People look at me strange when I tell them that I have an 18-year-old son. I’m 33. When James and I go out, it isn’t uncommon for people to ask if he is my little brother. He could easily pass for being in his 20s, and so could I. The past 18 years haven’t been without their trials, but I like to think I did the best I could given the situation. During my freshman year of high school, I knocked up my girlfriend. Her parents were going to put the baby up for adoption, but my mom stepped in and helped me get custody.
My son is a straight-A student. He is a point guard for the school basketball team. I scrounged together enough money to get him a halfway decent car. He’s popular in all the ways I wasn’t. By the time I was his age, I had a two-year-old son, a GED, and a job at the local Pella factory. We live in a two-bedroom apartment duplex a few blocks from his high school. He does his homework without much prompting and spends his downtime with friends or in the living room kicking my ass at Call of Duty.
At one point, I thought he might be gay. I wouldn’t have cared, but I thought it was weird that a boy his age had never had a girlfriend. I asked him about it and he smiled. “No dad, I’m not gay,” he said. “I just want to wait until I’m a little older to get out there. Wouldn’t want you to be a grandfather in your 30s.”
That was our sex talk. Between the internet and the sex-ed class I had to sign a permission slip for, I figured he knew the basics. A few months ago, he told me he going to out late. When I asked why, he told me he had a date. I didn’t ask any questions. I slipped him a hundred dollar bill and told him to be home in time for breakfast. He was a good kid. I trusted him.
After that, it became a semi-regular thing. He’d let me know on Friday afternoon he was going to be out late that night. Each Saturday morning, he’d be home sitting on the couch playing on the Xbox before I climbed out of bed. I never met any of his dates, but I figured he was keeping it to himself. Like I said, I trusted my son. He had a good head on his shoulders and I had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss.
I don’t normally watch the news. Between my Facebook feed and Twitter, I usually knew enough about current events not to care. For whatever reason, I found myself sitting in front of the television at five-in-the-afternoon and decided to watch the news. I kinda wish I hadn’t. The television switched from a commercial to showing the anchor sitting in front of the camera with a somber face.
“Later tonight we’ll cover a developing story,” she said. “Several area women are still missing as police look for clues as to whether or not the disappearances might be related.”
We lived in a sleepy little town. The idea that something like that could be happening so close to home shook me a little. The idea that my son could be out and about with something like that happening in town scared me a little too much. I talked to him about it. He told me not to worry. James was a big kid. He stood just under seven feet tall and had a wide frame. I wasn’t worried about someone getting the jump on him, but as a big guy myself, I knew that having a large frame meant very little if someone else had a gun.
James assured me that I had nothing to worry about. Just to be safe I swiped his cell phone while he was asleep. I installed an app that allowed me to see his location at all times. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I remembered being 17 and thinking I was invincible. I didn’t give it much thought. After setting the app to hidden mode, I put it back on the charger in the kitchen and didn’t pay it much mind after that. I figured if I ever got worried while he was out I could pull up the app on my phone and see his location. As long as it wasn’t too out of sorts I’d relax and go back to watching Netflix.
I started following the case of the missing women online. It was developing into a bit of a media sensation in our area. Six women had gone missing over the course of 10 weeks. They varied in age and appearance. No bodies had been recovered, but police were operating under the assumption that foul play might be involved. When the seventh woman went missing, my heart skipped a beat. I hadn’t seen Rochelle in 10 years. She came back around when James was about seven. She tried to do the mother thing, but didn’t have the chops for it. After a few months of broken promises and missed appointments I got filed a motion for the court to do a drug test. After she failed the test I had my lawyer file another motion stripping her of any visitation with our son. I didn’t want my son to have to deal with that.
It was Saturday morning and I was very apprehensive about going downstairs. James and I didn’t talk about his mother very much. She had spiraled out of control after giving birth to him and used just about any drug she could trade her body for. By the time she had come around to visit him, she had aged 20 years in only seven. Her arms were covered in track marks and her teeth were yellowed to the point of decay. To be honest, I was surprised she stayed alive long enough to be abducted. With a heavy heart, I approached my son in the living room.
“Son, we need to talk about your mother,” I said.
James sighed and paused his game. “What did she do this time?” he asked, looking up at me.
I sighed. “She went missing last night. Police say there were signs of a struggle at her trailer.”
James stared at the television like he was looking through it and unpaused his game. He continued looking forward. “Yeah, well that really isn’t news. Is it?”
James and I didn’t talk about his mother because he didn’t like talking about her. One of the main reasons I involved a lawyer was because during one of her visits she picked him up and took him over to her apartment. Apparently she had a few customers come by while my son sat on the couch. His first real visit with his mother turned into junkies sitting next to him on the couch as they plowed twenty bucks a pop to nail his mother. Three hours later, a guy James called Steven dropped him off at the house. He was there when I got off work. I asked him what happened and all we would say is that his mother didn’t want him there anymore. He had sat outside without a jacket for four hours.
Of all the things that could have happened to him, I was relieved more than anything that it had been so minor. I’d heard horror stories about situations like that which ended in much more gruesome outcomes. I immediately put James into therapy after that. Within a few years his affect returned to normal and the visits to the therapist became less frequent. Up until that night he had asked me about his mother about once every couple of months. In the time since I think he might have brought her up once.
The following week, he let me know he was going out on another date. My penned up worry manifested that night in pulling up an app on my phone. He drove to a random address on the other side of town and then out to a spot in the middle of nowhere. I installed the week several weeks prior and didn’t give it much thought. However I hadn’t been aware that it had been tracking his movements. According to the logs, he had been to that location in the middle of nowhere at least four times in the previous six weeks. I looked over his stops and his routes and noticed that one of the places he had been was Rochelle’s trailer the night she went missing. I was suspicious but unwilling to grasp what every cell in my brain would have been shouting out me if it was any other kid.
I threw my phone onto my bed and pulled a bottle whiskey from my nightstand. I drank myself to sleep and woke groggy the next morning. James was downstairs playing Dark Souls and eating a Poptart. I knocked back a Red Bull and stumbled out to my car. I had decided to go out to that spot in the middle of nowhere and check out where my son had been taking his dates. I really wish I hadn’t. I really, really wish I hadn’t.