memories: the bus / by Carey Pace

I can still see the sunshine streaming into the left hand side of the bus that morning. Becky sat to my left. I had known Becky since we were very young. She lived near us before we moved when I was newly 5 to the home I'd stay in until I grew up and moved away. Becky was beautiful. Of course there are many beautiful people in this world, but every so often, someone has this something different about them. Something remarkable. And most times, I cannot quite place my finger on what it is. This was Becky. She wasn't just beautiful, she was distinctly beautiful, inside and out.

I remember this one morning because Becky was smiling and we were good-naturedly teasing her about it. When Becky smiled, it engaged her whole face. I don't mean that she had a pleasant disposition to her face. Becky was whole face, whole mouth, ear-to-ear smiling. The boy sat near us on the bus. I say 'we' were teasing her about her smile, but it was mostly from the boy. I'm sure he was just flirting with her. I wasn't teasing Becky; I was really curious. Partially envious because I never smiled with my teeth. My teeth were gapped and crooked and ugly and I taught myself early on never to smile showing my teeth. So saying I was partially envious is really untrue. I was downright jealous of her engaging smile that she wore all. the. time. I suggested Becky try to NOT smile.

She couldn't.

She truly could not suppress the smile that erupted onto herself. Try as she might, she'd last a few seconds, and that enormous beautiful smile would burst forth. It was as if there was so much joy inside of her that there was no hope of containing it. It had to go somewhere and she was going to smile. I can still see her lips losing the battle and sliding over her straight teeth to reveal that engaging smile.

There have been a few times over my life when I think I've felt that joy that resided in Becky. Something wonderful would happen, and I'd be so happy that I couldn't NOT smile. I'd have to run an errand and feel like a compete goober walking through Walmart with this great big grin plastered to my face. What must it feel like to have this pleasant disposition to your countenance all the time? How wonderful must it feel to walk around spreading happiness, for smiles are contagious, you know?

I rode Bus #88. Maria was the bus driver, for all of my years of schooling. What must it have been like to watch all those children grow up before your eyes all those years? Watching both the happiness and the sorrow? I remember the feel of the angled metal handrail, that I could barely reach at 5 that now comfortably met my waist. The ridged flooring that was at eye level as you approached the steps onto the bus. Every time I crossed it I would imagine something with matching ridges that would slide into it and snap locked. Something within the brakes of the bus didn't work as they should... I imagine it wasn't safety related because it was like this all the years of my schooling and no one else ever seemed concerned in the slightest. Maria would press the brakes to slow the bus and the loudest screech would emanate up from under the bus. You could hear the bus coming long before you saw it. The floor vibrated this perfect frequency that if your feet were touching it, it literally tickled. Once I had grown big enough for my feet to reach the floor, my body learned the involuntary reaction to lift my feet as the bus slowed, to prevent feeling that awful tickling sensation.

I can remember the moment of realization when I was riding the white Activity Bus to a field trip. I was lifting my feet every time the bus slowed or stopped.... for no reason. Because this bus didn't screech or vibrate. But my body had been conditioned to respond that way to the sensation of slowing down. I remember feeling embarrassed.

At the end of one day in 7th or 8th grade, I ran onto Bus #88 and found my familiar seat, on the left hand side, next to Heather. Heather sat at the window, and I sat on the inside. Heather grew up across the street from me. She was about 3 weeks older than me, an only child, and we hit it off from age 5. We functioned more like sisters I think, over the course of time. I could not possibly be more thankful for her family and their influence in my life.

But on that particular day, there was a boy who sat in front of us. He was a popular boy, and considered "cute" at the time. He turned around and looked straight at Heather. He called her "Acne Acres" and laughed with his friend sitting next to him. I laughed, too.

At the time, the cartoon Tiny Toons came on in the afternoons. It was set in the town of Acme Acres and the characters were attending Acme Looniversity to become the next generation of Looney Tunes characters. It was a popular and well known show among our age group, and that day, I found the word play of Acne and Acme amusing. Heather suffered from severe acne, however I did not (though my thirties has certainly enlightened me to Heather's adolescent experience). Looking back on it, I imagine she felt much the same about her acne as I felt about my crooked, gapped teeth. It was a badge of "not measuring up" to society's standards that we wore, unable to hide or change. That realization comes to me now however, but not then.

