Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey

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Rachel Simon's sister Beth is a spirited woman who lives intensely and often joyfully, despite her mental retardation. Beth spends her days riding the buses in her Pennsylvania city. The drivers, a lively group, are her mentors; her fellow passengers are her community. One day, Beth asked Rachel to accompany her on the buses for an entire year; the book is the chronicle of that remarkable time. Rachel, a writer and college teacher whose hyperbusy life camouflaged her emotional isolation, had much to learn in her ...
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Overview

Rachel Simon's sister Beth is a spirited woman who lives intensely and often joyfully, despite her mental retardation. Beth spends her days riding the buses in her Pennsylvania city. The drivers, a lively group, are her mentors; her fellow passengers are her community. One day, Beth asked Rachel to accompany her on the buses for an entire year; the book is the chronicle of that remarkable time. Rachel, a writer and college teacher whose hyperbusy life camouflaged her emotional isolation, had much to learn in her sister's extraordinary world. Here are life lessons from which every reader can profit: how to live in the moment, how to pay attention to what really matters, how to change, how to love—and how to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Simon elegantly braids together riveting memories of terrifying maternal abandonment, fierce sisterly loyalty, and astonishing forgiveness. She brings to light the almost invisible world of mental retardation, finds unlikely heroes in everyday life, and portrays her very special sister Beth as the endearing and indomitable person she is. This heartwarming book takes the reader on an inspirational journey, at once unique and universal.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
We don't typically make a practice of "discovering" a writer twice. In fact, we have a rule about such things. In Rachel Simon's case, we were caught by surprise. She was originally "discovered" in 1994 for her novel The Magic Touch, but her new publisher was unaware of her Discover distinction when submitting her memoir for consideration. It was so enthusiastically received by our reading group that we forgot to check to see if her previous work had run the Discover gauntlet. Eventually, we learned that it had; but Riding the Bus with My Sister was just too good for us to pass up, even if we're not "discovering" this talented writer for the very first time.

In her late 30s, Rachel Simon made a decision to end one relationship and to reconsider another. Unattached and work-obsessed, with a single-minded focus on "becoming a Somebody who would live a Big Life," Simon came to realize she'd erected barriers around herself, creating little room for others. But during a visit to her mentally retarded sister, Beth, a challenge is issued, and Rachel reluctantly makes a commitment -- to "ride the bus" with her sister for one year, recording her experiences.

With candor and newfound wisdom, gleaned both from her sister's straightforward and childlike approach to life, and surprisingly from the numerous bus drivers themselves (!), Simon alternates her bus-riding adventures with memories of her family's life. The resulting memoir is a touching journey to a richer, more meaningful life, and a story with a universal appeal. (Fall 2002 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
This perceptive, uplifting chronicle shows how much Simon, a creative writing professor at Bryn Mawr College, had to learn from her mentally retarded sister, Beth, about life, love and happiness. Beth lives independently and is in a long-term romantic relationship, but perhaps the most surprising thing about her, certainly to her (mostly) supportive family, is how she spends her days riding buses. Six days a week (the buses don't run on Sundays in her unnamed Pennsylvania city), all day, she cruises around, chatting up her favorite drivers, dispensing advice and holding her ground against those who find her a nuisance. Rachel joined Beth on her rides for a year, a few days every two weeks, in an attempt to mend their distanced relationship and gain some insight into Beth's daily life. She wound up learning a great deal about herself and how narrowly she'd been seeing the world. Beth's community within the transit system is a much stronger network than the one Rachel has in her hectic world, and some of the portraits of drivers and the other people in Beth's life are unforgettable. Rachel juxtaposes this with the story of their childhood, including the dissolution of their parents' marriage and the devastating abandonment by their mother, the effect of which is tied poignantly to the sisters' present relationship. Although she is honest about the frustrations of relating to her stubborn sister, Rachel comes to a new appreciation of her, and it is a pleasure for readers to share in that discovery. Agent, Anne Edelstein. (Aug. 26) Forecast: A blurb from Rosie O'Donnell and an author tour should pique women readers' interest. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-When she received an invitation to her mentally retarded sister's annual Plan of Care review, Simon realized that this was Beth's way of attempting to bring her back into her life. Beth challenged the author to give a year of her life to riding "her" buses with her. Even though Simon didn't know where it would take her, she accepted. During that time, she came to see her sister as a person in her own right with strong feelings about how she wanted to live her life, despite what others thought. Not everyone on the buses, drivers or passengers, liked or even tolerated Beth, and it shamed the author to realize that she sometimes felt the same way about her sibling. As the year passed, Simon came to the realization that "No one can be a good sister all the time. I can only try my best. Just because I am not a saint does not mean that I am a demon." The time together became a year of personal discovery, of acceptance, and of renewed sibling love and closeness. Clear writing and repeated conversations allow readers to hear the voices of both sisters. There is much to mull over, to enjoy, and to savor in this book.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Family relationships and forgiveness converge in this true-life chronicle by novelist Simon (The Magic Touch, 1994) of a year that gave her better understanding of her mentally retarded sister. Beth Simon has ridden buses for years. Not the way most people do, to get from point A to point B, but "a dozen a day, some for five minutes, others for hours." When hyper-busy, thirtysomething Rachel comes for a visit, Beth asks for a holiday gift: for one year, several times a month, her sister will ride the buses with her. Reluctantly, Rachel agrees. Over the course of the year, she slowly comes to appreciate Beth's ingenuity and stops viewing her solely as a burden. The author gracefully avoids sounding preachy or didactic; she reveals herself to be at times supremely frustrated with her sister's behavior. ("On seventeen buses, over twelve hours, Beth's talk brims with spite about the brutes she encounters. . . . Her babble is unceasing, booming, and unvarying from bus to bus.") The real heroes here are the drivers, who include Beth in family outings, visit her in the hospital, encourage her to try new things, provide her with stability and human connections absent in her highly dysfunctional family. Rachel begins to see that her own life consists of nothing but work; she shut out friends and lovers long ago. This realization, along with Beth's helpful matchmaking ("I wAnt to havE a driver as a BrothEr in law," she writes), leads to a significant relationship. Rachel's reflections on her own life are interspersed with memories of a far-from-ideal childhood: undiagnosed depression exacerbated by Beth's condition toppled their mother, who took up with a violent ex-con after a nasty divorce. Thethree disparate narratives come together quite well and leave the reader cheering for a reconciliation between the sisters and the rest of the family.
From the Publisher
A heartwarming, life-affirming journey through both the present and the past... Read this book. It might just change your life.—Boston Herald

An amazing book... It touched my soul.—Rosie O'Donnell

Clear writing and repeated conversations allow readers to hear the voices of both sisters. There is much to mull over, to enjoy, and to savor in this book.
School Library Journal

This perceptive, uplifting chronicle shows how much Simon, a creative writing professor at Bryn Mawr College, had to learn from her mentally retarded sister, Beth, about life, love and happiness.... Rachel juxtaposes this with the story of their childhood, including the dissolution of their parents' marriage and the devastating abandonment by their mother, the effect of which is tied poignantly to the sisters' present relationship. Although she is honest about the frustrations of relating to her stubborn sister, Rachel comes to a new appreciation of her, and it is a pleasure for readers to share in that discovery.—Publishers Weekly

Boston Herald
A heartwarming, life-affirming journey through both the present and the past... Read this book. It might just change your life.
Rosie O'Donnell
An amazing book... It touched my soul.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452284555
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Simon

Rachel Simon is an award-winning author and nationally known public speaker. She is best known for her critically acclaimed, bestselling memoir Riding the Bus with My Sister, which was adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie of the same name. The book has garnered numerous awards, and is a frequent and much beloved selection of many book clubs, school reading programs, and city-wide reads throughout the country. Simon is also the author of the bestselling novel The Story of Beautiful Girl. She lives in Delaware and can be reached through her website, www.RachelSimon.com.

