Saturday, April 09, 2011

Emma takes off

It’s pretty incredible – what happens inside you when you realize that Emma has left the building. She has done this, before. The last time - a while ago, a neighbor brought her to the front door before I knew that she was gone – any realizations were after the fact; she was safe. This time was different. She was gone, through our bathroom, into the garage and a double-locked door (no problem for her), and I didn’t know for how long or which direction she’d gone. A quick search of the house confirms that she’d split. Running down the street, barefoot, trying to guess which way she might have gone, trying to determine the most dangerous, nearest big intersection. Reaching it. Nothing. My cell phone battery’s nearly dead because I’ve been playing Angry Birds on it all morning. Call Sam at home, ask him to stay there. Mom’s out driving around in the car, looking.  I wander for another block or two, then head back to the house. Look through the house, again, hoping that she’s under something. What will the police think when they see what our house looks like on a Sunday afternoon of Spring Break with Emma?

I dial 911. I’m still breathing hard from running. I feel completely sick as I hear myself saying the words, “My daughter is missing. She has Down Syndrome. She’s 11. She cannot speak. . . ” What will happen to us, now? The dispatcher is calm, asking me questions that I don’t readily know the answers to; I have to dig. Part of my job at the hospital is to receive calls like these from nurses reporting missing patients; I now have a new compassion for those trying to answer the most basic questions under circumstances like these.  She’s going to stay on the line with me until the police arrive. I’m still taking mental inventory of how bad we’re going to appear, that we’re going to lose both of our kids when they see how we live. . . it’s a feeling beyond desperation. It’s like, well, realizing the diagnosis. It all comes back with the addition of this current failure on my part to keep this from happening in the first place. My mind races with where Emma might be. Time stretches into a string of consciousness; I don’t care that I’m standing in the middle of the street in a pair of shorts and a dirty T-shirt grasping a phone to my ear, making seeming small talk with a woman who’s facilitating my descent into yet another world that I’ve only glimpsed. In my mind, I’m already being questioned, over and again, our life (of which I’m making as much sense as I possibly can) is being turned over and examined by those who’ve got no clue about the hows and whys, and I see them reaching well-meaning-yet-completely-wrong conclusions. It’s all going on as I stand there. Emma will be found safe and our family will then be torn apart. It’s paranoia of the highest order. As desperately as I want the help, I fear their impending potential. Layers of fear, playing out simultaneously on this bright, cool Spring afternoon – yes I even thought this, looking up into the sky between watching for police cars. Still didn’t see any. How long has it been, anyway?

Then, Vicky comes around the corner, with Emma in the back seat. She’d found her, a couple of blocks away. She’d crawled up into a U-Haul truck, buckled herself into the Driver’s seat, and was happily running the steering wheel back and forth. No clue that this was wrong, bad, dangerous, nothing. Happy to see us, although perplexed that we didn’t seem as enthusiastic about her escapade – she’d had a grand time. I thanked the dispatcher, and we went inside. The ultimate frustration in all of this was that there was no opportunity to parent her.  I have no way to tell that she received any message that she should not have done this; the act itself is too abstract to connect any behavioral modification to. All we can do is to be more vigilant with containing her. I thought we were, but one button didn’t get set, and the opportunity arose, and it wasn’t even a matter that Emma was looking to escape – she just followed her curiosity.

That evening, Mom went to get some dinner for us. I had been sitting in the same room with Emma most of the afternoon, but she’d gone into her bedroom. It had not been actually 3 minutes when I looked in and saw that she wasn’t there. To make a long story short, I panicked and went running around the block again. Neither Sam nor I had seen Emma in my bed, covers pulled up to her nose, hanging out. I spotted her there a few minutes later doing another once-over before reaching for the phone. I then had to go back out and find the amazing neighbor who had dropped what she was doing in her yard to look for Emma. This is not the way to meet your neighbors, although it’s the sweetest part of this story.   All of this happened again – compressed, of course –  I’d ‘gone around the bend’, literally, when Emma had only gone about 20 feet.

It’s been six days, and the hole in the pit of my stomach is much better. As always, Emma is Emma. How and what she does just continues to reveal who I am, and it’s not the sort of exercise that I’d recommend. I’m not very proud of what I’ve written here, but it’s pretty close to the truth. Fill in the darker parts as you wish, or, my preference, skip it entirely. There hasn’t been much else this week that’s bothered me; my perspective’s been a bit, er, skewed.  It’s a different kind of worry. It’s got to be more constant than it has been. Complacency is the enemy, the cost of relaxation just went up $40 a  barrel.  The dangers of being locked into one’s home. The dangers of one’s own mind.  Looking for a reality check when there really isn’t one.  Learning what to let go of and what to hold. Bittersweet.