In her book, Blubber, author Judy Blume called it “school bus action”. It’s that time of day when school doors opened and everyone ran for the buses headed home. That’s when the yellow school bus (a.k.a. The Big Cheese) doors slammed shut and school bus action began.
It was me, the rest of the kids, a driver solely focused on the road, and about 45 minutes of rush-hour traffic, barreling down Queens Boulevard with basically no adult supervision.
Cliques formed each afternoon, with the nerds in the front of the bus, pranksters in the middle and the troublemakers in the rear. I didn’t really fit into any of these categories. I just liked to stare out of the window and dream or read, so I was an easy mark for bullies. I remember feeling a little lonely and afraid during those afternoon bus rides. I was so thankful when the ride was over and I got through it without being harassed.
Fast-forward 40 plus years. I’m headed home and sitting on The Coca-Cola Red Bus. Still staring out of the window, dreaming and reading, when I notice someone looking at me. “Is your name Juliet?” she asked. I looked at her, and as she was telling me her name we both called it out simultaneously… “Leslie". She said “Yes! We went to school together in the fifth grade and were best friends!” I stare at her and she stares at me, and I struggle to remember the details of our friendship. But all I could think about is being bullied.
Through a series of lunches and dinners, Leslie reminded me that we didn’t ride the bus together. But we did have class together in the fifth grade! I still struggled to remember. One day soon after, we had lunch together at Coca-Cola, and Leslie begins to recall some of the things we did together in elementary school. It was then I recalled that we were indeed in the same class and I sat right behind her. She sat in the first row and I sat in the second row. How our favorite teacher was Mrs. Jaffe!
She told me how we read books together in the library, and took keys to a storage closet to talk in private. How we held on to the keys for a few weeks so we could escape to read the new books in the storage room. I remembered the twists in her long hair and envying the red leather jacket she got for Christmas. How cool her clothes were. Yes, I remembered my friend in the fifth grade. Her name was Leslie Nicole Taylor!
Today, with the past of the school bus action behind me, I know without question that I had a friend in the fifth grade. That she loved me and I loved her. That we spent whatever time we could together before I had to get on the bus for that long, lonely ride home. I remember there was a small part of my day that I could look forward to – seeing my friend at school.
Now I get to see Leslie anytime. We meet often on campus, drink our favorite Coke beverages and talk, just like we did more than 40 years ago. We even ride the Coca-Cola Red Bus together.
Life can be hard, but God is amazing. He brought my friend back to me, and me back to her. Life is good.