Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Howl, howl. Yip. Yip
I festered. Joshua was awake, too. "Listen to the ky-oats", he said, like an old cow-hand with a fondness for carnivorous opportunists. "They're wolves", I whispered back accusingly. "Don't be fooled. They would eat us in a hot second." Then I rolled over for dramatic effect. After a while, the backyard was quiet, and I slept, dreaming of coyotes caught unaware, paws raised in submission: don't taze me, bro.
Morning came fast. I awoke to the children clamoring for pancakes and juice and Joshua gone for a run. After thirty minutes of trying to get back to that goose-down oblivion, peddling every excuse I could draw up, it dawned on me: they're smarter than that. I can't expect them to buy my lousy stories. Of course they're not going to believe it's the middle of the night, not in an all-white room with no curtains and floor-to-ceiling windows. Thus we made our pilgrimage to the kitchen, stopping to adorn eyeglasses, brush teeth, fetch blankies, etc. Except-on the way, one of us got lost. I don't know how-but downstairs, the door to the garage was open and I assumed he'd gone outside without our knowing, so we followed suit-not really out of worry, but in order to prevent him from waking the neighbors with an unexpected playdate inquiry. It was cool-cold, actually, and quiet. There was the sense we were the only ones out there, Winnie and me-still I broke the calm by calling his name a couple times. Then I went inside and yelled some more. Again outside, again inside, then deeper inside from the bottom of the steps. If you are hiding and can hear my voice, you must come out this instant.
My children are, mostly, obedient. Of course they are children, and that behavioral assessment adjusts hourly-but still I was confident that if, indeed he heard the I-mean-business tenor of my warning, he'd get the thunder downstairs. But: nothing. I walked out the front door, leaving it open, and crossed the cul-de-sac to the Jenkins' driveway, knowing he wasn't there; the house itself looked asleep-undisturbed. Then another house, where the dog barked at me from inside with such unabashed indignation I knew he was the lone conscious creature present. Besides, that mother would have sent Lauren home at such an hour, God love her.
It's funny-in November, the pavement that all summer has been warm under your bare feet, you come to realize, isn't anymore-things change. And standing there, the hem of my sweatpants damp from walking through the matted leaves, I had to wonder: is this it? Is this when my luck runs out? I cataloged the what-ifs: an unregistered sex offender, that retaining pond just waiting to swallow someone whole, the scary fence a few houses down-what was behind there, anyway? I thought of a friend I know-whose own son had been missing for more than an hour, once, in Mexico. Taken from his bed, it appeared. How the adults had scoured the apartment, searched every stairwell in the high-rise, called up and down the beach, and when it became clear he really was gone, how his mother had collapsed to her knees in despair and disbelief. Then, how they'd looked, one more time, in his room-and found him at the foot of his bed, curled up like a baby rattlesnake, asleep under a mountain of covers.
I turned to Winnie, and taking her hand, walked up our hill and inside to the kitchen. I poured myself a glass of juice as a way to postpone not finding him, to declare that no, today was not the day. This is a normal morning, see? I'm having juice, my hair's a mess, see the children watching television? I read once of a Chinese folk-custom in which the parents lament, loudly, over the "ugliness" of their newborn, lest he be snatched away by the often-jealous gods. Similarly, an older child on the receiving end of much grace or good fortune might be slapped on the face, hard, in effort to scare away luck of the opposite kind. Sort of a cosmic, "nothing to see here, move it along, people."I looked at Winnie. Today is not the day, I said.
I climbed the stairs, stood in his door, and waited. And there: a tent of blankets held in place by books atop his desk; inside, a portable DVD playing an installment of the Star Wars trilogy, amplified for a certain seven-year-old's listening enjoyment. A cineplex for one; his own private Idaho. Sensing a visitor, he peeked out. Hi, Mama. He had no idea.
I looked away and bit back tears. It was fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes that might have been the first fifteen minutes of the rest of my life, the fifteen minutes wherein life as I knew it changed forevermore. And, yeah, I'm sure there are some hard-core aggressive types out there who might roll their eyes at my weakness, regaling me with stories of how their child was missing for ten whole hours and was found later, being raised by a family of anteaters, and how they weren't even afraid until the last FIFTEEN MINUTES of the ordeal. But that's not me-I am fully aware that this world, while literally busting at the seams with beauty and unicorns, is also home to an underbelly of all things wicked and wild. And sad. And these things happen to wonderful people-people who don't try to sleep in on their children, people who don't steal magazines from the doctor's office or eat all the peanut butter chunks out of the ice cream. People better than me-on them the rain falls.
So I worry...about the coyotes. I stare into the darkness with my best stink-eye, imagining my thoughts as cartoon laser beams that slice through the air and frighten them into a career change. I assign annoying character traits for which I mock them behind their hairy backs. I tell the children to stay in the grass, where it's safe from coyotes. And still--they come up the driveway.
What to do?
*Postscript: I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out how to end this post. There was no ribbon with which to tie it up in conclusion-and normally I'm okay with this kind of 'living the questions' ending. When it comes to my children, however, I'm not as Rilke-esque. Anne Lamott writes in her book, Grace Eventually, that "being a parent means going through life with the invisible muzzle of a gun held to your head. You may have the greatest joy you ever dreamed of, but you will never again draw an untroubled breath." And, harsh as that may sound, it resonates-especially, thankfully, the part about the joy.