Monday, March 19, 2012

The Long Road Home

The alarm buzzed directly into my ear this morning, and I hit snooze because the warmth and comfort was too much to rush a departure. But that's exactly what I did, just 15 minutes later :) Acquiring the curse from my mother, I checked the room almost four times before actually leaving, but I ended up forgetting something anyway and having to get a new room key for my ninja straightener that blended into the bed so well.

The bus loaded up and was off by 8:30. And we drove. And drove and drove and drove. Larry clocked in close to 10 hours today with two pit stops in between. So let me break this down for you...45 college students on a bus in mountainous areas with an unknown destination which would be their last night together as a group.

As you can about imagine, it got pretty interesting.

My first bus buddy was Katie, who is amazing, but unfortunately slept the whole time we were together except right at the beginning. Don't worry, I completely understand! I took this time to write some emails, get things straightened out for a few classes, take some pictures with the passed-out Katie (gotcha!), and start on my Yeah Buddies. These are little letters or notes that the person will read after the trip is over as a last little confession, goodbye, see you later, or really just anything you want to express. Because it's never really goodbye, its always see you later with the new family ties. I wrote about eight of these before my attention span began to drift, as usual, which turned out okay since we were stopping for lunch soon. We pulled over next to a shady Bojangle's somewhere in Tennessee, and I had a fish sandwich at Arby's while talking to Alyssa and others about the probably funniest inside joke that came up on the trip (still makes me die laughing!). I suppose the point to this was that I really felt a connection with each and every person on the bus. While eating my lenten-inspired sandwich, I was sitting next to and sharing laughter with people whom I hadn't REALLY sat down and gotten to know. We could still share this seemingly pointless, but actually meaningful, moment together without thinking about the inevitable future.

On the next stretch of road to Connection City, I did not feel any drive to complete my Yeah Buddies. I had them in my hands, but eventually pushed them to the side because of my controlling need to interact with these people before they so quickly slip through my fingers. This part of my memory gets a little fuzzy since it seems like so long ago, but I'm pretty sure I sat with Brian for a while and talked about music and life. What a great guy :) Eventually, he left me for someone else, and I thought I'd have the seat to myself for a while to write a little bit. As it turns out, fate (and the bus core) decided that I can't have a seat to myself at any point in time, so Ramo took a seat next to me. He was someone I had been wanting to talk to for a while, and for good reason. We shared stories and got to know each other better, and I realized that there was much more to him than initially came across. I found that out with almost everyone, to be honest. I've always believed that everyone has a story, as cliche as that sounds, but there's a second part to this belief.

Everyone deserves to tell their story. And they did.

I love offering a listening ear to each individual's unique story, and this trip was prime opportunity for me to do so. We pulled up to a restaurant just outside Nashville, Tennessee that agreed to feed all 45 of our mouths that night. It was super good food! We started out with some Spinach and Artichoke Dip, then I had a nice side salad with my main course of salmon with lemon. Yum. After the meal, I met the two waitresses that served us because their accents intrigued me. I found out that both their fathers are from Jordan (like, the Middle East) and came here to start a restaurant together in Tennessee. The waitresses had lived there all their lives, so even though their names sounded Arabic (I only remember Hannan) and they spoke Arabic, they had a thick Southern drawl when speaking English. So. Fascinating.

We left for our last housing site all together, performing a beautifully planned skit for everyone on the bus that would be quite strange to explain here (but if you know what I'm talking about, it's still hilarious!). The place we stayed at was a school in Nashville - it had to be big enough to host all the ISU buses for the night. We moved our things into the gym and began to play with the basketballs, volleyballs, and of course the big, colorful parachute like Kindergartners :) It was so much fun, until I felt a strong, itchy feeling on my arms and legs, which turned out to be all the bug bites that I had gotten from the oyster project that were flaring and swelling with activity. I rushed around looking for Calamine Lotion, ice, and anything else that would help. A bunch of people took care of me (thanks everyone), and I got a shower in before night activities.

Who knew what these activities had in store for my emotions?

Probably the bus core. And everyone else who had been on a tour before. All I can say is, I'm glad the shower took off all my makeup, otherwise the emotion running from my face would have done it anyway. We began with sheets of construction paper that were passed to everyone along the circle to write a little something about that person for 20-30 seconds. Everyone's page was filled front to back by the time they returned to their original spots, graffitied with compliments and little messages of encouragement. Then came the hard part. I promised myself not to lose it, but we went around the circle saying one person that applied to the question asked, like someone who makes you laugh, who you would want to throw you a surprise party, and the last question, who do you want to keep in touch with? A chorus of "Iowa"s rang throughout the room, and well...I lost it. To make things worse, the last activity that we did together was the circle of thank yous. Everyone went up to each person and said thank you, and only thank you, then moved on to the next person.

Yeah, right.

It turned into a frenzy of hugging, crying, and expressing exactly what each person meant to the other. This went on for quite a while in a beautiful display of affection. It wasn't goodbye just yet, but showing my raw emotion that much is something that I would only feel comfortable doing in such an intimate situation such as that. Even though we didn't quite follow the rules to the activity, it was amazing to see the connections that we had made out and vulnerable for the whole room to see. And that's the way it stayed. We all bunked out in that room, together, just the way it should be. I taught everyone The Interlude, and even though it was a little awkward, it was still pretty fun. Now when they come to visit a football game in the fall, they don't think that it's just some flash mob or something :) The whole lot of us really tried to stay up all night talking and writing Yeah Buddies, but I'm pretty sure we all got a little bit of sleep at one point or another. We were exhausted to the max.

At risk of giving any more information away before I write the last post, I will end it here and now, only reflecting on the beautiful day and night that brought out every feeling I could have possibly felt, from nirvana to depression. But it's not a medical problem that has given my emotions a roller coaster effect, but simply the confusion and disbelief that soon I wouldn't be able to take advantage of these 44 amazing people being right by my side.

Reality is a train, and it had a direct hit tonight.

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