My brother-in-law and his wife sat across from Husband and me at our dining room table. Dinner dishes cleared, we commiserated over books that had bruised us and movies that had ripped holes in our lives—good things, of course. Then we landed on the topic of public transit, an innocuous subject, until I recalled one particular day that had left its own mark—and not in a good way.
“Remember the girls’ first bus ride home from downtown?” I said to Husband. “A few years ago, I think?”
“That was pretty bad.”
I turned to our guests, feeding them several details to jar their memories. “We’ve told you the story, haven’t we?”
My sister-in-law’s eyes widened. “I don’t think so.”
And maybe this story, “The bus ride,” first published on the blog on October 13, 2016, is new to you too. Here it is.
A work meeting, an oral surgery consult, a volleyball game, and five other commitments. It had been a coffee-to-go and a wolf-down-a-handful-of-trail-mix-at-the-stoplight kind of day. And now at six o'clock, I fought through the evening rush hour traffic in downtown Minneapolis, each minute at a standstill twisting my stomach into a tighter knot. I would drive my girls home, then turn around and head to an evening gathering in a southern suburb twenty miles away. If I made it by the scheduled time of seven o'clock, it would be a miracle.
"Mom, just drop us off here," Ricka said. "We'll catch a bus home."
"Yeah, go, Mom," Flicka said. "We'll be fine."
"Really?" I blew out a breath. My first real exhale of the day. "I appreciate this, girls."
Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka hopped out at the next stoplight. I looked at the three of them—ages sixteen, fifteen, and twelve—standing on the corner and gawking at their surroundings like a pack of tourists. At least it was still light and warm on this Wednesday, September 28. No fear of hypothermia at the bus stop today.
I signaled right, turned the corner, and buzzed down the street until I saw signs for 35W South. Thanks to my girls, I would make it to my engagement on time. And hopefully, they would make it home on their first city bus ride without incident.
Ricka led the way up the steps of the 5M Northbound bus and flashed her GoCard. She scanned the place, packed with commuters.
"Right here," she said over her shoulder to her sisters, pointing to some empty seats near the front. The girls settled in for their ride to North Minneapolis.
Ricka's day had been a long one. School, volleyball practice, homework. Her stomach rumbled. Since Mom was gone for the evening, she and her sisters were on their own for dinner. She'd bake a frozen pizza before burrowing into Advanced Algebra.
At the next stop, four teenagers—two boys and two girls—boarded the bus with their Footlocker bags. All the seats were full, so they stood next to Ricka and her sisters, the two girls grabbing onto the hanging straps while they faced the boys.
"Then I got this one," the guy in the blue hoodie said to his friends, pointing to a tattoo on his wrist. "Still hurts just as much as this one." He rolled up his sleeve to show off more artwork. One of the girls grabbed his arm to get a closer look and poked at the new design. The guy in the red shirt laughed.
How was the kid able to get tattoos? Ricka guessed he was seventeen—at most. His parents would've had to sign permission for him to get the work done. Not something that would happen in her house. She listened as the teens’ talk turned from ink to plans for the weekend.
Twenty minutes later, the bus driver pulled up to a stop along bustling 7th Street. The two guys split from their female friends and headed to the front of the bus. When the door opened, Red Shirt jumped off and followed the sidewalk to the right. Tattoo Boy darted down the bus steps and around the front of the bus to the left, dipping out of sight.
A car blasted Tattoo Boy's body ten feet into the air. He plummeted headfirst back to earth. Ricka jumped up, nausea punching her in the gut. The other passengers scrambled to their feet too, and stared through the front windows. Tattoo Boy lay on the pavement in front of the bus. The driver of the car swerved to the side of the road, then zoomed away. The boy's friends bolted from the bus and ran to his side. The commuters' commentary rose to an uproar.
A woman with long, gray hair stabbed her finger in the direction of the runaway vehicle. "It was an SUV. No, no—a Jeep! A black Jeep."
"Why would he do that?" said a man dressed in a suit, craning to see the boy lying in the street.
"It's obviously a suicide," a woman said. "He must've had stress on him."
Ricka's chin quivered, but then she looked at twelve-year-old Dicka who was planted in her seat with her face down, shaking, and she swallowed the urge to cry. A woman with an African accent stroked Dicka's head.
"It's okay. It's okay," said the woman, handing her some tissues.
Ricka remembered the day she had witnessed a classmate have a seizure. He had convulsed, slipping from his desk, and there was nothing the teacher could do about it. Fear had grabbed onto her that day too, stealing her innocence—and now this. But Dicka...
Ricka searched her sister's face. "What did you see?"
Dicka shook her head.
"How about you?" Ricka said, turning to her older sister.
Flicka's gaze was fixed on the body in the street. "I didn't see it happen either."
A squad car pulled up, then a second one, and a third. Police officers crouched around the victim and other officers climbed the bus steps to speak with the driver.
"Let's go," Ricka said.
Her sisters followed her past the commotion, down the steps of the bus, and out onto the street that held the broken boy.
When I returned home that night, Husband met me at the door.
"The girls witnessed a hit-and-run tonight," he said.
Pleasant memories from my evening vanished. "Oh no."
Red splotches dotted Dicka's face, and she sat in silence while the other two girls told me about the sound of the impact—much louder than the expected thud of metal meeting flesh. They spoke of the other passengers, the kind African woman, and their sixteen-block walk afterward because Dicka refused to board another bus.
I pitched back and forth in bed that night recalling the accident I hadn't witnessed. I offered up a teenager whose name I didn't know and begged for the life of a kid who wasn't mine.
Let him live!
Following a lead the next morning, I made a call to North Memorial Hospital.
"You don't have a name?" said a man on the other end of the line. "We can't tell you anything because of patient privacy."
"I just want to know if he's alive or not," I said. "That's all."
But I had to give up my need to hear the end of the story.
A few days later, Husband had an idea.
"I posted the details on Facebook, asking anyone in the neighborhood if they happened to know anything," he said.
Husband had chosen a North Minneapolis Facebook page with more than three-thousand members, and my mind filled with images of needles in haystacks. But minutes later, the answer came.
"I work with his aunt," a woman wrote. "He's doing okay."
Tragedies happen every day, and strangers witness atrocities without ever learning the outcomes. But that night, we celebrated the miracle of an answer—and the life of a teenage boy who was given another chance.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.