As I stare at this handmade craft in my office, it takes me back to that day; April 1, 2010.
I was at work and received this phone call:
Me: Hello, this is Lori.
School: Yes, Mrs. Garcia. This is your son’s school. We are calling to confirm his absence today.
Me: Um, no. He’s at school.
School: No ma’am. He’s not.
[Confusion surges through me]
Me: My son [Boy Wonder] in Mrs. Teacher’s 2nd grade class? I’m sorry, but he’s at school.
School: No ma’am that’s why we are calling. Can you tell us who took him to school? Who does he like to play with? Was he upset this morning?
Me: Um…I…I…I don’t know. I can’t think.
School: Mrs. Garcia, you need to remain calm. We went to his classroom to confirm. He’s not here today and no one has seen him. Do you know where he might have gone?
My heart sinks; all I can hear is my deafening heartbeat. I can hardly breathe.
I muster up the energy to utter, “I don’t know, I don’t know. I can’t…I need to…I…I need to go!” and I hang up.
Staring blankly at the craft Boy Wonder had just made me with his little school picture inside, I whisper, “Don’t be scared, baby. Don’t be scared.” As if he could hear me, or feel me, or something.
With trembling hands, I call my husband and begin pacing the grey carpet of my office. He answers the phone, I shout, “OUR SON IS MISSING FROM SCHOOL! HE’S GONE! HE’S GONE!”
“What?!” my husband asks, “Wait, what? What?” I interrupt him, “WHAT WHAT WHAT? HE’S GONE! HE’S GONE! HE’S NOT THERE!”
My husband hangs up. I’m shaking so badly that I can’t fish the keys out of my purse. I let out a wailing cry. I feel the earth move from under me; I’m about to faint. I cover my ears and shut my eyes. “Make this go away!” I scream silently to myself. My coworkers swarm around me; gasping for air I can’t tell them what’s wrong. My phone rings, it’s the school.
School: Mrs. Garcia, we are about to contact the police. We need you to calm down.
Me: NO, I WILL NOT CALM DOWN! YOU CALL AND TELL ME MY SON, [HIS REAL NAME] IS MISSING. HOW CAN I STAY CALM? LEMME OFF THE %$#&ING PHONE SO I CAN FIND HIM!”
There is silence.
School: Um, your son, [long pause] what did you just call him?
I repeat his name, loud and with condescending articulation.
School: Um, hold on.
Hold? I’m on hold now? I am fighting for every. single. labored. breath. I still can’t seem to grasp my keys. My head is throbbing. Five minutes pass, then six. As I am about to hang up the phone, I’m taken off hold.
School: Ma’am. Your son isn’t Isaac Garcia?
Me: WHAT?! No! My son isn’t Isaac Garcia! Who the &#%$ is Isaac Garcia? What are you talking about? Is my son there? IS. MY. SON. THERE!?
School: Yes ma’am. He’s here today. I’m so sorry; their files must have gotten crossed in the system.
Me: GET MY SON ON THE PHONE RIGHT NOW!
My husband is blowing up my cell phone leaving messages like, “Babe, answer your phone!” and “Oh my God where are you? Pick up!” and “Is this an April Fool because you’re scaring the %$#& outta me!”
Suddenly I hear a small voice come on the line, “Hi Mommy.” It’s my son. I take a deep labored breath and begin bawling uncontrollably. He begins to cry. He doesn’t understand. Hell, I don’t understand.
The school office gets back on the line.
School: Ma’am, I don’t know what to say. I am so very sorry.
Suddenly the school office administrator begins to cry. As bad as I felt for her, I felt worse for me and even worse for my husband who still feared his son was missing.
By the time I reach my husband he was halfway to the school. I inform him of the horrible mistake only to hear silence, followed by quiet weeping. He’s exhausted.
That night, when my husband came home and the children went off to bed, we sat and we cried together. We now knew what the pain of a missing child felt like, even if it was only for 30 minutes. The fear and the pain don’t just go away because everything was now OK.
Punched in the gut by the strength of a thousand men is the only way to describe the physical pain of a missing child. Your body collapses around you while your mind goes into overdrive. The unforgiving irony of everything happening so quickly and so slowly at the same time is unforgettable. The deafening sound of your pounding heart only serves as a cruel reminder that you’re not dreaming. Of the billions of thoughts rapid-firing your head per second, not one of them is salvageable. Not one.
I was one of the lucky ones. There are parents who actually receive this call and don’t get a happy ending. They have to go on living in the surreal, listening to their heart beat.
I don’t know why I felt compelled to share this story other than the fact that every time I look at the craft you see above and I remember the silent whisper I made and the lesson that life can change in an instant.
Hug your children a little tighter friends.