Alex’s age, I think to myself as I scroll through my Facebook feed.
Same boat, different body of water, I whisper as I read the post out loud.
"Prayers he is found safe.", I write in the Comments section
“Missing Child, Please Share.” I write on my own Facebook post as I Share the details surrounding a troubled child that is not my own.
It took me an entire day to finalize his invitation. Eleven draft print jobs to get it just right. The way the images were arranged on both sides of the 8.5 x 11 piece of paper I had to ensure it folded correctly so that when his classmates opened it, everything on all 4 sides faced upward. It was my very own design and I considered it a masterpiece. Turning 12 was a big deal for him. He knew that 12 meant being in that in-between stage when everyone starts treating you like a mature human being without taking away too much of your childhood. Back then I knew that feeling all too well and it was exciting and scary all rolled up into one wonderful emotion.
“Game Faces Everyone! Alex is turning 12!” A mini comic invite laced with a Scott Pilgrim theme. Apparently his classmates kept pulling the invite out of their folders, out of their desks, out of their book bags all day long -- admiring it -- reading it over and over. At least that’s what he told me when he got home from school that day.
Once upon a time my child was so proud to have me as his mama.
I begin by typing “missing flyer” in the internet search box. MISSING cats, MISSING dogs, MISSING women, MISSING men and finally MISSING CHILDREN. The worst ones are with side by side age-progression photos to show you what they could’ve looked like in another life. He’s been gone for three days now and I’m crying at my desk thinking of parents MISSING their children for so many years that they might look like “this” now. On my flyer I make sure my MISSING is typed in Arial bold red lettering. I adjust the left and right margins so I can position the picture of him wearing the hooded sweatshirt he was last seen in. This time around he made sure he was dressed properly just in case he happened to be out in the cold. I guess that’s one thing my mind doesn’t have to worry about but I’m stupid for even thinking that. In the picture I’m using he’s holding his baby cousin. I remember originally posting this same picture on Facebook with a cheesy one-liner reminding everyone of how happy our family really is. Unfortunately it’s the only recent picture I have of him with the bleached hair. The smile on his face automatically enlarges on my screen as I hit the Crop button to remove the baby. Uncontrollable tears now as I sit back in my chair and realize that the only recent picture I have of my son is being fitted for a 8.5 x 11 MISSING CHILD flyer.
“You should do that. You should make invitations so people can pay you for them. All you need is a computer, a printer and some paper. You have all that stuff at work!”
Nose buried into my book of the week, I remember laughing as he suggested I start my own business at the expense of my 9 to 5 gig.
“I only like doing these type of invites for you guys. You know all other children annoy the shit out of me.”
I didn’t look up at his facial expression but I heard his laugh. Now I wish I would have looked. I don’t see too many smiles from him nowadays.
“Who cares if you don’t like other kids, you’re really good at making invitations!”
“Alex, do you honestly believe I don’t like other kids?”
“Oh, I know you don't like other kids.”
“You got that right.”
His laugh grew louder that time which proved I used to be the funniest mom on the planet.
“Ma, you can do anything with a plain piece of paper. You can invite anyone to anything!”
I remember folding the corner of the page to look up at him. He liked me so much back then.
He left again after being home for two days. Two days is all we got. And in those two days he fought with everyone, especially his father.
I can invite anyone to any party using only a 8.5 x 11 piece of paper.
Thirty copies on the color printer and secured in a FedEx envelope, courtesy of my 9 to 5 gig. Irony at its best.
“Maybe I should post the flyer on Facebook”, I suggest as we wait for our train to leave the station. It's only ten past five and I'm already exhausted from doing nothing at work but creating flyers.
“Not yet. Let’s wait another day before resorting to that.”
“What exactly are we resorting to? Posting his picture on the internet for all to see? Being so desperate to find our child that I would actually consider plastering his face all over the web? All over my feed? Explain to me your logic, please?"
"He’s coming back just like the last time.” My husband is always so damn sure of himself. Probably one of the reasons the sound of his voice makes me sick.
I can see he’s trying his best to be reassuring, but putting my faith in people doesn’t suit me well either.
“And what if he doesn’t THIS time? What if he doesn’t come back THIS week? THIS month? Can I post it then? You tell me how long should we wait.”
“He’s coming back.”
“And what if he doesn’t ever come back? Can I blame it all on you? Would it be okay if I hated you forever?”
“Let’s just wait on the Facebook thing, okay? Just wait until we get home.”
Patience isn’t my thing either, so I click on the Facebook app as our train pulls out of the station. Two shares on my “Missing Child, Please Share.” post from the other night. There is a missing child in my city and with 150 “Friends” the post only received two Shares and one Like. In my mind, the word runaway in the eyes of a police officer means an abundance of eye rolls. I guess the word runaway means the same thing to the general population. I scroll through my Timeline and find the original post of Alex with his infant cousin. Thirty-two Likes. Not too bad considering I only have 150 “Friends”. But if I’m doing the math correctly that’s 21% out of 150 “Friends” rooting for my happy picture and just over 1% hoping for a safe return on a random Missing Child post. But it’s not my child on the post, it's someone else's problem, so I guess that factors in, too.
Add bullshit to the list of things that make this world go round and round.
Driving home from the train station I spot Alex from a distance. I’ve done this before when we’ve gone out looking for him. I see him and then realize it’s not him, just a replica of a wandering child. But this time, it is him. The sweatshirt and the bleach gave him away.
“Sign here. This gives us authorization to keep and treat your son.”
In the car ride home, at 1:36 am, I sit back and wonder how many people would’ve shared my post if we didn’t end up finding him. The sealed FedEx envelope with the 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper sits between the windshield and the dashboard and I wonder if we would’ve gotten any calls on my awesome Missing Child flyer, the one inviting any and all leads and tips to the whereabouts of my son. Probably not. Maybe if I left the baby in the picture it would’ve garnered more interest but I know I’m just being crazy now.
“You okay?” He can only see the reflection of my face in the car window.
“Sure. Aren’t you?” I didn’t even have the energy to look in his direction. We’ve been together long enough to know that I wasn’t looking for an answer. I open up my phone and click on the Facebook app. We still had a long car ride home and I didn't want to catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror.
There’s a picture of him smiling in front of the jumbo pizza we ordered for the party. There’s another one of him smiling in front of his birthday cake. Picture upon picture of what I thought was pure happiness. And then I notice the picture with two kids sitting next to him on a couch. Out of his entire class only four kids ended up making it to his big party. Four kids out of a class of twenty-seven. And if my memory serves me well, he wasn’t really friends with any of them. I sometimes hate Facebook.
I can invite anyone to any party using only a 8.5 x 11 piece of paper.
But it didn’t matter how amazing my invitations were.
And then it occurred to me...Our 13 year old son is no longer missing, but there is a piece of him that is definitely broken.
And leaving him at that hospital can only make things worse.
Chapter Four -- Coming Soon
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Filed under: Parenting