Saturday, June 14, 2008
I get to ride the school bus!
I can't believe I have not told this story yet because it is a classic.
We moved to a new town at Christmastime the year that I was in kindergarten, so I had to change schools. I had walked to and from my first school, but my new school was farther away so I was going to have to take the bus.
The school bus! I was VERY excited. I could hardly talk about anything else for several weeks. My whole family talked about it too, and I distinctly remember my dad describing how I was supposed to stand there and wait for the bus to slow down. He made these big hand gestures above his head to describe the alternate flashing red lights that would go off when the driver opened the door, which would be my signal to board the bus. (Apparently he thought the door opening up would not be a sufficiently clear signal for me.)
In any event, I felt well prepared and walked confidently down the street to the bus stop with my mom on the first day of school in January. I got very excited when the big yellow bus approached and did the whole alternate-flashing-light thing my dad had talked about. When the door opened I stepped on, sat down in one of the seats and waved to my mom out the window.
"I'll see you when you get home!" she called out as she waved back.
I was finally a big boy, and more than slightly pleased with myself.
Riding the bus was fun, and I enjoyed looking at all the houses and other things out the window during the 15 minute ride to school. But as we reached the grounds of the school and the bus pulled into the parking lot, I came to a startling realization: I had NO idea what to do now that we had arrived. I had received hour upon hour of instruction on how to wait for, board and ride the bus, but no one bothered to tell me what was supposed to happen when I actually arrived at school.
I suppose my parents figured the school would take it from there and guide me along. And they probably would have been right, if they had been putting me on the bus on the first day of school in September when all the kids were new. But they seemed to have forgotten that I was going to be alone in a crowd of kids who all knew what they were doing. They neglected to acknowledge to themselves or to me that I alone would be the clueless one, a phenomenon which would unfortunately repeat itself many times throughout the course of my life.
Although I was borderline retarded, I was no dummy and knew enough to draw upon whatever resources that might be readily available. And at that moment the other available resources happened to be the other kids on the bus.
Not being particularly astute verbally, I didn't even consider asking someone what the fuck I was supposed to do next. Instead, I decided it would be easiest to choose one kid to observe and follow along with whatever he did. I chose a kid not unlike myself: taller, thin and with short brown hair. Seemed like a good enough plan.
My new friend (who didn't know he was my friend) stepped down off the bus and I followed closely behind. He walked slowly across the playground, past small groups of kids who were playing and/or talking before school. He didn't stop to talk to anyone but simply meandered, making large circles around a jungle gym, swing set and other playground equipment. I shadowed him carefully, not wanting to miss my cue.
Eventually my friend approached the door of the school building and went inside, and I followed about five paces behind. He walked slowly down a hallway lined with blue lockers but which was otherwise empty. About halfway down the hall he stopped and turned to face one the of the lockers. I did the same.
My friend leaned forward, resting his forehead on one of the lockers --- and began to cry. Not loud sobbing, but a kind of wide-open mouth silent crying with a long string of drool descending down from his lower lip. I didn't cry, but I did remain standing with my head against the locker, wondering what this morning ritual was all about.
I didn't know it at that exact moment, but the kid I had chosen to follow was the only other new kid, who apparently had a very different way of coping with an unfamiliar situation. I still thought my method was superior, although it had backfired in this particular instance.
A teacher eventually came and rescued us, delivering us to our respective classrooms. I'm not sure if my parents ever received a call from the principal's office or child protective services to inquire what the hell they thought they were doing, just sending me off with no guidance or instruction like that. But they should have.
Of course my mom denies the entire story to this day, which is fine. I'm sure that you, my Gentle Readers can discern the truth.