Driving Past Billy’s House

January 7, 2009 at 9:00 am (Introduction, real life) ()

As a naturally anecdotal person, I’m going to start this blog with a story.

When I was in Kindergarten, I rode the bus to school. I actually lived fairly close to all the schools in my town, and by 7th grade I was no longer given the courtesy of a bus; instead, my mom was forced to drive me to and from school each day to prevent me from having to walk through a tangled forest or along busy, sidewalk-bare streets, the only two options for walkers. But back in Kindergarten, I still had a bus, and it was on that big, yellow, diesel-fueled monstrosity that I traveled to school each day.

Of course, we didn’t drive straight to school. There were several other bus stops to hit after mine, all around this little corner of my suburban New Jersey town. To my 5-year-old mind, the trip seemed to take forever–certainly far longer than my ears could stand the incessant repetitions of “Ice, Ice, Baby” and “U Can’t Touch This,” the contents of the only two cassettes the fourth graders brought each morning for the bus driver to play. But eventually, we’d hit the last stop on the route, way out at the edge of town: the front lawn of a boy named Billy, who once ripped my homework in half and consequently earned my hatred in perpetuity. After Billy’s house, the bus would do a k-turn in the dirt-packed parking lot of the sprawling industrial wasteland across the street, and we’d be off, full speed ahead, to my elementary school.

I have, rather notoriously, no sense of direction. My mind contains no functional mental map, and while I can follow some directions from memory after traveling them many times, I have no concept of how those discrete trips might provide me with the raw material for traveling to other, exotic destinations. (The GPS my parents finally gave me this Christmas is, perhaps, the best gift I’ve ever received.) Unsurprisingly, my sense of direction was no better when I was 5 years old, and not even driving anywhere on my own power. So it didn’t even occur to me, until years later, that Billy’s house, which had seemed so far away in those early bus years, was actually about five minutes away from my own house.

This fall, I spent a whole semester teaching 6th grade English at a middle school in a nearby town. Each day, I woke up at 5:30 (or, more frequently than I like to remember, 4:30, to finish work I couldn’t finish the night before), and I was out of my house by ten to seven. As the sun began to peek out from beneath the horizon, I drove down the street toward work, and the first significant landmark I passed–the first thing I noticed, as I focused my bleary eyes on the road ahead–was Billy’s house. And every day, as I would approach that house, some part of me, the five-year-old buried inside, would feel strange. Would feel like I shouldn’t be doing this; like I should, instead, be making a k-turn in that dusty parking lot and heading back in the opposite direction. Billy’s house was a boundary, the thin, soapy wall of the bubble of my childhood, and to drive to my first real adult job, I had to pop that bubble every single day.

In many ways, my whole life has been about metaphorically “driving past Billy’s house.” My natural resistance to change has meant that there are very few new things in my life that I’ve been immediately comfortable with. I was a na├»ve goody two-shoes who never disobeyed my parents until my friends in sixth grade, disregarding my reluctance, taught me how to curse. I was convinced, until age 10, that the only music that existed was country, oldies, and classic rock, because my parents’ music was all I’d ever heard, and when the local country station went off the air I was ready to stage a protest. (Nowadays, I mostly listen to pop, showtunes, and singer-songwriter-type stuff, but Garth Brooks and Bruce Springsteen make up quite a bit of my iTunes library.) I have hated every single interest I’ve ever had–from the Animorphs books I read as a kid to the Hanson music I still proudly enjoy to the comics that currently consume my life–before I became interested in them. Every step I’ve taken in my life has been a case of reevaluating my opinions and expectations, of pushing past the rigid boundaries I always thought I had and realizing that they were little more than soap bubbles after all. Every moment of my life, every new experience, has been about pushing farther, about discovering new worlds, and new parts of myself, that I never imagined. Every day of my life has been about driving past Billy’s house.

And now, I find myself at a crossroads. As a young adult about to enter the workforce in earnest (in a terrible economy, no less), I’m about to make a series of decisions that will each involve the breaking of a new boundary, the trying of something new. I will be frequently “trampling through the brush,” as the title of this blog says–a quote from a statement I invented for myself back in high school: “When two roads diverge in a wood, I often find it’s best to stray from both and instead trample through the brush.” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified of the prospect. But I recognize this new world of opportunities for what it is, and I’m willing–cautiously–to meet it head on.

2009 has just begun, and the new year is always a time for renewal and fresh starts. And so I’ve started this blog. It doesn’t have a central purpose–not like Fantastic Fangirls, the comics blog I run with three of my good friends. This blog is likely to be meandering, with topics ranging from my current life to past reminiscences to commentary on books, music, movies, politics, Broadway, or anything else that comes to mind. I won’t be surprised, or offended, if no one at all reads this. But as I begin my journey into the so-called “real world,” driving past Billy’s house after Billy’s house after Billy’s house, I think it’s worth recording my thoughts, as I have them, to create a document of who I am, and who I’m about to become.

I hope some of you will join me on the journey. Even if, in the end, it only turns out to be 5 minutes long.

Jennifer Smith


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