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Read an Excerpt

January

The Journey

"Wake up," my sister Beth says. "We won't make the first bus."

At six a.m. on this winter morning, moonlight still bathes
her apartment. She's already dressed: grape-juice-colored T-shirt and
pistachio shorts, with a purple Winnie-the-Pooh backpack slung over
her shoulder. I struggle awake and into my clothes: black sweater,
black leggings. Beth and I, both in our late thirties, were born
eleven months apart, but we are different in more than age. She owns
a wardrobe of blazingly bright colors and can leap out of bed before
dawn. She is also a woman with mental retardation.
I've come here to give Beth her holiday present: I've come to
ride the buses.
For six years, she has lived on her own. In her subsidized
apartment, a few blocks off the main avenue of a gritty, medium-sized
Pennsylvania city, each of her days could easily resemble the next —
she has a lot of time, having been laid off from her job busing
tables at a fast food restaurant. She has enough money to live on, as
a recipient of government assistance for people with disabilities.
But Beth also has something else: ingenuity.
This trait isn't generally ascribed to people who live on the
periphery of society's vision. Like indigent seniors, people with
untreated mental illness, and the homeless, Beth is someone many
people in the mainstream don't think much about, or even see.
Six months after she moved to her fifth-floor apartment, she
realized that she was lonely, and had consumed all the episodes of
The Price Is Right and All My Children thatshe could tolerate. So
one day she decided to ride the buses. Not just to ride them the way
most of us do, and which her aides had trained her to do a few years
before. She wasn't interested in something as ordinary as getting
from one location to another. She wanted to ride them her way.
It was, Beth recalls, October 18, 1993, when, for reasons she
cannot remember, she first picked her monthly bus pass off her coffee
table. Then she pressed the first-floor button in her high-rise
elevator, walked through the vestibule to the street, hailed a bus on
the corner, climbed the steps toward the driver, settled into a seat,
and looped through the city from dawn to dusk, trying out one run
after another, bus to bus to bus. Soon she was riding a dozen a day,
some for five minutes, others for hours, befriending drivers and
passengers as she wound through the narrow streets of the city and
its wreath of rolling hills. Within weeks she could navigate anywhere
within a ten-mile radius, and, by studying the shifting
constellations of characters and the schedules posted weekly in the
bus terminal, she could calculate who would be at precisely which
intersection at any moment of any day. She staked out friendships all
over the city, weaving her own traveling community.
Beth's case manager had not suggested this, nor had Regis and
Kathie Lee, nor even Beth's boyfriend. This idea was hers alone.
We hurry down Main Street, the moon setting behind the
buildings. My guide, whose fuzzy brown hair is still wet from her
morning bath, points out the identifying numbers on bus shelters, the
scowls of grouchy drivers. She wears no watch, telling time instead
by the buses.
We dart into the downtown McDonald's, already, at six-thirty
a.m., filled with early risers: clusters of the elderly playing
cards, solitary office workers bent over newspapers. Beth orders
coffee, though she doesn't drink coffee, palming out the eighty-four
cents before the server asks.
Then we bolt into the dawn, making a beeline for a bus
shelter. Head craned down the street, Beth giggles as she once did
when I took her to a Donny Osmond concert: thrilled, in her element.
She clutches her yellow radio and a tangle of key chains — twenty-
nine, by her count — Cookie Monster, smiley faces, peace signs, which
hold a total of two keys. She does a drumbeat on her laminated bus
pass, stickered 000001. Every month she renews it, arriving first in
line at the sales window. That sticker is her private coat of arms,
proof that she's queen of these routes.
Our first bus draws up to the curb. The driver, Claude,
throws open his door as if welcoming us to his house. Beth clomps
aboard, arm thrust forward with the coffee. He takes the steaming
plastic cup, then thumbs four quarters into her hand. "Our
agreement," he explains to me.
Then she spins toward "her" seat — the premier spot on the
front sideways bench, catty-corner from his, so she'll be as close to
him as possible. I sit beside her; as a suburbanite who relies on my
car and the occasional commuter train, it is my first time on a city
transit bus in years. We pull out, past working-class row houses, a
Christian lawn ornament store, a farmers' market, an abandoned candy
factory, Asian grocers. Short hair, just beginning to gray, fans out
from underneath Claude's driver's cap. Beth announces that he's forty-
two, with a birthday coming soon. He laughs as she offers the exact
date and then explains how he likes to spend his birthdays. "She
remembers everything," he says.
He asks if she'll change into her flip-flops should this
chilly day become as balmy as the forecast predicts. "If iz over
forty," she replies, "you know I will." He tells me they "jam" with
her radio when the bus is empty. "Real loud," she adds. They recall
some trouble with a rider months ago. "She was mean," Beth says
indignantly. Claude agrees, and recounts the altercation, in which a
passenger vehemently challenged his knowledge of upcoming stops, and
which culminated, after the malcontent had finally exited, in
Claude's relief that Beth was sharing the ride — he had someone who
could sigh along with him.
Moments later, we pass Beth's boyfriend on his bicycle. Also
an adult with mental retardation, Jesse has paused at a crosswalk,
his maple brown face pointing straight ahead, his blind left eye
looking milky in the light, sun glinting off the helmet Beth long ago
convinced him to wear. The decade they've been together is more than
a fourth of their lives. Claude picks up his intercom mike and calls
out, "Hello, Jesse!" Jesse looks over. We twist around in our seats,
and his mustached face brightens as we wave.
All day, when we mount Jacob's bus, Estella's, Rodolpho's,
one driver after another greets Beth heartily. They tell me she helps
out: reminds them where to turn on runs they haven't driven for a
while, teaches them the Top Ten songs on the radio, keeps them
abreast of schedule and personnel changes, and visits them in the
hospital when they're sick. She assists her fellow passengers as
well, answering questions about how to reach their destinations,
sharing their consternation when the bus halts for double-parked
delivery trucks, carrying their third bag of groceries to the curb.
In return, many riders smile hello to her and ask how she's
doing; many drivers are hospitable, even affectionate. Jacob asks if
she has gotten a new winter coat and if the homeless woman who
clashed with her last month has bothered her again. Jack slips her
money for soda. Bert squawks out songs, making her laugh at his
jaggedy tunes.
Not everyone is nice. Some drivers, I learn, call her "The
Pest." When they see Beth at a stop ahead, they cruise right by, gaze
glued to the road. Some riders warn them, crying out, "Keep going!"
when they spy her waiting on the curb, and, if she climbs on, they
bleat in her face, "Shut up! Go home!"
"I don't care," she says and shrugs. When we were growing up,
I saw a twinge of anguish on her face whenever kids called her
poisonous names, and sometimes the hurt took hours to fade. Now I see
that, surrounded by friends, she regains her composure quickly.
That's not all that has changed, I discover. Beth, once a
willful child who, like many willful children, felt most secure at
home, has grown into an extravagantly social and nonconforming adult,
one who creates camaraderie out of bus timetables, refuses to trouble
herself when people look askance at her — and, in a buoyant
refutation of the notion that mental retardation equals sluggishness,
zips about jauntily to her own inner beat. My sister (my sister! I
boast to myself) maneuvers through the world with the confidence of a
museum curator walking approvingly through her galleries, and, far
from bemoaning her otherness, she exults in it.
That afternoon, as I step to the curb and wave goodbye to her
through the bus window, I am pierced by a sudden memory, minted only
this morning. She was sailing her short, stout body across the street
toward McDonald's, and I was scrambling behind. In the predawn
moonlight, as she chattered on about our labyrinthine itinerary, well
aware that there are few if any other people in this world devoted to
a calling of bell cords and exhaust fumes, she spontaneously threw
back her head and trumpeted, "I'm diffrent! I'm diffrent!" as if she
were hurling a challenge with all her might beyond the limits of the
sky.

