“I have to stop for gas and traffic’s a nightmare. Running 10 min late,” I texted my kid.
He never responded. At almost 13, he’s still disinterested in his phone. He either forgets it, or doesn’t charge it.
I was picking him up at a writing workshop he’s taking at the local community college. “Nerd Camp,” we call it. In years prior, I’ve had to sign him in and out. This summer, he’s in a class for 7-9th graders, and that’s no longer required.
I arrive and he isn’t outside. Given the blistering heat, I assume he’s in the lobby.
I ask a woman in the main office where my kid might be. She’s wearing a hideous green sweater and is completely disinterested. “We have nothing to do with the summer camp program,” she says, dismissively.
I’m working to evolve into a kinder, gentler, me, so I resist telling her to go fuck herself.
I walk around outside the building, calling his name. I go back inside, and search for him. Nothing. I squash down my rising panic and approach Green Sweater lady again.
“Do you have a PA system you could announce his name over?”
She apathetically suggests I look upstairs in his classroom. I can’t imagine that he would be sitting there, but I hunt all over upstairs, calling his name.
I march into Green Sweater’s office and demand that she call someone connected to the camp and HELP ME FIND MY KID, NOW. She calls the camp administration office while I continue to search the building.
Back in her office, Green Sweater is standing over the phone, on hold, overwhelmed by the voice prompts. “Just dial 0! Just ask for a representative!” I say to her, agitated.
I call my Ex, who’s out of town. He’s MUCH calmer in these situations. “I can’t find LD,” I tell him, and burst into tears.
He urges me to stay calm, and suggests I look in the After Care room. I didn’t know there was one. Last week, he was late to get our kid, and LD told him that if a parent is more than 10 minutes late, the teacher brings you to the After Care room.
Green Sweater tells me, “After Care? That’s in Building 5, where the camp program is located.”
If I’d had a knife I would have stabbed her. There’s a building where the camp is run? WHY DIDN’T YOU SEND ME THERE HALF AN HOUR AGO?
I drive to Building 5, certain that he’s in After Care.
The camp administrators are asking me questions. I’m repeating my story to different people and hyperventilating because no one knows where my child is.
My phone rings. My Ex called the local police, and a 911 operator is calling, with my Ex patched in to the call. She’s questioning me, and asking me to please calm down, because I am SO not calm.
I can’t hear her. Too many people are talking to me at once. Plus, there’s a roaring in my ears that’s actually my blood pounding.
She tells me to ignore everyone but her, so I go into an empty room to answer her questions.
What was he wearing? I describe his clothes.
Would he have left with anyone from the class? No, they all just met a week ago.
Could he be at my home? No, how would he get there?
Could my mother have picked him up? We have no family near us, just my Ex’s sister. She’s very ill and rarely leaves the house.
All the camp administrators are involved now, and the camp director is also speaking to the police. It’s like a scene out of a movie, a very chaotic scene. The 911 operator tells me that police are checking my house, and that officers should be arriving where I am any minute.
The police arrive. I overhear them questioning a woman who saw my kid leave. She says, “He got into a car with someone. He seemed confused, for sure. The car had tinted windows and was blasting music.”
I throw up all over myself. An officer brings me a waste paper basket. The 911 operator and my Ex are still on the phone and I tell my Ex, “He got into a car with someone, our child got into a car with someone” and I die inside because I know my child has been kidnapped and it’s all my fault.
I was late.
An officer is asking me the same questions the 911 operator asked. Why am I answering these questions all over again while a car is speeding away with my child? I know that every minute counts when a child has been kidnapped and I’m PISSED OFF at that fucking Green Sweater Lady.
The police are questioning everyone. One person has a good description of who he left with. The description sounds just like my Ex’s sister. But why would she pick him up? She can’t even get out of the house.
They’re calling and calling my Ex’s sister, but she isn’t answering her phone. My Ex has no idea why his sister would show up. The whole thing is preposterous.
Police are searching the campus. I focus on the police officer who keeps reassuring me that they will find my child.
I start doing that “Please God, please God” thing that I do when horrible things happen. I hate that I only talk to God when the shit hits the fan.
I do it anyway.
My phone rings. It’s the 911 operator. The police are at my Ex’s sisters house, and my son is there.
I just tried to write how I felt at that moment, but there are no words.
Last week, my Ex asked his sister if she would be well enough to pick up LD one day. He ended up not needing her, but she wrote the wrong day on her calendar and picked him up yesterday.
I can’t be mad at her. She was trying to help. It was one of those things. I was late. She got the day wrong. The perfect storm.
By the time I retrieved my kid and got home I was a mess. I smelled like sweat and vomit. I took a shower, got into my PJ’s and snuggled on the couch with my boy. His main concern was how upset I’d been, because that’s the kind of kid he is.
He has the hugest heart in the world. Everyone says it about him. I don’t think life would be worth living without him.
This morning when I woke up my eyes were swollen. My body felt like I jumped out of a moving car. My muscles were so tense yesterday they’re in spasms today.
I asked my kid if he would have gotten in a car with a stranger. Nope.
What if someone said I asked her to pick him up? And knew all kinds of personal details about me, and he had no way to check with me?
He hesitated. Apparently, at almost 13, he can still possibly be fooled by someone with a very convincing story.
If you had asked me a few weeks ago if someone would take the time to find out about another person – and use that information to kidnap their child – I would have said, “No way!” But these days, hateful unthinkable things seem possible.
It was a good time for me to explain to my son that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES is he to ever leave with a stranger.
Please do the same with yours.
He just came over to hug me, looked over my shoulder and said, “Don’t write that title! It’s click–baity!”
Everything is back to normal in our house.
Or what passes for normal.
Talk to me. I’m listening.
*A special thank you to the Middlesex NJ Police Dept for their kindness.*
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