Technology has moved what is known as reality forward in such a rapid manner it’s sometimes difficult for me to reconcile life as I know it now with my early beginnings and my material reality growing up. It’s as if it couldn’t have happened like this, utterly surreal. I lived on a five acre farm with my parents and siblings a few miles outside of a tiny town. The house was also tiny and didn’t have central heat or air or a furnace.
It was originally built as one room and others were added on in succession, even the plaster kitchen. A wood-burning stove was at the center, and eventually we got a window-unit air conditioner. The dining area was sealed up with tarp or sheets on hot nights as it blasted, and we children zipped ourselves up in sleeping blankets on the floor, unable to bear it in our rooms, because it had to run so cold to keep the whole room habitable.
It was a farm in the most picturesque sense, giving nothing to the larger economy like the serious operations that surrounded us. However we grew numerous fruits and vegetables that fed us on a dilapidated setup that once housed cattle, horses, and sheep at the turn of the century. My father commuted to the metro area for work and we spent half our time there too.
The other half was very bleak for me. I went to the tiny public school in the tiny town, and I had to ride the bus to get there. I got on the bus before 7 in the morning and I don’t recall getting home until after 4 in the afternoon — one of the first to get on and one of the last to get off. It’s hard to believe this started when I was 5 and lasted until I was 12, when we moved.
The land we covered on that ride was mostly flat and desolate, perfectly plotted as well according to how the different crops were planted. Viewing it at around 45-50 miles per hour through the small rectangular bus windows is a depressing waste of life to recall. I read a lot, imagined a lot, and drew a lot to distract myself from the mostly hellish scape, as I saw it.
Sometimes, from my treehouse built around one of the larger trees sticking up starkly, alone, on on our property in the larger plain, I was able to appreciate the purplish hue that seemed to hang between the stalks of corn and milo as dusk creeped in. I recall thinking that’s all I could appreciate about it at a very early age. I came to resent being stuck there, being forced to stake out some semblance of an existence in what seemed like endless, isolated nothingness.
I was probably 8 or 9 when a new boy was added to our bus route, in my same grade. His father was the new principal of the high school. He was obnoxious and loud, stick thin but strutted around like a bully, had his straw-like blond hair cut into a silly bowl cut, and of course garnered instant respect because of his dad’s position. Of course I distrusted most of the school administration, but it wasn’t out of anything too healthy I believe — it was due to my parents’ own insecurities they projected onto me. In retrospect I think that if they had been privy to the tiny area’s tiny petty bourgeois circle’s secrets and privileges, they probably wouldn’t have felt so strongly.
I really came to hate this kid — Dane was his name. My area was too small to have competing social cliques as seen on TV, but I was a runt looking thing regularly asked by my teachers and librarian if I was sick and feeling okay and my friends were fat or other sorts of rejected souls caught picking their noses or smelling of, well, like they too had wood burning stoves heating their little houses or who had to wear thrift store clothes (before it was cool). Dane had little regard for such losers and picked on several of my “ugly” friends. We could really work ourselves into a state about this guy, and I would say now, most righteously so. Fuck Dane.
Dane was also one of the last to be picked up on the bus route and one of the first to be let off. His house and a few choice others dotted a more hilly area with creeks circling around, not too far out of the town but with a certain rustic appeal. I came to hate the sight of his house, too. A sprawling square shape with an attic, forest green shutters and roof, perfectly set on a large manicured yard demarcated by a knotty log fence. I thought he was fake, his family was fake, principals are made up and fake, and his house couldn’t have been that nice housing such fake people.
One day after school, Dane was on the bus longer to be dropped off with a friend who lived further out for some boyish gathering I didn’t care too much about. But I did care about having to be around his loudness that much longer. Couldn’t I finish my miserable ride in peace till I made it home? No, not with Dane around. Dane had to be making a big deal of whatever fake dumb shit he had done for the day. As he and his friends were being loud a couple of rows from me, and well just like kids, really, I made my way to the front of the bus between stops. I told the old mean battle axe of our driver, Mrs. Graham, that Dane had cursed at me and called me stupid.
Mrs. Graham suffered no shit from anyone and if you rode her bus, she had yelled at you at some point. That’s just the way she was. I must say I felt some sweet, sweet satisfaction when she snarled his name and he came whining and pouting to the front, forced to sit right behind her and not say a word for the rest of the ride. He kept moaning but I didn’t dooo it as any falsely accused child would — because I had made the whole thing up.
I was a fairly quiet child who entertained myself and stayed on the good side of most school administrators. So she took my complaint seriously, so seriously in fact that she alerted the elementary school principal, Mrs. Anderson, of Dane’s alleged actions. No fool herself, Mrs. Anderson conducted her own investigation. My friends on the bus were called one by one to her office to see if they could corroborate my story. No one could. And I hadn’t tried to get anyone in on my plot, so what could I expect? Only on their immediate collusion which was enough for me to go through with the lie and give Dane a little grief, for once.
Finally, I was called to her office. She asked me to recount what Dane had said to me. I was much more hesitant this time, barely able to look up to her. She leaned in close and said, this didn’t really happen, KariFlack, did it? The gig was up. I owned up to it, and more than that, I matter-of-factly gave her the business on Dane. She didn’t treat me like a little idiot in return like one of my parents may have tried to impress upon me about all school authorities; we had an exchange about why he was a shit (not in so many words, of course).
I didn’t receive any formal demerits, even, but I had to apologize to Dane. And Mrs. Anderson phoned my mother, who went on to act like my lie wasn’t a problem at all and “just our little secret”, but that’s another tale for another day. Unsurprisingly, Dane wasn’t really having it, his pursed little lips trembling at the thought that someone could take an accusation against him seriously or that someone would even make one. He left me and my friends alone following that, and after a year or two, his dad got a new administration position and they moved on. Thankfully. I didn’t find myself wanting to lie about anyone else who bothered me after that because I knew it wasn’t necessary to voice my grievances in this tiny place, and it just ate me up inside anyway waiting for the fallout.