So, the kids are back to school this week. In fact, a neighbor had a "Back to School" banner up on her front porch. I got to thinking, like I do, how bad do you hate your kids if you have to put up a "Back to School" banner?
That banner just screamed, “Yay! They’re out of the house for eight hours EVERY DAY until Christmas!”
I loved school, but I never liked the first day back. It was always fun, but a little scary. I remember when I went from being a middle school student to a high school student. To a kid, the transition is monumental, even though it's really just going from one school to another.
I remember hearing the rumors in middle school. “Kids in high school keep guns and knives in their lockers.”
Luckily, that rumor turned out not to be true (to the best of my knowledge), at least not at Chartiers Valley in the (gulp) 80s.
Still, I remember the first time the big yellow bus turned onto Thoms Run Road. I was filled with fear and loathing that first day. It seemed like a really long ride, even though it was about two miles.
Chartiers Valley was vast to my middle school brain. It’s even bigger now than it was then, having expanded after I graduated. Of course, I have also expanded since I graduated. The extra pounds look better on the school than it does on me, though.
I walked down those hallways lost and confused more than once.
S.R. Duda Middle was one long rectangle. In middle school, you were either downstairs or upstairs, one end of the hall or the other. Chartiers Valley High School had layers, compartments, annexes, and more nooks and crannies than a Thomas’s English muffin.
I remember one semester I had to run from one end of the building to the other to catch the bus. I missed the bus almost every day from January to June. I had to hang around for the “Late Bus,” which came 15 minutes later (an eternity to a teenager).
I knew once I got home, my nana (Italian for grandmother) would be waiting. She’d busy herself in the kitchen with the “Guiding Light” on in the living room. Sadly, both my nana and the “Guiding Light” are gone.
I looked around for friends that first day and I couldn’t find any of my old pals from middle school. All I saw were a sea of new faces; some of the kids were trucked in from other middle schools, Catholic schools, or wherever.
Something happened on the first day of school. It was the eye of the storm, calm while you were going through it, but a swirling vortex all around. I didn’t realize my soon-to-be lifelong friends were going through some of the same fear and anxiety. We were all terrified by our unknown futures. We just were all to busy in our heads to notice each other.
The second day wasn’t as bad. The next day was even better, and before you know it, I was having a blast at high school.
For years, though, I remember dreaming about being on that yellow bus again. On the bus and frightened and wondering, “What the heck am I going to do when I get there.” Sometimes, in the dream, I was on that bus in my underwear, but that’s a column for another day.
Last Thursday morning, the bus rolled onto Lindsay Road, and a small group of kids, with their heads hung low, marched onto the bus as if they were headed to the gallows.
It’s nearly thirty years later, and I’m a little relieved that I wasn’t on it.