Jasmine Don, Sophomore, English Major
At 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday, an antsy teenager named Eddie Bronson hopped onto a discount shuttle bus from San Francisco during its midway pit stop in the city of Avenal. He didn’t think much of it. He wanted a new adventure, that was all. So he snuck on board, held his breath as the driver performed a quick head count, and closed his eyes in prayer as the bus pulled out of his dry, miserable hometown and trudged down the I-5 to Los Angeles. Back at the rest stop, a college student named Sebastian Chavez was on his way back to L.A. after visiting and getting dumped by his girlfriend Melanie in San Francisco. It was a genius move on her part, breaking up with him right before a bus ride with abysmal cell reception. No pleading phone calls. No showing up at her front door. Just seven whole hours of sitting in silence, watching the drought-baked Central Californian wasteland crawl past the window – plenty of time to really think about what he had done. Of course, when his bus stopped in Avenal and he found that his phone had a signal again, he wasted no time in calling up Melanie and unleashing the past three and a half hours’ worth of pent up despair. By the time he finished pouring his heart out over the phone, his bus – with Eddie Bronson sleeping comfortably in his seat – had left without him. “How could someone just do that?” he wondered, sitting back down at a salsa-caked picnic table next to the convenience store. “How could anyone have the nerve to just steal someone’s seat and leave them stranded in this shithole?” Sebastian looked around him. All of the flat, square buildings looked like they had crawled fully formed out of the dirt eighty years ago, and hadn’t ever changed. There was a small arcade inside the rest stop, along with a Mexican restaurant with its menu printed on a peeling yellow sign that made Sebastian feel like he could get food poisoning just from reading it. Other than that, there wasn’t much else to check out. No wonder this place was only ever visited by the shuttle buses traveling between L.A. and the Bay Area – there was no other reason to go here but necessity. Sebastian weighed his options. According to Google, there was nothing for miles in any direction except for two state prisons. He didn’t want to hitchhike, and he definitely didn’t want to stay in some dirty inn until he could get his situation sorted out. He decided to wait it out. In three hours, another shuttle bus would stop by, and he could talk it over with the bus driver and be on his way home. In the meantime, he had brought nothing to keep himself entertained except his phone and a copy of The Odyssey, which he was too angry to read because of his current situation. Sebastian settled for browsing the convenience store. He hoped there would be something kind of zen about organizing a rack of souvenir baseball caps and watching a bunch of hot dogs roll around in their own grease, but there wasn’t. “I wonder how someone can turn out to be that much of a sociopath.” Sebastian picked up a novelty California license plate that said “MELANIE” and stuffed it behind a shelf of disposable razors. “Did he get picked on a lot in school? Did he walk in on his parents flushing his pet goldfish down the toilet? How could someone be that much of an asshole?” This went on until 7:30. As the shuttle bus rolled into the rest stop, Sebastian grabbed his things and sprinted over to the driver, begging her to take him back to L.A. “I’m sorry, sir,” the bus driver said, shaking her head. “We’re completely booked. No empty seats. Same with the 10:30 bus. Best thing to do? Get yourself a hotel room.” Sebastian’s throat went dry. He nodded, thanked her, and made his way back to the picnic tables. He watched as the bus drove off again, into the infinite barren flatness that made Avenal look like the end of the world. And he weighed his options. The 10:30 bus pulled up right on schedule. Sebastian counted each person as they stepped down onto the dusty concrete. Twenty. Twenty-one. Twenty-two. When no one else got off, he sat back at the picnic table and waited. After a few minutes, people began to trickle out of the rest area and back into the bus. He started counting again. One. Two. Sebastian’s hands started to sweat as he grabbed his backpack and his duffel bag off of the picnic table. Fifteen. Sixteen. He stood up, ready to move. Nineteen. Twenty. He walked toward the bus, trying his hardest to look casual. He stopped a few yards away, watching as a young woman carrying a grocery bag of chips walked up the steps to the bus. Twenty-one. Sebastian looked around. No one seemed to be making a move for the bus. This was it. He grabbed his things and boarded the bus, his heart racing. Twenty-two. The driver went down the aisle, counting the passengers in twos. Satisfied, she walked back up to the front and started the engine. “I did it,” Sebastian thought, almost shaking in his seat. “I’m here. I’m going back to L.A. It worked.” Sebastian couldn’t help but smile. It was finally over. He sat back in his seat and laughed as he watched the bus pull out of the rest stop and back onto the open road, back to civilization, back to – as he would find out half an hour later – its northbound route to San Francisco.
