Vacation. Family. A party. Dozens of people I don’t know. It is all I can do to keep my eyes on John as he flits through crowds of people on the lawn. Sam has waited anxiously for a boy to arrive who I later find out is 14. Sam first met him last summer when, impossibly, they were the same height. He has challenges of his own I am told, there’s a cognitive delay and he has Down syndrome. I remember him as a sweet boy though, they were well matched and fast friends just one year ago.
At last he arrives and Sam practically hums with excitement. He runs up to the boy, “You’re here!” he cries, but I see right away that he does not match Sam’s exuberance. Instead he is quiet, uninterested. Someone helps guide him to say hello and he does so but is reserved. Sam hugs him with such joy and pulls him so immediately into his orbit that I am gratified when I see a small smile squeeze out.
They spend the afternoon playing with cars and trains on the lawn. I keep a watchful eye after finding them down the hill locked in a barn. Sam is too unaware to lock doors like that and it made me nervous. They were just inside the door but I told them to come back outside where I could see them.
As these things do, it happened so fast. One moment they were there on the lawn, the next they were gone. I see a flash of red, feet running back down around the barn and I think — okay, they’re back inside. As I near though, I see them run up the stairs to the loft and my feet pick up speed. Another adult sees too and we both arrive at the barn door at the same time.
Again it is locked and this time I cannot see either of them. We yell for them to unlock the door and call Sam’s name over and over. No response. At first I am mad — surely Sam can hear my voice and will come running down the stairs? When minutes go by and still he does not emerge, I find a rock and am this close to smashing a glass door when my desperate fiddling of the screen latch finally gives.
We pound up the stairs and find the boy blocking a closet door with his body while Sam sobs and pounds from inside it. Oh, dear god, dear god, dear god. The adult with me removes the boy and yells at him as I scoop Sam into my arms and hold him tight, so tight!
He says “Mommy, did you hear me yell for you? You heard me yell for help and you came to save me, right? You were mad, Mommy! Were you mad at me? You weren’t mad at me, right?” I rock him and tell him no! I am not mad! he is safe, and Mommy knew and yes, Mommy came to save him. I ask him if he is hurt. “Yes, Mommy, I am. I am hurt.” I suck in my breath, preparing myself. “But not the boo-boo kind of hurt. I am feelings hurt.” I marvel at how even under these circumstances he is so aware.
For two hours we lie in his bed and talk about how the boy is being punished, of course, and how he won’t ever hurt him again. He wants to go over it again, moment by moment (“you heard me call for you, you saved me, the boy is being punished”). He wants to know WHY his friend could do that, if he’s really his friend, HOW could he do that? and he dissolves into tears each time as he relives it. We are stuck on this record until he’s done.
We later find out that the parents of the boy lock him in his room because they can’t deal with him, his anger. Even as I rage against him, I feel bad for him too. I wonder about parents who could do that to their own child and try to find compassion for them.
Enough. I can’t feel for the whole planet.
There are moments in this mom business that make me cry, moments so much bigger than me. How do I protect this innocent, beautiful boy from a world that sometimes is all too eager to exploit it? How do I give him street smarts? How do I teach him that not everyone is to be trusted, not everyone is your friend? And how can I be everywhere at once?