Friday, May 9, 2008


I have been thinking about the way that memory works. There are lots of reasons. For one, I am utterly amazed that two people can see the same thing and remember completely different things, down to directly contradictory direct quotes. But that isn't what I've been thinking about this morning.

I have memories from childhood and beyond that are just bits. I don't remember what happened right before, I don't remember what happened right after. I have other memories that are complete episodes, with scene changes and sound. Why is this?

I like to talk about my experience riding the school bus as a first grader, but I have been thinking about the two memories I have, and I wonder what went in between. I remember getting on the school bus and trying to sit down. A big girl (who was probably 10) told me I couldn't sit there because seats had been assigned. Then the bus driver (who was probably 16) yelled at me to sit down or get off. Since I can't see myself getting off, I must have sat down. I don't remember where or anything else about the bus ride. I just revisit the image I saw, standing in the aisle, staring at a white blur of a face telling me I couldn't sit. I remember the mouth moving. I don't remember the eyes. I know it was a girl.

I also remember hiding behind the bushes, waiting for the bus to come, then going home and telling Mom that I missed the bus. Since I remember the wait being pretty long, I have to think that my parents must have been suspicious. I was wondering if those were my only attempts to ride the bus in first grade. I know we joined a car pool at some point, which was pretty traumatic for Mom. I wonder if I ever rode the bus or if this was what happened in the first two days of school. I remembered just yesterday that before I was yelled at, I had really wanted to ride the bus. Maybe Mom had finally relented, then I changed my mind. I guess I'll never know, since Mom is gone and Dad doesn't remember that sort of thing.

As I write this, I think, good grief, where's your navel? I wonder why this small piece of memory sticks with me and affects my life even today.

I rode the school bus through middle school and part of high school, with many more traumatic incidences, but it is first grade that came to my mind when I decided not to make my kids take the bus to middle school. I decided that there are character building exercises, and there are exercises which tear your soul to shreds in such small ways you don't notice until you go looking for that piece of you. I'm still not sure what the bus ride was. Did I learn compassion because of that cruelty? Or did I become more timid and afraid? Or both.

But that's enough of my navel lint for today.

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