When I was in third grade we had a surprise snow day. There had been no snow in the forecast and when I woke up it was bright and sunny—even brighter than usual because there was a thick layer of snow all over everything, including the roads, which even now is enough to shut down the entire city. There wasn’t any word of school closings on the news but how could school not be closed on a day like that? So I bundled up and walked to my friend Troy’s house, at the bottom of the hill. And there, struggling to get through the snow was the school bus. A couple of kids were running to it. I stood there just looking, not sure what to do. The bus sat there chugging at me, its front windows greenish in the glare. It was like I was in an ersatz version of one of those horror films where machines become conscious and start killing people, at least until they run out of gas. In truth I’m pretty sure it was just being driven by Mrs. Owens, the bus driver who two years later would prove her dedication to her job driving bus full of kids home during another surprise snowstorm, this one hitting during the day. After dropping most of us off after eight o’clock that night she’d call every parent to make sure we got home safely.
That morning I was in third grade may not have been as much of a test but she still demonstrated the same level of dedication. Unable to get up the hill where I lived she was still determined to drive as much of her route as she could, and I felt kind of guilty for running away and pretending I’d never seen the bus. This had to be a snow day, I thought. Nature had given us a gift and the kids who weren’t taking it were fools. It was in late January or early February, that null time when school days crept along at a dismal pace, when the distending analemma pulled afternoons from darkness into dull gray, and third grade wasn’t my best year anyway. It was the year I had acute hypochondria and spent so much time in the nurse’s office I became an expert on bandaging other kids’ playground wounds. And earlier that school year—some time in October, I think—some friends and I cooked up a plan at lunch to skip the rest of the day until I accidentally ruined it by asking, “What are we gonna do?” There was nothing within walking distance of the school and even if there were we had no money and had to be back by the time the buses came to pick us up, and none of us had a watch, and I’m pretty sure that even though our homeroom teacher barely paid attention to anything we did she would have noticed half a dozen kids missing that afternoon. So we went back to class.
I enjoyed that snow day. Most of my friends, I soon realized, had gone on to school, but even a bad day of exploring a winter wonderland was better than a good day at school—as if there were such a thing as a good day at school. The snow melted that afternoon and everything was back to normal the next day. I thought I might be in trouble for skipping school but so many kids, and even some teachers, had been out the day before they might as well have closed everything. I didn’t learn much in third grade but I did learn that sometimes you have to run from the bus.