This morning my twenty-mile ride took me forty-five minutes. Fifty-five if you count the ten minutes I needed to pump gas. They've been predicting snow all week ("they" being the weather experts), down to the hour it would begin. This blows my mind, because you'd think the snow plows would be prepared. You'd think that with us being Buffalo, the snow plows would be prepared. You'd think with us being Buffalo, and having missing two consecutive weeks of school due to a massive snow storm, the snow plows would be prepared.
As of seven o'clock this morning, nothing had been plowed.
This made for a glorious drive for school, in which I muttered over and over to myself in the deafening silence that can only be created by snow, "I don't want my children to live without their mother." I kept my hands at ten and two and said a lot of prayers as the wheels of my four-wheel-drive SUV caught in the two ruts over the highway, dragging me this way and that way through wind and walls of snow. Tractor trailers blew boldly past me, only to be seen jack-knifed in ravines along the side of the road miles later. My windshield wipers kept clogging up with clumpy snow and then freezing, dragging smears of slush across my windshield. Off the Thruway, I had to pray hard as I approached green lights. "Please don't change, please don't change, I can't stop, I can't stop." This is winter driving in Western New York. Basically, a wing and a prayer.
I thought I was through the worst part of my day by lunch, and that things had cleared up by the time I was ready to head home after work. It had stopped snowing, and while the roads weren't totally clear they were drivable, patches of pavement visible here and there. I waited for my windshield to thaw out and began my twenty-mile trek.
Halfway there, my cell phone rang. This is usually a fluke. No one, I mean no one, ever calls my cell phone. Anyone who knows me well is aware I never answer it (I rarely know where it is except at work, where I can't answer it), and anyone else has dialed the wrong number. My dashboard lit up with alerts, the car began speaking to me (this is a design flaw, I think), and the number on my radio flashed to the number of my children's school bus garage.
Alerting me of a snow day to come, I could only assume.
"Hello?" I asked, ready for good news. I was expecting a robot voice, signature of the automatic call system that alerts us to emergency days off and other such nonsense. Once, to let us know the school district's phone systems were down. (Then how are you calling me, creepy robo-caller??)
"Mrs. Bielecki?" a very non-robotic voice said back.
My heart dropped to my stomach. "Yes?"
"I'm the head of transportation in your children's school district. Your son Noah was injured on the bus. It seems he fell and hit his head on glass. He has a bad enough gash and is bleeding badly enough that we needed to alert emergency services and have them check him out."
Breathing has stopped. Heart is frozen. Knees are gone.
"I'm sorry. You called 911?"
"Yes, ma'am. The police are on their way, as well as an ambulance. Are you...can you get to him?" And he went on to tell me the specific location of the bus, just miles from where I was on the Thruway, but in that snow, in that moment, it felt like the other side of the world.
"I'm on the Thruway," I said helplessly, though I may have been yelling. Not at the transportation guy, but from sheer lack of control. And yet I knew, the driving was bad enough that if I didn't maintain control I'd get in an accident and be even further from reaching Noah.
"Okay, ma'am, I'll have them wait. Can I give the police this phone number to reach you?"
After hanging up, I immediately called my mother. When your world turns upside down, who else is there? I swallowed, realizing that this was what Noah was thinking, as I scrambled through the "easy to use" touch screen to find my mom's number.
"Stop yelling at me," she said, confirming my earlier suspicions.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm sorry."
"No, don't be sorry. I'll go right now."
By the time I arrived, I saw I had been preceded by two police cars, an ambulance, the fire department, the school principal, and my mother, all parked surrounding the confused-looking school bus, parked askew in a department store parking lot. I flew out of the car, trying not to slip on the slush-coated ice, and was halted by a fireman.
"I don't want you to be startled," he said without preamble. "We did our best, but there was so much blood, we had to bandage him up pretty good. We had to cover the eye that was cut, and we're calling him a pirate. I think he likes that." I began to walk on, but the guy stopped me. "Ma'am? He's a really great kid there. He's been real brave and hasn't cried once."
