The phone rings at 10 to 4 on Friday. Ned answers it. “It’s Alex’s bus!” Ned says. “It’s downstairs!”
Shouldn’t be. Alex catches a different bus from his school and that takes him to an afterschool program about 10 blocks away. Some 13-year-olds could just walk those 10 blocks, but Alex can’t. From the program, another bus picks him up and brings him home at about 5 o’clock.
“Tell them I’ll be right there!” I say. “They’re not supposed to be here!”
When I get downstairs there the yellow bus sits, cars zipping down Fifth Avenue and ignoring her blinking red flashers. “I dunno,” the bus driver says. “They just brought all four kids out to us together…”
I call the unit teacher, who’s there almost two hours after school has ended. “Thank goodness you were home,” she says. “On behalf of the entire school staff, I want to apologize.” I call the afterschool program to see if they were open and I didn’t miss some important flyer. The lady at the afterschool program utters the words that many who work with the autistic say when they hear “wrong bus”:
“Oh my god!”
Alex’s school has been getting this busing arrangement right for weeks. What happened? I don’t even think of asking Alex as he turns on his iPad, claps on his headphones and begins to watch Elmo. “What happened?” I ask the unit teacher a few days later, in the e-mail she requested. “Thanks for your understanding in the matter and I assure you that this will not happen again,” she writes back. Later, a teacher from Alex’s school calls; she was in charge of busing on Friday. She apologizes over and over.
I trust them – trust them more, I often think, than I’ll trust other people who will care for Alex in one way or another before I die. Slip-ups do happen. It was only an hour and technically it wasn’t even the “wrong” bus, but it does open a dark door.
“Ned,” I ask, “what would you have done if I hadn’t been home?”
“I would have gone downstairs and brought him up,” he says. Luxury, I admit, to have a back-up like that.
The dark door opens on stories of kids like Alex left on a bus long after hours, stories of kids who pinball down sidewalks while state police radio each other and strangers look on wondering why in hell someone doesn’t corral these people. Once Jill was on the subway with Alex when he sprinted to another seat at the other end of the car. Imagine if he hadn’t bolted toward a seat but through a closing door of the subway car? Imagine the glimpse of his back down the platform while the subway door slid shut in Jill’s face, trapping her in front of the window as Alex vanished up the stairs and into the endless streets.
I have no idea if my 13-year-old boy could get off the school bus by himself, walk through an apartment building lobby, press an elevator button, and come home. I like to think he could, but I don’t have that luxury.
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