Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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Riding the Bus with My Sister: 27. September: Releasing the Rebel Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Rachel is 17, Beth has just moved back in with their father, and the three of them go to a department store to buy Beth clothes. But Beth doesn’t know her own size, and their father knows nothing about women’s clothes. At the fitting room, he calls for help, then sends Rachel to find a store employee, and then finally gives up and takes Beth inside himself.
This anecdote illustrates the sense of isolation and alienation that plagues Beth and Rachel after their mother abandons them, forcing them to go live with their father. After all, their father has scarcely been present in their life for the last decade, and he is not well-equipped to parent them—never mind to adapt to Beth’s unique needs.
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While her siblings are still angry at their mother, Beth doesn’t seem to care anymore. She goes on with her life, plays with Ringo, and even befriends a girl named Juanita—who happens to be four years old. Beth’s siblings know that this friendship won’t last. In fact, that same summer, Juanita and her older brother turn on Beth and start screaming names at her: “stupid, a baby, a freak.” Beth says nothing all day. Eventually, she starts to rebel: she teases her siblings, refuses to eat fruits and vegetables, and starts telling bald-faced lies. Rachel struggles to square her love for Beth’s originality with her frustration about Beth’s “escalating self-centeredness and manipulativeness.”
When it comes to coping with trauma, Beth’s disability turns out to be a superpower: it enables her to easily forget and move on, unlike her siblings, who spend years struggling to understand their mother’s erratic behavior. But arguably, Beth’s own erratic behavior may have been a response to her traumatic experiences with her mother. Finally, Beth’s ill-fated friendship with Juanita shows that her disability will present her with plenty of other interpersonal challenges as she comes of age.
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Beth acts just as badly at school, and after a year, her father pulls her out. Instead, he finds her a job at the mail correspondence school that he runs, but he can’t stand her babbling on the two-hour drive. She learns to sort and deliver papers—but then she starts making serious mistakes, and the other siblings have to double-check her work. Eventually, they realize that she’s doing it on purpose, because she prefers not to work. She starts spending all her time with the man who prints the school’s pamphlets—she idolizes him and talks about him nonstop.
It’s significant that Beth’s teenage issues are the same ones that continue to plague her relationship with Rachel in adulthood. She still struggles to treat other people with respects, talks incessantly, avoids working, and obsesses over men. Most troublingly of all to Rachel, Beth gets away with all of this in part because she knows that she can use her disability as an excuse. This creates a difficult dilemma for her family: how can they determine when Beth sincerely doesn’t know better, and when she’s faking it?
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Meanwhile, at home, Beth loudly insists on getting everything her way. Her dad nicknames her “the Sheriff,” and she loves it—she starts calling herself “the Sheriff” and using it as a justification for doing whatever she wants. She also becomes obsessed with a young salesman who works for the company. One day, after fighting with her brother Max, she disappears into the winter day without a coat. Her dad finds her three miles away, trying to walk from Pennsylvania to find the salesman in Queens, where he lives. He picks her up in the car—and “the Sheriff” immediately demands to change the music.
Beth’s erratic behavior starts to create serious issues for her family and present serious dangers to herself. She takes advantage of her father’s goodwill, because she knows that he is obligated to care for her no matter what. Yet it becomes increasingly clear that he will need more assistance—preferably professional assistance—to adequately take care of her. Thus, Beth’s rebellion is only another phase of the serious family conflicts that Rachel had to endure in her childhood.
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Other times in the car, Beth tells her dad about her time with her mother and stepfather in Las Vegas. But she never talks about the other “bewildering turn of events” that happens to the family: shortly after the kids move in with their father, he stumbles on their mother’s name in the newspaper and learns that she’s living just a half-hour away. She’s single again and working as a librarian, but she hasn’t bothered to contact her children. After learning about this, Laura, Max, and Rachel are furious for years. But Beth seems to forget. One night, when she and her dad get lost on their way home, she declares that, even if they don’t make it home, “at least we have each other.”
When Rachel’s mother moves nearby, this troubles the family even more because it strongly suggests that she is choosing to have no contact with her kids, when she easily could—rather than her abusive husband forcing her to avoid them, as they assumed. Beth’s comment that “at least we have each other” might seem ironic, given how much she has tested her father’s patience, but it also illustrates the value of truly unconditional family relationships.
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