When the bus doors opened, a blast of over-warm air, humid and a touch fetid with thigh sweat and spotty deodorant application rolled over my face like an atmospheric slug. It was the Friday before Labor Day - why the hell did school always start on a Friday, anyway? - and late August in Georgia saw temperatures climb into triple digits.
I looked around and, surprise, surprise, none of my friends were riding today. Considering I didn't HAVE many friends on the bus, this meant that, like, the one person I actually wanted to squeeze next to on a sticky pleather seat was being driven to school by their parents. My mom had wanted to take me too, but, God knows, she'd have probably tried to take my picture in the carpool line and I might have DIED of embarrassment then so, yeah, I was riding the bus with the cool kids for my first day as a pre-freshman.
Yeah, I said pre-freshman. So what? Are you calling me little? When I was growing up, you started high school in 8th grade here.
It was terrible. I was barely out of a training bra and I was walking down the aisle with these Senior girls that looked like porn stars applying mascara and fluffing their two-story waterfall bangs in little compact mirrors. And the guys seemed huge, HUGE. Big football players in Varsity jerseys, asses level with my face, elbows flying as they wrestled in their seats, jostling me and my overstuffed backpack full of binders and notebook paper and brand new mechanical pencils...I must have looked a nerdy mess.
I made my way to the center of the bus where an empty seat waited, or so I thought. As I turned to drop my bag, I realized there were, in fact, two horny teens locked in an embrace, scooched down below eye level of the oblivious bus driver. I froze and the guy looked over his shoulder at me.
"What do you want, kid?" he growled, angry pimples marring his face.
'Gross,' I thought. 'He looks like his zits would pop all over you if you got close enough to kiss him!' And his girlfriend was really pretty too! Why was she with this loser?
"Aww, leave her alone," his girlfriend said. "She's just a baby."
I half smiled at the girl but rolled my eyes as I turned away. Lovely. Just a baby.
'Hey, I'm headed to high school like the rest of you,' I thought.
One of the football players called out to the bus driver "Hey, Mr. Brown, your speakers still work?"
"Yeah, they work." Mr. Brown responded.
"Will you play the radio?"
"Aight," says Mr. Brown, "but I get to pick the station." I steeled myself, expecting the goal and twang of country music.
At a stop light Mr. Brown turns the stereo on with a pop and Ozzy Osborne pours out of the speakers.
"Times have changed, and times are strange. Here I come but I ain't the saaaame...Mama, I'm coming home."
So, I believed in signs, name one Catholic who doesn't, and I often sought meaning in the music that randomly popped up on a radio - I still do. This song seemed like a good omen to me. A good start to this next phase of my life.
I settled in, looking out the window as the scenery bustled past. As we crossed the bridge over the lake, the sun barely over the horizon, I took a moment to appreciate how beautiful my hometown was, how often I forgot to just look at all the beauty around me.
"Theeese are the days...To remember..." Natalie Merchant crooned. Not bad, radio prophet, not bad. I'll take that message too.
We drove north toward the school, into the Appalachian foothills, the houses becoming more sparse and the hills denser.
Then it was a commercial break, and I started to get worried. I didn't want to arrive at school on a commercial break! That's no way to start the year! I held my breath as we paused at the stop sign a block away.
The bus trundled the last hundred yards toward the school entrance and the first song I'd hear as I started high school pounded through the speakers.
Axl Rose gleefully screamed into the bus "Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games! We've got everything you want, honey, we know the names!"
Seriously? This is my scared, little, pre-freshman, welcome to high school ballad? Perfect. At the time I had no clue just how appropriate an anthem it was.
If this was what I was given, I'd just have to go with it. I could rock some Guns n Roses attitude. I grabbed my bag, sauntering off the bus, rock and roll spilling out behind me.
"In the jungle, welcome to the jungle, watch it bring you to your na na na na na na na knees, knees..."
I don't think so, Jungle.