At 3:30 in the afternoon, I imagine I hear Henry at the back door to our house, hear him when he yells, with a dynamic somewhere between a plea and a statement of fact, “I’m home.”
Not a minute later I am struck by the lack of the familiar thud of the sliding glass door. I am curious, more than anything. After all, seconds before this realization I had been shopping for linens on the internet upstairs. By the time I make it out to the street I am sure I’ll catch him ambling, daydreaming his way up our street towards home, the heft of his Harry Potter backpack forcing him to shift his weight forward, toward me.
But this day it won’t happen that way. Uncharacteristically, given that Henry is my first son and I participated in any possible opportunities to worry about him, I am not thinking of kidnapping, homicide or pictures of lost children posted on post office walls. Instead, I begin to move almost without thinking, with unnatural fluidity, like water changing form according to the geography of my home and yard, the empty sidewalk.
I call out. I move faster. Neighbors mysteriously appear. I shamelessly give them directions. I pace, careful not to compromise any view of my front door. Curious children offer, “he wasn’t on the bus,” or “I thought I saw him.”
3:45 and the secretary of the school commiserates with me. “If it were my child I’d be upset too. But you can calm down now. Children get on the wrong bus many times and their parents panic. It happens pretty often.”
I ignore the suggestion that I am panicked. “So what bus could he have gotten on? He is only in kindergarten. Surely someone would have noticed. Isn’t there any supervision? Even to me this sounds like too many questions, too late. Still, she will call the bus driver.
I hear back from the secretary much later. Misinformed, she tells me no bus driver had seen him. But at 3:58 he is returned to me as suddenly as my changing paragraphs here. I see him as he walks from the wrong direction down the bike path, enters the backyard through our weathered gate, and, slightly slouching, squints to see me.
When I hold him, hug him, that glorious blue jacket I had described as too big at least a dozen times for the last half hour, is balled and folded awkwardly between us. I am indulgently tearful for a moment, then stop to hear his cries. He got on the wrong bus. There is some necessary scolding and unceremoniously, we go in for a snack.
I write this as I wait for Henry again, now a first grader. I often wait, as I am now, at the upstairs computer, the few minutes it will take him to round the corner where he will enter my line of vision and I can watch him from my upstairs window. Still, there are those few minutes when he is out of my sight. As much as I want to, I don’t walk him home.
I believe in the divine grace or perhaps even dumb luck that each day my child is returned to me again and again, like a gift. I will never again complacently imagine the voice of a child who is not there. While I can’t see him as he makes his way between houses and backyards, I will look for him where and when I can find him, an unimagined and real a boy as the small figure of your child as he rounds the corner in your neighborhood, coming home .