New shoes, new shirt, new backpack
We were back on the block again at 7:45AM,
Leaving Spongebob playing on the living room TV
While we waited outside for the bus and Mom watched us from the front door. Tall grass dewy, backpack straps tightened, navy sky brightening,
The late summer morning first day of school,
Kids lining up excitedly along the street, a new buzz to the neighborhood commute,
And the hazy rising sun giving glare to eastward-traveling drivers.
Our driveway ran beside our house, and we were to be picked up at its end
But in the meantime as we waited, we horsed around about the front yard.
What was it like to feel nervous as a child? Was I nervous?
Well, of course not–I was a third grader, I knew it all.
I knew school was somewhere I could play with my friends, and make art, and feel safe.
The air felt cool at first that morning, but it was going to warm up to be a hot one
And the blue hoodie I was wearing would be hilariously unnecessary by the end of the day
And would be just another burden to add to my already-bursting backpack,
Stuffed with new folders and notebooks and markers, and a lunchbox on top of it all.
I was excited to have an obligation again, like Dad going off to work,
Waking each morning with duty, leaving for a purpose, and returning later that day,
Back when Dad used to come back after teaching.
My little brother, also, probably did not think of how the day could go wrong either–
Did not understand what deep dread felt like, the anxiety of knowing your fears are so possible–
As he climbed to the second stair of the pebble-encrusted cement steps leading up to the front door,
And he leapt off it to the ground, shouting, “I’m in-Lunchable!”
What? I giggled at him. “What do you mean?” I asked breathlessly. His hair was sticking up in the back.
“What do you mean? Do you mean invulnerable?” First graders were so illiterate.
He laughed helplessly. “No, in-Lunchable!” His red backpack bounced as he jumped.
“In-Lunchable! I’m in-Lunchable!” We laughed for a while at the heroism of refrigerated, pre-packaged children’s lunches.
Mom liked us ready ten minutes early, but it felt like we were waiting out there for ages,
So that even she started to look bored, in the doorway in her bathrobe,
Shifting foot to foot, finally changing the TV station to the news,
Which I briefly watched through the front window, but it was uneventful, so I stopped.
Birds were chittering away in the tree beside our driveway,
And the neighbor girls finally streamed out sleepily to their post
And I whipped my head back and forth because it made my braids fly around
And I wasn’t used to seeing the sun hanging in that low east part of the sky.
I could only see so far down the road, because it disappeared with a hill,
But I kept glancing that way, anticipating red lights and the yellow face of the bus,
And while I was peering, my little brother rammed into my side head-first
And I shoved him away from me, “Nice try, I’m in-Lunchable!”
It sounded like Mom was yelling at us from the house
But now we were trying to hop from the gravel driveway
To the stone-slab walkway leading from the porch to the mailbox,
Without landing on the grass;
Failure meant wet shoes from the damp yard;
Failure didn’t mean red splotches on alphabet rugs and bullet holes in Dora the Explorer shirts
And failure didn’t feel like Dad not coming home for dinner because of an incident at his school with a very sick man.
Back then waiting was just the present, was just all we had and so we filled it with games,
Waiting wasn’t counting down the unknown number of seconds until what happened to so many others happened to you,
My brother was just a monkey and I was excited to use my Lisa Frank folder.
We were trusting that everything would be okay.
And then an echoing, creaky clenching of brakes, a slowing in the line of cars that drove by,
Our eyes whipped to the west, where the sign was seen–
The school bus was coming!
We took our spot at the asphalt apron by our stop.
New shoes, new shirt, new backpack