Early one morning I followed the blinking, lumbering school bus on its routine route to pick up students. Always a people-watcher, I studied the colorful collection of boisterous Middle School students waiting at each stop. Then I saw her – the girl standing alone. She was me, more than 50 years ago.
Her disheveled brown hair was wild and frizzy, her clothes weren’t stylish, she wore big black eyeglasses, and she carried a saxophone case. I waved at her. She smiled faintly and climbed onto the bus behind the others.
A week later, I happened to follow the same bus, and I saw her again. She was sitting on her saxophone case reading a book. I wanted to shout, “I know you!” But I restrained myself, waved, and watched her board the bus. I’d like to tell her that all the things that consume this most awkward stage of life eventually won’t matter anymore.
Hair. My plain hair was wrinkly, frizzy, and brittle, and I never knew how to style it. Even now, I’ll get a sassy new do and concentrate to see how the hairdresser fixes it, but I never manage to duplicate the style. After many decades of trial and error, now I just blow it dry and hope it isn’t awful.
Clothes. Back in the 1960s, girls didn’t wear pants to school. My wardrobe consisted of five basic jumpers and long-sleeved shirts. Now, I’m semi-retired and work from home in my jeans and comfortable sweaters, and it takes a major event with a free buffet and wine bar to make me wear fancy clothes. I want the girl at the bus stop to know her fashion sense doesn’t matter.
Glasses. I was 10 when I tried on my friend’s glasses and was amazed that the distant trees had leaves. I’ve worn glasses since then. I tried contacts for several decades, but soon needed one to read and one to see distance. I settle now for my transition bi-focal eyeglasses with cute frames. It’s okay.
Musical instruments. In school, only nerds lugged bulky cases for musical instruments, but I’m thankful I learned how to practice and play music. In the village of Wendell, Idaho, students started band in fourth grade. I have fond memories of blasting my saxophone in the Wendell High School Pep Band, and I continue to play my piano into my sixties. It’s great therapy.
Books. I read books and have written a few in three genres. Books are lifelong friends, and they never go out of style. The stories sparked my imagination and encouraged me to explore and travel. I enjoyed reading to my children, and now I read some of the same books to my grandkids. Reading a book while perched on a cold saxophone case can lead to grand adventures.
To the girl at the bus stop, I hope you gain some self-confidence through this complicated stage of your life. I envision you in the future as you speak with conviction, play wonderful music, write a few books, and laugh with friends and lovers. If you attend your high school reunion, you’ll realize many of the past homecoming queens and head cheerleaders want to be you.
Someday you might drive behind a noisy school bus and see your younger self waiting alone. Wave to her, with profound vigor and sincere encouragement, because you both dance to the beat of a different but splendid drummer.
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