The sun shined down brightly on a shiny yellow bus as it cruised down the lane. The bus seemed to rock and bounce as it drove, mirroring the peppy mood of its passengers. Children were laughing and smiling as they chatted excitedly amongst themselves about their recent field trip—to the Arctic, to study polar bears.
Valerie smiled as her head tilted slightly to hear better. She loved when the kids were happy, especially about science. Even Arnold, normally a sourpuss when it came to field trips, was mingling (and giggling) with his fellow classmates.
She knew she was supposed to be paying attention to the road...but it was a Wednesday, and not many people were out today. Besides, she was aware enough to coast to a stop at a red light. She nearly missed the light changing to green, but pushed the gas pedal with plenty of time to spare.
It was just then that the bus’ warning system activated. Valerie glanced down to see a panel flip over. It showed a diagram of another vehicle on a collision course with the bus. Below that was a timer that showed not very much time at all.
Valerie’s neck almost twinged as it spun towards the window. Down the street was a huge, 18-wheeler truck barreling down the road. Its driver was asleep at the wheel. The kids were still laughing in the seats behind her.
Valerie looked back at the timer. Not enough time to get away. She would have to prepare for impact. She hit the seatbelt override, strapping the kids in against their wills. Then she flipped another lever, this one lowering helmets and slapping them down on their heads. The kids cried in confusion, but all Valerie could do was watch the approaching truck with horror.
“MS. FRIZZLE! WAKE UP!”
Valerie cracked open her eyes, only a bit. Everything was topsy-turvy. She couldn’t move. She suspected that she was pinned to the wall of the bus, probably. There were sirens outside. Flashing lights. Screaming kids, crying for their teacher. But Valerie was in so much pain and shock that she could only close her eyes, and go unconscious.
The next time she opened her eyes, it was white. Mostly. There was caulk between the white tiles in the ceiling, haphazardly spread. Also, Valerie had a pounding headache.
“Val!” someone called. Valerie looked to her left, squinting. There was a young redhead woman, hovering over her with a tired smile and even more tired eyes. She looked like she hadn’t slept in a while. Valerie wondered why.
“Thank goodness you’re up,” the woman continued. “Your class has been so worried. They’re perfectly fine, of course. Nothing but a few scrapes and bruises thanks to you!”
“M...my...class?” Valerie repeated groggily. She blinked slowly, squinting in confusion instead of the bright lights.
“Yeah...you were in the bus with your class when you had that accident.” The woman looked concerned, feeling Valerie’s forehead. “Val? You hit your head...”
As it turns out, she was Val. Valerie Frizzle, to be exact. That woman beside her when she woke up was her sister, Fiona. And she was a teacher, apparently. Valerie, that is. A fourth grade science teacher at Walkerville Elementary. And she was in a bus with her class when a truck rammed into them, sending the bus spinning. Valerie hit her head in the accident and now she can barely remember who she was.
And that was all she knew. The doctors kept asking her questions, but she didn’t know any of the answers. It made her feel like she failed the test of being herself.
Fiona visited her daily, helping her regain her muscle memory and taking her wheelchair out for walks outside. When she talked to Fiona, some things came back to her. Mostly bits and pieces from their childhood. Nothing from the past few years.
Today, Fiona had some news for her. Her class was finally cleared to visit. Fiona explained how they’ve been upset ever since they heard the news. Not even a Frizzle as their substitute teacher could cheer them, especially since the bus was out of commission as well.
Valerie was nervous about it. She did not remember them at all. Not even pictures could place memories to faces. From those pictures, however, she could tell they were all very close. They went on so many memorable adventures. So it frustrated and upset Valerie to not be able to remember even a single one.
“Ah, here they come,” Fiona sang, pointing out the window. Eight children came sprinting up to the hospital’s front doors, each with flowers or balloons in their hands. Valerie and Fiona waited until they could find her room on the third floor.
“MS. FRIZZLE!” they all cried when they slid into the room. Every child made a beeline for Valerie in her wheelchair, arms outspread for a big hug. Valerie laughed nervously and tried to hug each one in return.
“Ms. Frizzle, we heard you have ammy...amm...” one tried.
“Amnesia,” another one said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah! Amnesia. I know about it from TV, but I never thought someone in real life could get it!”
“That’s right, kids,” Fiona said. “Does anyone know what causes it?”
