School Bus 143


I felt connected to real magic when I was a kid, a force of invisible protection. I never told anyone at all. But I had it in my mind that something extraordinary was happening, there was something I was connected to, or that was connected to me, that protected me when I was lost and helped me find my way.

The first time I remember feeling protected, was when I got off at the wrong bus stop when I was about seven years old. We had moved to a less than friendly town in North Texas, into a giant non-descript apartment complex . It was the kind of complex that had hundreds of units, inside, grey chipped concrete buildings sprawled over miles and miles of town land. My parents and I were new to town and knew no one.

It was my first day at a new school.

My parents’ roles in this story remain fuzzy.  I just don’t remember the talk, at least, one of them must have had with me before the day to give me the instructions on how to get safely home.  And I don’t remember any plan for what I should do if I got lost.

I was supposed to get on School Bus 143*, after school and then get off at the stop outside our apartment building. I knew instinctively that this is something I should be able to do on my own. I wasn’t supposed to need any help. It was expected. And I could do it.

For some reason, whenever I remember this story, I remember it as if looking down from above with only glimpses, from my own perspective.

I was on school Bus 143, as it turned into one of the entrances of the giant, apartment complex. The bus made one other stop within the complex. And then when it came to my stop, I got up, quietly hoisted my small backpack on my back, and and marched down off of the bus. The bus drove away into the distance. And it was just four-foot-something me, against the sprawling concrete maze.

I walked up and to the right, and then climbed up the two flights of stairs, to our apartment, when I knew something wasn’t right.

The building looked the same. The letter “B”* on the door, where our apartment unit should have been, was the same.  Everything looked exactly the same, except there was a dusty, dog-haired plastic mat in front of the door.

I felt sick to my seven-year-old stomach, as I realized I must have gotten off at the wrong stop. This wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

This was in the days before cell phones, but long after real, connected, neighborhoods where people really knew and cared about one another.

And I knew that no matter how friendly a stranger seemed, that a little kid knocking on the wrong door, could find herself never making it home.

With a sick feeling in the pit of my little stomach, I walked back down the two flights of steps and tried to look like my parents were nearby, I knew where I was going, and I was okay.  I knew instinctively that a kid who looks unsure, and separated from her parents, is in more danger than one who looks like she feels safe, and looks like she knows where she’s going.

I stood in the middle of the intersection. The bus was long gone. And the buildings in every direction looked the same.

I stood there and confided in some part of myself that I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t know how to get home.

And then I started walking.

After quite a bit of walking, and quite a few turns that must have been guesses, I found myself at the right cluster of buildings, and walked up the two flights of steps to our new home.

I had other moments like this as a kid, and then as a teenager.  As a teenager driving through the back roads of the south, I got lost when a road I was supposed to take home was closed.

I was alone.

As I was about to make a turn, a cyclist rode up beside me, and signaled for me to roll down my window.

I didn’t.

He said, “Do you need help? Are you lost?”

I said, “I’m trying to get back to Franklin Court.”

He told me how to get back to the main roads I was looking for, and then he rode off.

I’ve also had moments like this as an adult. But not as often. And then not at all. After you lose people, after awful things happen that can never be undone, you start to wonder.

Am I just separated from the magic? Was there ever any magic at all?  Or was the magic all in my head?

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*some details changed.