Our runaway son gave my bickering husband and me a real wake-up call.
Drew came storming down the stairs half-dressed, holding a shirt. The scowl on his face told me he was angry, but I was in no mood to fight with him that morning. My head was pounding and I had to get Lucas off to school on time. As it was, our argument the night before had been a doozy, sapping my strength while at the same time, still keeping me up for most of the night.
“Damn it, Brenda! Can’t you do anything right?”
I sighed. “Now what’s wrong?”
“Look at this shirt.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“You can’t tell?”
I didn’t want him to goad me into an argument, so I quietly said, “Tell me what’s wrong with it.”
“It’s all creased, that’s what’s wrong with it,” Drew answered in such a nasty tone that it triggered a negative response from me.
“If you don’t like the way I iron, then do it yourself.”
“That’s a great answer. Just what I expected you to say.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Take it any way you want to,” Drew said, practically shoving the shirt in my face. “If you were a loving wife, you’d fix it.”
I was at my limit. “I don’t believe you!”
“Stop fighting! Why can’t you ever stop fighting?” Lucas shouted at us as he ran upstairs to his room holding his ears.
Drew didn’t even hear Lucas’s plea or see him run from the room. Instead, he continued to vent at me. But I had seen the pained look on our boy’s face as he fled from us. I hadn’t realized how much our constant bickering was affecting him. He was only seven, but sometimes he acted more mature than Drew and I did. Still, I was so busy trying to protect my own feelings from Drew’s assaults that I had never even stopped to consider Lucas’s.
Where had our marriage derailed? And what had happened to the love we shared that was supposed to last forever?
We had been so much in love. When I met Drew for the first time at a high school dance, I knew he was the guy for me. I could picture spending the rest of my life with him—living in a white house with a picket fence and an enclosed backyard where our children could play. I had to be his girl, and I made that my primary goal. Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be all that hard, because he asked me to dance that night.
We soon began to date and stayed a couple all through high school. We planned on getting married as soon as Drew found a decent job. They were great plans, but we never expected we would have to get married.
I wanted to remain a virgin until the wedding night. Drew and I had discussed this and agreed to wait. Then one night after graduation we went to a party at a friend’s house and had too much to drink. I ended up getting pregnant, thus derailing our plans.
Drew was upset, but he realized it was as much his fault as mine, and maybe more. We weathered that storm, though, protected by our love. I worked as a receptionist in a law office until Lucas was born. Drew had a good job working as a car salesman and he also worked in a department store a few nights a week. When Lucas was old enough for daycare, I went back to work.
Things went well, until there was an autoworkers’ strike in Detroit. That’s when everything soured for us. Drew’s car dealership fell on hard times and being worried about paying our bills, he would lash out at me. I’m sure most of it was unintentional, but it still hurt. And this behavior became a pattern. Whenever things went wrong at work, Drew would become extremely difficult to live with. He would never physically hurt me, just verbally vent at me. Knowing it was only temporary, I tried to get through it. Besides, I loved Drew and I knew that he loved me. I kept telling myself that he was only frustrated and that it would pass.
Now another strike was going on and business at the dealership had practically come to a standstill. Drew had been going on interviews for other sales positions on his days off. Hopefully, he’d find another job or the strike would be settled before our marriage disintegrated.
“Where are you going?” Drew snapped. “This isn’t over.”
“It is for me. I have to get our son off to school,” I said as I left the room.
“Lucas, please come down,” I called up to him from the bottom of the steps. “I’ll drive you to school.”
He didn’t answer. I knew that he had heard me because his room was right at the top of the stairs. I called to him once more and still got no answer, so I walked upstairs and found him sprawled across his bed, sobbing.
I gently rubbed his back. “Lucas, sweetheart, I’m sorry you’re so upset. Daddy and I were wrong to argue in front of you. I promise to try and not let it happen again. Come on—go wash your face and I’ll drive you to school.”
“I don’t wanna go.”
“But you love school.”
“I wanna stay home.”
