I was daydreaming like that when the bell rang and someone slapped me on the back.
"Let's go, Gabby. You're going to miss the bus." It was Peter Scalzi.
He headed out to the lockers, and I got up and followed. Peter was kind of short. He had buzzed hair and a funny face, but he was a really good athlete and that put him in with the popular boys, automatically. He had been in my class every year since kindergarten, except third and fifth. He was still in a lot of my classes this year, even though this was the first year we switched around from subject to subject.
One of the dreams that I have recorded in my dream journal over and over is that I miss my bus home. I dream that I am standing at my locker and I can't get it open. My legs feel like they are twisted in rubber, and I have to struggle to get to the bus line, and when I get there I can't find which bus is mine. In some dreams, I see my bus but it's too late. It leaves without me.
Last week, I mistakenly confided in Rhonda Littleman about my dream journal, because she had just done an oral report called "The Mysteries of the Mind." I told her about my recurring bus nightmare.
She said that something was wrong with me, because most people dreamt about missing their ride to school or to work--it represented anxiety. Dreaming about missing the bus home was pathologic.
Like I said--telling Rhonda was a mistake. What did she know, anyway? I think I hated her.
I grabbed my coat out of my locker, and with my backpack banging against my legs I ran for the bus. I prayed, between huffing and puffing, I wasn't going to miss it. No one would be home to pick me up if I did. My dad had student critiques at the college Wednesday afternoons.
"Wait!" I knocked on the tall doors. The bus driver looked down three steps at me. I waved up at him, pathetically.
"Almost didn't make it," Mr. Worthington told me as he maneuvered the doors to open.
"Almost," I said, stepping inside.
Then I wished I hadn't. Debbie Curtis sat in the only available seat not filled with three people. I really was afraid of Debbie Curtis. I had heard that her father was a prison guard at the Wallkill State Penitentiary. Her brothers were both football players at the high school. Sizewise, the family resemblance was unmistakable.
I had no choice. I sat down and right on cue Debbie Curtis hissed, "You look so stupid."
I saw someone on the Oprah Winfrey Show once who said to respond with "So?" to anything a bully says. But it didn't seem like that was going to help. I thought it best to remain silent in this situation.
Debbie decided to explain her uninvited commentary. "You look like a boy in that old coat."
Now, I knew that my coat was not old. It was new, actually. It was a dark-olive, drab, down bubble jacket. My brother had one just like it. But now in addition to looking like I was ready to go two hundred miles behind a dogsled team, it seemed I looked like a boy.
"You'd look like a boy if you were wearing a prom dress," I said and braced myself, my fingers clutching the edge of the seat.
Debbie Curtis gave me one big shove, and despite my grip I landed in the rubber aisle between the seats. I could see Mr. Worthington's frowning eyes in the rearview mirror.
"Sit down behind me," he said. There was always one bench seat directly behind the driver, reserved for troublemakers, and no one could sit there unless ordered to. I think Mr. Worthington knew he was doing me a favor. I gladly moved up and slipped behind his seat. I looked up to thank him, but Mr. Worthington's eyes were now fixed on the road.
Rhonda Littleman was wrong about one more thing - riding home on the bus did represent anxiety.
Copyright Nora Raleigh Baskin 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Little Brown & Co. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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