When I was six-years-old I rode a bus to school. It was a big, creaky, yellow bus, ancient even in 1957. It was always damp and smelled like a rainy day, no matter the weather. Every day we bumped up and down over pitted D.C. streets still crisscrossed with trolly tracks.
We were all picked up and dropped off at our homes, one by one. It took hours each way. It could have been the bumpy ride, or the rainy smell, but almost every day on the ride home some little kid would throw up. It was awful. The noise that child made when he vomited, the way it flew out of his mouth and splattered over the floor and seats, little chunks of lunch meat undigested in brown liquid. Oh, and the smell! Then the little kid would start crying because he was sick and embarrassed because everyone saw him throw up. The other kids (but not me) would laugh and hold their noses while the driver just kept going.
In my six-year-old mind, as I watched those gastro-volcanic episodes, I saw a pattern. It was always a different little kid who threw up on the bus. A dreadful truth began to emerge and it was this: we must all throw up on the bus! What followed was a clear but awful conclusion. With only so many little kids on the bus, eventually it was going to be my turn to throw up.
I began to dread the bus rides. This horrible thing was surely going to happen to me and I would never know the day or time. At first I was filled with fear, but eventually I settled in to resignation. I began to plan how I would manage my own throw-up time. Head down, away from the seats and the other kids. Hide my face. I accepted the certainty, and so I waited.
But the weeks and months went by, summer came and school let out, and I never threw up on the bus. Not once. Not even the whole next year.
* * *
Years passed, I grew up and forgot about the school bus with the sick little kids, the stink, and tears. And I forgot about how the curse passed me by, in fact, was no curse at all.
When adulthood landed I found myself bombarded by threats of catastrophe, as if I was dodging pianos falling from upper windows. A colleague is diagnosed with breast cancer, a friend’s husband wants a divorce, five employees in my division are laid off. It was happening every day and I waited, dreading my turn for it was surely going to happen to me would never know the day or time.
But wait. My turn?
The phrase vibrated in my head. It had been a long time and none of those awful things had happened to me. A lost lesson bubbled up. It was that bus. I had been so afraid, so sure something terrible was going to happen. But it didn’t. I was safe all along.
Such a silly lesson. But today, six decades later, when I feel impending doom and pianos are crashing on the sidewalk in front of me, I remind myself that it’s an illusion; a curse that does not exist.
Because as sure as I was, as clear as the signs were, I never throw up on the bus.