“You know you can’t. Daddy and I both work. There’s no one who can watch you at the last minute— unless you’re sick. But you’re not sick, are you?”
“Yes, I am. I’m sick of you two.”
Great! I thought to myself. Drew and I are doing a real bang-up parenting job with Lucas.
“Go wash your face before you’re late. We’ll talk about this on the way to school.”
Lucas slowly slid off the bed and went into the bathroom. A few minutes later he was ready and we walked down the stairs together. Drew was finishing his cup of coffee and he said good-bye to Lucas as he passed him. Lucas totally ignored Drew. The last thing I noticed as I left was the bewilderment on Drew’s face.
In the car, as Lucas buckled his seatbelt, I said, “Lucas, I am truly sorry about this morning. I didn’t realize how much our disagreements bother you.”
He just sat there staring out the passenger window. Even though I knew he was listening to every word I was saying, it felt like I was talking to myself.
“Things will get better; you’ll see.”
“No they won’t. They never do.”
“I’m going to have a very long talk with Daddy about all of this.”
“You and Daddy never talk about anything. All you do is yell at each other.”
Hearing that from my seven-year-old son really struck a chord. “We’ll just have to try harder to work things out.”
Lucas turned back toward the window and said nothing more after that. He just sat there like a broken toy. I doubt if he believed a single word I said.
But, thanks to Lucas, reality had hit me. Somebody had to try and do something to change things; Drew and I were at an all-time low. Things had never been this bad. If a brake wasn’t applied to this skid, we would probably end up in divorce court. Though, at this point, I myself wasn’t too sure about how I felt about that. I knew I loved Drew, but I wasn’t sure I could continue to live under the same roof with him.
I pulled up in front of Lucas’s school. Before he could run off, I kissed his cheek and told him, “I promise to try and make things better.”
I sat there and watched him walk over to a bunch of kids, wondering if it wasn’t too late to turn things around.
All during work, my mind was on Lucas and how to approach Drew. How could a child be able to see what we could not? Perhaps this was a wake-up call. It didn’t really matter what you called it—the situation was serious and it needed to be tended to. At this point, I had to decide how I truly felt about Drew. Did I still love him enough to want to save my marriage? The immediate answer was, of course, yes. But that would mean convincing Drew that we needed to speak to a marriage counselor. I didn’t think we could sort out our problems without outside help.
And Drew would have to learn to control his stress better. I had had enough of dealing with his misplaced aggression. But would Drew agree to see a counselor? Was he willing to try to save our marriage? Would he even be willing enough to admit that his behavior needed modification?
After work I stopped off at the supermarket. I picked up just the necessities so I could be home by the time Lucas was. I didn’t like to leave him unsupervised, even for a few minutes. You’ve heard the stories about kids being left home alone.
Unfortunately, the supermarket was packed and I was a little late. Back at home, I rushed in, put the groceries on the kitchen counter, and called to Lucas. When he didn’t answer, I figured he was upstairs in his room. After all the groceries were put away, I went looking for him.
I could feel my chest tightening as I went from room to room and didn’t find him. Had he come home from school? I didn’t remember seeing his books, but then again, I wasn’t really looking for them. I ran back upstairs. His unopened book bag sat next to his desk chair, so he had been home. I must have just missed him. But where had he gone? Maybe he had left a note on our message board in the kitchen.
I ran downstairs to check. A folded note with MOMMY written in big letters on it was tacked to the board. Taking it off and opening it, I read:
I decided to run away because you and Daddy fight too much.
Love your son,
My heart sank. Where could he have gone? I ran to the telephone and punched in Drew’s work number. I reached a doctor’s office, instead. Calm down, I ordered myself. But who was I trying to kid? My child was God knows where and I was going to be calm?
I finally keyed in the correct telephone number and reached Drew.
“I can’t talk now, Brenda. If I have time, I’ll— ”
“Damn it, Brenda, I’m with a customer!” he said, and hung up before I could tell him about Lucas.
