When I look at my notes about that mid-September day, I see details of a child who went missing. My notations show that we followed the usual procedure: We did not wait to act. We divided up and went into our search pattern – one to the east yard, another to the west, a third to search within the building. We worked the building and grounds like a wheel, moving counter clockwise and reporting over walkie-talkies as we progressed.
I also found some margin notes where I asked questions: What would make a boy like Theo want to take off? Where would I want to go? How would I get out? One jotting in particular caught my eye – To find a runner you must think like a runner.
Much of what transpired that morning is etched in memory. Theo, nine years old, son of Maurice and Jocelyn, small boned, ebony-skinned, ears like satellite dishes, and eyes wide as two half dollars of wonder. He had lined up but had not made it inside.
One minute. Three minutes. No sighting. Get past five minutes, and we call police. I ran the check list. Gates locked? Check. Bathrooms clear? Check. I remember working the fenced perimeter with my colleague, walkie-talkie to my mouth, about to give the signal to call the police,
Then I spotted a hole. A corner of chain link fence along north-west side that had been lifted up like a hatch – A hatch big enough for a boy to squeeze through to the high dry grass of the open space.
My notes say “Found! 8:55AM.” Though the formal account ends with this notation, what came next is where my story begins – at least he story that has settled into my bones these many months later.
I remember, for example, fumbling with keys to work a rusted lock on an adjacent gate. Also not noted were a tightening battalion of thunderheads that had moved into position overhead. Rain in minutes I guessed.
I remember wet grass as I bounded through in my new shoes. Newness lasted a day. And though I could not see this boy, the boy in me knew where to go. Where else? To Big Rock as the kids called it – a jutting chunk of serpentine that sat next to a lone oak. From the Big Rock, you could see across the flats, all the way to the bridge and the ocean beyond.
“Theo! What the heck are you doing?”
I must have yelled because he jumped. However, he blinked and turned away. And it was then that I remembered that this was the boy my social worker had mentioned. She had mentioned he had dreams that hounded him by night. “He just needs time. He will be OK.”
“Bad dream last night?”
He turned to me. “Who told you about my dreams?”
I waited without responding. Then his words spilled out – about hooded faceless men who swept into his bedroom with huge sacks. “We are taking them. All of the beginnings. There is nothing you can do.”
I listened and blinked back at him. And I responded with just this: “Theo, we can’t find the beginning. But it’s still there. Whoever you are started back before memory and will live on past both of us. No one can take that away.” I wish I had more, but maybe that was enough. A drop slapped the top of my head. Then another. “In we go, my boy. We can talk on the way.”
At least for today, he followed.