Music for our journey.
Prior to Indiana my memories are stored as a series of distinct still pictures: me holding my bleeding head after playfully rolling down a hill and then dizzily walking into the corner of a building, me sitting under a bridge over a small stream eating MREs and burning the little plastic ties used to keep newspapers bundled together, a moment at Chucky Cheese, a pine tree, a nail threw the bottom of my brother's foot, songs I invented for my mother, lyrics I no longer remember.
The plane from Germany touched down somewhere in Texas. It’s like the Texas summer heat switched on the video cameras, life was in motion. One event lead to the next, one action caused another. Soon morality would make sense and soon people would be understood, loved, and missed.
Hot, humid summers and fireflies were the canvas of my childhood. And while I was a child both before arriving and after leaving Indiana, I can safely say these were my formative years (5th through the beginning of the 9th grade). Many memorable events happened in this setting. But of great interest to me, right now, are the few that caused me sadness or self disappointment. These are the first memories I have of the kind, and perhaps, these feelings are what caused my life to transition from still life to full motion.
Having spent the previous three years in Germany and only being ten or eleven years old, the United States felt a little like a foreign country. My style was off (not for the last time) and I was out of touch with popular culture. I remember sitting in the hotel we were staying at while we were looking for a house to live in, I was sitting there watching MTV for the first time. I was blown away, music videos, what a concept. I was amazed and excited and I immediately fell in love with Def Leopard and ripped up jeans. In that little moment I could feel life was on the brink of change.
I’m not sure I can say these words about anyone else I’ve ever known. I HATED Adam Boak, hated. I can’t remember all of the things he did to me. My first memory of him was when I walked into the bathroom at school, with my long (awesome) hair, and all the boys looked up at me and Adam said, “What are YOU doing in here?” Never having had a real conversation with Adam I assume he meant, "You look like a girl, get out of here?" And so that’s what I did, and I went out of my way to never go to the restroom during class breaks but to always ask to go in the middle of class when no one else would be in there.
I’m not sure if Adam ever caused me physical harm. None the less I remember him as a monster. He had big hairy arms, arms big enough to break every bone in my body if they so desired. He was a boy in a man’s body, a boy with a bad attitude.
His unfair stature gave him the privilege of being King of the bus. I don’t know if this is a decade thing or a regional thing but in Indianapolis in the early 90s you could know a kid’s social status merely by noting how close he or she sat to the bus driver. Those closest were the lowest and those furthest away—lording over the rest of the bus from their thrones at the rear—were highest. So from day one he owned the bus, it was his, and I was merely a visitor whose presence was put up with but not welcome. I wished that I could invent a teleporter that would send me directly to school so I’d never have to set foot on his bus again. Such an invention never came about so I watched Adam, bedecked in a crown of jewels and a cruel scepter, move directly to the back of the bus when we entered the seventh grade and there he stayed while I made a doubled-edged journey over the next three years from the very front to just two rows from his seat at the very back. This journey wasn’t so much a sign of my growing popularity but was part of the natural progression of going through the grades and reaching a peak during your 9th grade year—Adam was a rarity starting at the back.
As I slowly grew in social stature and position I also slowly grew closer to Adam’s dreaded position at the back of the bus. I voluntarily inched closer and closer to the horned beast and his flame-tongued imps. When I peaked at the third seat from the back I was truly poised at hell’s gates. Had I been a more clever child I might have scratched a note into the seat: All hope abandon ye who enter here.
The day Adam decided to sit directly behind me, instead of two seats back, I knew I was in for it. The extra seat between us was usually my buffer zone, my demilitarized zone, I wasn’t close enough to touch and if I stayed quiet enough he probably wouldn’t notice me at all. But that day he flew into the no fly zone. Who knows what I was doing, maybe praying for a quick and safe ride home, or maybe pretending to be fine with Adam so close to me. But at some point I smelt something awful, the awful smell of hair burning, my hair burning, set on fire by Adam. It wasn’t any thing major, just some singed hairs from his lighter. He laughed and pushed my shoulder. I said nothing. I did nothing. It was a thing that happened in a life that happens. And I still struggle to form a positive feeling or thought toward Adam. I was thankful (so, so thankful) the day he was expelled for selling drugs at school. I was thankful for his loss of educational opportunities, I’m still thankful for it. I don’t know what this says about me, nothing good I’m sure.
But I wasn’t the lowest on the totem pole. I may have been small, and had girly long hair and listened to the wrong music, but at least I wasn’t over-weight. The life of an over-weight child must be incredibly hard, because they don’t only have to put up with the Adam Boaks of the world but also those who finally get to sit near him on the bus. There is no pride in this story; I don’t know when I’ve been a worse human being than in this story. But unlike the previous story I do have regrets and sadness about my actions.
Much like Adam probably doesn’t remember my name I don’t know the name of the kid in this story anymore either. Maybe it was Chris, I don’t know, but I’ll call him Chris here. Chris was fat, he wore glasses, he seemed nerdy but he struggled in school, looking back at him he didn’t have much going for him. I hope he turned out well. I didn’t interact much with him but at one point, soon after buying my first pair of awesome Nikes (a whole other story and social dynamic I wonder about) I started hanging out with kids higher up the social ladder. And with this move upward came the responsibility of messing with Chris at least once. So during social studies I sat behind Chris and me and the kid next to me thought it would be funny to tie his shoe to his chair. So we did so, very sneakily. I don’t remember how we managed to do it without him or the teacher noticing but we were, unfortunately, successful. When the bell rang and everyone got up to leave Chris knocked his chair over and drug it half a foot before he really realized what was going on. There was a lot of laughing and I felt so proud, I’d arrived.
Childhood is hard. Kids are mean, even kids who are normally nice. I wish I hadn’t done that to Chris. I wish Adam hadn’t done those things to me. But perhaps I’m a better person because of all these things. I can only hope the same is true of Adam and Chris.