Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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Jesse is Beth’s boyfriend. Like her, he has a developmental disability, and they first met when they were both living in group homes. He is unusually shy, and he is blind in one eye because of a childhood accident. He often visits Beth at her apartment on evenings and weekends, but most of the time, he can be found riding his bicycle around the city and the surrounding area. In fact, Beth and Rachel run into him numerous times throughout the year while riding the buses. Since he’s out in public so often, many people in the city are familiar and friendly with him. However, he also faces plenty of racism, as he’s a Black man living in a small majority-white city. In particular, he and Beth face serious hostility as an interracial couple when they go out together. He struggles with many of the same issues as other people with intellectual disabilities—for instance, he can’t read or write, he would score low on an IQ test, and he often struggles to communicate his ideas to others. However, he’s remarkably talented in other fields, including martial arts and bike racing. He’s also full of profound wisdom—more than anyone else in the book, he helps Rachel understand that love depends on selflessness and sacrifice, and he gives her a fruitful metaphor by comparing Beth’s mind to a clock that can’t be reset by anyone else. Jesse’s life and accomplishments show that it’s shortsighted to define people entirely through their disabilities, or to assume that they can’t live full, free, independent lives just because they have deficits in some areas.

Jesse Quotes in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The Riding the Bus with My Sister quotes below are all either spoken by Jesse or refer to Jesse. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grand Central Publishing edition of Riding the Bus with My Sister published in 2013.
1. January: The Journey Quotes

I did ride with her, and over that day I was touched by the bus drivers’ compassion, saddened and sickened by how many people saw Beth simply as a nuisance, and awed by how someone historically exiled to society’s Siberia not only survived, but thrived. Indeed, the Beth I remembered from years ago had a heavy, ungainly gait; the Beth I saw now was not only nimble-footed, but her demeanor was exuberant and self-assured. I was aware of my earlier objections to her bus riding, but they began to feel inexcusably feeble.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
7. March: Streetwise Quotes

There it is again, that deep voice grumbling on inside me: How can she be so blithe about the possibility of trouble? You can’t let her do that. She may be putting herself in real jeopardy!

I take a deep breath. Despite her familiarity with this city, I’m not sure she fully understands, or accepts, how perilous the world can be. Yet if I get too “bossy,” I know she’ll dig in her heels all the harder. I also know it would be a great loss if I let some inner voice of criticism come between us. I’m enamored of her feistiness and her keen-witted street savvy. I feel privileged to be her sidekick. I want this year to go on.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 75-76
Explanation and Analysis:
12. May: Lunch with Jesse Quotes

I tell my friends I want to know what “their own kind” means. […] Okay, so she’s a tiny, sassy, roly-poly, Crayola-bright, nonpracticing Jewish chatterbox, and he’s a five-feet-four, bashful, sinewy, Lycra-clad, nonpracticing Baptist loner. Yet she makes sure he’s safer by buying him a bike helmet. He makes sure she’s prettier by shaving the hair that grows on her face. They scratch each other’s backs, and they accept each other’s moles. They argue over her queen bee ways or his reticence; they make up. He hangs his bike awards in her apartment. She keeps the redial button on her phone set to call him. They agree that they both want their own space and should remain unmarried, visiting in mornings or evenings, remaining alone with their dreams. I am still longing to meet my own kind, whatever that is, and I wonder who among these critics has met theirs.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 126-127
Explanation and Analysis:

The hostess, who is also the waitress, has shed all traces of her earlier inhospitality, and she doesn’t ignore Beth and Jesse, as some waitresses would do, waiting for me to act as the interpreter. Instead, she asks them what they want. It must be taxing for her, I think, as she pockets her pad and walks off; it’s perplexing enough for me. And how can she assess the proper way to behave, when my conversations with friends have made plain to me how little even the most enlightened of them knows about people like my sister? After all, until Beth’s generation, many people with mental retardation were shut away in institutions and attics.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

Beth wipes a bread crumb from Jesse’s small mustache. I bite into a roll, so frazzled that my hand is trembling. Now I understand that it’s not just Jesse’s blind eye or mental disability that discourages him from accepting my offers to join us in restaurants. There’s so much separateness in this almost empty room that I can’t breathe.

“Don’t pay him no mind,” Jesse says quietly, having observed more than I’d realized. “People is gonna look all day, and they might say that they don’t think it’s right, but it’s not really for them to judge. As long as you be nice to a person, looks don’t matter. You in this world, and you gotta accept it.”
Yeah,” Beth says. “Sometimes people give us looks, but I don’t think about it.”

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker), Jesse (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

“You want to know ‘bout love?” he says, lowering his glass. Then he sits up straight and says slowly, “Love is when you care for somebody, and you be willing to go out of your way and do anything for that person, and to take care of that person, and if they have problems, that you can help them out any way you know how. If they sick, that you can bring ‘em medicine, or give ‘em a helping hand. That’s what love is.”