I immediately called him back. When he heard my voice again, he nearly hung up on me again.
“What’s your problem? I told you I’d call back later. Can’t this wait?”
“Lucas ran away!”
“How do you know?”
“He left me a note.”
“All kids run away at one time or another. It’s nothing to worry about. He’ll be back by dinnertime when he gets hungry.”
“I don’t think so. If you read his note—”
“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Now, I’ve got to go.”
“Please come home, Drew.”
“For what? The kid will be home as soon as his stomach growls.”
“Come home to help me find him.”
“You’re acting like a child.”
“I’m worried. For once in your life, try to see things through my eyes and agree with me.”
“Not if I can already see that you’re one hundred percent wrong.”
“It really doesn’t matter what it’s about. According to you, I’m automatically wrong. Why do I bother?” I said, slamming the receiver down. With or without his help, I was going to look for Lucas and I wasn’t going to give up until I found him.
I called all of Lucas’s friends, but no one had seen him since school. Where would he go? We had no relatives living nearby. Drew’s parents were dead and mine lived in a retirement home in Florida. I only got to see them at Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Feeling I was wasting precious time and what little daylight there was left, I jumped into the car to drive around the neighborhood. Maybe I would be lucky and spot him walking. I don’t know how long I drove, or when I started crying, but soon, the tears and dusk made it too difficult for me to continue. I headed back home without having found a trace of Lucas. I began to fear the worst.
Then, on the way home, it occurred to me that he might have returned already and could be back at home waiting for me to make him dinner. Maybe Drew was right, after all. Kids always threaten to run away. I did once, but didn’t get very far. Anything was possible. But I walked into an empty house. Lucas hadn’t returned.
Desperate now, I called the police. Despite what Drew thought, Lucas was only seven years old and it was a dangerous world out there. I shuddered at the thought of all the things that could happen to him.
The policeman I spoke to was very pleasant and understanding, a great deal more than Drew had been. He asked for a description of Lucas and what he had been wearing. He said he would notify all the officers in his precinct to be on the lookout, but that Lucas would probably be home as soon as he got hungry or tired. That was his experience with missing children. Did all men think alike? I was asked to keep in touch and let him know if Lucas came home. As if I wouldn’t.
As I put the receiver down, Drew walked in.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked, as if nothing had happened.
“Dinner? You want dinner?”
“Why not? Most people want to eat when they come home from work. Are you hinting at the fact that there is none?”
“Your son is missing and you want to eat dinner. Don’t you care, or have you turned into a selfish jerk?” I said, hearing my voice becoming shrill.
“Whoa, wait a minute! You mean to tell me that Lucas isn’t back yet?”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Where’s the letter you said he wrote?”
I handed Drew the letter and watched his face turn pale as he read. “I had no idea. He was really upset by our argument this morning, wasn’t he? No wonder he didn’t kiss me good-bye. He really ran away, didn’t he?” Drew remarked, running his hand through his hair. He looked at me as if he were seeing me for the first time.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, but you’ve been too stubborn to listen.”
“I never once gave any thought to how our actions might affect him. I was just too angry with you. It’s like I was wearing blinders.”
“I didn’t think about it, either—not until this morning when Lucas ran upstairs crying. Seeing him that way really opened my eyes. Now, though, I’m worried it’s too late—”
“It’s not too late. We’ll find him,” Drew said, nervously running his fingers through his hair again. “Where do you think he might have gone?”
“I don’t know. I drove up and down the neighborhood, called all his friends, and the police.”
“What did the police say?”
“They responded the same way you did. I doubt if they took me seriously. Oh, but they took down his description and all that, saying they’d alert all the officers in the precinct. But they also seemed to think he’d return when he was hungry.”
“That’s just great. Come on—get your coat; we’re going down there. I’m a taxpaying citizen and I demand more than if they see the kid, they’ll let us know.”
The sergeant at the desk took us to see a detective who was eating dinner at his desk. I felt a little funny, but he seemed to be used to the intrusion.
