In order to get to high school, a decrepit-double decker bus would be mounted from the only village bus stop. The bus stop had one seat and a small plastic sheeting to make it a shelter, the popular girls with intentionally curled, blonde hair jostled for their spot underneath, like penguins, pressing their backpacks together, rotating for warmth. The bus with its peeling leather seats was steered through the winding highroad to the nearest ‘town’ by a chain-smoking man called Jim; a far cry from the yellow school buses on TV, with its friendly driver and eager, jostling kids.
The bus had single glazed windows and was no match for the damp, penetrating cold of its surroundings. In the winter there would often be more frost on the inside of the windows than outside, steaming them up on the inside and soaking your clothes if you were unfortunate enough to have to be in the window seat. Once the thirty or so kids clambered onto the creaking bus, it would lumber at a steady twenty-five miles an hour over the hill; breaking down regularly, sometimes not arriving at all. As children we would stand in snow drifts, walk through floods and try not to break ankles on uneven ground, waiting for a replacement bus. When it snowed the high road was impassable. When it rained, the bus became waterlogged, straining to navigate the puddles. On the rare occasion it was sunny, the damp leather seats sweated and creaked, giving off a smell of mould, rot and cigarettes. Nicotine colored paint peeled from the rusty metal and cut you if you were unlucky enough to move against it.
The bus was an intense microcosm of the horrors of high school, condensed into a moving, smelly, hunk of sheet metal. The stabbings weren’t often but memorable, never fatal, usually unreported. Penknives, shivs made from biro pens and fishing knives were the favorites, usually stabbed into legs or hands, enough to draw a little blood, not enough to constitute egregious bodily harm. One notable summer evening, a kid in my year, noticeably obese in comparison to many of the semi-starved kids around him, drove a penknife into a bully’s leg after enough, evidently, was enough. Oddly, they left him alone after that. More often than not it was the bullies who did the stabbing however; intimidating kids into leaving school, changing the way they talked, dressed, acted. Most of the time, it was just a violent but empty threat, meant to scare the weaker minded into submission.
Facing the leering grin of the ‘normal’ kids was only made easier when Dan came to school. Having only had one or two friends throughout my childhood, Dan’s music taste, personal history and facial piercings, were a welcome addition to my life. A trans man with a long saga of anorexia and bulimia, he helped buffer much of the unwanted attention I garnered on the bus and in the village. Together we worked through the perplexities of gender, sexuality and sobriety. Before Dan, there was Stewart, my very first friend; a genius, now working on a PHD in synthetic diamond construction who at the time was categorized firmly as a Weirdo. With little money and an overactive imagination, Stewart helped buffer more attention from me by wearing a variety of different lurid hats, shorts, glasses and other accessories. With an older brother who played in the football and rugby teams, with all the accolades and popularity that these interests brought, Stewart was distinctly bothered by comparison. Considered gay, weird, gross and annoying, together we made a strong band of three. Dan, around five foot, was slight with shoulder length dark hair and square glasses that he pushed up with his right thumb. Stewart stood taller, lanky with a mop of unkempt brown hair that gave him a slightly bedraggled look. I was shorter than both of them, with thick ginger hair, always clad in black. I felt like I had a fortifying team for mounting the steel trap bus, it made it easier to weave through the leering faces to find a crusty seat, made it easier to laugh once you were there for the journey. But more of ‘you’ means a bigger target for ‘them’, but for the first time in my life I had other people to take some of the strain.
Abiding memories of the bus are the essence of my memories of High School; being cold, usually damp, generally uncomfortable, avoiding all unnecessary interaction. Faggot, dyke, pussy, greedy, mosher, emo, cutter bitch was prejudicial punctuation for shoving, punching and general harassment. One particularly hot day in my traditional long-sleeved attire, I was confronted to roll up my sleeves; when I refused, a boy four years my senior, grabbed my arm and dug his nails into the freshly scabbed cuts in my flesh. This brought on raucous applause from his cohort as I tried not to show in my face that he’d burst my tape stitches.
Later in my teens, when the talons of mental illness held fast on my being, I would obsessively count the bus seats, lay hoodies down before I could sit on them and drown myself in hand sanitizer if I accidentally touched anything/anyone, garnering more attention from my peers than I would’ve liked. Growing up in a small, isolated, rural village, if one doesn’t fit the mould, you’re considered against it; a threat. Gossip, malice, speculation and fear take the place of fact, observable truths and personal interactions. The ‘different’ are mythological in proportion, a preternatural commination.As real as the faerie folk that live in the trees and steal your Ma’s keys, so too would the queer, the mentally abnormal and the aesthetically challenging haunt the vennels of the villager’s minds. This, passed prejudice onto the next generation more effectively than intergenerational alcoholism, building lore into the stories of these ‘different’ individuals, stacking up predisposed biases against them for years to come. I can testify to that.
Kirsty Crawford is a 23 year old non-binary writer from Glasgow, Scotland. They are committed to the genre of creative non-fiction due to its power to amplify the voices of those who often do not have access to the literary or historical cannon. They adore memoir, Scots language and dialect and folklore and try to implement aspects of these throughout their work.