I moved to the bus door, from which my mom was emerging. She reached out and grabbed my arm. "He's fine," she said. "He's really fine. He needs to go to the ER, but he's fine. Probably just stitches." I nodded, and sort of felt myself passed along between the police officers, propelled up the bus steps. The driver stood to one side, looking like this might be the most surprising thing that had ever happened to him, and a policeman was kneeling in front of a heavily bandaged little boy, an EMT beside him.
The little boy turned his head so his one eye could see me. The visible part of his face was coated in splotches of now crusty blood.
"Mommy?" His little voice. Small. Tiny.
I was aware of the police and the EMT continuing to talk to me, of a clipboard being thrust in front of me and papers I needed to sign. But the only thing I really could see or understand was my little boy's one good eye.
Noah's eyes are so beautiful. They are my favorite part of his face. I love his eyes.
It was decided we did not need an ambulance, my mom took Joey in her car with the plan to meet me after our visit to the emergency room. "Everything will be okay," she kept saying. I only believed it because it was her saying it. Anyone else and I might have lost it.
Once in the car, Noah kind of perked up. "They asked me all kinds of questions! My name--they asked me that like a hundred times--and your name, and Joey's name, and where I live, and what my school is....isn't that silly? I mean, we all go to the same school!"
His newly adopted cheer prompted me to ask the really key question in all of this. "Honey, how did this happen?"
"Well, I don't know. The police wanted to know that, too. I was just sitting on the bus, when suddenly it went over a bump--or something--and it shook me so I fell into the wall and bumped my head on the window."
"Just the window?" I asked. "Was it cracked or something?"
"No, the metal part at the edge."
Rather than the hospital or one of the local hospital satellites, I opted for an Immediate Care as it was closest. I drove into an empty lot, and peered into the windows as I unbuckled Noah and helped him out of the car. No one was in the waiting room either. The receptionist leapt from her chair as we approached the doors and greeted us as they glided open.
"Oh, my," she said, eyes widening at Noah's horrific appearance.
We had a zero second wait. The nurses and doctor were wonderful. The gauze bandage that encircled Noah's head was removed to reveal his forehead totally coated in blood, but a completely clotted gash above his eyelash line. I swallowed hard when I saw it. Already clotted. Lucky. Right above his eyelash line. Lucky. Very, very close to his eye, but not his actual eye. Lucky, lucky, lucky. I had to remind myself what it meant to let air into my lungs.
And my little boy? So brave. Impressive, even. Not once did he cry. They tried continuing with the pirate theme. "I don't like pirates," he finally announced. "But I am brave." Yes, Noah. Very, very brave.
As if we weren't already praying our thanks, it was determined that he wouldn't even need stitches. The cut, big and deep as it was, could be glued. Just like that. Like this was Madam Pomfrey and we were at Hogwarts, not Immediate Care, and any second Dumbledore would enter with lemon drops.
Just as the doctor was finishing up, my mother burst into the exam room. "Joey's at home with the sitter," she said. She glided to the bed upon which Noah lay and rubbed his leg. His uniform had blood all over it and he was wearing his big winter boots. He looked so small and silly.
"When I saw you there, Grandma, I knew everything would be okay."
And I knew exactly what he meant as my mother squeezed my arm, leaned in, and said, "You want to scream, don't you."
I did, Mom, until you came.
I am thankful that Noah is okay. I hope I never have to live through that--the not knowing, the scary phone call, all those emergency vehicles, that powerlessness. I am thankful that, in the end, it was a cut. A cut. My God. It's Christmas, and people suffer all over the world, and my kid has a cut. Thankful is not enough of a word.
But there's more. A feeling just as huge. I am hopeful that Noah will know I love him the way my mother loves me, and trust that I will be there the way my mom is always there. No matter what. No matter what.
And now, a few of the better pictures of my son's beautiful eyes.
I love you, Noah Michael.