“What can I help you with?”
“Our son’s been missing since this afternoon.”
“Are you the same people who called earlier?”
“Yes,” I answered, a little surprised that he even knew about my phone call.
“So, I take it he hasn’t come home?”
“Would you happen to know the reason why he’s run away?”
“He’s angry with us for always arguing.”
“So, unless we find him, he’s not going to come back so quickly on his own. That makes it tougher.”
“Officer, I understand you have to ask these questions, but while we’re sitting here, anything can be happening out there to Lucas,” Drew said.
“Sloan. Drew Sloan. And this is my wife, Brenda.”
“Mr. Sloan, in our experience with these matters, children usually come home when they’re ready, in a day or so. It would have been foolish of us to round up a search party, which takes a lot of time and manpower, only to have your child return home in a few hours.”
“But Lucas hasn’t come home.”
“That’s a rarity, I assure you.”
“So what do we do now?”
“I issue an all-points bulletin notifying every police agency about Lucas, and in the morning, we take the helicopters out and scout the immediate area. He couldn’t have gotten far. Do you have any friends or relatives nearby that he could have gone to?”
I shook my head. How can this man be so calm? My child is out there somewhere. I have no idea if he is hurt or in trouble. Does he have any children? How would he feel if it were his son?
“But we can’t just do nothing because it’s dark out,” Drew added.
“Trying to search in the dark won’t help any, I’m sorry to say, Mr. Sloan. I sympathize with the helplessness you feel, but there’s little that can be done tonight. But I promise, at the crack of dawn, we’ll have a search team out.”
Drew and I left the police station like two lost souls. Going there had not raised our spirits—it had forced us to accept the harsh reality that we were helpless until the morning. Driving home, we took the long route and drove around the neighborhood. Hardly anyone was out. Luckily, it wasn’t a cold evening. We could only hope that Lucas was warm, wherever he was.
We hardly spoke in the car, with each of us lost in our own thoughts and prayers. When we got home, I made a pot of coffee. Neither one of us was very hungry, but we picked at some cookies.
Drew put his mug down and said, “We should talk.” There were tears in his eyes.
I nodded. I was so frightened for Lucas. I couldn’t help thinking about all the terrible things that could happen to him out there, alone.
“What has happened to us?” Drew asked. “Where are the two kids who couldn’t keep their hands off each other? Where did they go?”
“They’re still here, only they don’t see each other anymore. They’re too blinded by their own selfish feelings. Neither of us is willing to compromise and communication between us has come to a screeching halt. We’re like two armed camps, with neither side willing to give up any ground.”
“Brenda, what are we going to do?”
“First, we’ve got to find Lucas, and then we have to decide whether or not we want to stay together.”
“We are tottering on the brink, aren’t we? But I don’t think I want to go it alone. I love you, Brenda,” he said as a tear slipped from his eye.
I had never seen him cry before. He had been raised in a family that frowned on men crying. If they did, it meant they were weak. “I love you, too, Drew; I have from the first day I met you. But things have to change. We need help. You can’t take your frustrations out on me and I have to learn to be more understanding.”
“You know I never wanted to hurt you.”
“But you do, constantly.”
Drew shook his head and put his face in his hands. I got up and put my arms around him, my own tears flowing freely. He lifted his face, wet with tears, and drew mine down to his until our lips met.
“Don’t ever leave me, Brenda.”
“I won’t,” I said, as I settled into his lap and placed my head against his chest.
I have no idea how long we sat there crying together. No matter what happened tomorrow, our lives had changed. Things would never be the same.
The following morning we drove to the police station and joined a group of volunteer firemen who were going to search the wooded area north of where we lived. They reasoned that a child would head there first. I prayed that they were right.
Dark storm clouds began to gather overhead and threatened rain. Inclement weather would hamper the search; we couldn’t afford to lose any more time. Some of the men walked with dogs. We had brought along a sweater of Lucas’s so that they could pick up his scent.
