Urge to assist not entirely selfless
BY ROB BELCHIOR
Special to the VOICE
The Facebook post is familiar, all too depressingly familiar. Another young adult missing, another plea for assistance and information, another family searching for answers. Except this time it hits close to home. The missing young man is the nephew of my sister-in-law. The family is from Pelham. Many still live here. Technically, he’s not blood, but he’s family. I was raised to believe there’s no difference.
We do what all decent people do. We share the post, we reach out to the family, we offer our sympathy and our assistance. In this early, chaotic phase, the questions overwhelm the answers. Truth be told, at this stage, there are no answers, only questions. What was he doing? Who was he with? What did he consume? Which way did he go?
A narrative begins to emerge. Again so familiar: a young man out for the night with his friends, socializing, drinking, perhaps consuming other substances. A young man just doing so many of those commonplace things that so many members of so many generations do. But now there’s no financial activity, no presence on social media, the phone has gone dead. The boy is gone. Just, gone. That’s all we know. “Gone.”
The family mobilizes a preliminary foot search. We meet where he was last seen, a cluster of ordinary people confronted with extraordinary circumstances, doing whatever they can.
“I’ll walk my dogs along here.”
“We’ll walk east down the trail.”
“I’ll take my ATV over there.”
Every pair of boots on the ground helps, but I wonder if some here are searching for more than the boy. I see his parents bombarded with probing questions about his actions and associates, questions I’m sure the police have already asked numerous times. I wonder if the inquisitors harbour a quiet fantasy of cracking the case in Aurora Teagarden fashion, of gleaning out that one detail that brings all to the triumphant “a-ha” moment in a neat two-hour package. I push my cynicism aside—we need those boots on the ground and we need those eyes searching.
My cynicism leads to introspection, and I realize that maybe my search isn’t all it appears to be either.
I realize I’m not here today to look for this young adult male. Fifteen years suddenly fall away and I’m looking at my newborn son, impossibly huge blue eyes wide-open, a tiny hand grasping my finger. I remember the sheer bliss, love and contentment on my wife’s face as she took her firstborn to feed for the first time. At that moment I finally understood the cliché: only a mother can truly understand a mother’s love.
I’m here today because I’ve seen it firsthand, I’ve been awestruck by its depth, and I can only imagine the depths of a mother’s despair when deprived of that love. So I walk this long, cold trail, hoping that somehow my little effort can help bring that little baby back to his mother.
The search that day turns up nothing. Some answers, more questions. More hugs, more sympathetic words, more whispered suppositions.
My wife and I end up alone with the mother for a few moments. I stay to the side, qualified only as a spectator in affairs of maternal love. The mother retells the tale by rote, clearly numb from the crushing weight pressing on her. My heart wrenches sideways as she suddenly concedes that her boy might be dead. Her composure breaks, her face shatters, a window broken into a million pieces by a rapidly swirling storm. What little comfort that can be given, is given, and we head back home, fortunate to be counted among those who can pack up their sorrow for another day.
The next search organized by the family is better organized and better equipped. I’m impressed at the turnout, several days after he’s gone missing. In today’s instant news cycle, it must be an uphill battle to keep someone’s name in the forefront. In the last week alone I’ve seen three other posts for missing people, stories of human remains found, and yet another suicide on a local bridge.
We fan out across fields, down city streets, and along the lakeshore, talking to homeowners and distributing posters. Anything remotely resembling a lead is shared and dissected. Again I consider who I’m searching for.
This 19-year-old is technically a man, an adult, responsible for his actions and decisions. Did he make a poor choice that night? Did he cross paths with the wrong people? Did he willingly or unwillingly consume something that altered his state of mind?
I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m not looking for him. I’m looking for the boy who said his first word to mom. I’m searching for the boy who got on the school bus the first time, then looked back at mom until the bus was out of sight. I’m looking for that beautiful little kid who scored his first goal, or made his first speech, or his first drawing, and always looked for his mother’s praise first. I’m looking for that boy because in my heart I’m sure that’s what every mom always treasures. Only a mother may truly understand, but I can make a reasonable guess. I’d move heaven and earth if it were one of my boys missing. In this case all I can move is my own legs, and I hope it’s enough.
As we walk past the intersection of Lost Lane and Prospect Point, the irony is all too obvious. Later in the afternoon, a car drives by with a plate that says “NVRGIVUP.” I don’t believe in “signs,” but I do believe in metaphors. At this stage, seemingly inconsequential items take on importance. A blue plastic snow shovel, an abandoned bicycle, a tennis shoe. All might mean something, but most are likely irrelevant.
The second search ends up like the first. Answers are in short supply. Questions persist. The light of hope is still there, but dimmed, shaded by history and experience and statistics.
My wife and I return home. Predictably, our boys are downstairs playing video games. The dogs, yet to be walked, look longingly at leashes. Freshly issued report cards sit in their unopened envelopes on the kitchen counter, awaiting our judgment. Both boys are wonderful people and above-average students. I think of all the times I’ve coaxed them to do better, and the guilt I’ve felt knowing they just wanted acceptance and acknowledgement of a job well done. I remember too many times where inconsequential things took precedence over time together. Only a father can understand a father’s regret.
We call the boys upstairs, recap the day, and review their reports. I very gently remind them that we always want them to reach their full potential, but my words feel hollow. So I gather them close, hug them tight, and tell them that we will always love them. Unconditionally. Only a parent could understand. ♦
Everyone has a story. Tell us yours for a future Column Six.
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