I’m working through past drama. I’m excavating.
The episode I’m focusing on is from junior high school, alternatively know as “middle school” and a giant petri dish for Lord of the Flies. Does anyone come through this rite of passage unscathed?
My school is exactly 1.5 miles away from my house. District policy allows a bus ride for kids who live more than 1.5 miles away from school, which excludes me. Barely.
Mom, being a concerned and well-meaning mom, has made arrangements with the school district to have a bus transport me for medical reasons. I have exercise-induced (and everything else-induced) asthma.
The plan, as I begin 7th grade, is for the bus to pick me up at the elementary school that just graduated me, two blocks away. And it will drop me off there at the end of the school day.
The only kink in this plan is that the bus will pick me up AFTER it engorges itself with all the other
savages students that live just outside my neighborhood. And it will drop me off BEFORE it disgorges the other beasts boys and girls.
This means I have to run the gauntlet down the bus aisle. Twice a day.
Boarding the bus after everyone is settled, I rarely find a seat. Girls are already paired up. Boys are looking for amusement, which they often twin with weakness. They find both in me. I don’t like being the center of attention. I avert my eyes. I will myself invisible, but they see me anyway.
They hone in on my vulnerability like sharks to a scab. The name-calling starts on Day 1. “Asthma! Asthma!” Sick Girl!” “What a little wussy girl!” “Hey Wheezy! Can’t you even get yourself to school?”
How do they know? Who told them why I was riding?
It becomes a game to put out a foot and trip me. To block any available seats. To see if I will crack.
My pride and joy at this time is a denim bag. I ordered it myself out of a Lillian Vernon catalog. I love it because it has slots for my pens. Don’t ask me today why I thought this was cool back then. I just did.
Some of those pens even had my name engraved on them (also thanks to Lillian Vernon). A particular 9th grade boy delights in plucking my pens out of my bag. They have my name on them.
I endure the trips up and down the aisle for what seemed like the entire year. Odd how one’s sense of time at that age has no anchor and no tether. It may have been for only a week or two. Torment messes with the space-time continuum.
I consult with my Dad, who gives me some advice. I put our plan into effect one afternoon as I get off the full bus.
I walk up the aisle as the taunting and taking happen, as usual. This time, though, I pause just for a moment at the front of the bus to address the hostile and surprised audience.
“Stick it up your asthma.” I say it clearly, loudly, confidently. Now that I write it, it makes very little sense, but it seemed clever at the time.
I walked off the bus. Alone, relieved, proud of myself.
And from then on, I got to school on my own power.