It was slow going and the weather worsened with each passing hour. Drew and I walked together, prayers on our lips. The wooded area was large enough for a little boy to get lost in indefinitely. We prayed for lots of luck or a small miracle. As the sky darkened, though, things looked hopeless.
A helicopter began to scour the area. We watched as they passed overhead. Right then a dog began to bark ferociously from an area to our left. As we ran toward the barking, my hopes began to soar, but then they quickly plummeted as we discovered it was only a raccoon.
Guilt and fear swirled around in my head. My heart was in my throat. At this point, I was willing to sell my soul to the devil if only I could have Lucas back safe and sound. I doubted I could live with myself if he were lost forever.
No one wanted to come right out and say it, but it was in the back of everyone’s mind: What if an unsavory adult had found Lucas wandering and kidnapped him? The thought alone scared the hell out of me. And I know it terrified Drew, as well.
When I felt a few drops of rain, I prayed it wouldn’t worsen. Then I heard the helicopter hovering overhead. A man shouted to us. Drew and I ran toward the commotion. I stumbled and fell, but Drew picked me up.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I think so,” I said as I gingerly stepped down on my foot. It didn’t hurt; I was lucky. All I cared about was finding out if they’d found Lucas. I’d crawl to him if I had to.
They had found Lucas! He had been asleep in his sleeping bag under a large oak tree, totally unaware of the frantic search going on. I fell to my knees and thanked God for giving my son back to me. The falling raindrops mingled with my tears of joy. Drew and I thanked everyone for all their help.
Lucas was surprised to find everyone there and thought we were angry with him. I hugged him and planted kisses all over his face. “Lucas, baby, you just gave Daddy and me the biggest scare of our lives. Please don’t ever do that again. We both love you very, very, much and never want to lose you again!” I kissed the top of his head.
“Does that mean you’re not going to punish me?” he asked, yawning.
“Not this time, but there better not be another time, Son,” Drew said. “Besides, sport, who would I shoot hoops with? Your mother’s a lousy basketball player,” he added and winked.
As Lucas smiled, Drew hugged him, and tears of joy and relief began sliding down Drew’s cheeks. We were truly lucky. We had just experienced a scare no parent ever wants to have. And I realized the ball was now in our court. It was up to Drew and me to mend the situation that had caused Lucas to run away.
We all went home. Lucas took a hot bath and changed into clean clothes. Then he wolfed down two bowls of hot cereal and toast. The little bit of food he’d taken with him hadn’t lasted very long.
After he finished eating, we sat down to talk. We explained to him that things would be different around the house from now on. Drew promised Lucas that he and I would try to work out our problems through discussion rather than arguing. This time, Lucas seemed to believe us. I guess he may have figured we didn’t want to go through all that terrible stuff again, so we’d definitely try to behave.
He went upstairs to his room and left us alone to finish the discussion. I cleaned up the kitchen and Drew called in sick for both of us; we needed the day to recuperate. Finally, we went upstairs.
“We are very lucky, Drew.”
“I know. That was some wake-up call.”
“Maybe it will be the only one we need.”
Drew took me in his arms and held me. We both began to cry. The realization of how close we had come to losing everything that we cherished in life was overwhelming.
“I love you, Brenda. I didn’t realize how much until all this happened. I had no idea how far apart we had drifted.”
“I love you, too, Drew, with all my heart.”
“We’ve got to change—I’ve got to change.”
“I’m not completely free of blame, either. We have to start communicating and really listening to one another.”
Drew nervously ran his fingers through his hair. “If I hadn’t been such a pig-headed fool—”
I put my finger on his lips. “We have both been stubborn and inflexible at times.”
“We can make our marriage work, if we try.”
“We can and we must. We have a wonderful son who needs us.”
“And we need him,” Drew said covering his lips with mine.
A seven-year-old boy had taught us a lesson we’d never forget. We’d almost lost everything we loved, but fate had seen fit to grant us a second chance. And we weren’t going to ruin this second chance. This time, we were going to make it.