“The Miracle of Birth- In My Backyard”
It was a Thursday night, same as any other- hot and dry, with a little something extra in the air. Usually on Summer eve’s in Bay Area suburbia, though, that little something extra is a free mini-yogurt at Pinkberry with purchase of a red-velvet Sprinkles cupcake or a pop-up adults-only bluegrass festival in the park by the Starbucks. I was finally at ease after a trying break-up with my *FIRST* *SERIOUS* *BOYFRIEND*, and the events that followed served to shake up the pot once more. I should quickly note that, while indeed, I did live in suburbia, I lived in a household that also housed a quirky collection of animals- two dogs, seven cats, a couple ducks, some quail, thirty+ chickens in a big ol’ coop outside, and three glorious pygmy goats. Now I know what you’re thinking— “Are quail the little bird with the scoopy thing hanging off their head?” The answer is yes- yes they are. A few more words on these goats- two of them, the original pair, suitably named “Wooster” and “Jeeves,” we had had since they were babies. I cannot describe the immense joy that is spending time with a baby pygmy goat as it learns just how to use his legs, and how far he can go, and how fast he can go with him. Let me just say this- he puts images of Santa’s reindeer to shame. (I say he, even though I desperately wish to prioritize the female pronoun, because both of our goats were male, because in our district, owning a female goat would be ILLEGAL, because she is deemed an “agricultural” animal by the county. As opposed to male goats, who are apparently up for grabs. Who knew.) So those were those two goats. Big homies- knew how to chill. They also knew how to EAT- in a matter of months after getting them our sizable backyard where we housed them went from lush forest-bush aesthetic to dry wasteland à la Mad Max-Fury Road. Their waistbands, if they wore pants, would have stretched to a comfortable men’s XL (knowing them, however, they wouldn’t wear pants. Hippies.). Our third and final goat, however, put the other two goats to shame- this female goat (only female if you are not a member of the Board of Agriculture in San Mateo county) was massive. And good for her! Female empowerment and all that, all sizes are beautiful. But hooooo baby, this goat was a LOT of beautiful. So much beautiful, in fact, that my mom began to have the sneaking suspicion that she might be pregnant. But how could that be, we wondered. Our two goats were neutered! What other goat is sneaking into our backyard to get busy with our goat? Or, back to female empowerment, maybe our goat is taking it upon herself to get a good lay. But where? Definitely not in suburbia. Maybe she took CalTrain? The ideas got increasingly preposterous and we wrote off any notion of her as an expectant mother. Until the aforementioned Thursday night- same as any other. Hot and dry- with a little something extra in the air. I was just about to doze off- it had to have been at least 11 p.m., when I heard a very loud, strange, guttural ejection coming from our backyard. “IEEEAAAAUOOOOOOO.” I peered into the darkness, and I could barely make out our female goat Spice (aptly named ), standing still. A little too still. I blearily stumbled out of my room and almost ran into my mother, sprinting outside into the night with an armful of what looked to be goat-birthing supplies screaming “I TOLD YOU! I TOLD ALL OF YOU!” My father and I grabbed some towels and a bucket of water and followed in pursuit. And sure, enough, there she was, Spice, in all her glory, screaming to the world ““IEEEAAAAUOOOOOOO” as gently, gracefully, a baby goat plopped out of her and onto the floor. My mother, the mother that she is, scooped up the kid, making sure it could breathe, checking its other vital signs, etc. My father and I breathed a sigh of relief. And then. ““IEEEAAAAUOOOOOOO.” Before anyone knew what was happening Spice was trembling, screaming, and pushing out a second goat— all this time our enormous goat had been pregnant with twins!!! We prepared ourselves for the second birth as the first baby began to try and stand up. Before long the second twin was born into the world without any complications, and Spice lovingly gazed upon her loved ones- and proceeded to lick them clean- a boy and a girl, Salt and Pepper. And that is the story of how I witnessed the miracle of birth in my backyard.
