I was five years old and, as was normal, started kindergarten.
I don’t remember much about that kindergarten but I remember with glaring clarity the end of my first day there.
We lived in the Bronx then. My parents — both of whom were or had been public school teachers — enrolled me in a private school kindergarten not within walking distance of our apartment on the Grand Concourse.
Thus, the yellow school bus. Which took me to school and at the end of the first short day loaded us up again for the trip home.
I am tempted to say, “I was a shy child,” but won’t because I think most children are shy, especially on the first day of school. In any case, this shy child sat at the back of the bus, I don’t remember why.
We traveled, we stopped, children got off, we started up again, traveled on.
I knew enough about the topography of my neighborhood to know that when the bus turned onto a street near Yankee Stadium, it was not my street. It was parallel to my street. So I sat there, at the back of the bus, realizing I was being carried away from my home, away in the wrong direction. And very soon I was the only child left on that bus.
Suddenly it came upon me that I was not going home again, probably never. And that I was the only child who would not be seeing her parents again. I was terrified.
Yesterday, I went up to a big medical center to see my dermatologist. I checked in and sat in the large waiting area. Time passed. I read the New Yorker. Eventually, although I don’t wear a watch or carry a cell phone, I knew an hour had elapsed past my appointment time. So I walked over to my doctor’s check-in desk and asked, pleasantly, “Did you forget about me?” Of course they hadn’t; my doctor had simply been delayed by procedures taking longer than expected.
“Did you forget about me?” At five years old, I did not have the capacity, the strength of character to walk up to the bus driver and ask that question. And so I sat there, alone in the back of the bus, frozen in fear, disappearing from my immediate little world.
At the end of that block, though, the bus driver turned onto my street, the Grand Concourse, stopped in front of our complex, opened the doors and I walked out. Home, into the arms of family.
From first grade through high school, I attended public schools.
The children imprisoned at the border know how to cry in protest.
This is correctly called trauma. But if I remember how terrified I was during a period of only ten minutes…