Third grade, school bus on its way home through the winding roads of Clarence. They weren’t dirt roads, but enough dust kicked up on the back roads in the summers that we may as well have been in a covered wagon headed West. I was sitting next to the window and this kid that I hated (we’ll call him Chuck) slid into the alligator-green vinyl seat next to me.
This kid — wire-rimmed glasses,gap-toothed, messy hair and a loud mouth — was a bully, and I pretty much always tried to avoid him, but when you’re both in a bus seat, there’s nowhere to go.
Something triggered it, and suddenly I was getting slapped at by this kid. I’d call it punching, but I’m not really sure this counted; some kind of weird hybrid tustling that kids do to each other. My brown tortoise-rim glasses flew off, and we were marooned in the back of the bus, so no one cared or heard, and I was pretty sure that this hateful kid was just going to keep this up until I missed my stop — a fate worse than death. But when Mrs. T pulled to the curb for my stop, Chuck stopped too, politely handed over my glasses, and let me get out.
The next day I told the principal about this, who of course called in everyone’s parents, and the adults were just baffled. Chuck and I had basically no adversarial relationship. Why had he gone ballistic and scared the bejeezus out of me? I’d made him drop his homework. I’d made him drop his homework? I couldn’t remember doing such a thing. The principal, a young guy — his first year on the job, at this point looked so confused, I suddenly saw that grown-ups don’t always have the answers. He turned to Chuck. “So if you were so mad at her… why’d you return her glasses?”
Chuck shrugged and was just like, “I knew she needed her glasses.”
This exact incident replays in loops in my life — I try to fly under the radar, avoid the center stage of conflict, somehow get thrust out there anyways, and in the afternath realize that people usually don’t have logical reasons for their actions. They possess bizarre levels of anger. They draw their lines of decency at all kinds of subjective, wacky spots, like — he wore glasses himself. He couldn’t fathom the impact of getting mauled at in a bus seat, but he knew first-hand what a big deal it would be to lose one’s glasses.