By Dennis Staples
One of the weirdest things I’ve noticed since leaving high school is how much I miss riding the school bus. To me, it’s like camping: I like the memory, but when it was happening I’d have rather been anywhere else.
Minutes were hours on that cramped and dirty box of metal. When I was young, I would read and pretend I was somewhere else. When I was a teenager, I would listen to music and pretend I was someone else. To go back to those days would be hell, but a nice kind of hell, the hell that I envision all my relatives and friends will be in.
I can’t actually think of a good memory of riding the bus, only the bad. One in particular when I was eleven makes me think I should never want to board a school bus again.
It was May, a few days before my grandmother’s birthday. I was talking to a friend as the bus rounded the curving road my house was on. Over the years of relatives coming over for parties or to live with us, I’d grown used to the sight of cars in our driveway. That’s why I didn’t believe my friend when he shouted, “Hey, the cops are at your house!”
I think I laughed until I saw my sister stand up and stare at the window.
“Oh shit,” she said.
That’s when I knew things were serious. She was only a year and half older, and back then swear words were something for the adults to enjoy like all the other things they did at our house. My younger brother, who sat up front because of his lower grade, hopped off the bus steps first, and we all began the longest walk I remember having as a kid.
Every van, car, and truck was white; some weren’t even marked as police vehicles. One had a dog inside barking. Cops were all over, in the house and in the yard, and I had no idea what to do. So I followed my sister like I always did. When we walked up to our porch, our mom walked outside to meet us. Never before had I seen such a look of worry on her face.
She told us to follow the officers into the backyard and answer their questions. Seeing the officers crawling around our house made our safe place frightening. These people were the ones I was taught to look out for and stay away from, but this time there was no escape.
Our yard was always and is still to this day a cluttered mess. Piles of logs from fires past, toys abandoned in corners where we didn’t play anymore, and cars, always cars, broken down and filling every space possible. The officer led us into an old camper that we used to take on road trips. The inside smelled like mold and ashes. The only thing it was used for was a secret place to light matches without anyone catching us. I liked to light candles and draw on the windows with wax lines, but I think the others liked to burn different things in there.
I don’t remember the officers’ faces, just their questions.
I hated that my dad’s mug shot was front page news for everyone to see. I hated that the facts seemed skewed.
“What is your name?” they asked.
I could say a fake name… my dad’s name or something else.
I told them my real name. They asked us our relation to our parents, and we confirmed it. I felt like I was betraying them even though the questions the officers asked were only about identifying who we children were. They didn’t ask about the things my parents—my dad—did.
Once they were done with their questions, they led us back into the front yard, but not into our house. They were still tearing it apart, tearing us apart. My mom walked outside and told us not to worry; an older cousin took us away while the police finished their invasion.
I don’t remember leaving; I don’t exactly remember where we went, either. The only thing I recall is walking on the bank of a lake while my older cousin fished. My brother and sister were there, but none of us felt talkative. The police just destroyed our world, and it wasn’t something that needed reminding.
We returned later to a leveled home. The police went through everything, making a complete mess of the place, and they took away my dad. My mom and grandma were still home, there to help us through the dread of what was going on. I was helping straighten out the living room when I went to my shelf and noticed that my bag of chips from the day before was untouched. They were still fresh and crunchy, not stale. The strangest things can bring relief on an awful day.
Sometime within the next week there was an article in the newspaper about the raid. I hated it. I hated that my dad’s mug shot was front page news for everyone to see. I hated that the facts seemed skewed. I remember reading about “a group of children on scene,” but we didn’t get there until the raid was well underway. They said my dad was in possession of a stolen laptop, but I know he paid for it. I was there when he bought it from a family friend, who turned out to be a thief. When I was that young I didn’t know possession of stolen equipment was a crime.
What I hated most about the article was that it seemed to be on the law’s side and the cops’ side. Didn’t the reporter consider the lives that got ruined when cops were involved? How could the reporter not know that? At eleven I found that out, and I began to have even more hatred for those I was raised to avoid and fear.
Looking back, I can see that I was wrong about the cops and their purpose. But I’d been raised to hate them, and that didn’t easily go away. At age eleven, the lines between good and bad began to blur.
Dennis Staples is an undergraduate student at BSU majoring in creative and professional writing. His favorite genres to read and write are high fantasy and science fiction. He performs original music under the name Child of the Hereafter.