Rites of Passage at Seven
An indian summer had set in so I drove with the windows down and no radio. The radio stopped working in July when the car battery accidently died, so in conjunction the music died. I didn’t mind. I almost enjoyed the consistent sound of air flow and nothingness. This is when memories of my former selves began to materialize to become ghosts. In the forced, inescapable silence, I was left to contend with the present and how it measured up to the past.
It’s incredible the amount of noise your brain can create in the absence of all other noise. What rises to the surface first are never comfortable or affirming thoughts. Memory favors pain over joy, thus every negative experience is likely to be more vivid and long lasting than the happiest moment of your life. Thus I have surmised that the human brain is a cruel organ. As a slave to silence and the brain, I began to compile a greatest hits list of strange and uncomfortable memories. Remember, though, that I was young for most of my memories and from here on out I will develop older memories. Being young is not enough to amend the past, in that way my childhood will never be finished with me. I can’t help but carry it around like a drunk with a brown paper bag explaining to pedestrians how the devil made me booze, and the booze brought me misfortune. It’s no sort of way to lie to yourself.
As I drove with the windows down I remembered elementary school in ferocious detail. At age seven I waited for the bus at the end of our neighbors driveway. I had a plan. For the past two weeks I was careful to memorize the bus schedule, calculating the intervals in which they would come and go. Three busses would pass us before our own would slow to a stop and pick us up. The first two came right after the other, and the third bus would speed past five minutes later. The third bus was my target.
My body was stiff for the five minutes it would take for bus three to arrive. Moments before I snuck away from the two other children waiting to be taken to school (one of which was my sister and the other being a little twirp of a girl named Amanda). I kicked the toe of my sneaker into the gravel patch and quickly bent down to pull a stone the size of a quarter up from the ground. I squeezed the little rock hard until my palms sweat. I was steady.
The goal was to determine whether or not I was meant for greatness. Having been an amateur expert in superhero origin stories by age seven, I was convinced I had to be tested in some way in order to confirm my future as a notable human, or hopefully a superhero. I would wait until the last minute before the third bus passed to throw the rock across the street. If the rock cleared without hitting the bus, I would know I was meant for great things. Clark Kent discovered his abilities gradually by circumstance. I imagine the day his father first offered to play a game of catch with young Clark neither he, nor his would be superhero son expected a fast-ball which could break the sound barrier. All that was needed for Clark Kent to discover his power was to be handed a baseball. He must have known early on that he would grow up to become a great man. But Clark Kent is not real. I am not yet convinced that superheroes exist either.
The bus was late that day leaving me extra time to contemplate the abyss that was the future. If this plan didn’t work out I would try my best to formulate some other plan which might cause my talents to blossom. That was before I knew regret and the scar it leaves on a young boys psyche. I looked to my right to see my sister and Amanda peering at me cautiously. My body language was offering up an aura of suspense, putting the entire bus stop on edge.
The bus stop stood at the corner of Country Route 22 which was a road overshadowed by a canopy of ash tree. When the trees still held leaves, their limbs would hold in the sound of oncoming traffic like a slow motion rifle shot. So it was that I could hear bus number three a mile before it reached the corner. It seemed to roar that day. I could hear the monstrous vehicle shifting gears as it ascended the hill and fell right into my self made rite of passage. I tried to cancel out distraction in order to heighten my senses. I was distressingly zen-like for a seven year old. In order for this experiment to work I would need to eliminate my human condition or any other factor which might later equate to me being lucky. The rock needed to pass before the bus without a sound, and with unquestionable predestination. I decided I would keep my eyes closed. If I could discern the proximity of the bus with only my sense of hearing, and match the strength of my throw to the fate of the universe I’d be alright.
I saw a blur of yellow rise over the hill and knew my time had come. I shut my eyes, cocked my arm and waited for the roar of destiny to pass. Just before the sound of the bus grew to an overwhelming scream I pitched the tiny stone into darkness. An applause of metallic clanking followed. It was a sound like a tommy gun confirming that I was not made of steel. The bus rolled on past the bus stop and I just stood there filled with shame as my sister and Amanda gasped at what looked like a first attempt at vandalism. They must have interpreted the throw as a random act of violence. For me, there was nothing random about it. The universe was just taunting me and coaxing me to try again tomorrow. Our bus rounded the corner and we all boarded. I tucked myself against the window and contemplated the implications of living out my days as an average human being.
The next day my sister and Amanda kept their distance. The moment they saw me draw another pebble from the gravel patch they associated my presence with future vandalism and would take no part in any of it. That suited me just fine. This wasn’t about them. This was between me and the unknown future, and possibly the fate of the universe depending on what other abilities I would discover were hidden in my veins.
In the distance there came a dull roar, and I knew bus three was coming to meet me. I held tight to my newly found stone and decided to keep my eyes open this time. I needed better odds against the universe and figured being able to see would help out a lot. My body tensed as the bus drew closer. Try as I might I could not lift my arm to throw. I seemed to rummage around my will to move, breaking my zen like concentration. Then the rhythm of the roar coming from the road changed. The bus was slowing down.
