I don’t have any kids, so I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have one missing. I do have a half-coyote dog who used to sneak out of the yard all the time though (Colonel Wallace), so I at least have a general idea how desperate and helpless it feels to have part of your life suddenly go missing.
Like grief, it comes in stages.
The denial: I just saw him a moment ago, I’m sure he’s around here somewhere.
Anger: it’s his own fault, bloody idiot. If he gets run over by a car then I’m getting a turtle next time.
Bargaining: missing posters. Posting in local groups. Calling every shelter in a ten-mile radius…
And so on, although I’m not sure any mother will ever fully reach the “acceptance” stage. Once they hit depression, it just loops back to denial and starts all over again. That’s the feeling I got from reading the advertisement anyway.
“Timmy Preston, age 7. Missing two weeks. Last seen in the Jefferson Heights playground. If you have any information on his whereabouts, please contact (818)–*. I never turn the lights off anymore in case it helps him find his way home, but the house has never been so dark. I’m not old enough to shake like this. Please have mercy on a grieving mother.”
It was the first time I’ve ever seen a Facebook ad for a missing person, but I guess it makes sense. They allow you to target specific locations, and Jefferson Heights is only a few blocks away from my apartment. Next time Colonel Wallace finds a new angle to dig through my bushes, I might have to try that too.
Was I going to gather a mob and start combing through the city? No. There’s too much tragedy in the world to chase down every wrongdoing. But that message really stuck with me, and so did the kids photo: bright blue eyes, a sweep of blond hair, and a light drizzle of freckles. I took a screenshot on my phone just in case, then forgot all about it.
Until the next day. And the day after. And the one after that. I don’t know how much money that lady was dumping into advertising, but that post never seemed to go away. Shit, now there’s a sobering thought. The only thing worse than losing a kid would be draining the rest of your resources trying to find someone who couldn’t be found. I once read an article about a woman who mortgaged her house to pay a private investigator to track down her daughter. The kid was never found, and the woman was driven to homelessness when she couldn’t make the payments. I don’t remember exactly what the quote was, but it was something like:
“Do I regret it? Of course not. Getting me onto the streets will make it easier for me to keep looking.”
Well I still didn’t search for Timmy. Not consciously anyway. I began walking my dog on a different route though — one that circled around Jefferson Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods. I didn’t expect to see him, but that image was burned into my mind enough that I’d notice if I did.
I’d notice a blond kid with freckles peeking out over a fence. I’d notice how quickly he disappeared and ran back into the house like he was afraid of being caught. I stood staring, not quite believing what I saw. The screenshot on my phone — I called the number immediately, reporting what I found.
The woman on the other line was hysterical. She thanked me a dozen times. She said that was her ex-husband’s house, although he denied ever seeing the boy. She told me she was going to call the police right away, and that I might want to get out of there if I didn’t want to get involved.
I’m not ashamed to say I felt like the world’s biggest hero for the rest of the day. At least until the evening news when I saw that familiar picture flash once more.
“Timmy Preston, abducted from his legal guardian,” the local news reported. I turned up the volume, half-expecting to hear the woman thank me by name. “Taken from his backyard this afternoon.”
I turned off the TV and just stared at the blank screen. I guess I’m still in the denial phase.