In the course of my life, cars and trains and jets have whisked me to
wherever I wanted to go, and I was going places, I thought; I was
racing my way to becoming a Somebody. A Somebody who would live a Big
Life. What that meant exactly, I wasn't sure. I just knew that I
longed to escape the restrictions of what I saw as a small life:
friends and a family and a safe, unobjectionable job that would pay
me a passably adequate income. Although this package encompassed just
the kind of existence many people I knew were utterly content with, I
wanted something more.
Then, in the winter of my thirty-ninth year, I boarded a bus
with my sister and discovered that I wanted broader and deeper
rewards than those I would find in the Big Life.
At the time, I thought I had my life under control. In
addition to having published several books, I was teaching college as
well as holding classes for private students, writing free-lance
commentary for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and hosting events at a
bookstore. I adored everything I did, which is more than many of my
acquaintances could say.
But, though I wouldn't confess it to myself, I worked all the
time. Seven days a week, from the minute I threw off the covers at
seven a.m. until I disintegrated back inside them at one a.m., I
leapt like a hare through my schedule: Write article ? Grade student
papers ? Interview newspaper subject ? Book author for store signing
? Teach private class ? Take notes for next novel ? Eat ? Crash.
My life, I told myself, bore little resemblance to the lives
of workers in corporate America. After all, I made my own schedule
and wore comfy leggings and sweaters at my desk, saving the A-line
skirts and blazers and lipstick until I drove out to class or the
bookstore. To unwind, I took vigorous walks whenever I pleased,
keeping my five-foot build lean and fit. But who was I kidding? I was
like most of my peers: hyperbusy, hypercritical, hyperventilating.
As a result, I bricked in all the spaces in my week when I
might have seen friends, and so it followed that I lost many of them.
I lost my opportunity to indulge in almost all leisure activities as
well: no movies or plays, and, though I continued to purchase new
novels and routinely carted home any intriguing texts I found on
the "Take Me" shelf at school, dust settled on the pages like snow,
as I had time to read few books beyond those I needed for my work.
But perhaps the greatest forfeit was love. I'd had a few awkward
dinner dates in the four years since my longtime live-in romance had
come to a mutually tearful and reluctant end, and even those strained
opportunities had petered out. Alone in my apartment in the
Philadelphia suburbs, dining at my desk most nights, I occasionally
browsed the personal ads. But then I'd open my datebook, remember
that I had no time to meet for coffee, and turn back to my work.
This had not always been me. Until I found myself single, my
evenings had been filled with dinner parties and art openings and
reading groups and two-hour phone calls with my girlfriends. That is,
when my nights weren't already occupied by relaxed conversations on
the sofa with my boyfriend, Sam, where we'd go on about books and
politics and the seductive lure of the Big Life, our exchanges
interrupted only when he'd get up to flip through his voluminous
record collection, then set the needle on recordings by, maybe, Miles
Davis, or the English folk musician Nick Drake. I don't know when
things stopped working for us; I just know that when he asked me to
marry him I could not bring myself to make the commitment. Finally,
in a blur of grief and regret, convinced I should let him move on
with his life, I left. I took only my necessities — computer, desk,
and clothes — and camped out in one cheap rented room after another
while I tried to make sense of my life, and of what seemed to be a
stony heart. It didn't help that for years I had subsisted on Sam's
architect's salary, plus my writing jobs, and now, in one of those
unnerving coincidences of fate, they suddenly dried up. Those first
few months on my own, I was so lonely and broke that my stomach would
seize up during the night and I'd wake on my air mattress, clinging
to a pillow, and lie awake until morning. During the day, catching my
reflection in my computer screen and seeing only failure, I'd feel my
face tighten with terror.
Finally, I accepted a job at a bookstore, and, as luck would
have it, started publishing at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then,
marveling at the dollar signs sprouting in my check register and
discovering that with each newspaper column and wave of bookstore
applause I felt myself on my way to the Big Life, I accepted
positions teaching as well. I rented an apartment and purchased a
bona fide bed, but did not acquire a stereo or TV, as I hadn't missed
either enough to replace it. And I worked. I worked until I was so
exhausted I fell back asleep easily when I woke during the night. I
worked until I forgot I was lonely, until I could not conceive of any
other existence.
I hadn't seen Beth in a couple of years. We stayed in touch
through letters; once a week I'd scratch out a card, and in return
she'd cascade fifteen back. Her letters consisted of two or three
multicapitalized sentences sprawling down the page, sprinkled with
periods, which she'd then fold into envelopes flamboyantly tattooed
with stickers and addressed in fall-off-the-paper print. I relished
finding these treats populating my mailbox, whole colonies arriving
in a single day. In Magic Marker scrawl, they gossiped about our
younger brother (I aM Glad that.Max got a new rED car. when he Came
with his kids. good) and older sister (Laura sentMe. a gift Thing for
WAlmart), educated me about the latest Top Ten (Do you. like In Sinks
I want you back. I do), and revised my knowledge of Jesse's athletic
achievements (Jesse did do that big race. WoW). Best of all, they
climaxed in a spunky declaration that defied the world's cliché of
her as an uncomplicated half-wit, signed as they were, "Cool Beth."
But when I phoned her occasionally, the conversations were
clumsy and joyless. She never volunteered information about herself,
and when I divulged meager scraps about myself, she made no effort to
respond. This combination of guardedness and lack of interest annoyed
me, as it did the rest of the family, and like them, I didn't know
what to say or ask. After "Hello," our dialogue rapidly
disintegrated. Finally, resorting to the I'm-the-older-sister-you're-
the-little-sister pattern I knew so well, I'd offer blandly, "Did you
hear about the Ninja Turtle mug giveaway at that fast food
place?" "How was your talk with Mom?" These queries would allow us to
trudge ahead for a few minutes, Beth scattering monosyllabic crumbs
in my direction, me telling myself, Okay, it's boring, but it's
brief. When we got off the phone, my shoulders would be as rigid as
if I'd just marched into combat.
Sometimes she'd call collect. "Iz my birfday. Can you visit?"
Or "Iz nice out. Come over." But she lived hours away, in a city I
didn't know my way around; I'd already been long out of the house
before she'd moved to the area with our father. Endure both
geographic confusion and labored communication? "Sorry," I'd say. "I
can't."
Besides, she did this . . . bus thing, and, like the rest of
our family, I found it difficult to accept. Some days its sheer
oddness baffled me; other days I was disheartened by her choosing to
master bus routes over sticking with something productive like a job.
I had long embraced eccentrics in novels and cheered on iconoclasts I
encountered in newspaper stories, yet I was too dismayed by Beth's
peculiar devotion to the buses to be willing to acquaint myself with
her life. In fact, I had rarely even admitted it to friends and
colleagues who, once they learned that one of the three siblings I'd
mentioned had mental retardation, seldom asked anything besides
whether she had Down syndrome (no) and what her "mental age" might
be. Mental age. It was as if they thought that a person's daily
passions — and literacy skills, emotional maturity, fashion
preferences, musical tastes, hygiene habits, verbal abilities, social
shrewdness, romantic longings, and common sense — could all fit
neatly into a single box topped, like a child's birthday cake, with a
wax 7, or 13, or 3. When I was unable to supply her "mental age,"
they'd ask whom she lived with, even if I'd already told them she
lived on her own. It would become clear to me then that their
understanding of mental retardation had never moved beyond the
stereotype of the grinning, angelic child. This exchange was so
routine, and had been for so many years, that my dismay had long ago
dissipated into acceptance, and with that had come the realization
that I would always hover between two worlds, with mental retardation
over here, "normal" cognitive functioning over there, and that I
would have to convey information from one to the other, never quite
belonging to either. My friends seemed relieved to learn that people
with mental retardation are individuals. I was relieved to omit just
what an individual Beth happened to be.
In letters or on the phone with Beth, I sought to ignore her
deepening allegiance to the buses by focusing on practical matters.
Has KFC had any openings since they laid you off a few years ago?
Would you like help obtaining a library card? She communicated her
resentment with sullen "I don't know"s or a silence as deep as sleep.
So for years I essentially let her become a stranger. Though
sometimes at night, when I was at my desk and happened to glance
outside and spy the moon saluting from above the treetops, I'd
remember how fascinated she'd been by it when we were kids. Sitting
at my desk, I'd shake my gaze away from the window, but moonlight
would still illuminate my papers. Her stickered letters glared up at
me, as the guilt of being a "bad sister" once again reared up inside
me.
Then one winter morning when Beth was thirty-eight and I was
thirty-nine, and I was too exhausted from my daily triathlon to come
up with an idea for the newspaper, I mentioned to an editor that I
wanted to visit Beth for the holidays but was, as always, perplexed
about how to negotiate the dilemma of her buses. "Say what?" he said,
and, embarrassed, I explained. "How interesting," he said. "Take a
day to ride with her, and write it up for your next piece."
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.
I wrote the article, and as soon as it appeared it created a
stir. Postcards and e-mails arrived from strangers; acquaintances
flagged me down in the bookstore to shake my hand. Beth was tickled:
people were paying attention to her and her beloved drivers. The
piece was picked up by papers all over the country, generating a tide
of enthusiasm. I kept calling to tell her, and we started talking
more. Her letters, which soon poured into my mailbox in even greater
numbers, felt all the more special. I finally knew what to ask, and
now she wanted to answer.
Yet I was too busy to dwell upon the pleasure the article's
success gave me. Actually, I was too busy to let myself feel much of
anything: One day when throwing clothes into a suitcase during the
ten minutes I had allotted to pack for a business trip, I glanced
outside. A neighboring family was playing together on that mild
winter afternoon. There, beside a tree swing, stood the dad — not a
Big Person with a Big Life, but an unassuming person with a richly
quiet life — as each of his four children lined up for a push. I
started to smile as I zipped up my bag, but discovered to my horror
that the muscles in my face no longer seemed to work. That night, I
lay in my hotel bed in a chill, suddenly unable to keep my loneliness
stuffed inside its cage. What if my breathless daily grinds led to
only more breathless daily grinds? What if I closed the door forever
on human connection — never again shared a relaxed afternoon laughing
with a friend, forgetting to look at my watch? Or spent a day, a
whole day, simply enjoying the company of a man? What if work was it?
A few days later, hurrying through my mail, I came upon an
envelope from one of the agencies that works with Beth. I opened it
to find an invitation to attend something called her annual "Plan of
Care" review.
I held up the letter to reread it and slowly comprehended its
significance: Beth had asked that I be included. In the eleven years
since she had left home, this meeting — which I'd been vaguely aware
of through the report that gets mailed to each family member, and
which seemed to cover matters like finances and health — had been
attended only by her aides, not family. But clearly, my ride on the
buses had meant a lot more to her than just a few words in a
newspaper.
I flipped open my datebook. The January day was not ideal,
but if I canceled this and rearranged that, I could manage it. I
called to RSVP: "Yes."