We leave the party and go back to her place. I always start the story this way, because it immediately gives off the wrong idea. We’re actually only looking for beer, because the raspberry-flavored not-beer at the party is too sweet for my tastes. I’m the only one who complains, but Tara tells me her roommate has some at their apartment, and it’s only two doors down, so we go together. It’s not great—some wheat ale that says it tastes like pumpkin—and I offer her the rest, pretending I’m being courteous because it’s technically her beer, or at least her roommate’s. She hates it even more than I do, and we stand there making gross faces at the bottle and not saying anything to each other. All of her roommates are gone and we’re alone in her apartment, and she decides to give me a tour, starting in the kitchen—where we found the beer—and ending in her room. I remind her that I know the floor plan, because I live in the apartment above her, and I had told her that only a few hours ago when we first met. She laughs and says, “Oh, yeah,” and her laugh is adorable, and she smiles at me. I tell her the furniture in her bedroom isn’t configured the same way mine is, and she tells me she moved it around because she has this weird thing where she doesn’t like sitting with her back to the door. I ask if she’s afraid Vikings will get her while her back is turned and she tells me I don’t want to know the things she’s seen, “man.” I can’t decide whether she’s 19 or 25, but I don’t ask because that’s a rude question to ask a girl, and I’m trying to make a good first impression. I suggest we go back to the party and she agrees, and I bring the beer because it’s awful but it’s better than the other stuff. We leave the party again later, this time looking for food. I remember that my roommate is throwing his own party upstairs in our apartment, which probably has pizza, and I invite Tara because “hell yeah” she wants pizza. We take the elevator instead of the single flight of stairs because we say we’re both too drunk, but in the elevator we agree that we’re both just lazy and out of shape, and we laugh together. A lot of people are in my apartment, and there’s enough pizza to feed twice as many, so I tell Tara to help herself to as much pizza as she desires, because as resident of this apartment I have the right to whatever food is in my kitchen. I only pay attention to her, so I don’t notice or remember the party happening around us, except for the loud music and a few guys mimicking the brap-brap-brap-brap sound of a rotary engine. We talk or yell to each other about school and the classes we’re taking and she tells me that she’s excited to live at school because this is the first time in her life that she has the freedom to bring guys to her place or to go over to theirs. I ask her why she couldn’t do all of that before, so we start talking about our parents and our home lives. As she tells me about hers, I realize she’s cute, we’re really hitting it off, and her laugh is absolutely adorable. We do shots of terrible, cucumber-flavored alcohol, both protesting to each other that it’s a bad idea and we should stop. Then I ask for her number, and she either puts her number in my phone or gives me her phone so I can input my number. She asks if we can go to my room because it’s quieter in there, and I bring a couple bottles of water for us to hydrate so we aren’t hungover in the morning. It’s barely quieter in my room, but it’s certainly less crowded, and Tara sits on my bed while I sit at my desk. I show her the stack of seventeen books that I have to read for school, and we talk about a few of them that she read before. I quickly use the bathroom, and when I come back out she’s lying down on my bed and she watches me as I sit back down at my desk and keep drinking water. We talk about stuff for a while until Tara tells me she’s tired and ready for bed, so after a little more talking—because I’m bad at goodbyes—we take the elevator back down to her apartment and I hug her goodnight at her door, then I take the stairs back up to my place. I’ve never been good at making first impressions. Whenever I get introspective, I narrow my problem down to too much eagerness and impatience. When my friends give me performance reviews they tell me that I’m “always-on,” and I’ll be lucky to find a girl who can handle all of me. But somehow, against my nature, I made a good first impression on Tara, because after that night we talked to each other every day, and eventually we started dating. The morning after that night, when I was telling a friend why I had disappeared from the party twice, I realized that I had been alone with Tara in two different apartments and I didn’t even think of making a move. Looking back on it, there were clearly signs that she wanted me to do something, and the thought of seizing the opportunity never crossed my mind. It was a completely extraordinary experience for me, and I still tell my friends about it because I think it’s hilarious that I accidentally accomplished what they considered impossible. I tell the story often enough that I sometimes consider writing it down, but my memory of the night is blurry and I really only remember the two times we left the party. I don’t remember either of the parties, just Tara. Plus, I don’t actually know how I pulled off making a good impression on her, so the story wouldn’t have much of a direction to it. At night when I can’t sleep from caffeine or stress, I go over it in my head again and again to figure it out, but I still haven’t cracked the secret of my success. I want to go downstairs and ask her what I did right, but we don’t talk anymore.