Sometimes, I lose my son. I check my email. I get on the phone with a friend. I just want to close my eyes and wind up asleep. I wake with a start, and my first thought is Ezra. Where is Ezra? My heart picks up pace. I run outside.
“Ezra?” I call.
He’s not in the yard. My chest grows tight, and I run down the block, calling for him. What will he do if he is lost? He’s only five. He doesn’t answer questions. He doesn’t ask them. His brain is a mysterious landscape I can’t access. I run back to the house, tears at my eyes. I run through the rooms, but he’s not there, he’s not there. I race back outside, a new thought. Please, I think. Please. There is a hole in the shrubbery between our yard and the neighbor’s. Please. I climb through, and my God! There he is. His small, small body. His blond mop of hair. He turns to see me and smiles.
I grab him by the arm, enraged, desperately thankful, sick.
“Don’t ever leave this yard by yourself! Do you hear me?”
He looks at my mouth, at my eyes. I know my words mean nothing. I know he doesn’t understand. Or, rather, I never know what he understands.
I was often on my own as a child as well. My mother was regularly unaware of where I was. She was busy with her feelings, her big, endless feelings. She and my father were in the middle of a long, ugly divorce, and too often I came home to find her crying in the kitchen, her head in her hands. Other times she was on the phone with friends, venting about my cheating father, how awful he was. Rather than hang around, I went out into our yard. I wandered through the local woods, imagining I was someone else, a lost child, a fairy child, a child who would be found.
I spent my life wanting to be seen. By my parents, and then by men.
On another day, a friend visits. I try to have a normal life like this, to spend time with friends, to talk about things we have in common as writers, as mothers. We all want to be connected like this, to be seen. While we chat, a car alarm goes off—beep, beep, beep—repetitive and rhythmic.
“I wish someone would turn that off,” I say, and my friend agrees.
Then it occurs to me. Jesus Christ. I go outside and sure enough, there is Ezra, in my car honking the horn in perfect rhythm. He smiles at me, pleased with himself. My friend stands by, her hands in her pockets. Her own son is inside, building something with Legos. She smiles sympathetically, but she doesn’t know.
Ezra figures out how to open the childproof lock I put on the door. He wanders into the garage across the street, and the neighbor walks him back to us. I don’t meet his eyes, just thank him quietly. When Ezra and I are inside, I crouch down to his eye level.
“You don’t ever walk out of this house on your own. Do you hear me? Not ever.”
He tries to look away. He is smiling.
“This isn’t funny, Ezra! You can get hurt out there. You can get lost!”
He looks right at me and says, “Ah-choo!” I don’t know what he’s thinking, how to help him, how to keep him safe.
“I give up!” I yell, but of course I can’t ever give up.
I have spent my life trying desperately to be seen. Haven’t we all?
Still another day, I sleep in. Mid-morning, his dad Michael comes into the bedroom. “Is Ezra in here with you?”
I sit up. He’s not. He’s not here.
I throw on a robe, and follow Michael upstairs. He checks the guest room, opens closets. Last night Ezra got up in the middle of the night. He does that sometimes, is awakened by something or wets his bed, and then he can’t fall back to sleep. He came to our bed completely naked, having taken off his wet pajamas. I got up to dress him again in a new nighttime diaper and pajamas. Then he started giggling and tossing around, repeating lines from one of his video games. We kicked him out of the bedroom, assuming he would make his way back to bed.
He isn’t in any closets or the bathroom or in a cabinet or under blankets. He has always been disappearing, from the moment he was born. I’ve never known how to see him clearly, to understand who he is, and so I wind up looking for him like this, catching glimpses before he is discernible to me again. I open the door that leads to the garage, and there is the diaper I put on him and the pajama bottoms. He took them off here, inside the garage, closing the self-locking door behind him. In the garage, everything that was there before is the same: the stroller, the stack of old paint pails, the boxes, the bunched-up area rug. My heart is pounding. It is hard to imagine that I was sleeping a moment ago, and now I feel like I will never sleep again. This is how things happen, of course. One moment life is one way, and then the next it is another way entirely. Like Ezra’s autism.
Michael opens the garage door, raising the curtain on pouring rain. It isn’t possible that Ezra could have opened the garage door, pressing the button to do so, and then closed it again from outside. It isn’t possible, and yet Michael and I have lost all sense of logic. Anything is possible.
“I don’t see him,” Michael says, the desperation thick in his voice.
And in that moment, the area rug moves. Ezra pushes the heavy rug off of himself. He has curled up inside it and fallen asleep, like a wild animal looking for warmth. It is almost an optical illusion. In one moment it is one way, and in the next moment it is another. Had I looked more closely, had I looked the right way, I would have seen him.
Michael picks him up. I press my face against Ezra’s. He smells like old, musty rug.
“Ezra,” I say. “Ezra,” chanting his name, like a conjuring.