On a brisk January afternoon, while last week's snow still dots the
streets, the mirrored elevator zooms me toward the eighth floor of
the agency's skyscraper. As the numbers light up — 4, 5 — I wonder
what to expect. The elevator feels leathery and professional, a part
of my world, and with a catch in my throat that falls somewhere
between caution and excitement, I know that as soon as I emerge, I'll
be in a land of rules and people I don't know — 6, 7 — and will feel
as cloddish and bewildered as Alice emerging from the far end of the
rabbit hole.
The doors open, and Beth is standing before me in the marble
corridor.
At four feet ten, with unzipped regal purple coat, buttercup
yellow pants, and an oversized orange marmalade Eeyore T-shirt, she
cuts a grand Day-Glo figure in this corporate environment. Although
Beth looks like the rest of our family — brown eyes, curved nose,
brunette ringlets, squirrelly cheeks — you immediately know when you
first see her that she is different in some way, given her unique
fashion sense and her loud and spirited manner. "Hi," she says.
I set my briefcase down to give her a hug. I feel as if I
tower over her as I lean in close, and my tailored black overcoat,
burgundy skirt, and black velvet blazer seem not understated as much
as entirely underdressed. We wrap our arms around each other, though
I know it will be fast; Beth doesn't care to be touched, she has
admitted to me, but hugs me because I like to.
Still, her squeeze, quick though it is, is just long enough
for me to uncork a sudden memory: we are three and four years old,
admiring a spider web under the house in the shadows of the lattice,
and I am tickling her legs in the grass-scented shade. Eventually I
grew into my life, smoothing down all the quirks that would make me
stand out, while Beth nurtured all the quirks that ultimately
produced this imp in my arms. How had we come to evolve as we did, I
wonder, as she pulls away from me. We were born into the same family,
we relished the same simple moments, and, until a certain sleeting
February afternoon when we were teenagers, we shared the same major
losses and joys. Yet we turned out so differently. Is it just her
mental retardation that made her who she is, or did her experiences
after, or even before, that February day somehow spin her personality
in this direction? Memories flicker through my mind as I try to trace
the thread back to the beginnings of my irrepressible sister.
"Down here," she says, wheeling about and hastening along a
corridor of office doors, her feet turned out in her customary
divining-rod style. "I wore pants today because iz thirty-two, but iz
supposed to be forty later so I'm gonna change to shorts."
Shorts. Always shorts, and often her trademark violet sandals
or blueberry flip-flops, as long as the temperature is above forty. I
think it has to do with vanity. Not that she feels she's got Rockette
legs, nor does she even have a full-length mirror in her apartment.
And, though she draws attention to her sandaled feet by painting each
toenail a different fluorescent color, glamour isn't the point
either. It just seems imperative to Beth to show that she can brave
the cold when the rest of us bundle up.
She patters into a conference room. Around the rectangular
table sit three women: redheaded Vera, blond Amber, brunette Olivia.
The room is not large, and Vera and Amber, in their casual sweaters
and pants, have set up at one end of the table, while Olivia, arrayed
in a navy blue pants suit, occupies the other.
"Have a seat," Olivia says to me after I shake their hands. I
realize that although Beth has peppered her letters with their names,
I know nothing about what each one does for her or, for that matter,
anything about the system at all. I settle into a cushioned chair
across from Beth.
"Let's start with finances," Olivia says. She is a pretty,
tall woman in her early forties, with an alabaster complexion and
raven hair that she wears long, her bangs framing a pair of
extraordinary eyes. They're turquoise, I see, as she pages through
her paperwork. Navajo barrettes, studded with stones the same color
as her irises, clip back her hair.
"Okay, finances," Vera says, lifting up a paper. She's
somewhat older, petite, pacific, bearing the aura of a no-nonsense
grandmother. She speaks slowly, her words shaped by a subtle Spanish
accent.
"Beth currently receives $527.40 from S.S.I.," she reads from
her page.
"What does that stand for?" I ask. "Social Security?"
"Iz my check evry month," Beth says.
"It stands for Supplemental Security Income," Amber explains.
Perky and gum-chewing, blond hair swept back from her face, she's the
youngest of the three by at least a decade.
Olivia, friendly and easygoing, who seems to be running the
meeting, elaborates. "S.S.I.'s a Social Security program that gives
monthly benefits to people sixty-five or older, or blind, or who have
a disability and can't work, provided they don't own much or have a
lot of income."
Vera goes on, detailing how much of the S.S.I. money goes to
Beth's subsidized apartment, groceries, phone, cable, burial fund,
spending money, and bus pass — "the most important thing."
"It sure iz," Beth says. "You know it."
I suddenly remember that Vera visits Beth in her apartment a
few times a week; she must be the person whom the drivers call Beth's
aide. Amber seems to work with her. At last, the cards are shuffling
into order. I find myself nodding, suddenly understanding — and
almost miss Olivia saying "On to health."
Amber pulls out a report written by Mary, who, I'm told, is
Beth's medical caseworker. "Your weight is 166 right now," she says
as Beth shrugs, "and your cholesterol is still too high."
Vera says, "It's those Ring-Dings and chocolate pudding, and
the way you eat on the bus instead of going home for meals."
"I eat what I like," Beth says. "I eat hot dogs too, and
spaghetti and meatballs, and cream cheese on bagels, and macaroni and
cheese."
Vera says, "Those foods are not going to help your
cholesterol. You could develop heart problems."
"Thaz not gonna happen."
Amber simply continues. "It's been a few years since you've
seen a dentist."
"I brush my teeth."
"For a thorough cleaning, honey," Olivia says.
"They can look in my mouth, but I'm not letting them put
their fingers in. I'm not doing that." I learn that when dentists
have tried that, her reflexes have immediately assumed command,
compelling her to shove them, quite forcefully, away.
They drift off into a discussion of where to find someone
who'll take her medical assistance card, and who also has experience
with patients with special needs. My attention strays, and I glance
at Beth. She's not engaged either, so we make eyes at each other, as
if once again we're little kids at a dinner party of adults who are
up to important and mysterious business. It's easy to fall into this
secret silliness with Beth.
"Your uterine fibroid seems to have stabilized," Amber goes
on, as we return to the discussion. "But the eyes really worry me.
She has a rare condition. Her corneas are becoming scratched and
opaque, and it's affecting her vision."
"Is that why your eyes have looked foggy for the past several
years?" I say.
"I don't know."
"Does it affect your vision?" I ask.
"I don't know."
"Yes," Vera says. "I help her with eyedrops a few times a
week. And she's got a follow-up appointment with the doctor in a few
months."
I peer at Beth with concern. Again, she shrugs.
Then they review what Beth is not: a drug or alcohol user, a
smoker, a person with high blood pressure. I peek across the table at
the paperwork. Olivia is updating a typed sheet that
lists "Diagnosis: Mild Mental Retardation." I also make out, on a
different set of papers, that Olivia is Beth's "case manager," Vera
her "program assistant," and Amber her "team coordinator." Whatever
all that means. I have never thought about any diagnosis besides the
blanket term of "mental retardation," and God knows I haven't a clue
about what any of these titles designate. It all seems quite
complicated, but I feel too self-conscious about my ignorance to ask
them to clarify anything for me.
"Safety," Olivia says.
"Sometimes you walk in the street," Vera says.
"When there's snow."
"Can you walk on the sidewalk?"
"I'll try."
"You need to do better than try," Vera says.
"You could get hurt," Olivia says.
I glance around, and detect what my own little-kid mode had
prevented me from noticing: their tense brows and exasperated slumps.
Beth notices too, but rather than give in to what they want, she
says, "I know how to use 911. I know what to do if there's a fire. I
don't go out in the dark 'cept for the early bus. And if anyone gives
me trouble, Jesse'll look out for me."
"We just want to make sure you're safe," Olivia says.
With quiet defiance, she says, "I'm safe."
"Okay," Olivia says, writing, as I hear a sigh coming from
one of the others. "Now, what are your important relationships?"
Beth gives everyone at the table an as-if-you-don't-know
grin. "Jesse. The drivers: Jack, Bailey, Rick, Timmy. And my little
brother, Max, brings his two kids to visit sometimes, they live a few
hours from here, and I talk with my mother on the phone sometimes,
she lives in North Carolina. Dad lives across town, and Rachel near
Philadelphia, and our older sister, Laura, lives in Colorado. I write
them letters — sometimes."
She sits back, giving me a different sisterly look, one that
says, Of course we both know why it's like that. I glance at Olivia
and Amber and Vera, and I can see in their eyes that they know it
too: the family rarely visits Beth because there's too much friction.
I think about the issues we discuss when we talk about Beth. Some
family members say they're tired of speaking with a person so
disinclined to respond that she might as well be mute. Others have
waged a campaign for her to shrink to a healthier size, only to
retreat from the futility of it all. Then there are the buses. Our
mother has actually met with Beth's support people over the years,
begging them to make Beth get a job, a volunteer position, just
something to encourage her to be a fuller member of society. They
replied that they'd do whatever Beth wanted, and that wasn't what she
wanted. Since then, the family has spoken of "them" with distrust, or
sometimes disdain. We're suspicious of their guiding principles, not
that we know what those principles are. We haven't asked, and they
haven't thought to offer.
But they are sitting before me now, one, two, three
individuals, not a "them" at all, and I see that they are only doing
what Beth wants. Besides, I know how contrary she can be when not
given her own way. If she doesn't want what you're proposing, no
matter how kind or encouraging you might be, you're bound to hear
this response: "Stop bossing me around."
"What are your dreams for the future, honey?" Olivia asks.
"To go to Disney World with Jesse. To live with my niece and
nephew for one day."
"What about the coming year? Do you want to take any classes?"
"No."
"Do you want to join any organiz —"
"No."
"Do you want —"
"No."
"— a job?"
"No."
We get up to leave and, as we shake hands, Olivia tells me to
expect her written report on this Plan of Care meeting in a few
weeks. But now that I understand what it is, I also know what its
conclusion will be: "Beth does not wish to change anything."

