Learning to own your shit.
This is essay is the supporting post—sister act, if you will—to Truth #5: You’re in Control.
Everyone that rode the bus to school knows that it’s a lawless no man's land. It’s a 12 tonne mobile stage where pubeless tyrants perform their most creative work.
The bus is where bullies let out the stress of their day before Kumon.
The only adult to govern the mobile territory is the bus driver: a hungover woman named Tammy.
Note: It has been proven by science that every childhood bus driver’s name is Tammy. All Tammy’s had the exact same crunchy, curly blonde hair with a puffy, poof bang that defied gravity and regulatory law. Tammy is highly flammable and like all Tammy’s across the globe—bus-driving or otherwise—she doesn’t give a single fuck.
Our Tammy sat atop a beaded seat, hacking darts and trying not to let her hairspray catch on fire.
Note: “Dart” is a direct translation to “cigarette” in Canadian hick.
Tammy aggressively ripped up and down the streets in her big yellow. She flew over bumps, leaving the back rows airborne above cracked elephant grey vinyl. She was in a race against time, determined to chase down route records of yesteryear.
With her eyes on the prize, the front seat became her soundproof sanctuary. The name calling, ramen noodle tossing, and psychological warfare of the backseat occupants became muted in her rearview.
Tammy had things to prove and it had nothing to do with us.
I grew up on a dairy farm that sits on the outskirts of a box-storeless town. To this day, the farm is not serviced by a single cable or internet provider.
Let this fact underscore the length of our bus rides to and from school. Now, add ten minutes.
Every week, my sister and I spent collective hours bus ridin’ in the danger zone. This is considered a lethal level of exposure by the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. This is more time dancing with the devil than Demi Lovoto’s fateful drug bender. In America, this could constitute a class-action.
Note: For any survivors, forced by school boards across Halton Hills to spend hours ridin’ in danger zones governed by bus pirates, please call the hotline: 1-800-PAPI-SMEAR
On the school bus every vulnerability, pulsing chin zit, voice crack, new clothing item, parent divorce (and subsequent DUI), and peach fuzz moustache is called to the main stage. There’s nowhere to hide inside her cruel metal chamber.
On the bus, you’re completely on your own.
Now, if you didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, it’ll be impossible for you to fully grasp the additional adversity we faced on the bus. Perhaps in the Saskatchewan prairies or Idaho’s potato fields, a farmyard bus stop could fly under the radar. But a one-off, novelty dairy farm located within the GTA? Think again.
We were the only farm kids in a sea of war homes and Glade® PlugIns®.
We were two adolescent piglets bathing in a trough of potential bus fodder.
Note: For any town folk, it must be noted that every active dairy farm has a literal pile of shit on the premises. We’re talking a heaping stack of cow and animal turdlettes. Our manure pile, lovingly referred to in farmer speak as “shit mountain”, took centre field for all to see. And just like Mont Blanc in the Swiss Alps, our shit summit was oversized, visible from all vantages, and by design, wafted downstream.
On top of the exponential hardship that bussed farm kids face, there are three words: Manure. Spreading. Season.
And year after year, manure spreading season after manure spreading season, the ride to shit mountain always played out the same.
Flying down our country road, the bus would be filled with freaks and geeks, bullies and innocents, who were either waging war or defending turf. And like every Canadian day above 14 degrees celsius, every man, woman and child had their sticky metal window jammed down.
As we crested the hill before the farm, I clenched my ass cheeks in anticipation. Then, bracing for impact, I’d count down from five, four, three, two, one.
And somewhere around one, with the certainty of a baby-voiced woman referring to her dog as a “fur baby”, a stink bomb would detonate. A violent dissemination of cow methane engulfed the school bus—the smell lingering like a low-hung, oily cloud.
Immediately, the bus kids scrambled. Nearing incapacitation, most tucked their faces under shirts. A few townie ladies opted for the dainty clothespin nose plug alongside Neil, the neighbour boy with a silky, blonde bowl cut.
The poo bomb’s power disabled even the most rancid, stale-clothed and semen-soaked youths. The stink was so strong that all of the backseat bullies took pause as they temporarily slipped into a chemical slumber.
Tammy didn’t flinch.
But once consciousness was regained, the predictable talk-track rolled.
There were guttural “moooooo”s and an exaggerated string of “ewwwww”s from friend and foe.
Finally, the kingpin bully would proclaim, “It smells like shit, McClure!”.
I didn’t dare respond.
At the foot of our driveway, the bus screeched to a halt.
Quickly, I strapped on my backpack and shimmied down the bus aisle. I knew to never acknowledge the literal shitstorm and to present with total indifference. Giving Tammy a nod—who was between cigarettes—I leapt off the oversized bus step and darted myself.
Speeding up the long laneway, I only looked back when I knew the bus would be edging out of sight. As embarrassment dissipated, annoyance became the substitute.
“You ignorant assholes!”, I thought. “Don’t you people know that farmer’s feed cities?”.
While naturally self-righteous, admittedly, I wasn’t thinking that. I’ve never been very politically-charged and the “Farmers Feed Cities” bumper stickers hadn’t come out yet.
What I actually remember thinking is, “You idiots...my last name is ‘McClure’! McC-LURE! This is practically Manure!”
Any low-level bully should have pieced this together and taken me out!
“Grace Manure” would have been total devastation. A social plague! An indefensible trump card greater than any lisp, bucktooth, or stripper mom combined.
A moniker like “Grace Manure”, inspired by actual turds, is enough to destroy generations. And let’s face it: people have been cast away for less.
If “Grace Manure” had taken off, where would I be now?
Chances are, I wouldn’t have ever left the homestead. I’d have settled into a wisdom-tooth aroused pain pill addiction and gotten my eyebrow pierced before sealing my fate with forearm tattoos of my first born's names—a set of premature twins named Skyler and Tyler Rose.
Best case scenario: Grace Manure sells dream catchers and sings off-tune renditions of Eagle-Eye Cherry’s Save Tonight to pay for ayahuasca treatment in New Mexico on her “healing journey”.
Grace Manure would have a shit mountain worth of struggle to overcome!
Fortunately, no bully ever uttered this potentially viral, astute and game-ending nickname.
Perhaps it was because in the early 2000’s, Georgetown Ontario’s literacy rate wasn’t where it should have been—even Kumon couldn’t teach Harry Butt or Dougie Hole (those are real names) to rhyme.
Or perhaps, some part of the backseat bully’s knew not to fuck with two farmer girls who had a real live bull.
Or maybe it was something far greater: we had already learned to own our shit.
If I were to draft a “tell me without telling me” statement about my level of thick-skinned grit it would be: “I’ve endured thirteen manure spreading seasons on a jam-packed school bus when bullying was still a respected art form.”
When we learn to own our shit, we regain control.
Part of this control is in how people treat us and the level of fuckery we invite in. The other part is to confidently step towards where we want to go—leaving our own shit mountain’s in the rearview.
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