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L Y D I A   P A A R

When I was a teenager, I wished to be a trucker. I should say, rather, the profession was in my top-ten list of future plans.

I was drawn to open roads.

Airbrakes excited.

Delighted at the thought of a distant boss, I ached for space

But I determined, instead, to stay in school. I'd been advised to take pre-calc instead of personal finance, so I didn't understand student debt, plus my college-prep high school had a habit of reading aloud acceptance lists and scholarships at graduating senior ceremonies: no pressure.

There was a path prescribed, and we were all supposed to take it. So my mom helped me mail some applications: one to a nearby state school and one for a fancy private college, which happened, after all, to offer loans.

They took me in, and we took a bus down to the fancy one: just Mum and I, our luggage, over one paltry state line.


Northern California had mountains like heaven, and we carved wide around them on giant Western roads. Some sections stretched vast, like where the bus broke down and we deboarded: six lanes deep of fast traffic.

Smog seethed at the teeth.


Mum was suffering from diverticulitis, where weaker portions of the intestinal wall pooch out into little pouches under pressure, catching food particulate, inflaming the imperfect maze of the gut, and causing pain. She had turned near-to-green as we'd groaned up the massive green hills, then, after the bus emptied out, a ghostly pale by the street side.

"I think you'll like it here." She smiled weakly. Patted my hand.

I gazed out at everything unfamiliar.

"At least it has a view," I said.


A new bus arrived from the smog and sank us like an airplane through just-orange-tinged cloud tops into shimmering, filthy Los Angeles.

Mum cried, leaving me at the fancy college to fly home.

I sat amidst manicured lawns and string quartet dinner shows and, myself, succumbed to sorrow.

What if Mum died while I was here, sitting in this manicured grass? Or just slogged through her sickness without me? I didn't belong here anyway: my working class was showing. I couldn't feel my purpose, or my future, pulsing between such well-paved roads, pools, and pedi paths.

I didn't take a bus when I backtracked, a mere three months later.

But I could still use a credit card to skip the hard road home: an Airbus this time, passing 900 miles over car and cloud alike, northbound in the middle of the night.


One year later I'd run away again, not from college, or from home, but from boot camp.

This time my softness was showing: I'd acquired four broken bones between all the army exercises, and despite my now uselessness at drills, they weren't going to let me go.

So I snuck away. I'll tell you how, someday.

Afterward, I couldn't take a plane: too trackable. But on buses then, you didn't have to have ID.

So I cruised discreetly west from South Carolina, a vaguely Oregon Trail rendition, on another grumbling Greyhound.

Columbia. Atlanta. Louisville.

Saint Louis in the thick black of night: no Gateway arch visible as we barreled through, eyes shuttered.

Kansas City, then Lawrence as the light returned. A long stretch of another day to Denver.

By the next morning in Wyoming, we breakfasted. Cheyenne had homestyle hash browns, undercooked. Thick, like my ankles, swollen from immobility.


At one point the bus was tagged by a little commuter car, and a cop arrived, red lights illuminating the bathroom in the back I thought I'd hide in if the police, for some reason, decided to board. But they didn'tthey had better things to doso we continued onward, dipping into the desert, where long tongues of gas flame leapt out bright against the blue.


I was trying to sleep as the bus sleeked forward some more, a Salt Lake-bound soaring tuna can.

"Where ya headed?" asked the gentleman to my left, recently arrived, waking me and breaking my reverie.

I've been raised to respect my elders, and since he was wrinkled and bald, I told him: Oregon, westmost West.

"Wow!" His eyebrows lifted. "Long haul!"

He himself hadn't far to go: just had to catch up with his carnival.

"That's your job?" I asked, eyes widening.

And he replied, "Carny for life!"

He'd run away, at fourteen, he said, to join.

Found freedom.


He told me stories of wandering characters I can't now remember, performers and people he'd met along the way on road trips just like this. But I remember his special skill-sharing clearly:

"Wanna know how to get drunk on a bus?"

Pulled from his backpack: a netted bag of oranges.

"You can't bring cans onthey'll kick you offbut if you take a syringe..."

I didn't ask him why he'd have one handy.

He mimed pulling up a plunger, peeking a needle in through the netting.

"…And inject each orange with the vodka. Voila! The driver thinks you're snacking."

He peeled one of the fruits and offered me a slice.

Then he flapped out a napkin and folded it, fashioned a rose.

"Here," and gave it to me too.

"I wish you all the luck getting home."


Lydia Paar is an essayist and fiction writer. Her essay, “Erasure,” was of notable mention in the 2022 Best American Essays collection, and was the 2020 winner of North American Review’s Terry Tempest Williams Creative Nonfiction Prize. The New England Review nominated her as a finalist for their 2021 Emerging Writers Award, and works of hers will be or have been showcased in such publications as Huffpost, Literary Hub, The Missouri Review, Essay Daily, Witness, Farmerish, Hayden's Ferry Review, and others. An MFA recipient from Washington University and an MA recipient from Northern Arizona University, Paar is also a former recipient of a Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation Fellowship and of a Millay Arts Residency. She serves as co-editor for the NOMADartx Review and teaches writing at the University of Arizona. Her first full-length essay collection, The Entrance is the Exit: Essays on Escape, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press.

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