“Ooh, I know this one.” This time it was Valerie’s voice quietly interjecting. “It’s when...ah, it’s when...” Though as soon as she said it, it escaped her mind. She knew this! It was a piece of cake. But her brows furrowed in frustration as her brain could not pull the answer.
“It’s ok, Ms. Frizzle,” the matter-of-fact girl murmured, putting a comforting hand on her arm. “I got this.”
Valerie smiled weakly and put her hand over hers.
“According to my research, it’s a deficit in memory caused by brain damage, disease, or trauma. The way the brain stores and codes information is still a mystery, so what exactly happens isn’t clear. There are different types of amnesia depending on the different forms of memory affected.”
“Excellent answer, D.A.!” Fiona clapped.
“Wait...does this mean we can...maybe, go inside Ms. Frizzle’s brain and fix her?” another one asked.
“Well,” Fiona chuckled. “Like D.A. said, scientists still aren’t sure what happens when the brain is damaged, or even if it’s possible to fix. We could do some serious damage to my sister if we went in there without knowing for sure.”
The class sighed. Valerie silently sighed in relief.
“The best treatment is to give her lots of love and care as her brain tries to repair itself,” Fiona explained. “You guys can handle that, right?” The class nodded and smiled.
“So...her body is gonna fix itself like when I had a cold?” a little chubby kid asked.
“Maybe! She’s remembering more things every day.”
“Think she’ll remember the bus?” a quiet girl asked.
“The bus!” Fiona smacked the side of her head. “I forgot! It’s about time to pick it up from the shop.”
“Well, no problem. All Ms. Frizzle has to do is whistle,” a boy said.
All eyes in the room landed on Valerie. Valerie returned their gazes curiously as Fiona put a hand on her shoulder. “Well? Wanna try it, Val?”
“Come on, Frizz! Take chances, make mistakes!”
Upon hearing this encouragement, Valerie smiled and nodded. If these kids believed in her, then how hard could it be? Fiona wheeled her over to the window as one of the boys cracked it open. Valerie glanced at Fiona for guidance.
“Just put your fingers together and blow,” her sister explained, showing her the hand motion. Valerie copied her, then gave a small puff of air. It didn’t make much sound at all.
“Like you mean it, Ms. Frizzle!” the chubby kid encouraged. “Really give it your all!”
Valerie looked at him, then at all the kids in the class. They all had the same expression on their face: patience, but also adoration and awe. They really looked up to her, it seemed. Such a pity she couldn’t remember why.
Well, it didn’t matter. These kids were depending on her right now, and she wouldn’t let them down. She breathed in deep, and...
A sharp whistle rang out through town, stirring birds and raccoons alike. After its resonance died down, it was silent for a few moments. Then...
A bus horn rang out!
Valerie started to feel funny then. In a good kind of way, though she couldn’t place on her finger on what it was. Then a yellow speck flew at high speeds in the sky towards them, and Valerie knew what feeling it was: excitement!
She pressed herself against the window and began to bang her hand against the glass. “The bus!” she cried happily. “The bus, the bus, the bus!”
The class saw her thrill and began to cheer. “Yeah! Yeah, it’s the bus!” “She remembers!”
Seeing its teacher in the window, the bus began to wildly honk its horn, mirroring the taps of a palm against glass. As it approached, it began to spin and shrink until it was no smaller than a fly. It flew into the window and onto Valerie’s awaiting hand.
“Bus!” Valerie greeted her old friend, feeling her cheeks warm at the sight of it safe and sound. She glanced to the chubby boy who cheered her on. “It’s just like you said, sweetie. Take, chances! Make mistakes! Get the bus back!”
He laughed, and a few kids around him smiled. “Pretty close.”
“Never stand between a teacher and her bus,” the redhaired boy said. As the others agreed around him, Valerie frowned to herself. She could not engage in their celebration when there were problems on her mind. Specifically, eight little problems.
She unfolded a photo from her dress pocket and stared glumly at the class picture, taken at the foot of a volcano. She seemed so happy in the picture, surrounded by her class.
“Val, you’re being too hard on yourself,” Fiona argued.
“But I remembered the bus so easily! Surely the kids can’t be far behind!” Valerie retorted, pacing the room clumsily on overly stickered crutches. “Tell me their names again. There’s Arnold, R—...Ryan?”
“Ralphie,” Fiona corrected. “Carlos, Tim, Dorothy Ann, Phoebe, Keesha, Wanda. And we built the bus when we were kids—you’ve only known these kids for four years! Val, you’re stressing.”
