The Birth of Beauty and Hate (A Genesis Story)

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Twice daily, I lumbered down the dusty dirt roads of small-town Arkansas on school bus number eight. Once in the morning, when the bus driver occupied his passengers with top-40 radio fare like Tina Turner, Madonna, and Foreigner. Once in the afternoon, when he begged us (for the love of all that was holy) to sit down and shut our yap-traps.

It was a nightmare for me, really. Shy and naive, I sat in the middle of the bus, always by the window, always pressing into the glass in the hopes of disappearing. The older kids sat in the back and raucously sang “Like a Virgin” (which I supposed to be about a dove-like bird), tried on their new favorite cuss words, or attempted to introduce helpless elementary children to magazine photographs snaked from under their daddies’ beds. Looking back it’s funny; in those days, I thought high-schoolers were so “adult.” They terrified me.

There was one girl who was different. She was trying on woman, practicing to be a lady. A senior, she usually assumed her position near the back of the bus among the porn hounds and paper-wad tossers. Tallish, at least when compared to my eight year-old frame, she was tan-skinned and emerald-eyed. She was slender but womanly, and had soft, kind features. She was my line of demarcation, the first woman I ever reckoned as flutter-inducingly beautiful.

Some mornings, when her usual space in the back was taken, she’d ask whether I’d share my bench seat. I was an obliging kid, so I’d press further into the glass and make room for her while my skin tingled at the thought of our shoulders brushing should we come upon a particular rough patch of dirt-road or a particularly deep pothole. On some afternoons she’d sit with me too, and sometimes she’d coax me into a bit small talk about arithmetic, or my reading level, or my favorite Saturday morning cartoon. Over time, this happened more frequently, and I eventually reckoned her my grown-up friend.

Her bus stop was before mine, and she’d exit at an old clapboard shack with rusty cars and hogs in the front yard. Sometimes, her mama was hanging clothes on the line that stretched from two rusty poles, and the girl would run headlong into a big, country hug. I suppose I knew she was poor, but at eight, the thought never crossed my mind. Anyway, there are some things money can’t buy, and I suppose she had all of those things.

Some time before summer break, though, it came about that the old hounds in the back of the bus took to lowering their windows and calling her “trash,” or “red-neck.” As the days moved on, they began cat-calling her, or cussing her, or yelling remarks otherwise not fit for publication. She endured these remarks for the last two weeks of her high school career, and never seemed to be bothered or concerned with them. But she was my friend, and I knew the comments hurt.

To this day, I’ve never quite grasped why the boys derided such a kind and beautiful girl. I was too young then to really stick up for her, so instead my hatred for them calcified quietly. And their offenses remain with me, still.

There are petty boys of all ages who live by crude instinct, who are bent on the theft or destruction of simple beauty. But some beauty goes on forever, remains unstained by the memories of more hopeful men. At least, I hope.

*Photograph by J Jackson Photography, via Creative Commons.

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34 Responses to The Birth of Beauty and Hate (A Genesis Story)

  1. Pingback: https://sethhaines.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/the-birth-of-beauty-and-hate-a-genesis-story/ | Seth Haines

  2. i can see your boys in this, seth. they see beauty like you do, like hopeful men. i love this.

  3. Beautiful, Seth, and sad and clear.

  4. Oh my. Just stunning, Seth. Felt like I was on the bus there with you, watching it all unfurl. Thank you for sharing this. Really.

  5. I liked this. It brought back my own “bus” memories. Many, like yours, not very good – waiting around scared stiff in the pre-dawn darkness while drug dealers swarmed the group of kids, doing quite a brisk business. Then the kids in the back smoking pot all the way to school. Me looking down at the ground, always head down, trying not to be noticed, praying to get a seat at the front. That was 9th grade, after moving to Michigan. Wow. My elementary years were pretty good, though… Glad you had a pretty girl to keep you company! 🙂

  6. Mind-bending that virtuous beauty can inspire such violent contrasts.

  7. Oh my Seth, you wrote this so beautifully. It’s sad because I know this to be true. I’m married to one of those more hopeful men. Thanking God for that. Praying it for my daughter.

  8. hisfirefly says:

    praying that hope prevails

  9. Interesting reading on the heels of Brent Musburger’s back-of-the-bus comments during the BCS game the other night. Maybe hopeful men allow beauty to touch them somewhere other than their pants; oh, by god it touches us there, no doubt, but it seeps in other places too.
    Good writing, Seth…keep at it.

  10. This story left me wanting to read all the other pages that came after . . . SO good.

    • sethhaines says:

      There’s more to tell, E… but I’m not sure if’n the next is worth telling. Unless, that is, you want to hear about my neighbor’s dog “Winnebego” that he won in a drawing along with an actual Winnebego. (Who hold’s a drawing for a dog and an RV?)

      Thanks for your words, E-$. My best to you and your family.

  11. Deidra Riggs says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with the school bus. In elementary school I was bussed across town to balance out the demographics. In high school (or was that middle school?) I learned all of the words to Rapper’s Delight on the bus. I was a back-of-the-bus kind of girl until my parents put me in private school where the bus rides were uneventful at best, and I imagined my friends in my old school singing “Le Freak” together while I sat with the kindergarteners — in the front of the bus.

  12. dukeslee says:

    Mighty fine writing her, Mr. Haines, to match your mighty fine thinking.

  13. dukeslee says:

    Mighty fine writing HERE. Not her. 🙂 Sorry.

  14. My grandgirl rode the bus in kindergarten. When she had trouble being quiet or forgot to sit down, she was sent to the *back* of the bus instead of behind the driver. She’s 10 now, and she hasn’t ridden it since.

    • sethhaines says:

      That’s quite a trick the bus driver employed. On my bus (and Mr. Shrinking Camel’s, for that matter), that’d have been a fate worse than death.

      Thanks for coming by.

  15. Winn Collier says:

    I wish your 17 year old self could pop back into one of those seats and pop one of those fellas in the jaw. Then take the lady out for a enchiladas. Good storytelling, Seth.

    • sethhaines says:

      Mmmmm… enchiladas. Sounds like a good date. Unfortunately, Winn, I was a bit of a thin 17 (read that as lanky shooting-guard) with the temper of a fire-cracker. They were Football players (linemen at that). My defense of her honor might have rendered me unable to eat much of anything.

  16. Oh wow, Seth. What a story – and so exquisitely told. Yes, there are some hopeful men in this world. I, too, am married to one and am mom and grandmom to several. You learned this sad, hard truth at an awfully tender age. Me? I was (am?) naivete enfleshed. I never imagined the way many men think/talk/act about women until one year, when my kids were little, I had to have a minor repair done on my car. And sitting in a folding chair, waiting for it to be done, I heard the most awful conversations I’ve ever heard in my life. So disparaging, graphic and misogynistic. I’ve never gotten over it, actually. I pray that more and more people will be intentional about raising boys/men of hope, courage, kindness and decency. (And in a completely different direction, I loved John Blase’s comment, too!)

    • sethhaines says:

      Thanks, D.

      Also glad that you’ve found/reared those kind of men.

      And… though belated… the conversation you heard? Unfortunate to say the least. I think the antidote is in teaching our sons respect, grace, and tenderness.

      Be blessed.

  17. Pingback: Notable News: Week of January 5-11, 2013 « unchained faith

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