Growing up, I went to a K-12 college prep school in a northern suburb of Milwaukee. Along with my brother and sister, I took the bus to school each morning, with varying success. Our house in the city was one of the first stops on the hour and ten minute route to the school. In all likelihood, the bus probably picked us up around 7:15am each morning, but in my memory it arrived at a cruel and barbaric 6am, its headlights coldly illuminating our street for the first time that day, no doubt startling sleeping baby birds and squirrels so they almost toppled from their nests.
In my memory, it is always winter and the sky is always black. My hair is always wet and my mother is always yelling at me to “do something with it!” as I rush out the door. It was never entirely clear to me what this something was, but it was urgently impressed upon me that it needed to be done. This may explain my penchant for awkward headbands and cheap drugstore barrets during my teen years. Note to little girls everywhere: sticking extra items on your head is rarely the solution and usually just draws more attention to the problem.
Boarding the bus was not a calm and orderly process. It happened in stages. First, the bellow. Whichever sainted soul happened to be in the vicinity of the foyer window that looked out onto the street would spot the bus, and would let out a house shaking yell, BUS IS HERE! Although my house was an old three story plus basement Victorian, we’d all perfected the yell so that it sailed effortlessly across hallways and up and down stairs, sounding the alarm. Then the race was on!
In his early years, my brother Charlie was terror with a swinging backpack. He’d fly down the hallway from the kitchen, crust of english muffin in hand, and charge through the door to the bus. Later, when puberty set in, he became overcome by a strange malady that necessitated he move at a slouching, foot dragging sloth’s pace. When his concerned and adoring sisters would suggest he move more quickly or get out of the way, he burst into a torrent of baleful moaning about how everyone always picked on him and no one listened to him and no one understood what it was like to be him. This sickness gripped Charlie for years, and still surfaces occasionally today. My sister Caitlin and I bear it as best we can.
And Caitlin, ah, sweet Caitlin, the middle child. I’d like it noted for the record that both of my parents are also middle children, and I feel this may have colored their treatment of us as kids. Imagine growing up in a house where your little sister’s nickname is “Precious Little Angel.” Or, PLA, as my father likes to say – he’s a whiz with acronyms. Yes, this was Caitlin’s nickname, and my cross to bear. However, there is some truth to this moniker. My little sister was almost angelic with her shy smiles and earnest blue eyes. To my knowledge, she has never to this day eaten a vegetable, because my mother didn’t have the heart to force her.
Goading Caitlin onto the bus was a more delicate operation that usually involved peeling her clinging fingers from around my father’s pant leg. I would make half-hearted assurances that I would look out for her on that Lord of the Flies deathtrap bus, but everyone knew that the big kids sat in the back and the little kids sat up front. There was only so much I could do.
Please tune in next time for Part II of To School, as I now need to get out of bed and get myself To Work.