Friday, August 23, 2013

The Miracle of Bus #6

Thirty-one years ago, I climbed the steps of Bus #6 and nervously sat in the front seat.  I was six years old, and it would be my first day of 1st grade at Clarendon Elementary.  Just the year before, I had kicked and screamed and cried my way through the Kindergarten hall, so maybe the school bus was my mom's solution to avoiding that trauma for the second year in a row.

Looking back, I'm sure that I was pretty miserable and fighting back tears (and losing that fight).  Three streets later, the bus doors opened at a brown house, and striding up those stairs came a 5-year old blonde fireball.  She sat down beside me for approximately 3 seconds, looked at my pitiful tears, grabbed my hand, and dragged me to the back of the bus where all the cool older kids were sitting.

That sassy kindergartner was my first best friend, Haley.
Haley and me.  Don't ask about the shirt.
I don't know why I wore it.

That's Haley on the left.  That's me and my unfortunate homemade vest/puffy shirt combo.  I loved my grandmother dearly.  This outfit makes me question the sincerity of her love for me.  Also, I think this was one of my mom's first home-done haircuts.  It is obviously before she went to cosmetology school.  Haley is wearing her infamous fur coat; I was terribly jealous.

Haley and I were best friends for several years as small children.  Although I was older (and so much wiser, for sure), she was the leader.  Haley never walked anywhere; she strutted.  Her self-confidence opened doors early, and her intolerance for b.s. could close them just as quickly.  It still can and does.  She has always been decisive and stubborn and willing to stand up for what she believes.  And she was the first person to force me to stand up, speak out, and find something worth my fight.  Haley was my voice when I was too nervous and my smile when I was too sad.  There are only a handful of people in my life that can make me laugh until I cry, and she was the first and ultimately the best.

When I think of my earliest memories of Clarendon, America, I think of Haley.  Since we didn't live "in town" but rather in a smaller, older community, there were few kids our age.  So if there was a day to be had playing at the creek or riding bikes or sipping Cokes at the Canteen, Haley was my partner in crime.  Sometimes, it was an actual crime -- my first and only experience as a shoplifter came in Gibson's with some Smurfs stickers.  We weren't very good at it; her mom, Debbie, caught us even before we were out of the parking lot.  We were daredevils, roller-skating down the giant hill next to my house.  We were the President and Vice-President of the only Oak Ridge Boys Fan Club in Clarendon. Haley was the boss, of course, because her Mamaw bought us the official membership and  because we held our meetings in her walk-in closet.  She also had a kicky green visor, courtesy of said membership privileges.  But more than anything, it was probably because there were only 2 members and as evidenced before, one of the members had no backbone.

Our friendship took a break when we played an elaborate and gone-horribly-wrong prank where we hid from her parents while they went to pick up her brother from a birthday party.  It went on for a while until we realized that they actually thought we'd been kidnapped and then couldn't get out of it.  Even then, we didn't always have the brightest decison-making skills.  Sorry, Butch and Debbie.  I still feel pretty bad about that one.

When the Hamiltons moved to "town", Haley and I just weren't as close.  Plus, she was in the grade behind me, so we didn't see each other that often at school.  But in high school, our friendship became important again.  Cruising the drag and Friday night football games and sleepovers were the main focus once again.  She was the loudest voice (besides my mom) at my basketball games.  She was the number one cause that I almost failed my first computer class.  She was the one brave enough to give out my phone number to the cute boys we'd meet.  She and Beth and I would take secret Saturday road trips all over the Panhandle with the radio up loud and Haley, hanging out the top of my car's sunroof, laughing hysterically and shouting into the setting sun.

Beth, Haley, and me headed to the 4th of July Rodeo.
Don't ask about the hat.  I don't know why I thought it was a good idea.
Haley was a constant in my life all the way through college.  We saw each other through some of our best moments as well as some of the hardest and most unimaginable.  By then, we were able to take turns being the backbone.  We don't see each other often anymore, but with the miracle of technology, we keep in touch (thank goodness we didn't actually fail Mrs. Hughes' computer class after all).  And if I were ever in real trouble, her number would be one of the first I'd call.  We are the type of friends that don't need to see each other every day to validate our friendship.  Haley is my first best friend, and that can't ever go away.  I will forever feel her tiny hand in mine, pulling me to the back of that bus, pulling me toward strength and confidence, pulling me toward who I would grow up to be one day.  

Now, this is Haley.

Emma and Haley

On the left is her daughter, Emma.  She is five, and yesterday, she headed off to Kindergarten.  It amazes me how much like her mother she is. 
So, so, so much like her mother.  Watch out world.

As the new school year begins, I have only one prayer to give for that sweet girl, and it's that she finds someone's hand to hold this year.  That she changes someone else as much as her mother helped change me.  That, at least once, she laughs until she cries or maybe even wets her pants.  And that she grows up to shout at the setting sun in a car full of her best friends.

Just don't hang out of the sunroof, Emma.  Your mom will totally know.

Happy Birthday, my Haley.  I hope that your day is full of laughter and hugs and love.  Thanks for getting on Bus #6 that day and not just blowing straight past me.

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