Though that's not quite true. There is one thing she wants to change.
I discover this after the meeting. I'm all set to take her to
lunch, some cheery place where our worlds can stay merged from the
menu to the check before we exit into our separate lives. But the
moment we finish up with Olivia and the others, shuttle down the
elevator to the lobby, and open the doors into the sunlight, Beth
launches herself full speed up the street. Her purple jacket billows
behind her, and her tiny feet fly like wings.
"Where are we going?" I call out, stumbling behind in my
pumps and overcoat, clasping my briefcase to my chest.
"Jacob, or Bert, or Henry — whoever we can get to first! Come
on!"
Wait a minute, I think, jumping over ice patches. I
volunteered to ride along for one article. I wasn't enlisting for
life.
At a corner she slows to a stop and sights a bus bearing
toward us from the distance. "Look! I knew we'd make it!"
"So this is what it is?" I say, catching up to her. "Whenever
I see you, I ride the buses?"
"Iz fun."
I check my watch. A student is expecting me after lunch,
someone whose novel-in-progress I care about a great deal. Then I
peer back at the skyscraper we left minutes ago, where I met with
people who care equally deeply about Beth. A coldness rolls through
me; it occurs to me that I couldn't assemble a crew who would know so
much about me, and, should I be asked about my important
relationships, I could no longer supply such a long list.
"You could try it," Beth says. "Just for a while."
The bus is one corner away. I know my student is eagerly
waiting to show me his next chapter.
"I don't think I . . ."But Beth is giggling, perhaps in
anticipation of the driver at the helm, perhaps in amusement at me;
and my habitual refusal trails off into silence. Well, I consider,
buoyed by her laughter, greathearted and wily at the same time, it is
beneficial for her to see family under her own flag. I could stop
feeling like a bad sister — stop fleeing from intimacy with this
person I have known all my life — if only for one afternoon.
"Um, how much of a while?" I ask. "Like till three or four
o'clock?"
"No-oh," she says, drawing out the word as if coaxing me to
guess a secret. Then, as the bus swings toward the curb, she
expresses her wish. "They see me evry year," she says. "So do it like
me."
"What do you mean?"
"A year," she says.
"What?" I can't have heard that right.
She grins. "Do it for a year."
I look nervously at her. "A year?" That's two semesters of
student papers up in smoke! Four seasons of newspaper pieces — twelve
whole months of articles and authors and conferences and my
comfortable bed and mornings that begin after, not before, the birds,
and salads at a table instead of Ho Ho's on a bus. A year.
"You're kidding," I say.
"You could try," she says. "You don't have to ride evry day."
I see the thrill of the dare on her face. All right, I think,
let's say I didn't do it with the full dedication that Beth has . . .
She tilts her head back, as if waiting for me to chicken out.
I hold her look, calculating wildly about when I could shift my
meetings.
The bus berths at the curb, and the door opens before
us. "So?" Beth says, wearing a teasing face that's melting into hope.
I stare at her.
"Well?" she says.
And I think, You need to do this, even if you don't know
where it will take you.
I draw in a mighty breath. "O . . . kaaay," I say to Beth.
"Really?" she says.
"Yes," I say, more emphatically and, as I say it, I know I
will do it.
"And how much will you come?"
"Uh," I say, stalling. "What about every two weeks?"
"What about more?"
I pause, and exhale. "I'll try my best," I say. "Whenever I
can, I will."
"Oh, good!"
With trembling hands, I fish in my coat pocket for a token. A
golden token that cost $1.10: the price of admission for this
odyssey. Beth is bounding up the stairs toward the fare box,
radio in her hand. I look down at my briefcase, then up at Beth
standing at the top of the steps, ushering me into her world. A year,
I think. For her. Just one year. I rest my hand on the railing. Then,
not knowing where this bus is going, I hop aboard her life.

