I don’t know which of the six girls was Jenny. In my heart, Jenny is all of them. Maybe in some small way Jenny is all of us.
So we’re stranded in Brooklyn, somewhere near Coney Island. Four of us, all exhausted and emotionally drained from our madcap race to get back to the bus and the crushing defeat of finding ourselves the victim of the ultimate NYC amateur mistake of ending up in the wrong fucking borough.
It takes us twenty minutes in this state to realize that we can just get back on the subway and go back to Manhattan. That we can take a bus to Scranton from Grand Central.
Without the pressure of time bearing down on us, the trip back is less fraught. We are self-congratulatory. We were nearly beaten by our worst and most pernicious enemies, but we triumphed. We bought Cokes and snacks at one of the news kiosks to celebrate.
We wait to catch the last bus of the night, on line with drunks, jilted lovers, gas drillers spending their day off in the big city. These are the people leaving New York City on a weekend night.
Right behind us in line, a half dozen drunk girls slump and lurch in the tatters of their Santa costumes. We don’t know it yet – we can’t know it – but our lives are about to change forever. These girls are Jenny.
They don’t really catch our attention until they burst out of the echolalia of ambient bus terminal conversation when one of them exclaims, “Ugh! Why do I have a banana in my purse? Again!”
And then, all of a sudden, that is our world – a world where people find mysterious bananas in their handbags more than once. Is there someone surreptitiously putting bananas in this woman’s purse? How many times has this happened before? Does she even like bananas? Think about it too deeply and you’ll lose an afternoon.
Jenny throws the banana on the ground. It’s edible – it hasn’t gone bad yet. Throws it to the ground of the Port Authority terminal. I catch someone else in the line eyeing the banana with intent in his eyes. He sees me seeing him watch the banana and he becomes painfully embarrassed. I look away. A different, more-socially conscious Jenny throws the banana away.
There are six Jennys and they don’t all sit together on the bus. There are four Jennys in the front and two in the back. We’re in the middle of them.
The bus starts rolling and our eyes are shut by the time we hit New Jersey. Natasha and I had not had a lot of sleep in the past 72 hours – seeing a midnight showing of The Hobbit followed by a Band of Horses show in Philly the following night before waking up at 5am to catch what I will now start referring to as The Judas Bus* will really tire you out.
We’re not even on US1 yet when we’re jolted into wakefulness by a roiling cloud of post-drunken rambling chatter coalescing above us. “Jenny!” the pair directly in front of us hiss-shout toward the back of the bus. “Jenny!” The Jenny who is actually Jenny either cannot or does not respond to them, so this continues unabated for another minute, just “Jenny!” barked out at random intervals.
“What?” Jenny Prime replies weakly.
“Remember how we made those reservations at a restaurant just so we could use the bathroom? And we told them we had to reschedule, but then just never went back?”
“That was awesome.”
There’s enough silence that Natasha and I are lulled into a false sense of security. We start to talk about the viability of watching a movie on our dangerously-low battery indicator phones, watching on mine until it died and then picking up on hers until it dies, etc. Sleep is a distant memory; once you’re jarred awake like that, it’s not easy to get back to sleep, especially on a bus speeding down a highway. We can still relax, though.
“Remember that guy you hooked up with? From Chicago? I think he was into you.”
This continued unabated for the remainder of the three hour bus ride.
“Jenny! Pick up your phone!”
It was at this point that the Jennys in the front of the bus started prank calling Jenny Prime. After twenty minutes of this, she caved in and answered her phone, and one of the Front Jennys whispered “Seven Days” and hung up, like the ghost girl from The Ring. These poor girls weren’t drunk, they were disoriented from suddenly time traveling here from 2002.
If you’ve ever had a dream that you were in Hell, I have to imagine it was something like this. Jenny were our devils, so much so that the four of us have developed a low-test version of PTSD from the experience. We can’t hear the word “Jenny” without convulsing in hysterics, weeping softly or lashing out violently. Or all of the above.
Jenny stayed on the bus until its final stop. We embarked at the stop before that. As long as we existed on the bus, Jenny was there, persistent in a chaotic world. For those one hundred and eighty minutes, Jenny was akin to an Old Testament God. She was going to buy 17 slushies when she got home, one of each flavor. She had issues with the way the bottle of juice she was drinking tasted. One of Jenny’s multipartite forms gave Serious Career Advice to the others: the key to having a good career, she pronounced, was to work part time and never work overtime. “My advice is keep it hourly,” she intoned. They watched YouTube videos in the tomblike quiet of the bus, barking out mawkish laughs while one of the Front Jennys anointed each new horror “The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Heard.”
We escaped eventually. Natasha’s brother picked us up at the bus station and we retrieved our cars. We’d won, we’d made it out. The nightmare was over. Or so we thought.
They haunt us still.
Sartre was wrong: Hell is Jenny.
*Note to self: put The Judas Bus in that ‘novel title ideas’ document before you forget.