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Jesse (speaker), Beth
Page Number: 134-135
Explanation and Analysis:
16. June: Disabilities Quotes

I still have not untangled how much is Beth and how much is Beth’s brain, nor whether, when she does not welcome new conversations, fashions, manners, boundaries, or concepts of space, it is because she cannot, or will not, or is simply not in a mood to open her mind at a given moment. I also have not ascertained how much, if any, of her self-centeredness is a result of her mental retardation. And, given the inextricable weave of nature and nurture, of self and society, that exists in all of us, it seems unlikely that I ever will.

But now I do know that, like me, and the drivers, Beth is on a journey. It’s just that Beth’s bus chugs along a lot more slowly.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Jesse
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:
28. October: The Hunk Quotes

With a jolt, I know what scares me.

It’s not just the same old crush with a new face, or the same old song with the same wrong words. It’s not just the pattern she doesn’t see, or care about, and therefore cannot or will not change.

It’s that Beth seems to need a cataclysmic event for her to change in any way—an event like our mother’s complete abdication of her responsibility to protect her own child, Juanita’s rejection, or Rodolpho’s abandonment. This seems true whether she’s being called upon to develop resourcefulness, assertiveness, or just basic self-restraint. I look at her and feel a clutch in my throat. What will it take now?

Is this all there will ever be to her life?

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Cliff, Jesse, Rodolpho
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Riding the Bus with My Sister LitChart as a printable PDF.
Riding the Bus with My Sister PDF

Jesse Character Timeline in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The timeline below shows where the character Jesse appears in Riding the Bus with My Sister. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. January: The Journey
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
...and a fight with another passenger a few months before. The bus passes Beth’s boyfriend Jesse, who is also intellectually disabled, and Claude calls out to him. (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Beth also talks about her relationships with Jesse, the bus drivers, and her family. Rachel notes that the family avoids visiting Beth—they struggle... (full context)
3. February: Hitting the Road
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Rachel remembers that Jesse visits Beth on evenings and Sunday mornings, and he’s as obsessed with bicycles as Beth... (full context)
4. February: The Professor
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
...letters: one thanking her for visiting and one explaining that, on their drive, Tim saw Jesse on his new bike. When she receives this letter, Rachel marvels at Tim’s eye for... (full context)
7. March: Streetwise
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...corner where they’ll catch the bus they’ve missed. Then, Beth tells Rachel that she and Jesse got into a bad fight with a homeless girl and her boyfriend on that corner.... (full context)
10. April: The Drivers’ Room
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...tell her when he has a problem. She talks about Henry on the phone with Jesse, who advises her to give him space. Then, when Beth sees Henry get off his... (full context)
12. May: Lunch with Jesse
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...asks Beth if she knows what love is. Beth says that she knows she loves Jesse, even though she can’t explain why. When Rachel tells her friends about Beth’s boyfriend, they... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Jesse is shy, probably because he grew up Black in a racist Southern town, and he’s... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Rachel and Beth visit Jesse’s apartment, where he’s wearing a white martial arts uniform. He hesitates at first, but then... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Before they leave for lunch, Jesse comments that he’s afraid of how people will treat him in public. They go to... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Rachel notices a bald man glaring at Beth and Jesse from across the restaurant, and she starts trembling with anxiety. But Jesse notices and tells... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
After Rachel, Beth, and Jesse finish eating, Beth goes to the bathroom, and Rachel asks Jesse what he thinks love... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Shortly after meeting Jesse, Beth showed Rachel a naked picture of him; the day after, she called their brother... (full context)
...Beth’s surgery, the doctor re-explained the procedure, Beth signed a consent form, and Rachel and Jesse sat nervously in the waiting room. The procedure went smoothly. A decade later, Beth and... (full context)
25. September: The Jester
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
The bus passes Jesse, who is riding his bike to the highway. This surprises Rachel, but Bert explains that... (full context)
28. October: The Hunk
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...Mustang, and Cliff jokes about Beth flirting with him. Beth replies that she’s already with Jesse, and just trying to set Cliff up with Olivia. Rachel remembers that Beth is doing... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...Beth. Rachel and Beth stare at each other across the bus, both filled with pain. Jesse compares Beth’s brain to a clock that nobody else can reset, and Rachel thinks the... (full context)
32. November: The Eighteenth Hole
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...home, Beth eventually learns to take the bus to her workshop, makes some friends (including Jesse), and starts to talk in a different dialect, like the other people in her program.... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...she wants to live alone. The family worries about her safety, but she insists anyway. Jesse and the social services agency help her move into an apartment, and she immediately sells... (full context)
36. January: Beyond the Limits of the Sky
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
...she passes all the places she visited during her year riding the buses. She sees Jesse on his bike, and they stop to chat in a parking lot. Jesse is training... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Rachel realizes that she’s never seen Beth’s melancholy side—but Jesse clearly has. Yet it makes sense that Beth would hide this from her big sister.... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
The meeting ends just like the year before: Beth hopes to visit Disney World with Jesse and see her niece and nephew, but she isn’t interested in classes, organizations, or a... (full context)
37. A Year and a Half Later: The Miracle Maker
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...she had stuck behind the glass of her mirror. It’s a congratulations note from Beth, Jesse, and several bus drivers. Rachel thinks about everything that has changed since her year riding... (full context)