"Steven, left foot red!" I call as he stares at me as only he can do, one eyebrow arched and his lips set in an awkward grin. He carefully slides his foot towards a red dot as Daegan falls over again for no reason whatsoever, aside from the fact that he finds this act particularly funny.
I spin the dial again, staring as the black plastic pointer speeds to its next resting spot. Light seeps in from outside, seeming to fill the house in a murky grey quality. It's been overcast all day, but the rain has only just begun, with loud thunderclaps close on its heels. There are still a few hours of daylight left but I'm feeling as if its not enough, I'm willing the sun to stay, if just for a little longer today.
This afternoon, Stormy called. I was happy to hear her voice, especially since yesterday I couldn't help but wonder if she was all right. We joke with each other often about how close we are, how odd it is that we do similar things without knowing it, how completely Twilight Zone our ability to be in sync with each other is. So I wasn't surprised to hear the concern in her voice when she called. I wasn't wrong in thinking something had happened, I was merely wrong in my assumption of what it was.
Stormy has two daughters. They remind me a lot of myself and my sister when we were teenagers. Christine is 14, close to 15, and Paige is not far behind at 13. They do everything one might imagine sisters that close in age would do. They share and hide secrets, talk about boys, share clothes and fight over clothes. They take approximately 1.3 billion pictures with their webcam, and when they are here at my place, they do the same. They're beautiful children, fair skinned with blonde hair and full pouty lips. I call them children, but truly at their age they're on that frightful boundary between childhood and womanhood. A place that no parent wants to think about, and remembering the firsthand experience, no girl really wants to deal with, either. Between thinking about the future, dealing with family, and trying to find your own personal spot in a wide, wide world, it's a time that should be amazing and full of wonder that often becomes blurred due to misinterpreted intentions and childish confusion. I don't miss it, and I certainly don't look forward to the day my boys reach teendom.
I just saw Christine two days ago. She was wearing a cute little button-up top and a pair of denim shorts. I remember thinking how much she had grown, and at the same time, how much child you could still see in her face. I hadn't seen her in a while and it was nice to see that same adorable smile I remember from when she was just 9. She looked untroubled, happy and as sugar-sweet as any young girl. Time passes so quickly. Often it's hard to believe how quickly our children grow up. And many times I think we assume that because they are growing into adult-like bodies, they no longer need the tender loving care we would administer to a toddler, or even small school age child.
Christine ran away that night. The story of what has transpired from then until now is long and confusing. It involves adults that have no concern over the welfare of children and police that have their hands tied by a judicial system that does not work to our children's best interest. After two days of knowing the exact location of Christine, they were able to do nothing. Today they managed to get in to the home, only to find a rather innocent looking man telling them that he believed Christine was not only not a runaway, but an 18 year old.
He is now having an in-depth conversation at the police station.
He says he dropped Christine off at a Waffle House off a major city highway last night sometime around midnight.
And no one has heard from her since.
I can't help but remember when Christine was younger. About six years ago, there was a small girl kidnapped from our area. I don't know why some kidnappings inspire national interest and some do not, but this one did. Her name was Amber Hagerman, and her story gripped the news for many weeks. Local school children knew about her, and Christine was deeply effected by the news that this small girl had been taken away from her home. Christine was 8 years old then, I believe. At that time I was still fairly creative and had taken to sketching different things for therapeutic reasons. One drawing I had done was of a small child lying asleep in bed. At the foot of her bed an angel stood, watching over her. This was a particularly important drawing to me because at the time I had nightly bouts of boogey man fears. Of course at the age of 27, I still can't claim to have won that battle. Regardless, Christine saw the picture and immediately fell in love with it. Knowing how she had been unable to sleep alone since the kidnapping, I gave it to her. She bounced off with it, and since it was just a scrap of paper I knew that eventually my drawing would be lost, but hoped it offered her some light when the fear became too much at night.
Right now, I don't know where Christine is. There are currently multiple tornadoes or at least multiple spots of rotation all across the metroplex. The grey has turned to a bluish hazy green. My prayers go out to her, my wishes for her safety are unending. She is too little a child to have seen many of the things she has already been a witness to, and a part of. She is still young enough to mold, young enough to need caring, naive enough to not understand the consequences of what has occurred.
I'm not sure where my thoughts lie on this. I'm angry at a world that doesn't care, I'm scared for the children that we lose daily because of this, and I grieve for the parents that lose their children years before the child ever leaves the home.
Surely an answer lies somewhere. Certainly there is a way to change what doesn't work and begin to reclaim a youth that is left to feel mostly abandoned. I don't know when we stopped nurturing and started fearing the most important people on the planet. I don't understand a lot of things, but I suppose it is time to stop turning away and start looking for answers. I try to imagine how I would react if at the age of 14, my oldest son was doing drugs. I try to really understand how it would feel to have him run away, putting himself in a danger far greater than he could comprehend, and I try with all my might to understand how horrifying it would be to know the police could not help me to the extent that I needed.
And I just can't do it. I suppose that in times of trauma we shut down to the extent that we can handle only what needs to be done, and deal with the emotional scars later. Still, I know that some things leave lasting effects. In almost everything I do with my children I think to myself, "This is something they will remember forever, this is a moment that can shape their life either positively or negatively." I live my life by those words, more out of fear of the future than concern of the present, as sad as that may be.
We're living in a world without reason, a world that, try as I might, I cannot come to terms with. I feel on a daily basis that something is wrong, something is missing, a vital part of what could have been has gone astray and we're all gathered on the same runaway train, heading to a place I don't want to see. And maybe that's purely selfish. But my heart aches so much already, each time I see a parent in the school I work at treat their child like extra baggage, the times we had kids in the house because they had been kicked out -- parents more concerned with where their drug stash was than where their children were going to spend the night. My heart aches for these things and so much more, because these children didn't ask to be born, and so many of them are treated as a burden when nothing can be farther than the truth.
Children are the most precious gift we have. So much can be learned from them. There are days I go into work with so many things on my mind that I don't know how I will get through the day. On these days, the children in my class never fail to remind me what joy is, and how to capture it. All they ask from us is our love. Repeatedly they are given the opposite. How many times have you seen a mother in a grocery store screaming at her child? A parent spanking their child as they drag them along telling them they had "better listen"? Do you remember a time when your own parent chastised you for spilling a drink? Do you remember your own parent ever spilling a drink? Surely no one would yell at an adult the way adults yell at children. It makes no sense. It truly breaks my heart.
I suppose on the day that adults become less interested in themselves and more interested in what really matters, we'll see some change. My thoughts return to how to make that happen, but I am reminded of something I said just yesterday ...
"Here I go again, trying to save the world when I can't even save myself."
But for now, all I can do is give Stormy all my support, listen when she wants to talk, and talk when she needs to listen. For now, that has to be enough.
*I wrote this yesterday, and a lot has changed since then, however Christine has still not been found.