By Caroline Smith
On this particular June morning, the phone went off just after 6 a.m. It was my husband, calling from his car on his way to work. "Tell Mike he can have a lie-in this morning," he said. "There's no school. It's closed today. Some jerks have done something to the buses. It's all over the news."
I called through Mike's half-closed door to tell him he didn't have to get early up because something was up with the school buses. I received a sleepy grunt back, and went downstairs to watch the news.
The story was that vandals, probably a handful of students, had broken into the high school bus depot in our suburban Philadelphia district and apparently slit all the tires.
"Idiots!" I thought.
The TV reporter was interviewing the school principal outside the bus lot. He was saying how it wasn't only high school students who were affected, but that the whole school district had to be closed down because all grades used the buses. There was a domino effect from the parents who had had to take off work to mind their children, to the bus drivers who lost a day's work. The school was taking this very seriously. Police were looking for fingerprints on the buses and footprints in the dirt; they were starting to call students into school to interview them one by one. The principal vowed to find and prosecute the offenders.
"Quite right, too!" I said to my friend over lunch. I suggested they prosecute the parents, too. "How could you not know where your children were at midnight? It's just so irresponsible! Have these parents no control over their teens at all? They are as much to blame as the kids themselves."
I went home and did a load of laundry. Amongst the pile, I saw a pair of filthy woolen black gloves, which I thought a odd; because it was summer. But I threw them in a dark wash without further thought.
Mike was glued to the TV watching the news that day. Normally on a day off from school he would have been on his computer, saving the world from alien invaders, so I was glad to see him take an interest in the news for a change. He told me they had got it wrong, the tires hadn't been slashed; the air had been let out of one tire on each bus. They always exaggerated to make a good story, he said.
" It was probably the weight of the bus listing onto the flat tire that had damaged them," he said, "They should have been able to just pump the air back into the tires."
"Well I guess those idiots should have thought of that before letting one tire down from each ,bus, then, shouldn't they!"
That night, I woke up to my son pacing up and down in the dark on the landing outside my bedroom.
" Mom, I need to speak to you," He whispered. His voice was trembling.
"Why? What's up, Mike? Are you sick?"
"No. I need to talk. Something's happened."
I prepared myself for a blow, and we went into his room so as not to wake up his father. We sat on his bed.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Had he got his girlfriend pregnant? I tried to look composed but I was screaming inside. I waited, and waited for him to talk while thinking how to handle it.
He took his time. The boy was clearly stressed. It was obviously very difficult for him. Oh God, she is pregnant! I knew it. I just knew it. I held my composure and waited for him to tell me.
He stood up again and started pacing around his room. He was about to graduate and I could see his world crumbling; our world changing forever.
"What is it Mike, tell me." I pleaded.
"It was me."
"What was you?" I asked, confused.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this. It's got all out of control. It wasn't supposed to attract all this attention. It's got way too big... "
"What has?" I still didn't know what he was talking about.
"The buses; it was me, and Sam and Pete and another kid who joined in at the last minute. It was a prank, not a crime! I need to go to the police. I need to give myself up. I can't live like this. I can't be waiting for the knock on the door! I can't be on the run my whole life... Its not fair, it wasn't supposed to be like this!"
And so began our nightmare. Expulsion from school before graduation, fingerprints and statements on police record; hefty fines and costs, community service, probation for a year, and a lot of stress all around.
It has taken five years to fully recover, but now I can safely say we can finally look back at it and smile... I think. Mike did get into college, eventually. He did realize what an idiot he had been, reluctantly. He did apologize to us, profusely. He also promised he would never use his father's tools again to make a device that released the air from 91 school bus tires. Thankfully.
And the moral of the story is; never, ever, presume your angelic teen is tucked up in bed just because it's night time.
Caroline Smith is the name used by the writer of this essay. The names of the children involved in the incident were changed as well.