Memories of Aiyana, Part 7: (School Days 2)
Eventually, of course, summer ended as it always does, and it ended the exact same way it always does: too soon. It was time to go back to school, and we were together again in First Grade.
I have to back up.
The town we lived in was too small to have its own school; there weren’t enough kids to support a school, not even an elementary school. We could have stayed home and done school remotely, but I think both our families wanted us to get to meet other kids. After all, she and I had been virtually inseparable since forever, so having other friends was probably important to them. Maybe. Of course, I’m just guessing.
School. Yes. The school had students from all the surrounding towns and was located in Euclid. There were kids from Belgium and Louisville , since Euclid was fairly close for them.
It was close for us, too. Maybe twelve kilometers as the crow flies, but that’s on a diagonal, and there aren’t many diagonal roads in northern Minnesota. We, okay, I, argued we should be allowed to drive there, and I think I would have gotten my way except the school didn’t have any provisions in the rules for students driving themselves. We could be taken by our parents, we could be picked up by a bus, or if we lived close enough we could walk.
Well, we couldn’t walk. Oh, sure at the beginning of the year it wouldn’t be bad, just tedious, but neither of us wanted to think about walking in the winter. You know. October.
And none of our parents wanted to drive.
So the bus it was.
I don’t know how they decided the routes; it’s one of those bureaucratic mysteries of life. But it ended up on our route we were the second and third people picked up; the first was a boy named Joe DeLory, who we knew slightly. He was in our kindergarten class the previous year, but he liked to hang out with the boys, you know? It probably didn’t help that Cass was taller than him, but then again, she was taller than everyone except the teacher.
I maybe said it before, but that was never fair! She was always tall, always, even back when we were kids.
Right, so Joe was on first; he lived in Key West, too. Then the bus would go and pick up another fifteen kids, going out to Sullivan before circling North to Tabor, Sherack, and Keystone before heading to the school. In all, it was about a 70-minute ride for us, which meant we were on the bus from 7:08 (yes, I remember precisely) so we’d be to school in time for the 8:30am start.
The plus side, though, is it gave us plenty of time to play and have fun with the other kids. We got to know them all, of course, and since we were early on/late off, we had ‘seniority’ on the bus. Which meant, silly as it sounds, that the other kids wanted to hang with us simply because we were there first.
Hey, I don’t make the rules!
Anyways, after about a week, we’re riding home one day and we decide it would be a good idea to start playing ‘tag’ on the bus.
I have to explain about our buses, don’t I?
Well, they’re still yellow. Somehow that’s stayed the official ‘bus color’, even by the late 21st Century, but the design is changed.
See, by the middle of the Century the profession of Bus Driver had gotten so hazardous the entire design was re-thought to isolate the driver from the students. Now, you might think that foolish to do with five- and six-year-olds, but the design was for all buses, no matter who was using them. It was too much of a challenge, I guess, to have a design for the kids who weren’t going to be a threat and another for bigger, more risky kids.
Add to that the transition to all-electric vehicles and you got a bus with the driver up front, in a totally isolated cab. It didn’t even have a door to get from the cab into the seating area; if the driver needed to do that, they had to stop, get out, and come around to one of the doors.
Then there was a seat up front which was armored, in case the school thought they needed an active guard presence. We didn’t have a guard. Behind there you had all the seats, and they weren’t benches like you have now, they were proper, individual seats. See, that’s how they made them interchangeable; you just swapped seats in and out. So you had two rows of seats and a wide passage between them, and each row had two seats on each side of the passage. Got it?
Like I was saying, we were playing tag, and having a blast. It was a beautiful day and recess just wasn’t long enough, so we all had way too much energy. I was ‘it’, and I was chasing after Cass.
Well, duh. Who else?
All the other kids figure out what I’m doing, and they decide to protect her by getting in my way. I didn’t want to tag them, I wanted to tag Cass, so when one got in my way I’d have to slow down and go around them, trying not to touch them. It was fun for a while, but eventually I got frustrated. I went back to my seat and picked up my backpack, then used that to push them out of the way. I wasn’t touching them, so they couldn’t say they were ‘it’, right?
Cass saw me coming, squeaked, and dove under the seats to hide.
It didn’t work; I finally got through all the interference and tagged her.
“You’re it!” I said triumphantly.
“They were in my way!”
“So? What do you mean, so?”
“You could have tagged them!”
“I wanted to tag you, and I did. You’re it!”
At this she started to sniffle.
“I didn’t want to be it!”
“That’s the game, silly!”
The sniffling grew louder.
“Aw, come on, Aiyana,” I said. I was getting uncomfortable. Her unhappy made me unhappy.
“You…” Sniffle. “Cheated!” Sniffle.
She was wiggling her way out now, going forward, and every other kid on the bus was watching. Drama is always fascinating, isn’t it, especially when it happens to someone else?
“I didn’t cheat,” I repeated, but it sounded weak to my ears.
“Cheater!” she said, with another sniff. She was out from under, now, on the other side of the seats from me.
“Am not!” I said, and I plopped into the seat behind her. I crossed my arms on my chest and dropped my chin, ready to do a full pout.
“You are too!” said Aiyana.
By now I had my eyes closed, trying to fight back tears and failing, which meant I totally missed what was going on around me. I did notice it was real quiet, but I didn’t particularly think anything of it.
Then I felt a hand on my arm, and Aiyana was kissing my forehead. My eyes flew open and I saw her looking at me, those big blue eyes staring right into mine.
She and I had kissed. It was natural as breathing for us to trade a kiss and a hug first thing in the morning, or last thing before going home. But this was the first time she kissed me as anything other than a greeting.
“You okay?” she said.
“I didn’t cheat!” I answered, still upset.
“I know. I was mad. I’m sorry.”
She kissed me, on the lips this time, and then leaned away.
“Oh, yeah. You’re it.”
And with a squeal of joy she dashed away.
I just sat there for a moment trying to process it all, then I was after her again, with the other kids saying, ‘Let Kendra catch her girlfriend!’
Which I did. Aiyana then tagged another kid, and the game moved on, but for the rest of the year we always had seats saved for us together. It was a warm feeling, having someone outside our immediate families recognize what we had, even if we didn’t yet have a clue what it was or could be.
We were just better together.