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"Have a good day!"
Priscilla Barcous, 59, has been driving a city bus most of her life. Loves it. Loves the people. Loves the simplicity.
Loves her current route — up West End Avenue and back down Charlotte Avenue. Loves that Nashville's WeGo bus system started painting buses purple a few years back.
Loves working 4 a.m. to noon because then she has the rest of the afternoon to herself. Appreciates the wages, $22 to $27 an hour, calls it really good money.
"Good morning! Good morning!"
Photographer Stephanie Amador and I rode her bus for a few hours last week after WeGo execs identified Barcous as one of the friendliest drivers among the 377 working for the city.
As advertised, Barcous had an infectious smile and bright spirit, engaging in pleasant conversation on an uneventful ride — until Barcous slammed on the brakes.
Well, metaphorically, anyway.
About an hour into the ride — after observing her unflappable kindness — I asked Barcous if she's a woman of faith.
"I am. I am. God means everything to me."
"In fact, I’m in the process of writing a book. I was, um, held hostage by a boyfriend, years ago, back in the ‘80s."
"He bound me, gagged me, tied me up and was going to kill me and then kill himself," Barcous said evenly.
"Once I was free physically, I still was mentally and spiritually kind of bound. And that’s when I really got God in my life."
Fasten your seatbelts.
Four hours of terror
Well, actually, the guy who attacked Barcous wasn't her boyfriend — but he wanted to be, she said.
He was a buddy of her sister's boyfriend, and Barcous often got invited to hang out with the three, in part so he didn't have to feel like a third wheel.
Barcous, then a single mom, went along with this for two years, never wanting a romantic relationship with him.
That didn't stop him from trying to kiss her one night in her living room, she said. It happened shortly after Barcous turned 21 and started driving city buses in San Diego, her hometown.
She rejected his advance, and he left, but came back at 1:30 a.m.
Pounded on the door.
Pushed it open.
He was holding a duffle bag and a two-foot-long knife.
"You’ve been playing with my feelings," he said. "If I can’t have you, no one can."
That launched four hours of terror.
He forced her to undress, put duct tape over her mouth and wrapped duct tape around her hands together behind her back, she said. Then, pacing, for hours, he berated her and described sex acts he was going to do to her before he killed her.
Barcous said she escaped when he suddenly went upstairs.
"The spirit said, 'Pull your arms apart.' And it came apart like cotton," she said.
Barcous grabbed her baby and her car keys and ran out the door. Police eventually arrested her attacker, but he never got convicted because she was too scared to press charges, she said.
"I didn't talk about it for years, and I was afraid of men for years," she said.
"I carried a lot of baggage from that attack. Fear, mistrust, paranoia. I was judging myself and I blamed myself. I felt I had had the control to shut this relationship down."
'Allow God to heal you'
Barcous eventually got married, and the two moved to Nashville 18 years ago, finding a home church, the non-denominational Victory International Life Changing Ministries in Madison, right away.
A few years later, the pastor asked Barcous to share at a women's day at the church.
When she got behind the mic, the story of her attack poured out.
"I was telling my testimony — God can deliver you out of anything. I want women to know: Allow God to heal you from within."
The message apparently resonated with women in her audience that day. Since then, Barcous has been asked to tell her story to church audiences several times.
The connection to other women has led to a deeper connection with God and her church. Barcous now is music minister there, and she also serves as a "temperament therapist," a Christian exploration of "God-given temperament" based on a 50-question test.
Barcous also is writing a book — "Bound, Freed and Now Healed" — about her attack and lessons learned from it. She is raising $4,000 to self publish and hopes to have it out by her 60th birthday in November.
Her healing journey is what makes her one of WeGo's kindest bus drivers.
It's what earned her the nickname "Nice Bus Driver Lady" from one of her West End Avenue regulars.
"Bus driving is an extension of ministry," Barcous said.
"Boundaries are important, but some passengers are going through something hard, and I’ve gotten some numbers and talked to them later. Then, there's just being nice.
"I feel like I’m representing God at all times."
Reach Brad Schmitt at email@example.com or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: The bombshell the 'Nice Bus Driver Lady' dropped that explains it all