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  • Dr. Teresa Van Woy

19 Polk

“You're on your own today, little girl,” Mom said after breakfast. “Here's two nickels for the bus.” She held out her hand with the coins between her fingers as I stared at her in disbelief.

What’s she talking about? “What? I have to go by myself? You mean, Rachael’s not coming with me?”

“Teresa, you're seven years old now, you're not a baby anymore,” she said.

****

After school, I raced down the hill to Polk Street. The knot in my stomach unravelled as soon as I recognized the bus stop where I got off earlier that morning. The tense feeling I held all day melted away, right there on that street corner. What was I so worried about? The cafe, the small store, the Muni bus stop sign. They were all there. I did it. I wanted to throw my arms in the air, spin in circles and scream out to the world, Yes, I did it, but there was no time. The bus arrived as soon as I made it across the street.

“Do you go to 19 Polk?” I asked the driver. I didn't have to ask. I knew this was the 19 Polk. It said so on the sign. I just wanted to say it, to celebrate.

The bus driver chuckled. He was a middle-aged man with a large round belly and friendly face. "This is the 19 Polk, kiddo. Where do ya wanna go?"

"19 Polk," I repeated proudly. What does he mean where do I want to go? I wanna go to 19 Polk.

He furrowed his bushy eyebrows, causing a deep crease to form between his eyes. “Sweetie, you’re on the 19 Polk bus. What street do you want to go to?”

“19 Polk,” I said. I drew in my lower lip and held it between my teeth.

“Where are you headed?”

“Home.” Why is he asking me that?

“Ok. Where do you live?”

My chest tightened. Words had a hard time forming in my mouth as reality hit me. 19 Polk is the bus. I don't know where I live. All Rachael told me was remember 19 Polk.

“Do you know what street you live on?” he asked, as if rephrasing his question would make it easier for me to answer. I looked down at my feet, at the lump on top of my shoes where my toes curled inside.

“Honey, tell the bus driver where you live and he can take you to the right stop.” An old lady with a straw hat and bright pink lipstick butted in. I looked back down and didn't say a word.

“Where is it you live?” the driver asked again. He brought his fist to his chin. Deep creases formed on his forehead as he looked at me.

“I... I don’t know!” I managed to stutter. I clung to the stainless steel bar that separated him from where I stood. My hand felt clammy against the cool metal. “I just moved here.”


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