The text made my phone vibrate on the metal table downstairs. I let it go as I curled my hair. Lately I’ve felt too bound by the siren of notifications from my phone. I’ll get it later, I thought as it rattled again.
The phone rang, Beso barked, and Finley stood in the doorway with a worried look, “Mom, I can’t find my hat.” Sean was standing next to me shaving.
“Did you put it in the cabinet?” I asked. “Yesterday when we came home you were trying to remember if you had your gator.”
“No, I didn’t put it in the cabinet, I already checked,” she said mournfully.
“Let’s see, did you put it on the chair? You had your coat on the chair instead of a hook, check there,” I said.
Sean smiled at me. “What?” I asked.
“Nothing, you’re just so patient with them,” he said. I beamed. He winked at me and walked to our room to get dressed.
Avery came up the stairs holding the phone. “I did. I am, I am handing it to her right now,” she said as she held the phone out to me.
“It’s Briar,” she said soberly.
“Hi mom. The bus crashed. Our bus crashed. We are crashed.”
Every single emotion I have ever felt as a parent come together in a knee-weakening, heart stopping whoosh.
“Are you ok?” I asked, holding the phone tight and holding my other hand out in the room as if to stop the sensation of falling. Avery stood staring at me.
I thought about the texts that had been coming on my phone. I remembered waking Briar up this morning. I’d slipped under the duvet with her and snaked my arm beneath her shoulders. She was still as I pressed a line of kisses along her arm. She kicked a leg, swung her head up dramatically and brought it down to mine. Our noses pressed and she said, “Can we play hookie today? Can we stay home, just you and me?”
I giggled. “No, silly. It’s Friday. It’s the best day to go to school because the whole day you get to know that you have the weekend coming.”
She tickled the back of my neck with her hand, “Please? Please can I stay home?” She was being playful, not sad or truly serious.
“Nope, c’mon. I want to try and help you make the bus today.” She moaned as I leapt out of her bed, flicked on the light and cheered, “C’mon Bri-Bri.” When I got downstairs her phone was nearly dead. I set it to airplane mode and plugged it in to charge. I was making lunches when she came downstairs. “There you are!” I said. She smiled.
We talked about whether or not to take her phone because it was nearly dead. I rolled the charger cord up and said, “Take it just in case.” She smiled and was out the door with Sean in time to make the bus. She’d called an “I love you, thanks mom,” as she skipped down the stairs.”
Why did I push her to take the damn bus? We could have had a little more time.
“Briar? Briar, where are you? Are you ok?” I asked. I kept my voice even, both for Avery who knew something was amiss, Briar who was scared, and myself—hysteria comes hard and fast for me.
“We are under the bridge by the highway. The sheriff is here and the principal came also.” She paused. “We can’t call another bus because the radio won’t work, it’s just buzzing.” I nodded, the arm that had been waving stood straight out—stop, it said.
“Mom, we’re going to be late. I am going to be tardy. I just wanted you to know,” she said very seriously.
“Honey, you won’t be tardy. Can you tell me where you are?” I pressed.
“Yes, yes I can.” I smiled in spite of my terror. Talking to Briar on the phone is new and she never fails to crack me up with how seriously she takes each exchange. I’ve asked her to do something before and she has responded with, “Yes, yes I will do that, surely I will.” I joke that she sounds like a woman from another era.
“She’s ok,” I told Ave, who nodded and walked somberly down the stairs. “Can you tell me more, Briar?”
“Ok, yes, yes, more. Ok. We were driving and there just wasn’t enough room. Another car just hit us and made the mirror come off of the bus. We’re sitting here and I just know that I am going to miss math and be marked as tardy.”
I nodded, though my underarms were prickling with nervous sweat and my legs were still shaky, I knew where she was. There is a stretch of road that is simply too narrow for certain cars and the turn lane takes some people by surprise forcing them to switch lanes quickly.
“Do you want me to come and get you? Do they have a plan?” I asked.
She stammered a bit and said that she wasn’t sure of the plan, but that she thought they were ok.
“Ok, honey. Thank you for calling me. I am so glad that you are ok.” I said.
“Thank you for answering mom. I was trying to text you.” Her voice sounded tiny. I remembered the phone, I always have it with me. I hadn’t been there to answer her texts. What if…
“You did a great job honey. I’m sorry I wasn’t hearing the texts.” I waited, holding the phone to my ear as if it were her arm and we were cuddled in bed together.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t come to you?” I asked. It felt unnatural to know she was under a bridge in a bus in single digit temps. I didn’t want to leave her alone a second time.
“I’m ok, mom.”
“I love you, B.”
“Oh, mama, I just love you so much too.”
I am going to hold her tight tonight.
Tomorrow I am going to loosen my grip on anything but the people around me and the things I hold dear. It’s all too precarious for anything less.