I have been traveling for 13 hours toward what may or may not be my future. I am somewhere in Illinois or Iowa on a bus that is supposed to have wi-fi but doesn't. Dennis, the driver, is playing gospel music. Someone a few rows behind me is playing Lil Wayne from their phone speakers. The man behind me is speaking German.
"This is the megabus, the bus with the fat man on the back, not the dog on the side," Dennis says.
Dennis has a smooth Barry White way of speaking. Before the bus left Chicago, he had us say a prayer together that the bus wouldn't get into any emergencies. "Now we're having church," he said. Then he told the women to tune out for a second while he talked to the men about the proper way to pee on a moving bus.
"Like your sister, not like your dad."
Dennis talks about himself in the third person. Dennis likes to listen to music. Dennis won't turn it off, so don't bother asking. Dennis likes to stay on the ground. He likes to drive 70 miles per hour, but sometimes the rain or the rush hour traffic prevents that. And if you feel the bus swaying, Dennis has not been sipping gin and juice. These are windy times, folks, and the wind is rocking your ride. Dennis can't do anything about it.
"Me, I'm going to continue to do what I do, which is travel at this altitude at 70 miles per hour."
I'm not sure at which speed I'm traveling these days. Am I low to the ground? Or am I on some other altitude? I try to read a story about a Salafi leader as I ride past the silohs and wheat-colored landscapes. Every once in a while I look back at the boy who asked me to marry him two minutes after I got on the bus. He offered to buy me massages and Air Jordans. "A lot of guys won't do that," he said. He is 23 but tells me he has had plenty of older women -- one even close to 65. We could start a life together in Iowa City, he said. He is moving there from Chicago, just now. His new life will be borne out of everything he carries in a plastic bag.
"You starting over, too?" he asks.
I'm not sure what I'm doing. I'm spending the ride thinking mostly about the past, which is how I always get myself in trouble. After a few hours, the wheat fades to black. In the dark, this place could be anywhere. I could be headed for anywhere.
I put my headphones on to drown out the Lil Wayne vs. Gospel vs. German talk mashup. The Magnetic Fields "100,000 fireflies come on."
I'm afraid of the dark without you close to me,
You won't be happy with me,
so give me once more chance.
You won't be happy anyway.
I take the headphones off just as we arrive in Iowa City -- my maybe or maybe not future. Dennis has turned James Brown's "Sex Machine" on really loudly.
"Yeah, that's right," he coos. "We're in Iowa City."
I step outside. The cold is sharper than I imagined.