This week I am re-sharing a Dear Dean Reader Favorite, A Bus Ride. Happy Writer Wednesday! Enjoy…
Written by M.J.C
It was a mix of dread and anxiety. Excitement and embarrassment. And guilt, an emotion I didn’t understand in this context feeling this way about my mother.
It was a trip to the doctor with my mother. And it wasn’t the doctor that evoked these conflicting and overwhelming emotions and my first feelings of guilt about letting down my mother. And perhaps the strongest emotion though was the feeling of impending separation from her.
From my mother.
I never wanted to separate from her nor to be apart from her in any way, then and now. And yet on this day as a twelve year old I was actively planning to be apart from her for the first time in my young life. I made this moment into a big moment. A huge moment. And it became bigger since the week before when my mother told me we were going to the doctor.
It wasn’t the doctor that I feared. I’d been to the doctor many times before with my mother, for both her appointments and mine. Mine were regular check-ups and normal visits as a result of normal kid activities and kid type injuries. My injuries were always to my head though.
Once I fell off a fence and onto my head and I was knocked out. Another time I was knocked out by my oldest brother swinging a baseball bat. It was an accident. And another time I ran into edge of an opened door. Each time my head was split open with blood flowing and me either knocked out and semi-conscious. I still bear the scars from those injuries – one just above my hairline and two more above my eyes and within my eyebrows. I still touch them now and then to remind myself that these were MY injuries. Injuries not inflicted by the monster.
On this visit to the doctor I was going for a routine checkup and my mom, as usual, was taking me. I was happy for our alone time. I was always happy for our alone time. I never wanted her to spend time with anyone else – not even my siblings – but just with me. I was terribly jealous anytime she talked to anyone. To see her laugh and have fun talking with her friends or her family brought me joy and jealousy. I wanted her attention, ALL of it, all the time. I was never happy without her attention so on those occasions she was busy I stayed close and just watched her.
She’d smile at me or touch my arm or head as she walked by, acknowledging me and giving me enough life to wait her out. I’d just stay close. Sometimes I’d stare until she told me to stop. But most of the time I’d act occupied – a book, or newspapers, or a dictionary – while sneaking peeks at her when I thought she wasn’t watching.
So when she told me she was taking me to the doctor, just the two of us, I was at first happy that we would get our alone time. And the fact that we were riding a bus meant that we’d have time to walk to bus stop; wait for the bus; ride the bus and walk to the hospital; time waiting for the doctor, and then the chance to do it all again on our way home. I’d get all that time with her to myself. I’d be happy.
But I wasn’t.
As the day of the appointment approached my problems amplified to the point that I fought my internal self’s desire to not go and to not be alone with her. It was the first time I had ever actively thought that I didn’t want to be alone with her, and my conflict made it impossible to sleep during the last two days leading up to the doctor’s visit.
On the day of the trip to the doctor I dressed slowly while not thinking about what was soon to come. I tried not thinking about it but it was there twirling around my head despite my efforts to block it.
We had a light breakfast and then it was time to leave. We walked out and headed toward the bus stop which was just two blocks away. We were early – mom was always early – and so we walked at a good, but not fast, pace.
She made small talk and I felt her warm hands as she held my hand as she always did. I felt her power and I accepted it all. I fed from her and I drank deeply to calm myself. Her energy always overwhelmed me and I loved her for it. Her soft hands gently squeezed when she made a point, or she moved our hands in a gesture to point something out for me to look at. She was in control of my hands, and my heart, and I was part of her.
I loved her so much.
We talked a little more as we waited for the bus and then when we saw it coming, she slowly stood up and I stood still. I’d gotten lost in her attention and all my fears and anxiety had gone away. But now they were back as my companions in anticipation and dread.
The bus slowed in front of us and mom got on first and I followed her steps onto the AC Transit bus, watching as she deposited the coins for our ride. She said hello to the driver and he said hello back, and said something to me. But I wasn’t listening because now was the moment.
Mom walked to a seat about four rows in on the left side and sat down. I was right behind her as she sat and then as she motioned me to sit I walked by. I walked two more rows behind her and on the other side of the bus and then I sat down. I had done it. I was sitting by myself and not with my mother.
I was old enough to sit alone on the bus and I didn’t want anyone to see me sitting by my mother because at my age I shouldn’t have to sit with my mother on a bus. I was old enough to sit alone I told myself over and over during the week leading up the this very trip.
Now that I had actually done it I didn’t know what to think or say. But mom did.
She looked back and said to me “Oh, you’re too big to sit with your mommy now, huh?”
I just stared back in that weird kid way of staring at an adult where in my mind I was telling her how much I loved her and how afraid I was and how scared I was and how I didn’t want to be embarrassed to sit by my mom but I wanted to be old enough to sit alone and I didn’t want any friends to see me sitting near the front of the bus with my mom because they’d tease me at school and this was a school day so no kids were on the bus but it didn’t matter because I was old enough to sit alone and by myself and further back than mom did because that’s where the boys sat on the school bus and and and.
But I said nothing. I just stared for five seconds.
Mom broke the silence and said “Okay, that’s fine.”
That was it. That’s all she said!
Was she mad? Was she hurt or surprised or angry or what? What was she feeling and why wouldn’t she tell me. The thirty minute ride was torture as I watched her from an angle and she never looked back at me. To be this close and not be at her center was worse than when she was with friends or family. She was within reach and nothing stopped me from touching her or talking to her. She was so beautiful in the morning light, at this angle, and her profile.
But I didn’t say a word because I was afraid of everything: Her response; any kid seeing me; and my need to be a “big boy” and not be seen as a momma’s boy.
Finally we arrived at our stop. Mom had rang the bell – in those days one pulled a wire that ran the length of the bus above the seats to indicate to the driver to stop at the approaching bus stop.
When the bus stopped, mom got up, looked back and said “Come on” in her typical quiet voice and direct approach. I got up and we walked the block to the doctor’s office.
She didn’t grab and hold my hand though. She always grabbed and held my hand. But not this time. I guess I really was a big boy now. I was miserable.
We visited my doctor and all went well. We had a snack and then after waiting for a bit we exited the hospital and headed back to the bus stop. Mom didn’t grab my hand. Again.
I’d hoped she had forgotten and things would go back to normal, but my entire world seemed to have changed and it was all my fault.
The bus came and I was numb and unafraid because I had caused mom to no longer see me as her baby boy. I was still her baby boy and I wasn’t ready to be older.
I was so mad at myself but it was all my fault.
Mom paid and took her seat right about at the same place on the bus as she did when we were on our way to the hospital. I watched her sit down and as she put her bag down she looked at me and said “Come sit by momma”.
It was a request; a statement; a demand; and most of all, an opportunity.
I smiled and said “Okay,” and sat next to her. I was so happy again.
The seats were close but not close enough for me so I moved over so our legs were touching. Mom looked down at me and confidently placed her left hand on my right hand. I turned my hand over and held on to her hand.
And I told myself I’d never be a big boy to her and I’d never let go of her hand. I’d hold it every day if I could and feed off her energy and love.
I held her hand all the way home.
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