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My Brother is WHERE?

It is a perfectly typical Wednesday afternoon, at approximately 2:45 pm. I am sitting in the art room of my middle school, enjoying one of my last ever art club meetings, painting the River of Tears for my Collection of Nightmares painting. I have just finished mixing the perfect amount of water with the blue paint when my friend Erin comes flying into the art room, a panicked expression on her face.

“Emily, my brother got stuck at Ellis Island!”

As this is quite possibly the strangest comment I have heard today, I ask her to explain. Within seconds, I am panicking just as much as she is.

The fifth grade class at our school, which includes both Erin’s brother and my own, took a field trip to Ellis Island. This was a makeup for their trip on Friday, when the group had missed their ferry due to an overbooking disaster. Today was supposed to be a chance for the kids to finally have some fun. Instead, however, on the ride home, the ferry had been overbooked again. As a result, twenty fifth graders, two teachers, and three parents were stuck on the island, while the other students and chaperones left on the first ferry. Another ferry was sent to pick up the remaining group, but arrived thirty minutes later. Meanwhile, no one knew who had been left behind, except for Erin, who had spoken to a teacher who knew for a fact that her brother was still on the island- but I didn’t know about my own brother.

There is no feeling like the sensation of not knowing where your sibling or child is. It’s something that has to be experienced to be understood; it is a panic unlike anything else. The second that Erin drops the news about her brother, I go into full-out panicked sister mode, picking up my cell phone and dialing for my brother. When the phone rings, and rings, and finally hits, “Hi, you’ve reached Alex’s phone. I can’t pick up right now, but leave a message after the beep”, I really start to freak out.

I have no idea where my brother was. I don’t know if he was on Ellis Island, I don’t know if he was on the early bus and had come back to school already. He was supposed to go directly to a fundraiser walkathon for an after-school club, so if he had gotten back already, he would still be at the school. Naturally, I ask my art teacher if I can go and check to see if he was there, and the teacher says yes. When I get to the meeting place, I find two of my brothers’ friends, who say that they haven’t seen him. Erin and I then go to a teacher who was on the trip, and ask him if he knows anything, but he doesn’t, except that Erin’s brother Chris was definitely left behind, a fact that we already know.

Back in the art room, several other friends of mine, who also have siblings in fifth grade, are hearing about the incident. Gradually, we all begin to grow more and more afraid- and I pick up the phone again to call my brother.

At exactly 2:51, 2:53, 2:55, 3:07 and3:13 in the afternoon, I am greeted with “Hi, you’ve reached Alex’s phone. I can’t pick up right now, but leave a message after the beep.” Not exactly the most reassuring response when you’re frantically trying to find your eleven-year-old brother. I don’t want to call my mom and worry her, because as far as she’s concerned, Alex is at the walkathon. I’ll tell her what’s happened when the bus is back and everyone is accounted for.

My friends Cara and Izzy have sisters in fifth grade, and they have no idea if they were left behind, either. Cara’s sister Rosie is supposed to meet her at art club after school and she hasn’t, so we assume that she is still on the island, but Izzy doesn’t know about her sister. Again, the two don’t want to call their mothers and worry them, especially Cara, whose mom thinks that Rosie is at art club with us.

“Why don’t you go down to the main office and ask them if they know the names of the kids who got left behind?” Erin asks. “They probably do, and that way you can ask after Alex and Rosie.”

It sounds like a good plan, so Cara and I ask for permission from the art teacher, again, if we can leave the room. (He’s been really great about letting us go today, for that matter…) We hurry along, wanting to get to the office as soon as possible. The hallways seem eerily empty without students running through them, but the open space means that we get to the front of the school very quickly.

“Excuse me; do you by any chance have the names of the kids who were left at Ellis Island?” I ask the secretary, pleasantly. “My brother and her sister aren’t where they’re supposed to be.”

The secretary glares at us. “They weren’t left there; they had to take a later bus and will be back soon. Where are they supposed to be?”

I’m appalled by her attitude. “My brother needs to be at the Builder’s Club Walkathon, and her sister was supposed to meet us at art club. Neither of them is there, so could you please check if Alex Carter and Rosie Markham are on the later bus?”

She sighs, sounding extremely annoyed. “If they aren’t where they’re supposed to be, then they’re probably on the later bus. They will meet you or go where they’re supposed to go when they get back! You don’t have to worry about it!”

The only thing keeping me from screaming at her is the knowledge that doing so will probably get me suspended from attending the 8th grade trip and dance. “Yes, I know that! But could you please just tell us if Alex Carter and Rosie Markham are on the late bus!”

“You don’t need to know the names! Your brother and your sister are fine. They’re coming home as we speak.”

And with that, she went back to typing her paperwork.

I have never been so aghast by the attitude of a person in my life. This secretary, who I have had to deal with since fifth grade, obviously has no children or siblings. She doesn’t know what it’s like to have no idea where a child that you love is, and have no control over that. Cara and I leave the office fuming, throwing our hands into the air and ranting over the secretary’s unbelievable attitude. When we get back to the art room, everyone else is just as disgusted by the secretary’s behavior as Cara and I were, especially Erin, who is still worried, and Izzy, who still has no idea where her sister is.

“We might as well paint,” Erin says, picking up the palette and the Collection of Nightmares scene we’ve worked on together. I agree, and go back to the river. Once the river is done, I proceed to mix the paint for my floating doll head, and the table is once again consumed with pleasant chatter as we paint and gossip, trying to forget the fact that four of our siblings are missing.

“Hi, Erin!”

The entire table looks up to see Chris and Rosie walk through the door of the art room, looking tired and a bit flustered, but absolutely fine.

“Oh, thank God!” Erin leaps up from the table and runs to hug her brother, as Cara jumps up and hurries to her sister. The rest of our table sighs in relief; everyone has come back.

“Rosie, Chris, you didn’t happen to notice if Alex was with you, did you?” I try to keep my voice calm, but in reality, I’m still worried.

“Yeah, he was with on the same bus as me!” Rosie says, sitting down next to Cara. She has a foam Lady Liberty crown from the trip; she’s in the process of putting it in her bag. “He was going to the walkathon after school, right?”

“Yes, he was.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “OK, I’m not panicking anymore! Izzy, your sister probably went home if she was on the late bus.”

We work on the painting for the rest of the meeting, with me making a mental note to check the walkathon for Alex before going home. My floating doll head turns out very nicely, very freakish, and the River of Tears looks hauntingly beautiful. Erin’s zombie looks legitimately scary, and the border of flames adds a nice touch.

At the end of the meeting, I clear up the brushes and paint, and Erin and I head out back to the walkathon to check for my brother. We spot a few people that we know, and wave, but I’m only looking for my brother.

“HI EMILY!!”

I turn to see my brother running over the hills with his friends, frantically waving towards me. “I’M FINE!”

I give him a quick hug, knowing that my ride home is waiting, and then hurry off, but not after making him promise to give me full details later. On the car ride back to my house, I realize that most likely, my mom has no idea what has happened. Oh, she is going to be a bear when she finds out…

My mom is standing in the doorway when the car pulls up to the house; we were a little late today, so she had been expecting me. She’s on the phone, and as I climb out of the car, I scream, “Alex is absolutely fine!”

“I’m sure he is!” She calls. “How was your day?”

“Fine, but did you hear about the trip?”

She looks startled. “No! What happened this time?”

I launch into a full explanation of what had happened, not leaving out any details. By the time I finish, she is absolutely livid.

“This is ridiculous!” She yells, stalking back into the house to put the phone away. “And I had no idea- why didn’t they contact me? Your brother was stuck on an island for God-knows-how long?”

I haven’t seen my mom this mad since… when was the last time I saw my mom this mad?

“No, they didn’t tell us anything. I called Alex five times, but he never picked up his phone. I guess you can ask him for the other details when he gets home, because I don’t really know anything else.”

My mom nods, then went back to what she had been doing before I got home. I go upstairs to do my homework. It isn’t until Alex got home that I learn the full details of what, exactly, had happened.

Because the ferry was overbooked, twenty kids, along with two teachers and three parents, stayed behind on the island. Another ferry would be coming to get them a little later, and then another bus would come and get them once they arrived. Alex wasn’t in the group left behind; he left on the first ferry, so he should have been back at a normal time. However, things were a little more complicated than that: Alex had been on the medical bus with kids that needed to be with a nurse, because he has asthma, and one of the kids from the medical group was left behind. That boy couldn’t be on a bus without a nurse, so the other kids had to wait for him in Liberty Park, directly across from the island. For half an hour, they waited, and essentially, they were also left behind, because of the fact that they were delayed. The park was very boring, according to Alex- he and his friends begun playing Monkey in the Middle with an orange.

This wasn’t the only disaster that occurred on the Ellis Island trip- my friend Anna’s cousin was also on the trip, and he and two girls from his class were on the ferry that left at the normal time. The rest of his class, however, and the teacher, boarded a ferry to Jersey City. Yes. Jersey City. According to the cousin, the teacher and other students were yelling and waving at the ferry containing the rest of the fifth grade.

I have rarely been so disgusted by any situation I’ve faced in my life. These ferry officials obviously have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to planning boat rides; if they did, then we wouldn’t have had this many problems. Statue Cruise Ferries needs to look over who is coming on tours for a particular day, how many people have prescheduled tickets, and how big a ferry they’re going to need so that groups can stay together in groups. They need to work on getting the line set up when waiting for ferries so that people get on ferries when it is their turn, and don’t get overstepped. And most of all- because the delayed ferry wasn’t that hard to deal with- they need to make sure that people actually get on the right ferries. I mean, these were young kids on the boat- ten and eleven year olds, kids who hadn’t ever been on their own in a city. Like my friend Izzy said so wisely- “Yes, there are some very mature fifth graders. But there are also a lot of very immature fifth graders, and a lot of really creepy people in the world.”



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