The Time of Snows and Sorrow

This is a story we tell in my family.
"I'm worried about the new one," Mommy says to our neighbor
Mrs. Stein. "I think something's wrong with her."
Mommy is holding baby Beth in our New Jersey yard, leaning
over the picket fence between the two houses. Roses bloom everywhere.
Laura and I run around on the grass.
"Oh, now, don't worry," Mrs. Stein says. "She's only two
months old."
"But her birth . . . it wasn't like the others. They gave me
a drug so I wasn't conscious during the delivery. Later they told me
they'd had to use forceps, and they squeezed her head."
Mrs. Stein moves closer. Her two girls wave to Laura and me
through the picket fence.
"Maybe your hands are too full," Mrs. Stein says. "Laura's
only two and a half, and Rachel's just over one year. With three
under age three, I know I'd be meshuggah."
Mommy sighs and looks down at Beth. She just lies there like
a doll, not moving at all. "I think that's why I didn't notice
anything at first," she says. "But then, when she was maybe five
weeks old, something struck me as not right . . ."
Mrs. Stein's girls come over, they stand as high as her
knees. We can't reach them, so Laura and I start spinning round and
round and then they giggle and do the same.
"Ach, what can anyone really see at five weeks?" Mrs. Stein
says.
"She just wasn't reacting like the other two had. She'd lie
in her crib, staring for hours. You could clap your hands above her
head, and she wouldn't look. You could come near, and her eyes
wouldn't focus on you. Her expression was always . . . empty."
"She'll catch up."
"She's still like this. Except when she arches her back and
holds stiff, but she barely moves her legs or arms. And she doesn't
cry."
"Even when she's hungry?"
"No. I'm afraid that she's . . . I don't know."
Laura and I spin into a heap. The girls over the fence do,
too. Mrs. Stein is looking into Mommy's arms at Beth.
"She's just a little baby," she says. "Don't worry about it."
Mommy's eyes are fixed on Beth. Her face is tight and scared.

Every day, Mommy stands beside Beth's crib. Sometimes Mommy holds her
up to sit, but then Beth's head just droops to the side. She can
grasp a little, but she won't reach.
Grandma comes over some mornings, and Mommy sits with her in
the dining room, drinking coffee, whispering. At night, Daddy comes
back from the school where he teaches and stands at Beth's doorway,
staring with Mommy. "Tell the pediatrician," he says.

