It was a beautiful February day. The sun was shining, there was a warm breeze blowing through the neighborhood and the birds were singing as they ushered in a sun drenched, lazy afternoon. I was walking to the bus stop while I was talking to my brother Paul on my cell phone. We were catching up on the latest news of our lives; work, kids, the wives and the usual boring stories that make life extraordinary.
A few of my neighbors walked up to the bus stop and nodded as if to say ‘hello’ while I continued the conversation with my brother. And within moments, the bus pulled up to the corner and started to let the kids disembark. The neighborhood kids ran off the bus and Chloe came running off the bus with them. I waited for a few seconds because Josh hadn’t gotten off the bus yet and I figured that he must have been collecting his belongings.
But as I waited, the bus closed the door and started to pull away from the corner. I waved down the bus driver and ran over to the door she opened for me as she stopped. “Where’s Josh?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t get on the bus today.”
“He didn’t get on the bus?!” I replied in disbelief.
“No. And I was the last bus to leave the school.”
A rush of sheer terror ran up my spine like the spikes of a cactus plant as my heart started to race. I hung up on my brother as the bus pulled away and I immediately called Stephanie’s cell phone. I grabbed Chloe by the hand and raced, as fast her little legs would carry her, towards our house.
“Did you let Josh go to a friend’s house today?” I asked as Stephanie answered.
“No,” she replied.
“Well, he didn’t get off the bus today. I am heading home to get the school’s number to find out where he is!”
“I am on my way home. Call me when you find out where he is.”
It must have been the fastest walk home I had ever had. Yet every step seemed to be in slow motion. Time seemed to almost stop. I could feel every moment of the clock as the seconds ticked by, I could feel each beat of my heart from start to finish and I could hear every molecule of oxygen racing through my lungs as I breathed.
I raced into the kitchen and dialed the phone number for the school that was posted on the cork board. My fingers fumbled over the digits on my cell phone and then I waited for what seemed like an eternity as the connection went from silence into a ringing sound that filled my hearing canal. Pick up the phone, I thought as it rang for the third time, pick up the phone!
“Hello,” the school receptionist said.
“This is Doug Veeder and my son Josh didn’t get off the bus this afternoon. Is he in the office?!”
“I am not sure why your son didn’t get on the bus today. He isn’t in the office. Let me call down to his classroom and I’ll call you right back.”
I gave the receptionist my phone number and hung up. I sat impatiently waiting for the school to call me back; helpless. There was nothing I could do. Every horrible thought I could imagine raced into my brain and occupied my conscious nightmare as the seconds of the clocked ticked by slowly. Tick… tick… tick… tick… silence; nothing but the eerie sound of silence.
BBBBBRRIiiiiiinnggggggggg my phoned finally screamed as I quickly answered it!
“Mr. Veeder, Josh is still here at school,” the receptionist said as my life raced back into real time and I breathed a large sigh of relief. That eight thousand pound elephant had been removed from my chest as I told the school receptionist that Stephanie or I would be there shortly to pick him up.
The story turned out to be an honest mistake. Josh was still using the computer in the classroom when his bus was called. And apparently, he never heard his bus being called. The classroom had a substitute and the substitute assumed that Stephanie or I usually picked Josh up from school like the other child who was still left in the classroom.
Luckily, our situation was benign in the grand scheme of life changing events but the panic that gripped me for those fifteen minutes is like nothing I have ever felt. I sat down at our kitchen table and programmed the school’s phone number into my cell phone. I wasted valuable time having to return to my house to access the number and had this been anything except a simple mistake, that valuable time would have been catastrophic.
I gave both of my kids an extra tight hug that night. And even though I knew they were both home safe and although that afternoon may have taken years off of my life, I thanked God a few extra times for making sure that both of my kids were never in any danger throughout the ordeal. And much to the chagrin of my kids, I was also a little extra overprotective for a few days afterward. Sheer terror has a way of reminding us of what is truly important in our lives and about how we should never let our guard down for even a moment.