Where were you, the moment you knew it was time to stand tall and walk in your purpose? How old were you? Did you hesitate and ultimately give in, or did you act without hesitation? I was four years old at the end of my first day of kindergarten when I answered the call.
Mr. Rogers killed the back-to-school programming game. Daniel Striped Tiger, Prince Tuesday and Ana the Platypus rode Trolley to the school in “Someplace Else,” learning at the udders of one Ms. Harriet Elizabeth Cow. The most captivating part of this was seeing Trolley in school bus cosplay. I envisioned myself climbing into that grumbling monstrosity like it was a golden dragon racing towards my future. I learned a week before school started, after a litany of disappointments, that my Auntie Shirley would bring me to and from school. Throwing bricks at me would have been less painful.
That day, I hated my shoes, my backpack, and my dress. And then, there was Tiffany – another passenger in my aunt’s decidedly non-magic Buick. Tiffany’s hatred for me grew upon discovering we were classmates. It was apparently too much for her. Only our Maker knows why she thought it wise to try me. I don’t remember how or why the fight started – I just remember that she bit my arm. The more I pushed, the harder she bit, because a bitch with houndstooth eyebrows has nothing to lose.
Unfortunately for Tiffany, she wasn’t much of a battle strategist. While she was biting my arm, the entire side of her face was ripe for attack. While I don’t remember how the fight began, I remember clearly how it ended: in Tiffany’s shrieking, blood-curdling defeat as I locked onto her cheek like a lamprey of righteousness. As the teacher marched me across the yard and to the “punish corner,” I eyeballed every kindergartener on the playground. Welcome to the next six years of your life, bitches. I’m Mel the Motherfucking Maverick. Ask about me.
The principal announced bus arrivals over the PA and it was in that moment that my way became clear. After an entire day of no, I would walk fearlessly into my yes. I thought about the man who lit this fire in my belly. What would HE do?
A cool resolve came over me as I walked past a wide-eyed Tiffany to my cubby-hole. I grabbed my backpack and walked out of the classroom. As they called students by bus numbers, noted the flaw in my plan: I had no bus number to respond to and the cafeteria was emptying quickly. A lesser being would have admitted defeat and walked back to the classroom. I am not now, nor have I ever been a lesser being. I walked outside and a helpful teacher asked, “What bus are you looking for, honey?”
I quickly scanned the remaining buses and shouted, “Bus FOUR! BUS FOUR *squint* ONE FOUR!”
Have you ever done something wrong and it all went to hell? Nothing about it was the way you thought it would be, and you learned a lesson for the ages? That’s not what happened here. Kids were laughing and shouting. One of the big girls gave me a piece of candy. We screamed, “BYYYYYE! SEE YOU TOMORROW!” at every stop. It was golden. We arrived at the last stop. The bus driver smiled and said, “Isn’t this your stop baby girl? Time to go home.” Obviously not, but I’d come too far punk out. He held out his hand, I dapped him off on the way out, and he pulled off.
Then I felt like Bugs Bunny when he suddenly found himself in a world with no background. I had no plan. So I yelled. Often when I told this story, I said that I cried. That was a lie to make my parents feel better. I couldn’t let them know that my disobedience felt like the greatest day in my young life. I yelled so that a grown-up would show up and help me get home. It was my warrior’s whoop. I rode the bus. My story was over.
And like an angel to guide me back to where I belonged a nice lady walked across the street. She invited me indoors. Of course, I didn’t usually rock with strangers, but she had a daughter slightly younger than I was, wearing a Barbie shirt and eating a plum (exotic fruit to my apple and banana munching ass). Anyone who had daughters and plums couldn’t be all bad. She saw me hungrily eye the plum, and offered me two. As I was relishing in the taste of my first plum, she was calling the school to report that she’d found a lost child. Within minutes, my aunt and the school principal pulled up to the house at the same time.
I looked at my aunt’s face and walked to my principal as though I’d never seen my aunt or that Buick in my life. The fact that my aunt didn’t put that extra plum in a sock and bludgeon me into a state of unconsciousness is proof of my aunt’s love and the hand of The Lord. I was black in the 80s, so I got a multi-layered beating, with my pops being the boss level. There is a mixture of amusement and terror when my parents recount the story. Looking back as a mother, I am horrified by how quickly that story could have had an awful ending.
But it didn’t. Because I walked in my truth. Fuck Buicks. Ride buses.
And Tiffany can still catch these hands.