Laura and I are waiting with Grandma in the doctor's office, and
Mommy comes out with Beth. She's got that sad look. "He did the
exam," she tells Grandma, putting us in our strollers. "But he says
nothing's wrong."
"He says I'm just a worrying kind of mother," she says the
next month.
"He says I should just relax," she says a month after that.
Finally, when Beth is six months old and Mommy goes to the
doctor with Beth again, he picks her up in his arms and throws her up
in the air. She does a somersault up by the ceiling, right in front
of Mommy's eyes, and he catches her as she comes tumbling back down.
Beth's expression doesn't change at all.
"You're right," the doctor says. "There's something wrong."
"I'm finding another doctor," Mommy says to Grandma when she
comes back to the waiting room. Then she whispers, "We're thinking
she may be retarded." Mommy fits my boots onto my feet. "But, oh God,
I hope we're wrong."

Right after the new year, on a windy, flurrying morning when Beth is
seven months old and still not sitting up, she goes to stay for many
weeks in a children's hospital in Philadelphia. A special doctor
there will try to find out if Beth is what our parents worry she is,
and why, and what to do about it. Mommy and Daddy are both from
northern New Jersey and have never been to Philadelphia, but they've
been told this doctor is the best. They'd drive to Mars for the best.
The doctor studies everything medicine knows about in 1961 —
the papers I later see use words like red cell fragility, platelet
count, electrolytes, spinal fluid, amino acids in the urine, skull x-
rays, EEG. He biopsies some tissue on her leg to search for signs of
diseases common to Ashkenazi Jews, because that's what we are. The
biopsy leaves behind marks on Beth's thigh, white lines like a train
track to nowhere. Every weekend, Grandma takes care of Laura and me
while Mommy and Daddy drive the three hours to the hospital. Snow
pelts the roads. The icy streets are narrow, and sometimes the car
skids. Week after week, they enter the hospital and walk to Beth's
room, seeing things they've never seen: babies with oxygen tubes,
babies with IVs, the hollow faces of bald children, weeping parents.
Then they reach Beth's room, and the doctor turns to them, and
announces that there are still tests to be done, but that Beth has
shown no improvement.
They drive home in the snow, demoralized.
Then, after four weeks, the doctor calls and requests a
special visit. This is the one, they know. The one where they'll
finally learn it all.
They get to the hospital. Someone tells them the doctor will
meet them soon, and they stand at the end of a long corridor, trying
to breathe through the moments. They stare down the hall, waiting for
a glimpse of his approaching form.
Finally he rounds the far corner and comes toward them,
walking slowly. His face darkens as he draws near.
Then he is in front of them. They stand in silence. At last
he puts his hand on Daddy's shoulder, and takes a deep breath. "We
know she's retarded," the doctor says, "but we don't know what caused
it. I'm sorry. There is nothing left that we can do."
Mommy collapses into herself. Daddy stumbles back. Their
daughter is mentally retarded, and they don't know why. All they know
is what they've learned in the last month: that she will not develop
normally; that she will have limited intellectual, emotional, and
maybe even physical capabilities; that, given her current progress,
she might be bedridden for life and communicate in grunts and groans.
They bundle her up and take her home, wipers clearing the
snow from the windshield. Laura and I run to hug them as soon as they
come in, and then they teach us the two biggest words I'll ever know,
two grown-up words about our sister.

Copyright © 2002 by Rachel Simon. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Mifflin Company.
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Table of Contents

Contents

January The Journey 1 The Time of Snows and Sorrow 21

February Hitting the Road 27 The Professor 31 Fighting 42

March The Pilgrim 49 Streetwise 58 Into Out There 67

April The Dreamer 81 The Drivers’ Room 88 The End of Play 96

May Lunch with Jesse 107 Matchmaker 123 The Pursuit of Happiness 127

June The Earth Mother 133 Disabilities 141 Goodbye 152

July The Optimist 157 Break Shot 168 Gone 171

August The Loner 175 Nowhere 189 Be Not Afraid 190 Inside the Tears 195

September The Jester 201 Surgery 209 Releasing the Rebel 216

October The Hunk 225 The Price of Being Human 233 Come Home, Little Girl 238

November The Girlfriend 247 The Eighteenth Hole 252

December Swans and Witches 265 Finding the Twin 272 Iz Gonna Be All Right 275

January Beyond the Limits of the Sky 279

A Year and a Half Later The Miracle Maker 291

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2007

    Riding the Bus of Life

    Rachel Simmons is a 40 year old woman, who is unhappy with her busy, work driven schedule. Rachel decides to go on bus rides with her mentally challenged sister, Beth. Over a year¿s time of riding the city buses each day, both Rachel and Beth learn life lessons from each others different life styles and personalities. Rachel learns to take a seat and enjoy the ride of life. She also learns what other people think doesn¿t matter and understanding others can make life worthwhile. This book is a great read, which makes a person wonder if they are living life in the fast lane or taking time to smell the roses. I liked how this book teaches so many lessons, about learning how to understand, having patients and dealing with frustrations as well as making you want to live in the present moment not the future or past. I also loved how it is easy for the reader to connect with both Rachel and Beth. Each character is given characteristics that everyone can relate to. For example with Beth it¿s the feeling of being unwanted at times and Rachel not putting what¿s important in life first. This book is slow at times and is the only reason someone might not want to read this novel. Other than that you should read this book, if you need a little inspiration in life, as well as a few tears. Now that you know about this great book, grab a copy and start reading.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2005

    An Inspiring True Story

    A few months ago I watched the movie Riding The Bus With My Sister and as I was watching. The movie made many connections to my life since I am a person with a learning disability. Although my disability is more milder then Beths, I feel for Beth Simon as she has been let down by her own family and has trouble fitting in to mainstream society. For many years I had trouble fitting into mainsteam society but it was no where as serve as Beth's struggles. Just like Beth my relationship with my sister has not always been at it best. In some ways I share some of the some persoanlity traits as Beth. So in many ways those annoying traits such as being intustive as put a strain on my relationship with my sister. I would recommand this book to anyone especially someone who has a realtive with mental retardation. Rosie O`Donnelle did a outstanding job plaing the role of Beth Simon. What a found most interseting in both the novel and the movie of how Beth's has made a life for herself by riding on the bus and with that has formed friendships with busdrivers as well as passengers.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Dianne C. for Readers Favorite This is a captivatin

    Reviewed by Dianne C. for Readers Favorite

    This is a captivating story of sisters that couldn't be more different! They were raised by a somewhat dysfunctional family; tested by the ups and downs of life many times. Later in life, Rachel (whose life is at a standstill) decides to spend a year of her life riding the city buses with her mentally challenged sister who is less than a year younger than her. Rachel is not sure if this will be the best or worst year of her life, but she wants to try to get to know her sister better. This story is a twist, and turn ride that any of us could be involved in with our own siblings. Rachel's story of Beth is a real eye-opener!

    I have worked with, and been friends with, mentally challenged people, but didn't always know what they thought, or how they really felt. I have wondered what goes on in their minds, and how they feel about themselves. Why do some just not like change? This book helped me to understand that they are their own persons. You may help them with suggestions, but in the end they have the right to decide things for themselves, and allowed to by law! I highly recommend this book for anyone who has a family member or friend who is mentally challenged or works with one. You understand why there are frustrations on both sides of the fence, and how great the people are who work constantly to better the lives of these forgotten humans! I highly recommend this book and give it a 5+++++ rating.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2005

    5 stars???