The brakes of bus three screeched to a halt, and in the same motion the drivers side window was rolled down with furious speed. The driver, a women with brown hair and black eyes, leaned out of the window. Her brow furrowed and her lips were tight as she pointed right at me. She needn’t say a word. My grip loosened and the stone fell back to the ground. My body grew warm with shame as I looked to my sneakers. All at once I hated myself. I hated that I hoped to be something other than I was- a seven year old boy. Mostly, I hated that I made this woman angry.
Bus three slowly rolled away to the end of the street where it met my own bus as it turned the corner. I saw the woman speak to my bus driver from the window and I knew I was damned to hell. By the time I boarded the bus our driver asked which one of us was throwing rocks. “Me”. I said. “Well don’t do that” The bus driver said, “I’m going to have to call in a complaint about this to your parents.” he finished. Our bus driver at the time was an interim. As a young boy it hadn’t occurred to me that my damnation was a minor inconvenience to him. All I had to hear was that my parents would be informed of my wrong doing. I spent the rest of the day guessing which punishment my parents would choose for me. I sincerely believed I deserved any beating I could receive. But my parents would not beat me. Not once.
I spent the entire day reliving the moment and seeing the woman with brown hair and black eyes pointing at me from the driver’s seat. Her silence poked at my imagination and I was overrun with punishing day dreams. I filled in the blank with rhetoric worthy of the old testament. I was cast down and destroyed. I was banished from the holy land. I was a lesser son of heaven and destined to be no hero, but to follow Cain into the unknown and cursed wilderness. All of these thoughts must have occurred somewhere between learning how to read and do subtraction.
I carried that guilt and the prospect of damnation throughout the day. I distanced myself from my classmates. How could any of my peers understand that I had passed from one life into the next? They were busy playing, and pretending. The average seven year old is herded from one room to the next either bored or illuminated by what she or he sees. Everything was grey to me that day. I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain to Ben, or Dan, or Mark, that I was in no mood to pretend the monkey bars were a spaceship. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that superheroes were not real, and I was too embarrassed to admit I was a mere mortal.
I was also developing a healthy fear of how my parents would react. I could stomach some level of despondence from my classmates but keeping company with my family was inevitable. At the end of the day, all roads would lead back home. I never expected my father to hit me, or my mother to scream. Their disappointment, and their tone would be enough to break me. What’s more is I lacked the economy of words to explain my ambition and the reasons I had for throwing a rock at a bus. How could any seven year old explain the concept of destiny? I didn’t even know predestination existed as a theological concept. I didn’t know “theology” was a word.
My mother never mentioned the incident when I arrived at home. She sat at the kitchen table drinking tea from a glass. Steam rose from the glass as she gently sipped, testing the temperature of the glasses contents with her lips. There were papers neatly scattered along the countertop, all of which she ignored. My mother looked contently to the tiny television at the corner of the room watching Oprah. Oprah was on- it was four o’clock. How could she not know I had become a bus vandal by accident? She had no questions for me, nor I for her. She was a parent, and thus existed as a god within the hierarchy of our home. It was best the gods be left undisturbed. The less I said the more I could get away with. Her silence, however, left me unsettled. Perhaps the stone’s throw was never called in by the interim bus driver. Maybe I had gotten away with it, my experiment with the universe. The thought, somehow, did not alleviate my guilt. Even at age seven I had some sense that the universe was hinged upon a temperamental compass and justice would be served whether my parents scolded me or not.
My dad arrived home around five o’clock. His entrance was always punctuated by a rhythmic thud of his boots upon the wood basement steps which lead to the kitchen. His footsteps sounded like a gavel, and the wood underneath would creak and moan from his weight. By this time I was huddled in a dark corner of the living room. My head was pressed against a couch cushion and my eyes fixed on the luminescence radiating from our living room television. The volume was down because I was preparing myself for the dialogue between my mother and father. Whatever punishment was to come, I preferred a warning or indication on how long my penance would last. That way I could calculate the pain and look forward to a time the entire incident was something we all could laugh about.
I listened to my father’s weight shift within the kitchen as he let out a tired sigh. I heard him sit down at the table where my mother sipped her tea and viewed the channel seven evening news.
‘How was your day’ my father breathed
‘I’m tired’ my mother said, ‘Christopher threw a rock at a bus supposedly.’
‘I don’t know, I didn’t ask him about it.’
‘Threw a rock at a bus?’ my father sounded bewildered.
Then I heard the rolling thunder of my father rise from the kitchen. He stood like a menacing shadow under the hallway light, with a blue aura from the television hovering along his silhouette. I pretended to be asleep, which was a ridiculous proposition given it was only six o’clock. I shut my eyes tight and listened as my father seemed to wade through the darkness until I could feel his warmth.
‘Did you throw a rock at a school bus?’
‘Yes.’ I said
‘Did you mean to hit the bus?’
‘No, I was trying to throw the rock past the bus to see if I could throw it fast enough.’
‘You weren’t trying to hurt anyone?’
‘No. I just wanted to see if I could do it.’
He hugged me, walked back to the kitchen, and the matter was never discussed again.