Memory Monday

"The Time I Knew I Had it in Me"

When I was a kid, I rode the bus home from school.

This is where I received the bulk of my education.  It was a lesson in survival of the fittest.  It was a lesson in minding your own business.  It was a lesson in the fickle nature of social acceptance.  It was a lesson in bureaucracy and how hierarchies worked.  It was a lesson in how to make yourself invisible.  It was a lesson in how to make yourself heard.  It was a lesson in trash talking.  It was a lesson in slang.

Sometimes, it was even a lesson in the power of prayer.

Our bus was wild.  We lived in a small town and our bus route covered a lot of territory.  We didn't live in one of the subdivisions that provided my school's population; we lived closer to downtown.  Our bus represented kids from, truly, all walks of life.

The busdriver did his job.  He drove the bus, he opened the door, he closed it.  He punched our bus tickets.  That is all.  He did not insert himself into the hijinx happening right behind him.  On a rare occasion he might tell one of the trouble makers to sit down, and then the bus got real quiet.  When the silent one speaks, you listen.

My sister and the couple friends/neighbors I knew who rode it kept to ourselves.  We rarely uttered a peep.  Everything you did, you did discreetly.  You didn't treat yourself to the dessert you saved from lunch; it would need to be turned over to some hoodlum bully.  You didn't laugh too loudly, lest you be caught, called out and insulted with a "why are YOU laughing    (insert a name like "honky" or "midget" or "freak" -- for the record I had no idea what a honky was but it sounded scary and I certainly didn't want to be called one)  .  Kids were singing and dancing in the aisle, making up songs about each other, or insulting each other (your mama's so big she put the elephants out of business).  I would listen to these exchanges, never completely understanding where the uncrossable line was.  And it changed from day to day anyway.

This bus is where I stood up to a bully for the first time.

His name was David.  He was from a nice family.  He had a terrible attitude and he was mean.  I don't know why.  I'm sure his parents had no idea.  But he made the bus trip home a living hell until his bus stop.  You never knew what was going to set you in his cross hairs.

One day, the bus driver spoke to him and threatened to stop the bus if he didn't sit down.  He didn't.  The bus driver stopped the bus alright, smack dab in the middle of the steep hill next to the school.  As he slammed on the brakes, 20 or 30 little kids all went slamming into the back of the seat in front of them, suspended halfway in mid air (I mentioned the hill was steep; I forgot to mention we were going down).  I think, in my misery and frustration, I blurted out "sit down" (he had grabbed onto my seat to steady himself and was surprisingly still upright).  He slowly turned his head to me and said, "what did you say?"  Drumming up bravado I wasn't really feeling I said "sit down" again.  My 8-year-old life flashed before my eyes as he leaned over toward me menacingly.

"Your mama."

Like "honky" I really had no idea what this meant, but I knew it was an ultimate insult and in no way funny.

I looked him in the eyes and said, "yours."

He got real quiet, and got right in my face. I might have passed out a little, I'm not sure -- the details are fuzzy.  Certain death was staring me straight in the face and I was lightheaded and I think I might have peed in my pants a bit.  Trying, trying, TRYING not to let him see me quiver.  Too petrified even for tears.

And then the most amazing thing happened.  He sat down.  Right across the aisle from me.  Didn't say a word, just stared at me the whole way home, occasionally nodding his head.  I tried hard not to look at him.  I was sure he was planning my slow and painful demise.  I sweated out the entire next day and for the fate that awaited me on the bus.

As I boarded, I saw that he was already there, on the aisle.  I had to walk past him.  I put on my best "I don't even know you're here" face and was about to brush past him when he stuck out his arm, palm facing me.  "Five."  Shocked, I gave him my best, most pathetically awkward and confused five and sat down.  He nodded at me, quietly.

And he never bothered me again.  In fact, his whole demeanor toward me changed.  Other than the occasional nod, or random "gimme five," he still ignored me, but he didn't scare me anymore.

And he couldn't have even if he tried.


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