    I chose to read this book after having read all the wonderful reviews posted on this website. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be a huge disappointment. If I could give it zero stars I would. I found it excruciatingly difficult to get through, and I had to force myself to finish it. The story line is bland and uninspiring. Furthermore, I don't know what city this is where bus drivers are would-be philosophers who dole out sappy proverbs on a daily basis and say things like 'The only thing that's going to satisfy me is to do good in this life.' Right, because bus drivers say things like that... Its only saving grace was that it was a short read, since overall this book was a waste of my time.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon is about the autho

    Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon is about the author's true story of riding public transportation with her sister, Beth, who has a mild cognitive disability (referred to in the book as mild retardation).  

    Does the author's name ring a bell?  It should, because Rachel Simon also wrote The Story of Beautiful Girl, which was fiction. 

    Beth, Rachel's sister, is capable of living alone and even has a boyfriend.  She lives off of wages from the state because her disability prevents her from being able to hold a full-time job.  However, Rachel, and the rest of the family, feel like Beth has the ability to hold a part-time job, many of which she starts but seems to sabotage so that she can be work-free.  

    But Beth also is unable to care for herself in certain ways.  She has some illnesses that need addressing, like eye drops, but isn't capable (or doesn't want to) put them in regularly.  She also eats terribly, snacking on junk food and staying away from anything even remotely healthy. 

    In Riding the Bus with My Sister, Rachel comes along on Beth's obsessive bus-riding journey.  A few times a month, Rachel takes time to drive to her sister and ride along the complicated bus route that Beth has mastered.  Rachel experiences people's welcoming, and disapproval, of Beth in many ways, including in many of the bus drivers.  

    But other bus drivers have taken a liking to Beth, and through those bus drivers, and the journey she takes, Rachel discovers that the year isn't about helping Beth as much as it is a story about Rachel finding herself.  

    Riding the Bus with My Sister isn't an exhilarating, can't-put-down kind of read.  But that doesn't make it any less valuable of a book.  

    What I found most valuable were the life lessons that Rachel learned, lessons and reminders of being a good person, that I could incorporate into my own life. 

    Thanks for reading, 

    Rebecca @ Love at First Book

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  • Posted January 10, 2014

    Wonderful service/shipping

    Book was for a Christmas gift but VERY VERY pleased with the service/shipping. Ordered it on-line because nobody had copies and within 2 days it was the UPS box and under the tree a hour later. Will DEFINATELY be using B&N again!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2012

    Self Direction

    Great story about being self directed.

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    Recommended

    I enjoyed this book very much. It really makes you aware of other people's situations in life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    Offers a different view of life

    This book I borrowed from a family member, and it was an easy read. I related with the characters and have already sugested it to my sister. My nephew has a form of autism. My family gets criticized alot when in public. We always feel like we have it bad, until we place ourselves in other peoples' shoes. Good read and heart-warming!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2012

    Inspiring but had a little bit more potential

    I read this book as an outside reading nonfiction assignment for school. The book was very interesting in terms of concept and very intriguing but i believe it could have had more captivating writing. The writing was simple and easy to understand, but i think simon could have delved a little deeper into the story and how it changed her instead of how she merely retold it in events. The concept is great though, and the book is inspiring based on the lessons and the way beth carried herself. I did get a little frustrated with rachel though! It was interesting with the interludes. Overall, it was a pretty good book but i feel could have been a little more philosophical. I would say take it out of the library to read as it is worth reading but don't pay 15 dollars ;)

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    just-ok

    I had high hopes for this book, but I was really disapointed. There just was no ups and downs. It just straight lined for me. The book was lovingly written, and I mean nothing negative towards the characters, but the actual plot was non existant.

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  • Posted December 29, 2010

    someones future family dream

    you have probally thought that if or have wanted a family you wouldnt want a mental child which i am trying to say in a nice nonaffencive way but this book would make you feel comfortable or wanting to be around a person like this it is just that good but if you dont believe me have to ry it out yourselves

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2010

    Good reading for sisters

    Sister relationships can be complicated --- this book exams one relationship. Touching and sensitivity written. We come to know both sisters.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Loved the book so much that I am now reading the sequel.

    From a rough childhood to a point where she begins to accept herself carries the reader through this true story. Rachel commits to riding a bus with her mentally disabled sister, Beth, for a year. Beth rides local busses every day and knows all of the local drivers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2006

    God Bless Rachel

    I really enjoyed this book. I loved Simon's writing style. So fluid. I must be a terrible person because Beth irritated me more then I felt compassion for her. I wanted to shake her! I wanted to scream GET A JOB! Rachel had the patience of a saint even when she faltered she didn't give up on herself or Beth and I really admired her. I think it was more a story about Rachel then Beth, but never self-serving on Rachel's part. For me, the lesson learned was from Rachel's journey, not Beth's. I thought the family stories were an excellent addition to the bus riding storyline. I liked them more. Having said that I will never look at a developmentally disabled person the same way again, or a bus driver for that matter. It was a touching story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2005

    an inspiring read!

    This story was truly inspiring - Rachel's ability to form such a close relationship with her sister by just becoming more open-minded showed me that can apply not just to understanding disabled people better but all people, especially those whom we may judge too quickly. A great vacation/beach read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2004

    And I thought we were all strange

    This book touch so many feelings about my own disability, and yet it helped me accept myself a little better. It was so moving and at times made me cry....what a wonderful story of not only family but the strangers that touch our lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004

    Accepting Who I Am

    Rachel Simon is a woman in her late 30¿s to early 40¿s, living alone. She is unhappy with herself and lifestyle, which consists of writing and teaching all day long in Philadelphia. Beth, her sister with mental retardation, invites Rachel to attend her ¿Plan of Care¿ meeting, just after Rachel writes an article about riding the bus with sister, Beth. Just after this scheduled meeting, Beth challenges Rachel to ride the bus with her for a year, but they agree to two times a week for a year. This also meant sleeping over at Beth¿s apartment on sofa cushions that were set up on the floor. On these bus rides, Rachel learns little ¿facts of life¿ lessons from each of the bus drivers that Beth shares her rides with. Rachel is soon to realize and accepts just who her sister and herself truly is. She understands and learns to be content, to work at her faults to make them better, and not to be afraid of what leads her to happiness. A few things I didn¿t like about this book was that it was slow at times. The book¿s progress in dialog could have been hindered by my lack of understanding at the beginning of the book and because it was confusing. Another possibility could be because I was confused by one of the extra books changing of tense from present to past childhood memories. I didn¿t like the fact that Rachel was shallow at times. Rachel also had a hard time accepting her sister for who she was and was too afraid of everyone else¿s thoughts. There are much more positives, than I had dislikes about. This book ends with a happy note and Rachel changes. Rachel learns how to be happy, and camas¿s to find out that she wasn¿t the only one with siblings that have mental disabilities. Beth Also changes, she learns that she words can hurt more than she thinks they will. Beth sees how being difficult and stubborn pushes her family away. In conclusion, I liked this book a lot and would recommend it to family with a disabled person.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    Wake up call

    This book warmed my heart as well as opening my eyes. Being a sister of a mentally retarded sibling, this book hit very close to home. Each character she meets really is like a separate life lesson. I would recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2003

    Insightful

    This book made me realize just how many people that I walk right by and never give a second thought to. How there is wisdom to be learned where you would least expect it. Very good.

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