It was never my intention to become someone I wouldn’t like.
Growing up in the ditches of red Mississippi mud, I was taught that happiness was a Sunday morning song, a memorized verse, and a pristine pair of white socks encased in patent leather Mary Janes.
I rode the bus home from school, and I remember the smell. Like pee and mud and the back of sweaty little boy necks. I remember the spongy stickiness of the plastic green seats, and the high backs that I used to write on with pencil erasers. The one family of four or five kids who always sat in the first two seats, and who wiped boogers on the backs of the seats…they left a lingering odor in those seats, so even after they got off the bus within the first ten minutes of the ride, no one sat there. No one wanted to smell the wake or look at the boogers. I sat in a seat about ¾ of the way back, and I didn’t talk to many people. I don’t know why.
The first few years of busriding, there was a girl, older than me, named Maria. She had huge hair and lots of makeup and she would write “Turk 182” on the fogged windows on rainy days. I never questioned what she said, what she wore, or why this obviously-in-high-school girl was riding the bus home from school instead of catching a ride with a friend, or even driving herself. I never even spoke to her. Years later, when she showed up at my church on my way out (during my faithless years, when I realized that perhaps the darkly-stained Baptist pews weren’t quite seats on the only passenger train to Heaven), I recognized her. I had wondered about her through the years. She had come into our church on the coattail of her husband, a man who’d made lots of money owning restaurants, taken lots of drugs in the process, and had finally decided to follow Jesus because, you know, that transition makes total sense. He suddenly became a huge spokesman for Jesus around our town and because it’s the thing that Jesus’ spokesmen do, where ever he happened to be, there she was. Maria would be sitting beside him in the folded-hand smiling Baptist wife position, and I often wondered if the Maria from the bus – the one who smacked her gum and smeared on frosted pink Bonne Bell gloss – still existed, and if she did, what did she think of Smiling Wife Maria? Is that who she dreamed of becoming? Was that what those days on the bus were leading to? What steps did she take to reserve this position for herself?
I wonder if she liked who she was then, and then who she became. She couldn’t have liked them both.