“Can you describe your son?” the security guard at the First Aid tent asked. My son, boyfriend and I had walked four blocks from my apartment to the Death Cab for Cutie concert in the park.
“He is super friendly and will probably be with a crowd of people, six feet tall, wearing a black shirt with a rapper on it, light brown hair, 14 years old and his name is Eli,” I said, while choking back tears. The security guard nodded, set down her two-way radio and looked up at me.
“We have had reports of missing four and five year olds, but this is the first 14 year old,” she said. I stammered, unsure of what I could say without sounding like a crazy person.
How could I explain to a stranger how afraid I was that he would try to walk home; how it feels to live in an apartment building where drug dealers aggressively surround your car at night, or how unsafe I feel as I walk my dog across the parking lot so he can go to the bathroom in a mulch field several times a day? I wanted to tell her we were only living there temporarily, it was just a stepping-stone to something else, there were things we had grown to love about living there, I am working super hard to build a career, I am starting a master’s program with a fellowship, I take my boys to the nature and the wild as much as possible and the past two-and-a-half years had gone by so quickly.
“Well, I am not worried about him being lost. I just don’t want him to try to walk home alone. He would have to go past the homeless shelter and it is dangerous,” I said. I didn’t go into details of how accustomed we had become to seeing five or six police cars and several officers arresting drug dealer in our parking lot. Eli is a man-cub, but he is tall and could easily be mistaken for somebody much older. My urge to protect him was conflicting with the need to let him go a little bit, to trust that I had taught all that I could about this world.
“He knows that, right?”
“Kind of,” I said. We hadn’t really talked about it because we had planned to meet inside the concert, and he had quit responding to my texts. Splitting up was a mistake. I wanted to take it back, tuck it away inside of me, and keep us all safely together. I scanned the crowd, but darkness had set in, and I was no longer able to make out the faces of people 20 feet away from me.
When Eli was four-years old we took a vacation to Oceanside, California. I sat on a large towel and watched his blonde curls blow in the wind as he dug trenches in the sand, retrieved buckets of water and, as he poured the water into the trenches, he created a stream that searched the walls for signs of weakness as it ran along the trenches. Eli go disoriented in the crowd on his way back from getting water, and took off running down the beach in the wrong direction. As I followed him, I saw him reach up to a man to ask for help. I called his name, and he turned and ran to me.
I wished he would look for me now, that he would search the crowd for me and seek out someone to help him. But the truth is—he was fine. His soft blonde curls had changed in to a short brown haircut, and he no longer needed to know where I was to feel safe.
We are 30 feet behind the Birch tree people are climbing, my text from a half an hour ago read. It was twilight; blues became soft pinks and purples in the sky. The band was playing slow, methodical songs and except for the occasional spinning hippie dancer, the crowd stood still. I wondered if papery pieces of barks stuck to the sweaty twenty-somethings as they climbed the tall, pale white birch tree. I hoped the next person to climb up would be Eli, but only so I could tell him to get down from the dangerous height and wrap my arms around him.
I asked Bruce to check his phone—there was nothing. No response. I knew I should let go, not worry about him until after the show, and have fun—but I couldn’t enjoy myself without knowing where he was. In less than a year, Eli will have his learner’s permit to drive, and just a hop-skip-and-a-jump after that he will be able to drive on his own. He is capable of handling himself at a concert, but reason left me and I couldn’t stop scanning the crowd in search of the only face that would bring me relief.
The music stopped, the crowd cheered, the lights went off and the show ended. Instantly, the crowd was on the move for the exits, and I felt like any sense of control I might have had was leaving with them. As the noise died down, I called him again.
“Hello,” Eli said.
“Hi! Where are you?”
“I am right here,” he responded.
“Wait for me,” I said, and I took a deep breath. I just might survive raising a teenager.