I think I used up all my tears when I was a really little baby. Colic, doctors called it. I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried. My parents rocked me and held me and fed me and changed me, but none of it worked. They said I hardly ever stopped crying as a baby. And now, at five and a half, I can hardly ever do it.
It’s dark. Really dark. I have figured out I am definitely still on the school bus, which isn’t good. No one else is on it now. Just darkness. I think about raccoons, how they live in the night. I’ve always thought they were cute but my mom told me they are dangerous. Maybe she’s right. And maybe they are here too.
My heart is beating so fast I can hear it. The only other sound is the clicking and the loud knocking of the bus engine cooling off. Even the mean old bus driver lady is gone. That makes me a little scared, and a little glad.
Grown-ups teach you what to do for a lot of things, like rolling when you are on fire, asking the owner to pet their dog before you try so it doesn’t bite your face off, and curling up really tight by the big-kid lockers when there are tornados (real or fake ones). But no one ever taught me what to do when you wake up on a school bus and all of the other people are gone.
I look out the windows and through the darkness and I can see other buses. This must be where they all sleep. I wonder if anyone else is on those other buses. I crawl under the cool leathery seat and try to cry. The floor is sticky in spots and everything smells like kids. Kids and food. I feel like throwing up. I scrunch my face and squeeze my eyes. Crying is hard sometimes, even if it seems like you are supposed to do it.
Then I hear a loud noise and big foot steps shake the bus. My skin is prickly and my heart is beating faster. She’s calling my name. That bus driver lady. I stay under the seat.
“Kristine?!” She calls. Mean lady can’t even say my name right. She’s not the first one.
I stay curled up and listen to my heart. The knot in my throat gets bigger and bigger and it starts to hurt. I choke and it makes a sound. Her footsteps come to me.
She reaches down and pulls me out. I yell and scream. She is a stranger.
I’m yelling and she takes me outside. I walk some and maybe she carries me some too. My head feels dizzy and I wonder if it’s a dream. The sun is so bright that my eyes squint and some little tears come out too. Not the crying kind of tears though.
The road is gravely and crunches under my shoes. My light up shoes. Even in that dark place, they never ran out of their light.
She says I fell asleep in my seat and that’s why I never got off the school bus and ended up in the big garage. I don’t know if I believe her yet.
Her car is sparkly. Sparky and blue in the sun. She tells me to get in it. Her voice is scratchy. She still doesn’t smile at me. She never smiles at me.
This is it, I think. Just what my mom told me never to do. Never get in a car with a stranger, even if it’s a you-kind-of-know-them-stranger. Still a stranger.
“No!” I yell and I surprise myself at how mean I can sound to a grown-up. But it’s okay. Mom said if this happens, it’s okay to be mean. Mean and loud, to stay alive of course.
I stomp my feet into the crunchy rocks and cross my arms. She tries to pick me up and I yell louder. I do like her sparkly car though, but I’m not telling her that.
“Kristine, your mom knows where you are. It’s okay. You have to go home.” Her voice sounds a little less scary.
“Kristin-ah” I whisper. And I’m surprised that came out loud.
“Huh? What’s that hun?” She leans over to me but I’m quiet now. No talking to strangers either. Oops.
She walks away and I listen to her crunching steps. She’s talking. Must have a special pocket phone with no cord attached to the wall. My dad wants one of those.
I look at the sparkly car and it’s shiny, shiny and clean. I can see myself. Me and my serious-face, but no tears. I still think I used all of those up.
I feel something press against my ear and I push it away but then there’s my mom’s voice and I reach back. It’s that special phone and my mom’s talking in it. The bus driver is holding it up to me to hear.
“Kristina?! Oh Kristina- sweetie you have to get in her car…” My moms voice is sad and shaky. Mom never used up all her tears when she was a baby. But I already knew that.
“Mom?! But…” I start to say.
“I know what I told you, but this, this is different. Honey, I’m telling you to. She’s taking you to me, you, you fell asleep and I was so worried, and please, oh thank God you are okay, Kristina.”
Bus driver lady pulls the phone away and she keeps talking for a bit. I uncross my arms and wonder what her sparkly car looks inside. I’m glad I can see my mom soon.
A quick and quiet ride later, and soon my mom is hugging me and crying. She is thanking God out loud and the whole neighborhood is watching. I’m safe now but I don’t want them all watching either. I stand there all frowny-faced but happy. Sometimes I do that. I’m letting my mom hug me, letting her hug me really hard. I pretend all the people watching are just invisible. That makes me feel a little better.
My mom says I did a really good job, not getting in the car with a stranger and that it wasn’t my fault. Grown-ups should have checked the bus first before they put it in that big bus garage. Everyone was so worried, and looking for me, and she says she is so so so so happy I wasn’t kidnapped.
The bus driver lady is about to leave. The sun makes shadows in the grumpy wrinkles between her eyebrows and her hair is all mixed up with grey and yellow. I look at her as she’s getting in her sparkly car and I wave a tiny wave. I wave because maybe a long time ago she used up all her niceness. Maybe it’s not her fault she’s so mean. Maybe she used up her niceness like I used up all my tears. She waves a tiny wave back and she smiles a tiny bit too.
Then my mom keeps hugging me and I even start to cry a little. A big, wet tear runs down my cheek and gets caught in my mom’s hair, and I think about how maybe you never use up all the things you need that are inside of you. And I think about how I am more than just-a-little-bit-glad to know that.