to six, two bus routes, seven actual buses, a transfer across the river to West Virginia twice a day, an abbreviated schedule for Saturdays. It’s not a big city bus, just a fleet of strange vehicles bigger than a Handicap-access van but smaller than a truck. Fifty cents gets you from downtown to the mall, fifty cents gets you back. If you know the driver, you can pay him a dollar when you board and ride back without fare; if you don’t know the driver, you’d better have exact change.

I don’t know what it’s like to take a bus every day in a big city, where people don’t make eye contact or talk to one another. I can tell you that, when you take the bus in a depressed old steel mill town in Northern Appalachia, people do talk. They talk at the bus stop and they talk on the bus. They talk to whoever will listen, in their harsh expletive-laced Steel Valley bray. They talk without shame, because anyone down and out enough to need the bus had better not be snobby to anybody else; we’re all failures, or we’d be driving our own cars. They tell you their stories, and they listen when you tell yours. You don’t know their names, but you get to know their faces and their secrets. You know the stories they tell.

…They took everything I had. They took the furniture, they took two new mattresses, still had the plastic on. They took the meat out of my freezer. They took copper wiring, they took tiles, they took the toilet paper off the roll in the bathroom. I took out a loan when I moved; I’m still making payments on that furniture. I know it was them, because they’re the only ones with the spare key. But the cops say it’s my word against theirs. I wish I could move away from here. I want to live in the country…

…My wife… she left me, she left me one day. She took the baby, she stole my car. All the laundry, all my clothes were in the back of the car, I was gonna take ’em to the laundromat. I didn’t have nothin’ to wear to work, not nothin’ but gym clothes and two pair of socks. I called work, I said I can’t come into work, I said my wife stole my clothes. The judge, he made my wife share custody of the baby. He made her give back the car. When I got it back, my clothes were all still there. But they were clean. I didn’t have to go to the laundromat… 

…I got hit by a bus. I lay in bed so long my ass is up where my back oughta be. I’m on disability. You know how to get commodities? I’ll tell ya how to get commodities. Go to Urban Mission on the this day, they give you toilet paper, washing soap… ink pens. Need an ink pen? I got dozens of those.

…Annie’s a nice lady, you know, the nicest lady you could ever meet. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for you. But… you know, she’s got twenty-five indoor cats. Every time you see her, her car is full of bags of cat food. And the other day she went downtown to get a permit to build a roof on her back yard, over her fence, so her other twenty cats, the outdoor cats, can’t run away.  But the City wouldn’t let her and she was mad…

…I got beat up. My friend– I thought she was my friend. My roommate. She and her partner, they was holding me hostage. They wouldn’t let me leave. They was beating me up every day. They said they’d kill me if I tried to leave. Finally my friend came when they was out for the day, I grabbed my dog, I grabbed my purse, we left together.  I was in the hospital for a week. The police say I can’t get my stuff back until after the trial…


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