Not Just Any Bus
Photo taken by Matthew Wiebe
Jordan knew the moment she sat down to take the test, that her life would never be the same. This little test that they wanted her to take, was to see if any of them had the “aptitude to further their education in a stimulating environment that was able to better help students reach their full potential.”
Or in other words, was there anybody smart enough to go to the rich kids private school?
They would have three hours to complete the test. She opened the thin booklet and skimmed the pages that were about to change her life. After quickly glancing at the first few pages she closed the booklet and put her head down on the desk.
Jordan are you okay?
Yes Sir, I’m fine.
Then pick your head up! And do your best.
That’s what she was worried about. All her life she had been able to hide just how smart she was. But today? All it took was a quick glance at the first few pages for her to realize that she could no longer hide.
Section I consisted of 50 vocabulary words whose difficulty gradually increased. The only thing was, she distinctly remembers the day her mom wrote number 50 on their refrigerator. More than anything, she remembered the sketch her mom drew underneath it.
(insert a picture of a woman with no butt)
She remembers her mom explaining that the word meant to work very very hard. And so her mom, being the creative person that she was, told her to think of it as working your ass off. Hence the picture of the woman with no butt. That image stuck with her all these years.
Section II simply required her to read a passage and answer some multiple choice questions. Ever since she was 4 she realized that she had a photographic memory. Furthermore, she loved to read. Since they lived right around the corner from Barnes & Noble, it became like her second home. She even had a chair that was reserved just for her.
Most days she would spend her first fifteen minutes circling the store, finding books that seemed interesting. Then the next three hours would be spent drinking coffee, a bad habit she started at age nine, and reading books. The great thing about the coffee was that they gave her free refills and it kept her alert.
She had to be alert because every evening at 6, Dr. Stevenson would pull up a chair next to her and quiz her on her stack. Dr. Stevenson was a professor of Humanities at the local university and his questions were never easy. But then again, neither were hers. You see, after the first six months she started asking him questions too. After a year, a casual observer would have had a difficult time determining who was the student and who was the pupil.
Section III was the most difficult because it required her to solve fifteen word problems. While she wasn’t weak in math, it certainly wasn’t her strength. Little did she know that she received the second highest score in the school in her weaker subject.
When she was little she would always beg her mom to buy her a toy every time they went to the grocery store. And rarely was there a time that she did not leave the store with a toy in her hand and a smile on her face. You see, her mom always promised to buy her a toy if she solved the word problem that she had prepared.
She made them such that they could not be solved until the end of their shopping trip. But Jordan, almost always, was able to search the store high and low to find what she needed to solve the problem.
So the test that was placed before on this fateful day was nothing. It didn’t even require her to move. Everything she needed to solve each problem was in the test booklet right in front of her. Piece of cake.
She took the full three hours to complete the test. She had to at least make it appear like it was difficult. But it wasn’t. In fact, in hindsight, it was actually quite fun.
Maybe she was ready for something different. A new school might not be so bad after all. She might not have to worry about being teased for being smart. And the hallways had to be safer than her current high school. What she’d soon find out was that while she was less likely to get knocked down or pushed, she was more likely to be judged and evaluated at this better school.
Once it was determined that she would be attending this new school, she soon realized that the only way to get there was by taking a one hour bus ride. It wasn’t so bad. She could simply take a seat at the back, put her Beats on and nobody would ever notice her.
Ironically, while she made it a point not be noticed, after a month, she knew everything about every single person that rode that bus. She watched carefully from her vantage point at the back. And she didn’t miss a thing.
The man that sat directly in front of her and to the right always wore his argyle socks on Tuesdays because these were the days that he had to debrief his boss. She knew this because she could always hear him rehearsing his presentation. He wasn’t loud. But he was just loud enough that she could catch most of what he was rehearsing.
In fact, today was the big day. He was going to ask his boss for a raise. And while she wasn’t certain, she had a feeling that he was going to get it. His confidence had been growing each week. In fact, this week he wasn’t even rehearsing with his note cards. She couldn’t wait for the ride home to find out how it went.
