Articles

Long Days, Field Trips and Weigh Stations

field trip

Eric Mills, TESS 130

Ah the long day; how requisite, how essential.

Truly it is the thread that binds, the paper clip that fastens,

the uh… stuff they add to the stickers to make them stick.

And on this my fellow volunteer, my brother, my sister, my krap krua:

On this we can all place our hands and break into verse,

on this we can speak without saying much,

on this our shoulders were built, to support all weary heads alike.

 

And the long day is as bright as it is blinding,

as wonderful as it is devastating.

The long day boils and evaporates, saturates and dissolves,

until there is nothing left but a residual noise.

The long day is an ocean,

and a good volunteer knows how to drown.

.  .  .

On the way home we stopped at one of those old roadside weigh stations.

The sky was a sad sort of gray,

and the wind was at work folding over the pumps

where the bus filled its tank.

Here I, or what little was left, sat among a dozen drooping teachers,

our heads falling into our laps,

with that distinct smell of gasoline steeped through the air.

It had been a long day.

There had been crowds and confusion, tempers flaring,

fights, hurt feelings, cuts and bruises.

There had been tears and yawns and quick naps,

bathroom breaks and emergency stops.

There had been joy and laughter and genuine amazement.

There had been eating and drinking, walking and running,

and we were all of us very, very tired.

 

It started to spit a little, leisurely making its way down,

and some teachers got up to find shelter, but

I stayed still with the others because the rain was cool, and it felt good.

As the students filtered out of bathrooms

and the small convenience store to board the bus,

I was sitting there thinking about home. Or perhaps about you,

wherever you are, whatever you are,

and if someone had asked me “what?” I would have said “nothing much,”

because it had been such a long day,

and I don’t know a language that could explain.

 

Then vibrations hit the ground and ran up to my bench,

with loud music bursting forth from the bus.

A student had plugged his phone into the speaker system

and played that hot new song all the kids were memorizing.

Down the bus steps poured a group of boys and girls

and they began to dance,

milling about the puddles and weeds

that rose through the cracked concrete

as the rain fell on their heads,

courtesy of the old gray sky.

 

Soon 60 students were out there throwing elbows,

high kicking, low stepping, chicken walking,

finger flailing, feet swiveling, toe swerving,

with the bus blasting the pop song,

the sparse rain drifting down,

and the highway a buzz of flying cars.

It had been a long day,

but my students were out there dancing

like there was no tomorrow.

 

The rainwater began to evaporate against the concrete ’til

a thin mist hung in the air

and the song changed

and the bass was louder and the kids let out a whoop

going through every move they had.

I knew the driver wanted to get going, but even he

was smiling as he took a picture of his bus

with the kids dancing in front of it.

The teachers stood around,

their eyes full of laughter, and

they had their hands on each other’s shoulders,

though I don’t think they realized it.

 

I was over there on my bench,

damp and trying to hold it together,

but I could feel my heart breaking in half,

because I knew this viscous,

irreplaceable stretch of time was slipping through my fingers.

 

I saw so many days behind me,

and so few that were left,

while my kids danced in the rain,

danced and laughed across an empty parking lot

with water evaporating around them, and I was real messed up man

because I knew all of their names,

knew all of their faces,

knew they were happy,

and I knew that I loved them more than anything

at that moment, all of them out there

tearing it up for no particular reason

under the shadow of an old weigh station,

as it stands forever between

the beginning and the ending of all things.


Read Eric’s previous articles and contributions.

1 reply »

  1. Eric’s comments about feeling vibrations in his residence brings back an odd memory from my nights while living in the city of Chachoengsao during my time as a PCV in group#16 Malaria Eradication (1966-68). My home city was on the road track from Sattahip Air Base to Bangkok. It was during the peak time of the Vietnam war. Massive sea shipments of bombs arrived in Sattahip destined for the US air bases in NE Thailand on ETO trucks. Side point is that in an occasional conversation with some of the R&R GI’s it was clear that many of those men really had no real concept of where they were in time and space. What an alarming time. NOT a highlight time of my PCV days but certainly memorable. An odd stream of thought but my PCV days are chock full of many experiences.

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