Boy got lost on Sunday.
One minute he was sitting in a chair eating, the next he was gone. It was 15 minutes at the most from the time he disappeared till the time he was found, but they were the longest 15 minutes of my life.
Let’s rewind to the beginning.
I was taking Melon and Boy to a Birthday party for one of Melon’s school friends. It was in a wooden clad village-hall type building on a beautiful old housing estate. Melon was prepared, excited, fixed on singing happy Birthday to her friend. A sunny afternoon, a picturesque setting. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for a start I got the times mixed up. The last few weeks have seen a flurry of birthday parties (people we know were clearly feeling frisky in July a few years ago…). All the party times and dates got confused in my head. So, As we pulled up shortly after 2.30pm, some people were leaving. “The party is finishing now” said one little girl, adorned with butterfly face paint. Turns out the party was 1-3pm, not 2.30-4.30pm.
We had to go in, Melon would have been distraught otherwise. There were still quite a few children there, running round hitting each other with balloon animals. There was still loads of party food. Result! Melon could still participate in her favourite part of any party – eating cake. I settled her in a chair, apologised to the Birthday Girl’s Mom for being late and sat Boy in another chair with a chunk of fruit bread. He grinned and watched the chaos around him.
Someone asked me where we’d been, I turned and answered. Looked at Melon, she was happy, her friends were round her. Crisis averted. I turned to look at Boy.
He was gone.
Chair empty, chunk of fruit bread trodden into the floor.
I looked at the sea of children in the hall. Energetic six year olds in face paint. No sign of a stumpy 2 1/2 year old in a bright blue top.
He was gone.
I never lost Melon, ever. For all her sensory seeking, curiosity and lack of risk awareness, she never wandered off, and she always came back when called. Boy is different, whether he’s on the spectrum or not remains to be seen, but as of now he is fearless, fast and he can smell an unlocked door from across the room.
I turned in a circle and scanned the room, a sick feeling in my stomach, no sign of Boy. The main door to the hall was ajar, I ran up and burst through it, yelling Boy’s name, scattering people in my wake. A woman with a camera stood outside “I’ve said goodbye to everyone who passed through, there’s no way he could have got out” she assured me.
Back into the hall. By now people had realised Boy was gone, every inch of the hall and side rooms was checked. No sign of Boy. I looked back at his chair, the fruit bread on the floor crushed by his little footprint.
There is no space more empty and silent than the place your child should be, but isn’t. I knew he’d got out of the hall, I just knew it. He must have left at the same time as a group of people, hidden by their legs.
I ran back outside, people followed, with more urgency now. Questions flew through the air:
“How long has he been gone?……Describe him?…what was he wearing?….how old is he?”.
He’s been gone ten minutes, he’s got a bright Blue hoodie, he’s only two and a half, he can’t say his name, he’s only two and a half. Please, we have to find him, please, he’s only two and a half.
Someone got in their car to drive round the estate and search for him. We looked up and down the street he wasn’t anywhere.
I always thought I’d be organised in an event like this, as with stressful situations at work – that I’d be making decisions, taking a lead. In reality, I ran between hall and gate, tears pricking my eyes, calling for Boy. Staring desperately up and down the street.
My stomach churned and it felt like the world was slowly being pulled from under my feet. Scenarios started to spin through my mind, possibilities: Hospitals, ambulances, police stations, family liaison officers, tear stained press conferences, his picture on the prime time news, an empty bed, unanswered questions, recriminations… The first few minutes when a child so young goes missing are crucial. They are so much more vulnerable by merit of their size, poor risk awareness, inability to communicate. I could taste the metallic tang of fear.
Back into the hall, Melon was smiling and eating cake, oblivious to the drama. Then, someone grabbed me “we’ve got him!!”
Back out to the gate, Boy had been found wandering down someone’s driveway, and there he was in the arms of another child’s Father, grinning and unharmed. I literally snatched him out of the man’s arms and crushed him against my chest. I don’t even remember if I said thank you, but I’m sure he knew. We walked back towards the hall, until the adrenaline dumping that always follows a period of intense stress turned my knees to jelly. So we sat on the grass for a while instead while I kissed his little face all over and the world slowly turned right side up again.
No harm done, a big adventure, all over in 15 minutes or less. The longest 15 minutes of my life.