When I wake up, my breath is the first thing I see. My nose is impossibly cold, and I cup my hand to make a small fist igloo to warm it up. We have lived in this bus since May, and each day that goes by is the coldest day we have had. This time last year, I remember looking at the thermostat in the apartment, thinking “65 degrees?! I can’t take it anymore! Who cares about the energy bill?” These days, I would sleep in a t-shirt on top of the sheets in 65 degrees. We don’t have heat anymore. Not a single source to take the bite off the cold.
We have jobs though, contrary to what you may be thinking. And by we, I am referring to my boyfriend, our cat, and myself. Yes, we keep regular jobs, and have been since the day I pulled up the craigslist ad for a 1998 E-450, and casually suggested we take a look. We bought it that day.
Driving the short bus out of the lot, we had three weeks to convert it to a livable space. Going from nothing to something in that amount of time left many holes. We tore out the sixteen passenger seats, crudely taped silver puff insulation to the windows, and built a bike rack out of wood in a day.
Moving into the bus wasn’t difficult, it was thinning out what we had before we piled it in that took time. If you have never experienced the catharsis of donating half of your stuff, I highly recommend it. Even after we moved in, we filtered our items like crabs intricately piecing apart a fish carcass. Only the vital was taken, allowing the remains to sink back into the earth.
THEN WE SEVERED OURSELVES FROM STABILITY. SHOWERS AND WATER BECAME POINTS OF INTEREST. AS DID SHADE.
Sun slowly became a nuisance and a necessity, as it powered our small world, but also baked it. Power won in the end, so in the sun we went. It is easy to hate the cold. The dark, wet, icy, depressed season. Lose sight of the heat. Crave the summer. You discuss with your co-workers how you would much rather bake in the hot sun, on a hundred degree day than face another cold, dark morning, scraping the ice off your windshield with your employee badge.
Heat changes you when you can’t escape it. The length of the summer day is a curse just as the brevity of a winter day is. With the bus baking in the hot sun, I would be up well into morning before it was cool enough to rest. And just as you drifted off out of your sticky body, the sun would be coming up again to keep you going. Lots to be done in the summer.
We adapted. Work during the heat of the day, and what better motivation to go to the gym after work than a bus with an internal temperature of over 100 degrees? So workout we did. The bus became an intolerable nook in which you store everything you hold dear. It became a movable wall. We would park it horizontal to the sun, and layout a blanket on the concrete in the shade it provided.
My body knows what to do in the cold. Freezing temperatures surpass Nyquil in its effectiveness to put you down. I institutionally cocoon. Don’t move much, the cold sheets remind you. Going to bed is a choreographed affair. One forgotten ritual results in a loss of warmth. I cherish the heat spot I’ve made.
When you are subject to the elements, the joys in life are not overlooked. Hot tea becomes a slow, meditative event. With our options, it may be the only way to get feeling back into your fingers.
A COOL BREEZE AS THE HEAT RADIATES AROUND YOU REMINDS YOU TO BREATHE.
Each day we make the decision not to walk away. We can afford to live in an apartment, with power, and running water. But, we have only spent brief moments considering it.
As a kid, I would make survival backpacks. I liked lizards, and would build miniature forests for them. I walked to school every day, waving parents on as they stopped to give me a ride out of the snow. I ate veggies and tried to fit in, often not knowing if I was getting it right. After school, as I walked the three miles home alone, I was able to relax. If it was summer, I had a water bottle, if it was winter, I had an extra jacket.
The day we moved into the bus, I relaxed. My fate was no longer tied to a lease, or dependent on a roomie. No selling of property, no delay in departure. My chaotic brain eased with the unknown of each day. The carpet could be destroyed without recourse. The bus is safe. Non-judgmental, accepting.
We carry our water in by the gallon. Our food is kept in a cooler, and requires us to buy only what we need. Purchases must serve a purpose. What is considered necessity to one may be superfluous to another, even in the same small living space. Life in a bus must be organized and clean. You discover what you truly value.