Last Sunday, we were at home. My daughter was at work. It was a crazy morning. I was trying to work from home, and the monkey was running around, he was extra hyper that day. My husband was doing some work around the house. A typical morning.
We got distracted. We were not paying attention. I asked my husband to look at something on my laptop, and we started discussing some political issue. The monkey went to the living room, I am assuming we were too noisy. He was watching a video on my phone and wanted to hear it better. After a few minutes I notice it was extra quiet. I went to check on the monkey.
And he wasn’t there.
The door was wide open.
I scream at my husband. “The door is open!”
I start running down the street screaming my son’s name. My husband is running behind me. He is screaming, “Are you sure he is not inside?”
I yell back, “I don’t know!” He runs back to the house to look for him.
I am running towards the arroyo, where he has gone before.
I can’t see him. He is nowhere in sight. My husband comes back. He is yelling, “The monkey is not in the house!”
We are both barefoot. There’s thorns everywhere. And yet we are running up and down, screaming like maniacs.
I tell my husband go get the car! He may have gone towards the street!
My feet are full of thorns. My feet are bleeding. And all I’m doing is screaming his name looking down the arroyo.
My heart is pounding so loud. Please be safe. Please be safe. Please be safe. I am just wishing to please be safe.
My husband gets back with the car, he runs out and is screaming for him too. My husband yells, “Call the cops!” In all the craziness, we didn’t bring our phones. “I don’t have my phone!” He runs back towards the house.
I get in the car and take off towards the intersection.
Please be okay. Please please be okay.
As I get to the intersection, I remind myself there’s a stop sign. You need to stop. There are people walking towards the park, there are joggers, be careful. Drive careful.
I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m looking everywhere for the monkey. I can’t concentrate. I can’t see. My eyes are filled with tears. I can’t think.
I look to the side and see lights. There’s a police officer off the side of the road with the lights on. I speed towards him.
And there he is.
There is my monkey. He’s barefoot. He is in his underwear and his shirt. A lady with workout clothes is trying to talk to him. The cop is trying to talk to him. And he is oblivious to anything. He is stimming. He isn’t scared. He looks happy.
I run towards him. I can’t talk. I’m crying uncontrollably. I hug my son. I can’t stop crying. The cop is talking to me. I don’t understand what he is saying. The lady is talking to me. I can’t understand anything.
All I can do is hug my son. I’m on my knees. My face pressed against his stomach. Crying so much I can’t breathe.
Then I manage to say please call my husband. I’m trying to tell them he’s in the arroyo, he’s looking for the monkey. But I don’t know what I’m saying. She’s asking me for his number. And I just can’t talk.
I finally give her the number. He answers. I’m screaming, “He’s here! I found him!” He’s asking where I am. I don’t know. I don’t know where we are. The lady takes over the call. She tells him where.
Then she starts trying to talk to me. “He’s safe. He’s safe. It’s okay.” The officer is trying to calm me down. He is also telling me he’s okay.
I can’t let go of my son.
My husband arrives. He runs towards us. The lady goes to greet him. He is thanking her. The officer starts to ask questions. What’s my name, date of birth, the monkey’s info. I can’ think straight. I don’t remember our date of births.
The officers keeps repeating, ‘He’s fine. He’s safe.’. We finally get to leave.
We walk towards the car and I can’t see. I am crying so much.
I lost my son. I lost my nonverbal son. It’s so hot outside and he was barefoot. He walked towards the intersection. So many vehicles. Someone could have kidnapped him. Someone could have run over him. He wasn’t able to tell the police officer his name, or where he lives. Or what our number is.
He was with two complete strangers. We were lucky. These strangers were good people.
What kind of mother am I? How could I have been so irresponsible? How could this have happened again?
We finally get home. We are numb. The monkey brings over the sunscreen lotion. His way of telling us he wants to go swimming. He is unphased.
We have put extra precautions at home. We have two doorknobs, and they have to be turned in opposite directions in order to open the door. My husband did this so that it could be harder for the monkey to open the door. I thought he couldn’t figure it out.
We also have a video camera that will chime when someone is outside. But it didn’t work this time. It didn’t chime. We have a door latch. I ordered a door alarm.
I haven’t been able to sleep since then. At night my mind goes crazy with the what ifs. I don’t know how to describe the depths of fear that we had, still have. At night I will go over to his bed and simply hug him. I can’t let go.
We haven’t been able to talk about it. How do we start? By saying we were distracted? By saying that it took 15 minutes of us not paying attention for my son to be with two complete strangers instead of the safety of our home? How does one explain this?
Why share our story? Because this is autism. With all its craziness and ugliness. With pain and fear. With the uncertainty and loneliness.
But autism is also beauty. My son didn’t know he was lost. He didn’t know he was in danger. He quickly came home and wanted to resume his day and go for a swim. Oblivious of the ugliness.
Autism is happiness. He is such a happy kid. My husband says that the reason for his happiness is that he knows he is loved. He feels safe. He is at peace.
Autism is pure. My son didn’t realize he was in danger, and yet he forgave us. He quickly hugged me back and kissed me. The is no bad will, he loves unconditionally.
My husband thinks he left the door opened. He had gone to the laundromat that morning to wash the comforters. He was coming in with three huge trash bags of clean sheets and comforters. He thinks he was distracted and forgot to close the doors.
He may have left the door opened. Possibly. Or it could have been me. He has guilt. I have guilt. And when he asked me to forgive him, I cried and told him there was nothing to forgive. This wasn’t done intentional. It was a mistake. If it was indeed a door that was left opened.
And now we move on. Put better traps. Keep fighting to keep our son safe. Hoping that tomorrow will be better.
And that eventually, we can forgive ourselves.