New Kid in Town
"There's talk on the street;
it sounds so familiar, great expectations, everybody's watching
People you meet, they all seem to know you, even your old friends treat you like you're something new
Johnny come lately, the new kid in town, Everybody loves you, so don't let them down" -Eagles
Pure misery. Well, no--alright, it wasn't pure misery, just a public school bus bumping down a muddy country road in the dark during the coldest Texas winter I could remember. I was probably five seats back from the driver. Only one kid on the bus other than me at 6 AM. I think my grandmother had said his name was Charles. He was a junior. He lived just about 200 yards down the road from the chicken house that was my new, present residence. Yep, that's right, an old chicken house converted into a 3 bedroom hunting cabin.
Charles was sitting right behind the driver. I thought this was a little odd. Honestly, I wasn't very familiar with the etiquette of the public school bus but sittin' right behind the driver did seem, yes, odd. I had my knees propped on the seatback in front of me. Frosty air circulated around the bus floor underneath the green plastic seats with the fake leather imprint. Above shoulder level the air was so hot it felt like my head was inside a microwave.
Charles and I were at the end of the line, the first two pick-ups and last drop offs-of a state provided 1 hour and 45 minute tour of the nether areas of a rural county of the Texas side of the Sabine River backwaters. It was a trip that would have held many impressive sites for the regular viewers of HeeHaw. I had a lot on my mind. I was half-way through my senior high year and had just moved into a hunting cabin my mother's parents. Directions to the place read -- travel south east until you reach 4 miles from the "middle of nowhere." Make a right onto the dirt road and travel another 4 miles. "You have arrived."
I thought about the '63 Impala sitting at my parent's house that no one would be driving. I still miss that old car. Of course, if I was home I wouldn't even have been out of bed yet. It would be another hour before I even started to school while chewing some aspirin and hittin' some eye drops to "get the red out."
I was at least 4 days into my currently "clean" condition. Sobriety was not my favorite state of being. I thought about the friends I wouldn't see today, and I didn't know when I'd see them again. I had left the only school I had known since the first grade--with only two semesters to go until graduation. I had pulled away from and abandoned the girl who owned my heart. She cried so hard when she found out I was leaving. I was too much of a coward to tell her. I guess it's impossible for "news" like that to stay quiet in a town of 400 people. She pleaded to see me (to talk me into staying or at least explain why I was going) and I gave in. I couldn't really explain it or stop her tears. Each one tearing away a piece of my heart. Was it possible that she felt….no, it would be so much better for her to stay with the doctor's son. This was for her own good. My heart didn't make this trip with me; it stayed with her, she just didn't know it.
I left a senior class of 17 people for a school with a senior roster of more than 300. It's still small compared to some of the "mega highs" today but it was huge to me. Almost as many people as my whole home town! There was also a vague euphoria in the fact that I had a completely clean, blank slate. I could be anyone! I'd never been expelled from this school. I hadn't been pulled from class and questioned about the pills some teacher saw me taking during lunch. They have no idea who I am! Of course, anyone who had relocated half-way through their senior year must have something bad going on. I had several "bad" things going on.
It was beginning to lighten outside the steamed windows as we started picking up the other fares on the "joy bus." The driver stopped in front of a dirt drive that lead back to one more backwater shack with a tiny stove chimney that was visible above the rear of the roof with a trail of wood smoke drifting up in the winter air. Beside the road were 4 elementary school children. One was a boy who by my guess was about 7 or 8 years old. He was in a wheelchair. The other 3 must have been his sisters.
When the bus driver opened the door, Charles went down to pick up the child and carried him on the bus and put him in the seat right behind the driver. Then he sat back down next to him. The size difference was almost comical. Charles was starting to impress me. I had underestimated him. The boy in the wheelchair's three sisters climbed on board next. I'm thinking this bus was the warmest place they'd been since they got off it last Friday. They were all rag-a-muffins with un-kept hair. The oldest twirled around and sat down in the seat across from and just in front of me. She gave me a quick glance over her shoulder and a slight precocious smile. What intelligent eyes. Maybe there was some hope to be had in the human spirit on this road after all. Sadly, I'm sure these kids were destined to be teased for their clothes, hair, probably be accused of the ones who caused the lice outbreak. People suck. Sometimes children are especially ruthless. For the first time that morning, I had the thought that I was the stranger here and not them.
As the air brakes hissed off and we started down the road again, I studied their mother who had been standing back from the road. Her dress was long, all the way to the ground. She had been standing with her arms crossed, erect, hair pulled back in a bun. She was too thin, like her children. She lifted the edges of her dress to keep the hem from getting muddy as she trudged back through the wet leaves towards the shack. Four kids--I wondered to myself--why would you bring four children into this?
When we arrived some time later at the elementary/middle school, the driver again opened the door and Charles lifted the small boy and carried him off to the wheelchair that was waiting at the school. He climbed back on and the rest of the little kids shuffled off, leaving the older kids onboard for the "remainder of the flight" to the high school.