My last post was about being an adult, so it seems fitting that this one should be about childhood. Warning - this post is not a fun, upbeat story, and I think I normally post things that stay in that light-hearted space. But today is a day for reflecting, so that’s the tone this keeps. You’ve been warned :)
Songs and movies like to portray the bridge of time between childhood and adulthood as a lush, colorful period in life. Even the phrases “coming of age” or “end of innocence” sound romantic and orchestral, while implying just a hint of hurt. But for the rest of my life, I’ll remember my transition into adulthood as something that was very sudden and sharp. I wasn’t given the luxury of time or the grace of preparedness. I was given a single day, 17 years ago. October 25th, 1995. The day of the Cary-Grove Bus Accident.
I just realized I capitalized those words without thinking about it. The Cary-Grove Bus Accident. Like the Great Depression or a World War, those words are always capital to me. I was a freshman in high school, just a few weeks shy of my 14th birthday, and I was concerned beyond measure about the stupidest things. My girlfriends had started dating, wearing tighter shirts and getting out of gym class for “cramps.” And while I would nod and sigh sympathetically, it was painfully obvious that I was a gangly beanpole of a girl who was still shy around boys and defined the term “late bloomer.” I was falling behind in the pack of my friends, and this troubled me deeply. That’s what I cared about the most on October 24, 1995.
But on the next day - the clearest and crispest yet that October - it would all change so fast. A school bus would get hit by a commuter train. The bus would be full of fellow students, and there would be dozens of injuries and 7 deaths that would rattle our little community to its core.
At first, it was just rumors. And they flew from classroom to classroom so fast. I marvel at this now, because not a single one of us had a cell phone. But it was as if The Accident was its own entity, and it was electric; crackling through the air and shocking each one of us in turn. Soon rumors became truth and truth became terror and before I knew it, I was walking out of school in the middle of the day, surrounded by a hoard of crying classmates. We must’ve looked like zombies, stumbling into the sun searching for parents, friends, comfort. The world shifted under all of our feet when we left that day, and as we blinked up at a sky buzzing with helicopters, I think we all knew it.
My body responded to this shock and tragedy by claiming me as a woman just days later. It was almost poetic. It was bittersweet. While I could’ve finally been skipping gym class for cramps, instead I found myself in a church, head bowed and shoulders shaking, grieving with my friends, family and community. I was different. We were different. And no one knew what to do next.
The days and weeks following would be an exercise in pain management. While we all started with a fresh wound, a dark bruise; the shades of hurt would vary with time. The deep blues and purples throbbed during the funerals and services, and stayed longer for those who lost someone close to their heart. And then there were those of us who were spared such a close loss. We could start to see the slow mending, the vague return to color. We were all healing, but we would be tender to the touch for a long time.
It’s easy to say you should pause to count your blessings, but on this day every year, I make sure to stop. Really stop. And be thankful. I am so blessed to have the love of my family and friends. I am so lucky to have come from such a strong and supportive community. And even though that day holds so much sadness and pain, I try not to associate it only with the end of things. The 7 that were lost that day have been carried all over the world in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved them. And the end of childhood was the beginning of a different kind of world, one with colors and emotions we didn’t even know existed. On that day, I hadn’t known sadness could be so heavy. I hadn’t known I could feel something so deeply. But little did I know that in this new world, the same would be true of happiness and of love.
If something heals well, it shouldn’t leave a scar. But this is one I don’t mind carrying. Looking at it now doesn’t mean it hurts, but touching it makes me remember the story. And they say stories and scars give you character. I think this has certainly given me mine.
For the 7 Angels of CGHS. Love. Hope. Light.