The Most Frightening Person In My Childhood

Bill Watterson got a pretty good likeness.

Bill Watterson got a pretty good likeness.

As part of one of my writing courses for this semester we were tasked with the assignment of writing down our memories based on several prompts: describing a favorite toy, a secret place we used to go, and the most frightening person in my childhood. For the first two prompts I struggled to articulate my experiences, but the last one was easy: there was only one person who could count as the most frightening person in my childhood and her name was Mary.

Mary was the most fearsome gorgon ever to wear a sweat suit with a kitten on the front. She was a mighty, primordial titan made of howling winds and the lamentations of the lost and frightened and she drove the noontime bus for the kindergarteners.

I was a five year old and Mary towered over me. She was not a woman of remarkable stature, but she made up for this by standing at the top of the school bus steps and looming over each student as they boarded. The class was not large and only a handful of us were assigned to her route. The bus was largely empty, but I still chose to share a seat with my friend whose neighborhood was after mine on the route.

We didn’t know to be afraid. We were kindergarteners still working out the finer points of “sit down” and “raise your hand”. Mary didn’t care. Mary wanted silence.  The bus was her kingdom and there was to be no jibber jabber.

We were talking.

We weren’t shouting or carrying on, but we were talking. The sounds of our voices roused the she-beast into a rage. The bus came to an abrupt halt and Mary rose into a shivering, swelling mountain of Frau who clenched a talon on the foam seatbacks on either side of the aisle just in front of us and roared:


The force of her voice pinned us to our seats and tested the seals on our bladders. Color drained from our faces and our voices soaked into our dried up tongues and turned to dust.  We nodded meekly.

The next day I avoided Mary’s stare as I boarded the bus. I sat alone. I stared silently out the window as the bus made each stop along the route. Silently I watched my street approach. Silently I watched my street slide past my window without stopping.

Why hadn’t the bus stopped? I didn’t know what to do. I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything. The gorgon drove on. I didn’t want to risk her fury but I didn’t want to stay on the bus either so I did the only thing I could: I burst into tears.

Mary’s head swiveled in my direction, lips pursed in preemptive disapproval. Her ridged brow raised in surprise to see me.

“Oh,” She said. “You were so quiet I didn’t think you were on the bus.”

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on September 3, 2013.

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