the shortbus conspiracy

When I was 10 and my brother was 8, we rode a ‘regular school bus’ to our local elementary school. My brother stayed behind as I climbed aboard a more compact version of the vehicle and headed to a smaller school in the county seat. Though I had a good idea where my second-leg-busmates ended up, I never saw them realise their journey. I was dropped off, midway, to study at a school for gifted children.

Just what I was gifted at, was never made very clear to me. I assumed it was the ability to attempt an appreciation of the Old Masters or to suffer well worn debates on social issues. It wasn’t that I cared for either very much. I developed a rather intense dislike for a certain craggy faced artist after being sent to the principal’s office and charged with pornography possession for showing a copy of his ‘Danae’ to fellow students who were not yet familiar with the Dutchman or his contemporaries; and I remember the reams of paper devoted to social policy discussions only because one of those reams earned me my first ‘F’ – my opinion on welfare reform not being the correct one.

Despite the Dumbledorthian teacher who, kind as he was, brought ‘My Big Fat F’ to the attention of the entire class as a good example in how ‘not to think’, most of the faculty were really good at building a kid up. We were special. We were smart. We were West Virginians and we could do anything. Along with heady doses of physics and philosophy, they drummed this mantra into our heads day after day. And I believed it. I believed in my talents and abilities – to absolute completeness. Until my brother, who managed to go on to bigger and brighter academic accomplishments despite his remaining at The Local, pointed out that it was, in fact, the short bus that took me to my prestigious academy each day, where I really only learned short-bus lessons, and was only made to think myself gifted by my mother, who never had the heart to tell me of my shortcomings. I was indeed special, my brother suggested, but not in the way I thought I was.

I never really believed him. But still, ever since that day, I’ve been a little bit suspicious.

For years I’ve been wondering the same thing. Am I smart enough? Am I talented enough? Can I write this book? Or is it just the shortbus conspiracy, originating with my mother and propagated by myself, all over again. Am I really as good as I think I am? Or is someone just having a laugh?

Maybe I should ask my brother.

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