She had a big day today too. Two tests and speech. She stayed up all night studying for them. They were the least of her worries. In the first three months she had only received one grade lower than an A. And that was because her teacher didn’t know who Tupac Shakur was and didn’t bother to look him up. She had compared the lyrics form one of his songs to one of Robert Frost’s poems. It took her hours, but in the end she knew that the connection she had made was good. No it was great!
Unfortunately, her teacher didn’t see it that way and gave her an F because she said that Mr. Tupac, as she called him, wasn’t a real poet. She took this as a learning experience and learned to play the game well. From that day on she only quoted old white men, with an occasional reference to Maya Angelou. Just to mess with her teacher.
When she got on the bus to head home she noticed the man in the argyle socks wasn’t there. Did he get the promotion and was going out to dinner? Was he fired for being so brash? She figured she’d find out soon enough.
She did notice that the lady to her left that always wore high heel boots was crying. This was unusual because she typically was the one who provided the entertainment on the bus. If she wasn’t singing or clapping, then she was trying to get people to try her latest cooking creation.
So why the tears today? Then she remembered. This was the day that she was going to the courthouse to file for divorce. Jordan didn’t know all of the details, but she did know that this woman had it rough. Underneath all of the makeup and high heel boots were bumps and bruises that weren’t from pilates. Oh how she wished she could her kick her husband in the …
When she walked in the front door her mom was waiting for her. She had been reminding her that since it was her senior year she had to start applying for colleges. Jordan knew what she had to do. She just couldn’t get started. Applications lay piled on her makeshift desk in her bedroom.
The one that always caught her eye was crimson and required a five-page essay. Harvard was not a place that kids like her got accepted. Kids like her went to community colleges, not Ivy League Universities. But as much as she wanted to, she could never bring herself to throw the application away.
The second she got on the bus the next morning she noticed the man in the argyle socks was back. She also noticed that he wasn’t rehearsing. In fact, he was taking a nap. She also noticed that he had a Congratulations Daddy sticker on his briefcase. This made her smile.
She also noticed that the woman in the high heel boots wasn’t wearing any makeup. But more importantly, she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring. No longer did she need to hide her scars and no longer did she need to pretend. The divorce must have gone through. Good for her Jordan thought.
As Jordan settled in for the bus ride she couldn’t help but notice that the woman seated several rows up, wearing the mini-skirt was typing frantically on her laptop. Jordan knew that this woman had been working on her dissertation for some time now and that the final chapter was coming up for review within the next week.
Would that be her in a few years? She couldn’t help but wonder if
Harvard college would be that difficult. Typing away frantically. While riding a city bus. On the way to class. She sure hoped not.
Today was Career Day and so the every senior had to go the gym and circulate like cattle as lifeless drones offered them pencils and pamphlets. It was almost as if they came to her school just to fulfill an obligation. Jordan decided to ask the guidance counselor where the Ivy League schools were?
And it was her counselor’s response that kept her up all night. Finishing, no perfecting, her 5 page essay to Harvard. She said, “Jordan honey, nobody from our school has ever gone to an Ivy League. Don’t waste your money on the application fee.”
Three Mountain Dews and ten hours later, Jordan finished what she felt was the best piece of writing she had ever assembled. She could have easily skipped school that day. Especially since she never even got to sleep that night. But that would mean missing her bus rides. The best parts of her day.
This morning, with her application sticking out of her backpack, she fell asleep within minutes to the rhythm of Common’s new album. She loved his lyrics and he wasn’t bad to look at either. When she woke up, for a moment she had no idea where she was. In her dream she was surrounded by brick buildings and people of various nationalities speaking various languages. Was that college? Was it Harvard?
No time to think. The bell would be ringing in four minutes and she had to get to class. At the end of the day she turned in her application to her guidance counselor. The same one who was such a smart ass on Career Day. When Jordan handed her only one application she gave her a condescending look followed by,
“Are you sure you don’t want to apply anywhere else? Just in case you don’t get in. The admissions office from the community college are today. Why don’t I see if they have time to squeeze you in? Just to be safe.”
As much as Jordan wanted to slap this …in the face she decided not to. Did she have any idea that she was going to be the valedictorian and that she only missed two questions on the SAT? No, she couldn’t have. But then again, she never did care too much about her. That was apparent her very first day. When she signed Jordan up for regular classes. Not AP courses, as her grades and scores would should have made obvious.
