They say friendship isn’t something you learn in school, but I’ll tell you where you can learn it: on the school bus.
I was born cautious, and by cautious I mean generally fearful of everything. I was also born screaming, and so you’d think that I would have grown into a loud child, but it really seemed like I exhausted all of my energy before I left the hospital, and by the time I climbed aboard my first school bus, I was mostly interested in keeping to myself.
The bus was an early one, and since I was lucky enough to live so far away from school that the proverbial walking-up-hill-to-school-both-ways would have been more like wheezing through a marathon, the bus driver compensated for how early we had to wake up by consistently arriving to each stop ten minutes earlier than she needed to. This meant that she arrived at school ten minutes before we were allowed into the building. An eternity in the pre-cellphone era.
Most mornings while I waiting for the teachers to escort us off the bus and into the school building, I would sit quietly with my girlfriends. We were a real exciting bunch. Our number-one morning activity was what we’d refer to as a “chapstick party.” Even though we were allowed to stand up once the bus stopped being in motion, we remained in our seats and passed chapsticks in circles, sniffing them. Yeah, we were scintillating.
But nobody else ever stood up on the bus either. And so everybody was confused the day the bus floor began rumbling. It happened once, twice, then stopped. Glancing around the edge of the bus seat, nothing appeared out of order, so I turned my attention back to someone’s brand new key lime Lipsmacker. But it tumbled out of my hand when the floor rumbled again, this time more violently, sending tremors up the entire back of my seat.
The bus driver seemed too busy glancing out the window at the scenic squares of concrete she parked by every morning to be concerned with things that could actually have been happening on her bus, so I resolved not to worry about the rumblings. Remember, this was my first bus-riding experience, so I was still a couple of years away from the bus driver who would crash into another bus when she forgot to brake, the bus driver who hosted gambling games for cash prizes on the way home (I still regret telling my parents about that one before I could make some cash), and the bus driver who forced certain children to sing karaoke to earn passage onto the bus. In short, I still (naively) trusted bus drivers.
And eventually the rumbling stopped, so I told myself to stop worrying. Like I said, I was naïve. I should have known that the ceasing of the rumbling should have been a cause for concern.
Suddenly, a tentacle lashed out from the seat above me, scattering the remaining chapstick tubes everywhere. No, not a tentacle…an arm.
“Rrrrrr,” growled the creature attached to the arm.
And there, squatting on the top of a bus seat, arms waving frenetically about, was Jonathan, my soon-to-be best friend.
But I wouldn’t know this yet.
“I. Am. A dinosaur!” yelled the creature as it flung itself down from its perch on the bus seat. I recoiled as its arms lashed out wildly in my direction.
“Run,” he screeched, “Or I will eat you!”
Not having had much contact with boys or dinosaurs (and what’s the difference, really?) hurdling from the sky directly at me in my short existence, I did the exact opposite. Curled into the fetal position, I peeked out as my friends sprinted up and down the bus aisle, and Jonathan chased them.
You might wonder where the bus driver, that responsible adult, was at this point, while children shrieked and ping-ponged from seat to seat for ten solid minutes, but I promise I can explain this to you. Her inaction in this situation can be completely rationalized by acknowledging that there is no song more perfectly captivating that Faith Hill’s “This Kiss,” and that such a true musical treasure can only be fully appreciated when on repeat and when all other senses are completely tuned out.
So I lay safely curled in the bus seat when the tapping began on the back of my skull. Prepared for another aerial assault, I swatted the air above me. Nothing. Rawwwr, purred-the dinosaur-boy from above me. I waited. Prepared.
A hand shot out from underneath the seat, latching around my ankle and dragging me onto the floor.
“I’m a dinosaur,” he confirmed, “And I’m going to eat you.” If this were Jurassic Park, he was the raptor hiding in the bushes when I’d thought I was finally safe. Clever girl, ha.
I may have never been as excited to see teachers as the moment when they came to let me off the bus. And I may have never been less excited to board the school bus as I was during the next few days as the primordial beast waited to awaken for ten minutes of hunting each morning when the bus stopped. Thank goodness for the end of the school day, when my neighbors would knock on my front door and ask me to play.
So my heart was beating fast with post-school-day, post-bus-ride adrenaline when I went to open the door this particular day.
“Helloooo-oh,” I said. Jonathan stood there.
“I’m a dinosaur,” he informed me.
My mom walked out from the kitchen.
“Who’s this?” She asked, “A new friend?” Or course, you can probably guess by now how Jonathan introduced himself.
“I’m her boyfriend.”
“How sweet,” Mom smiled, and Jonathan walked into the house.
One exhausting hour later of oh-how-cute-they’re-playing-tag and would-it-be-too-much-to-pray-for-another-asteroid-to-strike-Earth-now, Jonathan’s mother called asking to send him home.
“Hit the road, Jack,” Mom told him.
Jonathan marched out the door, down the driveway, into the cul-de-sac, and, well, hit the road. With his fist.
“You can’t call me, Jack, though,” he called out as he ran off, “Next time, it’s hit the road, Jon.”
Giggling maniacally, I suddenly knew there would be a next time.
Now, nearly twenty years later, reflecting back on the moment when I knew Jonathan and I would become best friends, I can’t help but think of the saying that friendship is like peeing your pants: everybody can see it, but only you can really feel it. And when I think of this statement, I have to agree that friendship truly is like peeing your pants, because the first time I met Jonathan, I kind of did.