Looking for love, one bus stop at a time.
February 12, 2014
Several Years ago, I discovered that a long, winding bus ride through the South was not unlike living inside a novel. Old characters get off and new characters get on every time the bus stops. This is the story of my trip from Dallas to Atlanta. Part 2.
The little man with the limp and funny accent gazes out on a countryside he’s never seen before. When someone stares at the space where his left hand should be, he quickly pulls a black glove over the red, raw skin and hopes the curious eyes won’t bother to look his way again.
He’s in a foreign land.
But the stares are just as cruel back home in Paris, France.
He hears he muffled laughter behind him, and he frows.
Perhaps the laughter wouldn’t seem so depressing if he understood the language better.
Perhaps it’s only a joke.
Perhaps he’s the joke.
The little man with the limp and funny accent wraps his tweed jacket tighter around his shoulders and tries to comb the hair that refuses to lie across a scalp left bare by the flames on an Algerian battlefield.
He hates laughter.
He doesn’t trust it.
No one ever laughed at Jean Marc Lavie when he was a hero.
But that was back in 1961 when he was a pilot in the French Air Force. Jean Marc had flown into Southern Algeria that morning, banking sharply and storming down on the machine gun nest.
He reached for the trigger that would fire his rockets.
“But before I shoot the machine gun shoots me, and my plane is riddled with bullet.”
“Did you crash?” I want to know.
“The plane explodes.” He shrugs. “I know immediately the war for me is over. I know I am dead.”
It wasn’t his day to die.
Dying may have been easier.
All Jean Marc remembers is the burning petrol splashing across his hand, his head, and his leg.
He can feel it.
He can smell it.
Jean Marc was unconscious by the time his observer dragged him from the wreckage.
He never heard the explosion when the flame touched those four rockets that were still strapped to a crumpled wing.
Nor did he know that a helicopter finally came to haul him back from the dead and the dying.
His darkness was his grave.
Jean Marc Lavie would lie in a coma for three months, his legs broken in ten places. During the next four years, he would undergo thirty-four operations as surgeons fought desperately to make his skin grow on a body ravaged by fire.
Slowly it did.
And slowly he recovered.
“The skin of my chest is on my hand,” he says. “And the skin of my belly is on my head.”
Jean Marc pauses.
“So when a woman rubs my hand, she’s rubbing my chest. And when she’s touching my head, her fingers are massaging my belly.”
He does, too.
“I didn’t make love for two years,” Jean Marc says simply.
“The pain?” I ask.
“I was afraid I was ugly.”
“One night in a hospital, a nurse proved I wasn’t ugly anymore.”
We rode for a while in silence as the darkness crawls across the timbered landscape.
All we see are trees.
The shadows are in his mind.
“What do you think about the United States?” I ask him.
“I like your country,” Jean Marc says. “But I don’t love it.” He shrugs. “The love I feel is for women.”
“Have you found love?” I ask.
“Two while I’ve been on the bus,” he says.
“When did you get on the bus?”
“Phoenix.” He pauses a moment, then adds, “One was nice, but she was serious. One was not so nice, but she was not so serious. I may go back and see her again.”
“Where did she get off the bus?”
“She live there?”
“She caught another bus,” he says.
Jean Marc smiles.
He won’t go back.
He won’t look for her.
He won’t find her.
It’s simply the thought that counts.
Maybe he will find another who won’t laugh at him, especially when it’s dark, and he’s afraid he’s ugly again.
He likes the night.
The night lies.
He’s as handsome as he wants to be, and she is as sexy as she needs to be, in the night.