Brother is 8, about to turn 9. Since he learned to ride his bike, we have given him more freedom to ride down the street about half a dozen houses to where he has two friends right across the street from each other. Their names are Camden and Marcus. Today we got lots and lots of snow and made a special trip to the store for galoshes and gloves. As soon as we got home, Brother was itching to throw on the new galoshes and have a rip-roarin' snowball fight with his buddies. He caught me heaving in groceries and girls and pelted me in the back of the head with "Hey, Mom, can I go to Camden's to play?" Knowing he'd been waiting anxiously all day, and it was already 3:30, I said yes and he said he was going to walk instead of ride his bike. I turned and looked at him. "Okay, but you have to be very careful," I warned, feeling uneasy about his decision. And he, of course, assured me he would.
Later I am in the house with the girls when I hear a knock on the door. I figure it is probably Brother and Camden coming in for hot chocolate or a Playstation break. When I answer it, I see Camden...alone. "Can Brother play?" he asks.
My heart stops and feels as though it will never beat again. "I thought he was with you," I said, already reaching for my shoes. He shook his head. I look at the clock and realize Brother has been gone an hour and has not been where he was supposed to be. "Camden," I reach for the phone. "What is Marcus' number?" "I don't know," he answers, "but I'll run down there and see if he's there." I begin to gather the girls, not bothering with coats, and somehow end up with my purse and car keys, though I don't remember grabbing them. My head is going to very dark places and I see and hear things in my mind on which I can't bear to dwell. My boy...I let him walk.
I take the girls outside and look down the street. I look for his bike which could be down the street at Tommy's or Tabitha's, but they are not even home. Sister wants to stop and make a snow angel, but I yell at her to get in the van and though I don't want to scare her I can't think of what she is saying to me even though I hear her voice. I automatically buckle up Baby in her car seat but do not wait for Sister to buckle before I back out of the driveway. If he isn't at Marcus' house, where do I go next? What do I do? What will my husband say?
I park the van in front of Marcus' house and see Camden's bike in the drive in front of the gate. I run to the front door and knock. Camden answers the door. "Is he here?" I ask.
He nods his head "yes".
I grab the door frame to keep from collapsing on their front porch. Camden's mom is on the treadmill and calls for me to come in. Brother meets me and that face, with the freckles and the eyelashes and the missing teeth - that face I worried would be lost to me forever - and he knows immediately what kind of trouble he is in. "Get your things and get in the van," I said quietly. He apologizes and tells me he was going to call me but he forgot. "Get your things," I repeat. He is gathering his things nervously and Marcus' mom tries to calm me by showing me their new puppies. I try to be social but I finally just have to say, "I'm sorry. I can't do this...I'm shaking..." and she understands and gives me a smile as we leave.
Brother continues to talk and try to apologize and explain and make excuses but it is caught between my desire to scream at him and take him in my arms. Just before I open the door, I turn to him and my tears will be silent no longer. "YOU DIDN'T CALL ME! I DIDN'T KNOW WHERE YOU WERE!" I choke. He stares at me, his own gorgeous blue eyes welling up. "Don't cry, Mom," he pleads. And here we stand. It is though he sees through me to this love I have for him, so dangerous and intense, and he is wounded that he wounded me. In return, I try not to cry in order to keep from upsetting him more and I silently open the van door for him to get in.
He continues to cry and apolgize the entire 45 seconds home and even into the house. I do not respond except to tell him to sit at the kitchen table. I get the girls settled and go to the kitchen, still trembling. He tries to talk. "No talking," I say. "Just listen."
"NO TALKING! JUST LISTEN!" He is quiet but is breathing heavily and loudly and I finally realize he is having an asthma attack. I hand him his inhaler. I sit across the table from him and wait for his breathing to regulate. Then I begin the emotional lecture. How do I impress upon him how dangerous this world is without scaring him to death? Morever, how do I handle this conversation without beating him?
In the end, he got up and came to me - came. to. me. - and hugged me and I grabbed him, thanking God all the time that I could feel his hair tickle my nose and smell his sweatshirt damp with snow.
And he didn't pull away.