What stands out most in this memory was Heather's reaction to ME. I'm sure it hurt to be made fun of by some good looking boy on the bus, but it was to be expected from this boy and his character. The unexpected sting of laughter coming from my mouth hurt her much, much worse.

I've never made fun of people. It's been a sense of honor I've always carried with me, from the earliest days. I cannot stand to be made fun of, and so, I don't do it to others. It just seems a logical consequence, somewhat 'golden rule' like -- if I don't want it done to me then I'm not doing it to others. I find it very challenging to laugh at myself (I'm trying to learn how to, in the last couple years). Laughing at or making fun of someone else has always felt very mean spirited to me, and I just didn't do it. I'm sure there were exceptions along the way, especially to annoying boys, but for the most part, I just didn't engage in this behavior.

Except for this day. The boy called her Acne Acres, and I laughed at his word play. Heather turned to me. A wrenching mixture of both hurt and anger showed so starkly on her face. Instantly I knew. I had made a grievous error. I had laughed at her pain and she was deeply wounded. I felt horrible. Awful. Immense regret and remorse at my despicable behavior.

I remember that she didn't speak to me the entire way home. I remember that she didn't speak to me for days afterward. She was really hurt. Looking back on this as an adult, even though the silent treatment is not at all part of good communication skills, I really cannot blame her. A life long friend who should have been loyal, who should have stood up and come to her defense, who should have admonished the boy for using her as the object of his amusement, laughed right along with him. A traitor. I'd traded my friend for a momentary sense of feeling part of 'that' side.

I've thought of this exchange so many times over the years since. And I've often wondered why this memory stands out so clearly. I'm certain there were other incidents where I laughed with the "wrong side." I'm sure there were other times I made relational mistakes with friends. The more I think about it, I believe these two memories are so strong in my mind because the emotions I felt at the time were so strong.

I remember the day with Becky's smile because I was jealous. I tell the story light heartedly, and while all that is true, there is still this fierce part inside of me that felt angry and sad that I couldn't be like her. I wasn't mad at her - I thankfully recognized there was no fault, no right or wrong in the situation. But I was mad that I couldn't have what she had.

It has been through parenting my daughter that I've discovered what caused the memory with Heather to become seared. When you grow up, and you are learning so much every single day, there are so many opportunities to fail. When you are both a perfectionist and tender hearted, and you make a mistake or you fail, the result is deep embarrassment. Opportunities to be embarrassed became fewer as I grew into adulthood. It happens so rarely these days. But if I allow myself to think on it, embarrassment has the potential to delve deep into my core. There's embarrassment like realizing you walked around all day with your zipper down or your skirt tucked into your tights. It wasn't a conscious choice on your part but it happened. Embarrassing.... But then there is embarrassment at having made a choice, a conscious decision, which turned out to be the wrong one and now everyone knows you erred. That is the deep down delving embarrassment touched with such remorse for having caused someone else deep pain. I can feel it now as I write. And it fills me with sorrow because I see this very same thing in my daughter.

When she makes a mistake and is publicly called out on it, even warmly, gently, she becomes immensely embarrassed and cannot handle it. For now, that emotional energy is forged into tears and sorrow. As she's gotten older, she tries to hold it in. I can see her try so hard, and then the burden becomes too much. She runs head first into the safety of my arms. I pray for wisdom to teach her to cope with this properly, when my mama heart is broken and wants to remove all trace of upset from her heart. For I know that when I learned to hide the tears, the emotional energy forged a new home: fiery anger directed forcefully at whoever caused my embarrassment. I don't want this for her, at all.

That day when I made the mistake of laughing at Heather, instead of defending my friend, causes me so much sorrow. I knew instantly I had made a huge mistake and I felt so horrible about it. And it seemed like there was nothing I could do to make amends. I felt like I couldn't fix the mess I'd made. And I was so incredibly embarrassed for having done so. I was embarrassed for laughing at her, I was embarrassed for having made the mistake, and I was then embarrassed that my friend wouldn't respond to me. Embarrassment on top of embarrassment.