It was cold and still dark when I dragged myself out of bed. I tried to make my way down the hall to the shower without opening my eyes, wanting to delay as long as possible the inevitable point where I was fully awake. Jan had already showered -- it takes her longer to get ready -- so at least the shower was still a little warm when I stepped in.
As many details as possible had been taken care of last night -- my clothes were set out, our breakfast cereal poured. Ma wouldnít even get up to supervise us, trusting us to get ready by ourselves in time to catch the bus. Prodding Jan to hurry became my job, but I didnít mind. It was neat our parents trusted us. I can only remember 2 or 3 times we missed the bus in a couple years. Pa would rush us to the turn-off about 5 miles up the road where the bus would rejoin the main road after the short detour to collect the kids who came from the Navajo camps closer to the mesa. But today everything was on schedule. It was difficult to push myself because I dreaded so much of what the day would hold.
The bus ride would take at least two hours. Almost an hour to navigate the rocky dirt road even though it was only 14 miles (as the crow flies). I had memorized every turn, every rock, every wash. Sometimes this familiarity was agonizing, sometimes comforting; but it was always long.
I didnít look forward to school much, either. It was okay and I had friends there and everything, but, like a lot of kids, I found high school mostly a bore. Mandatory cafeteria duty (for free lunches) was actually one of the highlights. Marvin always had us laughing the whole time. Then spending another two and a half hours on the bus ride home meant I had to at least get a start on my homework while still on the bus -- during the part of the ride that was on pavement, of course, because the dirt road was too rough. This time of year it was usually muddy, too. We would arrive home around 6:00 p.m. in time for a family supper. Homework, then bed, and the cycle would start all over again the next day. Is it any wonder I cherished my weekends?
My hair is almost dry and then Iíll braid it. I have ribbons that match my outfit. Most of our clothes are hand-me-downs or missionary barrel finds but I never feel terribly out of style. I suppose Iíve developed my own sense of style and my friends donít pressure me to dress a certain way. I admire how my folks dealt with the whole miniskirt issue. "Wear your skirts as short as you feel comfortable," Pa said. One day I wore my skirt too short, I was horribly uncomfortable, and I never did it again.
Janís spending too long with her makeup and hair and she hasnít even started breakfast. Iím wearing makeup now, too, but it doesnít take me long. I change my shoes twice before settling on one pair. Not that I have a lot of choices, but Ma insists that our shoes be store-bought, not missionary barrel. She says my feet will thank me when Iím older.
Iím ready ahead of Jan so I take my time with breakfast. Cereal and milk; usually Special K for me. The milk is mixed from powder. We live too far from the store to have fresh milk. You get used to the taste. The mission staff takes turns shopping for everyone. Itís an all-day chore as the nearest grocery store is 70 miles one way. They use carry-alls to handle the load.
The parents have been talking of buying a VW beetle for us to drive to school next year. That would be fun. It would still be a long trip but at least we wouldnít have to deal with a crowded bus. Really itís only crowded after picking up all the kids at Teec Nos Pos. Thatís the last stop before the 25 mile drive to Shiprock. I usually sleep.
Itís starting to snow again. The dirt road will be even more of a mess than it was yesterday. Very few kids are already on the bus when it arrives at the mission so it slips and slides a bit, especially in the muddy ruts. Neither Jan nor I have verbalized it, but we both know thereís a very slight chance the bus wonít come at all today because of the weather. Somehow speaking of this magical possibility would risk greater disappointment when the bus eventually arrives over the hill. So we continue to inch toward the inevitable rendezvous. I wonder if Brenda and Beth have a similar routine in their own house. Sometimes itís just us four that get on the bus at our stop. Sometimes there are others with us.
I gather my books and double check that my homework assignments are there. I set my bag by the front door and climb the stairs to watch for the bus. The silence is magical with the snow softly falling. Itís still very dark. The bus headlights will be easily visible as it descends the last hill about half a mile from the mission. Thereís never enough time to feel disappointed, just enough time to grab our books and walk hurriedly to the bus stop.
But thereís no sign of the bus yet. Janís at the foot of the stairs asking that very thing. My answer gives her a few more minutes to get ready. We try not to wake my brothers or my parents. Iím amazed we donít. Maybe we do but they get to go back to sleep.
My mind wanders as I watch... Itís only two weeks until Christmas break. Maybe all this snow will cause the lagoon to freeze so we can do some ice skating. When we were kids and attended the mission grade school, sometimes we would get out early on days like this to go sledding with all the school kids and teachers. That was fun. We had these metal saucers for sleds and you could fit three little kids on one and they would go hurtling and spinning down the long hill -- no way to steer. Then came hot chocolate while we tried to get our toes to wiggle back into warmth and feeling. Those were the good days. Not that these arenít. I like being a teenager and having more responsibility and feeling more grown up. Itís just that childhood is so carefree and you donít realize it until later after things have changed. I miss riding my bike. Maybe Iíll do that today if the bus doesnít come. Itís probably too muddy.
Jan joins me on the top floor of our six-sided house. The smaller, one-room second floor provides a perfect vantage point to watch for the bus. From outside, the house looks a bit like the many Navajo hogans in the camps all around the valley. That was País plan when he designed and built it a few years ago. Downstairs a circular hallway connects the kitchen and dining room with the bedrooms all located on the perimeter while the main bathroom and utility rooms are housed in the core. Big picture windows on five of the six sides of this upper floor afford us a virtually unencumbered view of the entire valley. And the fireplace is great on cold evenings.
Minutes pass in silence. Neither Jan nor I are the talkative type -- especially this early in the morning. Being the older sister, Jan has preceded me in many of the high school classes and being "Janís sister" has helped me get to know the teachers faster. Of course my grades arenít quite as good as Janís. But I do okay.
I especially like Mrs. Axe who teaches typing and shorthand. Sheís tough but she likes me and I do well in her class. I like Mr. Acrey, too, for history. He told me last week he submitted my name for National Honor Society. Youíre not supposed to tell but he couldnít keep it to himself. We wonít know if Iím selected until January. Jan is a member and so is Brenda. It would be a nice honor, but my grades might not be good enough. I have trouble in math class even though I like math. My teacher this year is a real creep. I have Mrs. Bowman for Home Ec and she hates Staleys... or maybe just white people. But I like the subject and am learning to sew. In cooking we only made biscuits. Big thrill! Mr. Bowman is nice, though. Next semester he will teach me Drivers Ed so I can get my learnerís permit. Iím a little scared.
Still no bus. Jan and I look at each other, hoping. The nerve-wracking thing about waiting for a bus that isnít coming is the fact there isnít a definitive moment when that truth dawns. The longer you wait, the more likely it is, but at any moment the glow of headlights could appear and dash your hopes. So you try real hard not to hope.
Itís likely not snowing in Shiprock and maybe not even at Teec Nos Pos. That means school will still be in session and, if we're not there, we will have to make up some missed work. But you wonít hear me complaining -- at least today. For the only light I see is that of the glow the sun is beginning to make on the horizon. I check my watch for the hundredth time. 6:30. Half an hour late. We can go back to bed! Ah, the joy of a day with no school!