She was sleepy, but now she was wide awake. The rest of the school day went by quickly. When she went to get on the bus she noticed that someone was in her seat. Worse yet, the only available seat was next to Argyle Sock Man.
When she sat down next to him he gave her a polite smile and went about his business. Good, she thought. She wasn’t in the mood for conversation. But then something happened that shocked her. The man who she had never said a word to asked her what she thought her chances of getting into Harvard were.
How in the world did he know that she had just applied to Harvard? He continued on about how his boss went to Cornell and how he had actually gone to Harvard himself. She couldn’t believe it. By the end of the conversation he offered to write her a letter of recommendation. If she wanted him to.
She took him up on the offer and rushed home to tell her mother. That night she couldn’t sleep. What she was beginning to think was just a dream was slowly seeming like a possibility. Wait til’ her guidance counselor heard this one. No, she wouldn’t sink that low. Just the thought of it made her smile.
The next morning when she hopped on the bus her regular seat was empty and she sat right down. Argyle Sock Man, Mr. Johnson, handed her a folder with three typed copies of his letter of recommendation. As much as she wanted to read it right away, she waited until she got to school.
It was incredible! How did he…? How could he…? Who told him…?
She took them to the guidance office and luckily her counselor was absent today. She gave them to the secretary who promised to send them right away. Even though the deadline was a week away, she was still couldn’t help but worry that they would arrive late. Well, it was out of her hands now.
On the bus ride home Jordan couldn’t help but notice that the woman in the high heel boots kept making eye contact with her. Eventually the woman came and sat in the empty seat next to her. She proceeded to tell Jordan that she and her ex-husband owned a place in Boston and that if she needed a place to stay her freshman year at Harvard she would give her a good deal.
For the second time in two days she was floored! How did this woman know that she was applying to Harvard? And why was she being so kind? Wow! Maybe I’m not invisible.
When she got home she told her mom what had taken place. Her mom brushed it off because she didn’t want Jordan to get her hopes up. Even though she didn’t let on, she knew how much getting into Harvard meant to Jordan and the thought of her having her dreams deferred was something she didn’t want to think about.
The next three weeks went by at a snail’s pace. Waiting for the decision to come from Harvard was torture. She knew that they would let her know as soon as they had made their decision. And that day couldn’t come soon enough.
At four weeks, she had resigned herself to the fact that she did not get in. While all of her friends received acceptance letters from colleges across the country, Jordan got nothing. She was beginning to wonder if her guidance counselor was right. Maybe she should have applied to a local college. Just to be safe.
At the pep rally that day all of the students who had already been accepted got to come out on the gym floor. There must have been over a hundred people out there. She cheered for each one of her friends, but deep down she wanted to crawl into a hole. When the bell rang to go home she couldn’t have been happier.
As she walked to the bus stop she began to notice something different. Not only was it moving slower, but it seemed to be packed. People were standing in the aisles and some folks were sitting three to a seat. Great she thought, now where will I sit?
The door opened. And as she lifted her leg to take her first step up everyone on the bus yelled Congratulations Jordan! Across the back of the bus was a giant banner that read Jordan Is Harvard Bound!
In addition to her normal bus companions were friends and family members she hadn’t seen in years. Her mom got to her first and didn’t let go for what seemed like minutes. Her brothers had flown in from Texas, just so they could be on the bus. On this day and at this moment. Dr. Stevenson, her Barnes & Noble companion, was sitting in the back smiling ear to ear. Mr. Johnson, Argyle Sock Man, even had his two daughters with him. He later told her that he wanted them to see what a Harvard Woman looks like.
As she made her way to the back of the bus she was amazed at how many people knew her story. All this time she thought that she was invisible. That because she sat in the back of the bus, that nobody paid any attention to her.
Today she found out she was wrong. She learned that people notice more than we realize. Especially when you are chasing a dream.
She slept well that night. And the next day when she passed her guidance counselor in the hallway she simply smiled and said good morning. That wasn’t what she was thinking. But that was her business.
When she stepped on the bus to go home she decided to sit in the front. In fact, she made it a point to sit in a different seat every day. Everyone on that bus had a story. And she now realized that she only had a few more weeks to learn them.