“Right. Right, Tim’s the artist. Carlos likes...rocks. No, that was someone else. Who loves animals?”
“Val! Take a breather!”
“I can’t!” Valerie cried, gripping her frizzy locks. “Those kids looks so miserable when I can’t remember their names. They look at me like I’m their whole world!”
“You are their world!” Fiona’s hands now gently gripped Valerie’s arms, rubbing them soothingly. “Which is why they understand that you’ve been hurt and you need time to heal. It’s just like what you would do if you saw, say, one of them had a broken leg. You’d tell the class that their body needs lots of time and rest to recover.”
“You don’t know I’d say that! I don’t even know I’d say that!” Valerie snapped.
Fiona frowned, giving her pitying eyes. “Val, I know it’s hard for you to deal with this. It’s frustrating not to know anything about yourself. But you’re well beloved, Val. Your kids love you with all their hearts. And their parents couldn’t stop telling me to tell you how thankful they were that you protected them. I just wish, sometimes...that you’d look out for yourself that way, too.”
Valerie looked down in surrender. Her face was crumpled, and Fiona let go of her arms so she could wipe a stray tear away. It was then that the sisters heard a noise from outside the door.
“Come out, sweetie,” Valerie sighed, trying to piece herself together. The redhead boy poked out from behind the door. It was one of her students for sure, but who he was Valerie could not recall. He shuffled into the room shyly as Valerie tried to put on her best welcoming smile.
“Hi, Ms. Frizzle. I...I’m Arnold. I’m the one who likes rocks,” he introduced quietly. He seemed to be hiding something behind his back, or else he was wringing his hands nervously back there. Valerie only tilted her head and smiled.
“What can I do for you, Arnold?” Valerie said, like she didn’t have a small panic attack moments before.
“I...just wanted to give you this.” Arnold drew his hand from behind his back to reveal a clear gemstone in his palm. “It’s clear quartz. They call it, “The Master Healer” of rocks. I thought it might help you.”
Valerie’s heart warmed at the pure thought and feeling behind such a gesture. She had the best kids. “Thank you, Arnold.” And as her hand reached out to touch the stone, she felt a small tingle flowing through her veins.
That was strange. But she brushed it off as she took the rock from him. “It might help...ore it might not,” she tittered. Arnold laughed with her.
Not long after that, Valerie was finally released from the hospital. Only hours after being told to rest did Valerie ask, repeatedly, to visit the school. She asked so many times that, frankly, it drove Fiona nuts. Maybe that was why she finally gave in, driving her in with her in the morning. Valerie spent a lot of time poking around the classroom while Fiona handled the morning routine.
“I’m very messy,” Valerie noted as she opened the teacher’s closet to see a mountain of random objects that very nearly crashed down on her. She had a lot of class pets, too. Bunnies and hamsters and Liz, oh my. She was peering at the anatomical model of a skeleton when the class entered, chattering amongst themselves.
“Good morning, class,” she greeted.
“Good morning, Ms. Frizzle,” the class greeted back, on autopilot. A moment passed, then they realized who was there to visit them. “MS. FRIZZLE!”
Cue the hugs. But something was wrong. There were an odd number of hugs. Someone was missing. Valerie was just about to ask when she heard crying from the hallway. Before anyone could say anything, she was flying by on her crutches to the source.
It was the mopheaded girl in her class. She was crying quietly while carrying some books around. Valerie’s heart tore for her, and she leaned down as best she could on her crutches.
“Phoebe, what’s wrong? Another animal in trouble?” Valerie asked gently.
“No,” Phoebe sniffed. “It’s just that...wait...”
Wait indeed. Valerie and Phoebe were coming to the same conclusion. “Did I just...?” Valerie asked herself.
“Ms. Frizzle?” came a voice. Valerie turned, and finally—finally, she could place a name to a face. “Carlos!”
“Yeah...yeah, it’s me, Carlos!” The rest of the class came running as well, and upon seeing them, the same tingle ran through her veins as the day she got that rock. Without hesitation, Valerie listed them off one by one, pointing the name to the face. “D.A., Wanda, Arnold, Tim, Keesha, Ralphie!”
The class whooped and hollered in celebration, rushing to hug her once again. “We knew you could do it!” “Yeah, Ms. Frizzle!” “She’s back, she’s finally back!”
They were so loud that Janet came to yell at them, but no one paid her any attention.
Certainly not Valerie, who was finally surrounded by the memories that mattered to her.