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Thunder Pie | The Matted Heat Form

Nothing was worse than back to school.

“The reason life is so strange is that so often people have no choice.”
― William Maxwell

On the bus, you feel the loneliness. It starts in as you pass cornfields or apartment buildings. Parking lots with hardly any cars; sometimes one car like a spaceship on the frozen lake/ broke down maybe/ in a spot far from the automatic doors. In the seat you are alone but before long someone else comes onto the bus and sits there. You might feel sad about that. Or afraid. Some might feel excited, I guess. I never felt anything but dread. I never felt any possibilities in having to scoot over for another kid to sit down.

That’s on me, I guess. But it’s not like a choice or whatever.

The bus is a tube, a missile, and in it we are transported down into the underground of the so-called coming year. Summer break has passed and it was a blur. Ice cream slashing against my teeth. Sand. Mud. The time has scattered and blown off, loose pages from a dirty magazine ripping across the football field. I see them from the bus. Running like refugees. Scattering mindlessly. Truck crash people.

If you stood up and screamed and the driver hit the brakes, what would happen? What are the choices at that point? Get off the bus? Demand to be let off? What if you did get off/ then what? Climb over the cool metal guardrail and ease down the slick steep bank into the woods by the little creek? Stand your silhouette in the dark circle of the culvert that backs up underneath the road? Light a cigarette? Look around? Everything changes in the blink of an eye.

I never do that kind of thing though. So I never did. I sat on the bus, same as you, and I felt my stomach juices sloshing around. Frosted Flakes. Orange juice. Milk. Sugar and carbs. And I wanted to run. Fly. Escape. Go. Flee. Slip the chains of this mental attack and not have to do this anymore.



Bearded juniors.


Violent men dressed up as youth.

15-year-old engine mechanics.

Black kids.

Asian kids.

Quiet girls with killer bodies.

Undiagnosed Asperger dudes.

Janitor 1.

Janitor 3.

Megadeath back-patchers.

Cafeteria fighters.


The defensive line.

Janitor 2.

Goth girls with boyfriends.

And me.

The matted heat form burning up on the other side of the curtain.


Nothing was worse than back to school. Back to school dispelled every notion I had managed to create for myself in my teenage mind/ that freedom/ true unrestrained freedom did exist/ that it was out there/ somewhere. The bus coming shattered so much.

The diesel climbing, shifting, humming, rolling, wheezing, coughing, slowing, dying.

The door swinging open and the silence pouring out.

The storm of cold eyes.

The sense of death. The being considered and then disposed of, hastily, by active minds desperate for connections, or convenient control. Your own eyeballs rolling back into your head in order to save you from passing out. I had a racing heart. But it was all I could do not to slump down right there in the aisle. I had so many hard kicking seizures in the morning on the buses. But somehow I staved them off at the last minute.

I stored them up inside of me.

Kids that do that have so many seizures happening inside of them.

I had that.

I was seizing the fuck out just from fear. From lust. From artsy hunger and buried sensitivities. I swallowed my tongue a trillion times, walking back towards the middle of the bus, my face blank, no signs of disturbance, a fucking rattlesnake going loco down three feet of my windpipe.

Then I’d look out the window at the first day of school bleeding from the sky. All the familiar summer places, all the sun-kissed streets/ all the hoagie delis and baseball fields/ everything painted over with bluish grey/ with old lead poison paint/ with the cancer blood of my grandfather/ my Pop-Pop/ sitting there in his kitchen/ listening to KYW/ listening to the news with his cup of coffee and his bum leg and his beer farts exploding from his ass and warning him not to shit his pants at the exact same moment I was moving away from him.

On a bus.

He was unchained, I thought.

And I was chained.

But, of course, that wasn’t true either.

It’s just how you feel when you are a teenager.

It’s just how you think when you are still young, when you are still oblivious to those autumn winds that rise up out of the streets, like ghosts, to smash into the glass by your face.

Living through certain moments is what defines us. Not everyone knows this but it is the truth, at least as far as truth exists. The rattling cruelty of the first day of school isn’t everyone’s experience and I know that, but I have little time for those unlike me. We diverge from others at exact points along a line, you know? All of these groups we love to seep into/ this collective draw to be seen and heard by other people like us… even if they are not like us at all/ politics, music, sports, TV, race, sex, gender, age, religion, thin crust, deep dish… whatever the fuck/ we meet them down the line and we either wade into their midst or we move on to the next gathering, then next babbling brook of mass identity offering protection from the school bus cold.

Me living through a dozen plus first days of school has remained. I cannot shake it so I don’t even try. And I’m not attempting to portray myself as unique or above others or hipper or somehow more artful with any of this at all. My paradigm isn’t mine to rub all over your skin. I see myself, all these years later, and the kid I see is on the bus/ first day of school/ and he can smell some teenage girl’s candy perfume mixing with some other girl’s adult fragrance and that’s where all of this happens, I guess.

The intimacy and the allure and the innocence and the war. All of it colliding like tiny Hellcats and Thunderbolts in the morning sky and everything I’m trying to explain is right there in front of you right now if only you’d stop reading for a fucking second and just sniff the air.

Gulp that shit, man.

Eat the planes.

Swallow the girls.

Taste the moment, so long ago, that is happening again today.

Licorice dipped in whiskey.

I don’t know how I lived through any of it.

Sometimes I wonder if I even did.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin.