I found this in the file-cabinet the other day…from April, 1997….
We accuse our children, when they are little, of having over-active imaginations when they tell us that there really are bad creatures hiding beneath their beds or clinging to the insides of the curtains when we are finally able to turn-out their bedroom lights in the evening, but how much better are we, when suddenly, one of our kids isn’t where he is supposed to be at a given time? How fast do our minds race when we are contemplating all of the horrible ends that they may have come to? Unfortunately, we as parents have the unwelcomed luxury of knowing that our imaginations have every right to be over-active, given the headlines that our minds absorb every morning over that first cup of coffee. Right, nothing will ever happen to our kid, he’s simply too smart to be taken by some stranger. The world is too messed-up for our minds not to race.
He wasn’t in front of the library which could only mean that he was still at the school which was less than a block away. I raced the engine of my little Toyota and headed-out of the drive-by loop of the library and bounced down the curb on my way back to the school. Damn me if I sought relief, thinking surely he’s going to be there. We had arranged to pick him up at 4pm and it was now 5:30 and he was nowhere to be seen. What the hell was he thinking when he walked away, or was driven away from where he was supposed to be? Seeing that the school was essentially deserted, I drove back to the library, impatiently slowing at the one stop-sign and giving a glance to the musicians playing in the parking lot of the coffee shop. I sped through the drive-by loop in front of the building and grabbed a parking space. Thankfully, there was one close so I didn’t have to walk further. I was undecided as to whether I was angry or not. I did know that my step carried fear as I hauled-ass into the library’s opening corridor. I quickly glanced up toward the glass elevators and saw nobody that I knew. The security guard just looked at me as I thought of asking him if he had recently seen a rather long-haired, blonde boy, skinny, carrying a green book-bag over his shoulder and a trombone case in the other hand. Of course he just looked at me. There is a performing arts school just around the corner and half of the kids who go there come here after school. My developing rage didn’t allow me to be still enough to ask the man anything. I feared that he wouldn’t know what a trombone case looked like anyway. “What was he wearing today,” the policeman asked me in my imagination as I rode the elevator to the fifth floor. “I don’t know,” I responded. “I haven’t seen him yet today.” He told me goodbye as I lay in bed on my day off. The boy’s mom took him to school, but knowing him, he is probably wearing a pair of blue jeans that needs to be washed and a striped shirt. The colors of the stripes don’t matter. He is about this tall and has long hair – “to here,” I would point at my shoulder.
The empty or busy faces coming my way hadn’t seen him either; you could just tell. They were too busy talking to their friends to notice the fear that was forming on my brow. None of the kids I saw were familiar. You could tell that the lady at the information desk knew nothing that would be of help to me. She looked like she was part of the desk, unmoving, unblinking in my glance.
We stopped at the second floor for the little black boy and the taller black woman with the business look to her dress and face to get off the elevator. Just me and my thoughts now were being carried to the top floor. They say it is the largest reading-room of any library in the country. I thought of that, too, as I made my way down the left central aisle. The largest one in the country hopefully holds my sleeping son in one of its study chairs. It has in the past. The fart was late coming outside for me to get him after school. I had waited for 20 minutes past the pick-up time before I finally went up the same elevator to the same fifth floor and found him sleeping, head on his pillow arm, crashed and dead to the world. Today he wasn’t there, though. Goddammit!! Where now?! Will I find him torn to shreds, his blood splattered all over the bathroom floor if I go in there? No, the doors were open and an unconcerned couple of boys came out as I walked past. There was no blood spattering on their faces and their Nikes tracked-out no tell-tale footprints on the blue high-traffic carpet.
Up and down the aisles, north end, now south end. The News Channel 12 helicopter still sat on its pad just south of the building, so I knew it wasn’t involved in spotting for our television audience the car that held my unconscious boy that was being chased by a veritable legion of police cars. It was a legion. A guy called the office the other day saying he had legions on his penis. No, they were lesions. The man in the line to check-out his books had a briefcase like mine. Is he hiding my son in there? Did he show him my briefcase and tell my son that he had to go with him because I needed his help? How do I know where these thoughts are coming from? They’re just there. My son isn’t where he is supposed to be and I’m scared. A week or so ago some freak started rubbing my son’s leg as he sat on a church wall grieving over a bird that one of our cats had mauled to death. So, forgive me if I’m concerned. I doubt that I really saw anybody as I searched the second floor of the library. I remembered that one of the doors had been open at the school, so someone was probably still there that may have seen him. I bounded down the two flights of stairs, feeling my fat stomach jiggle with each step. I’ve got to lose weight and get in shape. I thought the same thing a couple weeks ago as I was chasing the asshole that was hitting on my son. I just couldn’t run fast enough and I was wondering if I was going to get there in time.
The steps held and I made it outside, past the unknowing security guard and back into the Toyota. I thought about what a mess I’d be in if the car wouldn’t start and I had to go looking for my lost son on foot. I’d have to ask the cops for a ride home and then what would happen? My face was glistening with sweat as I got to the car. Unconsciously, I had chewed a hole in the side of my cheek as I was touring the fifth floor of the library. Consciously now, hours later, it hurts. Adrenaline and disregard for self allowed me to bang my head on the car-frame without too much pain as I hurried to get going over to the school. Where is he?! WHERE is he?! Dammit!! How many times have we told him to just stay where he’s supposed to be if I’m not there right on time? How many times have we told him not to make us come looking for him? The rule in our house: “Be here on time. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there! Every time!” If you’re not there, then I know something is wrong. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be there. I will get you, every time – so just STAY there!
I smell onions on my fingers now as I twist the raw edges of my moustache. While I was racing through the library, I smelled its characteristic smell. I haven’t been able to identify what it is yet, but it’s the library. I can smell it on my son all of the way home on some winter days. When it has been too cold to open the car windows to have the scent blown out of his hair, I could smell it for the full 20 miles on the way home.
The young drama teacher just kept talking on the phone as I stepped up to the counter in the school office. I stood there for five seconds waiting for him to realize that a parent shouldn’t be standing at the office counter more than an hour and a half after school was dismissed. Pardon me if you’re on the phone! Just tell me if you’ve seen my son! He never asked, I never told. Down the hall, the lady was cleaning the floors, of course she’s black; it should be a white woman. Will it ever change? Down the hall further, past the open door to the girls restroom with that one really tall full-figured girl standing in front of the mirror with her hands over her head holding her hair in a bun talking to some other girl, I imagine it’s a girl, as I pass. Is there a pink light in there? No, he’s not at the other end of the hall either. He’s not on the parking-lot side of the church school building. Just where is he? Back down the hall, racing my reflection in the large windows to my left, searching for his sometimes childish self out in the courtyard, where he could be standing behind a tree. He’s 14yo now and should realize that this isn’t the time to play.
The good Doctor Lady is in the office; no, she hasn’t seen him this afternoon, “During the day, yes, of course, but not since school got out.” Well, my wife called from a pay phone, said she looked all over for him and he isn’t to be found, I told her. I drove down there to find him and I can’t. Have you seen him, where is he?! Can I use your phone? “Sure, just pick-up the line and dial out.” Nathan, is Caleb home, did he call? “Yes, Mom said she’s got him. She told me to tell you to just come home.” Just come home. Drive 20 miles home, alone, calm down. It’s ok. He’s home. It’s ok. He’s ok, really, he’s fine. That’s good.
So, here I am sitting in the tub with my clothes on, the philodendron plant is resting on my shoulder as I write this, bouncing with each new word that leaves the pen to find its eternal home on this yellow page. The fan in the toilet-room needs to be replaced, as it’s making that rackety noise that the other one made before it died. My fingers still smell like onions, somehow, and I can feel my left eye burning where I scratched it as I tried to rub out that allergy itch earlier. My ears are ringing with their familiar cicada song and the chains hanging from the ceiling fan in the bedroom are swirling like they’re doing a belly dance…and my not-lost son is downstairs with his brothers and sister and mom.