We knew the bus had good vibes. I had ridden in it one Christmas, singing carols with a group of friends. A candle in its center lit the bus and our faces. A year later we needed a dwelling and heard the bus was for sale. Excited about our good fortune, we set out to Durham to buy it. Mandala on the back, and an assortment of trash and semi-useful junk inside, it sat in a city parking lot. Though considerably dirtier and neglected, the bus still held the slightly-broken candle of last Christmas. It seemed that the bus was as tired of traveling as we were, as its new engine had just died. Since all we wanted was a home — and no more traveling — we had it towed to our land.
We cleaned it, took out the driver’s seat, gearshift, accelerator, and engine. We painted it white, stripped up the tattered, rose-patterned five-and-dime linoleum and put down a plywood floor. We moved our things inside in cardboard boxes lining the walls. With shelves and a seat built over the wheelhubs and a bed built up off the ground for storage, gradually the bus became a home.
In the last few years I’ve lived in a huge drafty country house where we huddled in front of the fireplace to keep warm; outside during the day and in a tent at night; in a large dorm, in a room identical to all the others; in a shack in an apple-picking camp; in a light and airy house in a fishing village in Mexico. I’ve spent nights in buses and in parks, by the side of the road, or in relatives’ convenience-packed houses. The most difficult experience of all was the year that our home was a live-in job. On our nights off we were homeless, and very much in need of a refuge.
So now I arrive at the bus, and for me it is a most beautiful shelter. In it I live surrounded by windows, waking to sunlight playing on a treadle Singer, a bowl of oranges, a teapot, my bed. In the daylight all the windows are flooded with woods and pond and sun and sky. I sit on the bed amid the windows and feel peaceful and comforted by my space. The rounded ceiling is white with soft grey patches where the smoke from the woodstove and kerosene lantern has colored clouds. The bed is at one end of this round space and the kitchen is at the other. The kitchen windows see the pond; the back windows see the leafy road winding to the bus. Remembering the travails of being and feeling homeless, I think the bus has every convenience I need. It’s my place. It’s been a long time since I’ve known that comfort. And it’s warm and dry and filled with food, usually, and a mattress, some books, a stove, a light for night, real dishes, and chairs. I’ve lived out of a pack and eaten out of a stainless steel cup long enough to know these things as true luxuries.
It is after midnight; I have just gotten home from work this warm night and I am drinking tea in bed. The kerosene lantern is reflected in the dark windows; light rain beats on the roof, and a frog chirps from the pond. Nighttime here in the bus is not for accomplishing anything; one must be content to live somewhat in shadows; things can’t easily be found; projects must wait for daylight. The bus can feel unbearably close and limiting at night in the winter. Whether it’s warm or cold inside, one tends to draw inward in the darkness. If I am not ready to surrender, I will be restless, want to go into town to a movie, long for a full moon and warm weather, bump into things. At times like now, though, the rainy night is a blessing, a balm to help me find myself and rest. I turn off the lantern and the room is full of moonlight. I tilt my head back to see the trees, and then curl up to sleep.
There are these moments of peace and beauty in this dwelling. There are also hardships. On another rainy day, my “kitchen” is cluttered with muddy boots. I feel trapped on a dry spot in a mudpuddle, and in addition I’m trying to keep the dry spot clean. There are times when this space seems too small rather than simply comforting and cozy. Sometimes I’d like to have a lot of friends over, but it’s wintertime and they just wouldn’t fit inside. Anyone over 5’11” scrapes the ceiling. I can’t dance inside. I’ll never have a grand piano here. The limit to my material possessions is: “Where would I put it?” If I am not self-disciplined and neglect to keep the bus clean and orderly, it’s unbearable to live in. I must think small to match its size.
Can you believe I’m truly happy here?