Posted by jdg | Friday, November 06, 2009 |

The ride took almost an hour each way. One time I stayed on the school bus past my own stop to go to a friend's house and it went deeper into the country where it dropped off the farm girl we cruelly called Sarah Plain and Tall because she was. I can still picture her on the dirt shoulder looking up at the driver for permission to cross the road. The air out there smelled like manure.

I knew our school was "in the ghetto." Willie O'Day told me that's where I was, bitch, out beyond the girls double dutching while his friends held my arms, right before he kicked me hard in the nuts. When we heard gunshots, we raced to the windows in the old science lab before our teacher even knew what was happening. It was usually just a car backfiring, though one time it was an actual gunfight. There was a kid in my class named Achilles, a name that suggested speed was his birthright (and it was). My friends beat boxed in circles, repeated refrains from Raising Hell. The Beastie Boys were gods. At church, my mom once caught me hitting Mikey Carcione over the head with some rusty thing I found on the school playground; she snatched it away and said later it was a crack pipe. I thought it was no big deal, and to her credit she did nothing to let me know how bugged out she must have been. It was only after some kid tried to stab me in the bathroom that I stopped being able to fall asleep at night without her or my dad in the room. I was, apparently, something of a delicate flower.

Sarah Plain and Tall was always on the bus each morning, I'd pass her quiet and pale behind the driver. I'd press my knees into the back of the holly-green vinyl in front of me, patched and repaired from unaccountable ballpoint wounds, and crouch against the window and watch the same scene every morning and afternoon: Queen Annes glazed with ornament, broken into rentals, begging for paint; boarded-up storefronts; the windowless liquor store with black guys drinking out of paper bags in the lot; the plasma donation center behind razor-wire; the church where my mom once took us and we were the only white people there. Hundreds of others had this daily passage, this weird easement through poverty. The bus drove past three other elementary schools just to get to ours. This was 1986. I was nine. And I knew it was only birthright that let me pass on through.