It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. We gave him his packed lunch, and watched him run down the yard and into the waiting school bus. He took his seat, just like every other day and waved us goodbye. I waved back until he was out of sight. But that day he wasn’t going to come home to us.
I expected him to arrive just before 4pm. It wasn’t until I finished all my chores and something nagged at me that I realised he’d not returned home. I phoned the school, and they confirmed he had attended all classes. I called a few of his friend’s parents and they confirmed he left school on time. However, his best friend, Pete told his mother that our son Simon had not got on the bus. I held back my rage to shout at Simon through his mom. We called the police as soon as I hung up the phone.
My husband and I took to the streets, canvasing door to door, asking if anyone had seen him. The photo I used was of him in a halloween costume, his face so bright and red from the cold night, his smile so wide.
You don’t think of people as callous generally. But as more and more people opened the door to us, you could tell they didn’t give a shit. They offered supportive statements, though they were as hollow as the smiles they gave us.
Days turned into weeks and nothing. He had disappeared without a trace. The police had nothing to go on, but that didn’t stop me from phoning day after day. At first I spoke to a Detective, though over time I only spoke to his secretary. The call backs came less and less frequent. You hear about crimes like this, but never expect it to be your child. It only felt real when the contact with the police faded.
We took it on our own back to check the rivers and ditches around the school. We didn’t want to, *I* didn’t want to, but my husband insisted. There is something disgusting about looking for your child on a cold mud embankment or freezing river. At this point, I wished he was kidnapped, as if he was, at least he’d be warm.
A few months later, I found out I was pregnant, it was a bittersweet joy. We hadn’t been trying to replace our missing child, life went on. Even in those most intimate times, you find it within yourself to let go, even for a moment. And that’s what it was, a series of moments of escape. But, every time we had breakfast or dinner, that empty space was there at the table, and the heartache felt then never left us.
My husband called me from work one day, I remember as if it was yesterday. I was in the kitchen preparing supper when my phone rang.
“I’ve found him!” he said delightedly.
“Sorry?” I replied.
“I’ve found Simon!” he continued.
I dropped a dish to the floor, the sound of it smashing echoing the shock I was now feeling.
“Did the police…” I started.
“Not the police, *I* found him!”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ll explain when I get home, we’re coming now.”
I stood in the kitchen staring at the broken glass on the floor. Unable to clean it up, unable to comprehend what was happening.
They arrived home around twenty minutes later.
“Simon, say hello to your mom,” my husband said, coaxing our son into the room.
It was him. My eyes glazed over and I crouched down, holding out my arms.
“Son,” I said, my vision obstructed by the tears.
Tentatively he took a few steps towards me, before stopping. It had been six months since I’d seen him. I wiped my eyes and peered into his. He appeared confused and malnourished. I held my hand to my mouth and cried some more.
My husband said he found him wandering around the mall near his work. We let the Detective’s receptionist know that we’d found him. She sounded genuinely happy for us. We checked in a few times with her, but they had no new leads as to who had taken him and where he had been for the last six months.
He thought his name was Ryan. We assumed this was what the kidnapper had named him. It took time and plenty of therapy sessions, but gradually he respond to Simon again. We had him home schooled to start with, not wanting him out of our sight for the foreseeable future.
When I had our second child he came with us to the hospital. It was another boy.
“Mom, can I name him?” he asked.
My heart melted. It was one of only a few times he had spoken to us since his kidnapping.
“Sure, Simon,” I said.
“What do you want to call him?”
“Can we call him, Evan?”
“Anything you want,” I said, hugging him.
My husband looked longingly at us, and for the first time since Simon had disappeared, I saw a tear in his eye.
I returned home a day later, and spent a while in bed, the pregnancy had taken its toll on my body. Simon brought me food in bed, and at this point, I was the happiest I had been in as long as I could remember.
Later that year, we decided to move. We agreed Simon was ready to go back to school. As much as I didn’t want to let him out of my sight again, it wasn’t right to keep him away from the other kids. From the front window, he’d watch as the school bus stopped in our road and then continued its journey to pick up other children.
We moved near my mother upstate. She had stayed with us a few days after the birth and was really looking forward to caring for her new grandson. Simon started school a few weeks later.
That takes me up to the start of this year. Simon was been doing well in school. He’s showed me the drawings he’s done in class, and thank God, nothing was creepy and related to those six months he was away from us. His grades were excellent. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, but sometimes things work out. I would never take Simon for granted.
I had a call from the Detective today, asking if I could make it into town, that he had news. I told him we don’t live close anymore. He offered to send someone to pick us up. I told him it was fine and that my mother could look after the kids, we could make our own way.
We drove the few hours, mostly in silence. They had something to tell us. Though, we knew what it was. They found the guy that took our Simon. I played through the conversations in my head. One where I cried and plead to see him, to see the man that stole our child. One where I burst through the building, finding the man myself and then raining punches down on him in an act of vengeance for what he did to us. And another where I take the higher ground and tell them I don’t need to see him, we’re fine now and he can rot in hell.
When we arrived, I felt anxious, and none of those scenarios I played through in my head bore out. We were re-introduced to the Detective I spent many times speaking to on the phone. Solemnly he took us through into a small room.
“Coffee?” he asked.
I shook my head, “so you found him?”
He nodded and we all sat.
A cold sweat broke out on my brow. The Detective had a manila folder in front of him. I was going to see the man that stole our child. My heart thumped and I held my husband’s hand tight.
“We found him late last evening,” he said.
He took a moment, running his hand through his hair.
“It’s never nice to give bad news, and when a missing child is involved…” he trailed off, “It’s not easy. But closure is important. It allows you to get on with your life.”
He opened the folder and I gasped.
“We think he was offered a lift and he took it, as it was someone he recognised.”
“Who was it?” my husband demanded.
“I can’t say at this moment in time, Sir.”
“Is he in the building?”
“I can’t answer that.”
My husband held his head in his hands.
“Was it one of the teachers?”
“Please, we need to go over this.”
“It’s okay, honey,” I said, squeezing his hand again.
“We believe he took him home.”
“We can’t say for sure, but we believe he may have abused him over the next couple of days, before disposing of his body just off the interstate.”
“Oh my God,” I said feeling sick, “I don’t understand.”
“The person we have in custody has admitted to your son’s murder as well as another.”
“How do you know it’s our son?” my husband asked.
“The body was discovered with clothes matching the description you gave us.”
I felt the room go hazy and I slumped back into my seat. I peered over to my husband, to see him stare at the wall behind the Detective.
“I’ll give you a moment. Are you sure you don’t want that coffee? I can get you anything you want.”
We sat in silence and the Detective left.
“Honey, what’s going on?” I asked, pushing my husband’s shoulder.
He continued to stare. I followed his gaze. On the far wall was a board of all the missing children in the state. So many children; easily fifty.
“What is it?” I asked, but he stayed silent.
That’s when I saw it. Our son’s face, only it wasn’t his name below it, it was Ryan Evans.
I reached over the table and took the folder. It contained some typed documents as well as some photos. I looked at them one after another feeling a knot in my stomach grow. It was hard to tell what they were showing. All I could make out was the bright red jacket and blue jeans our son wore when he left for school that day. The body that occupied them was now gone, only bones remained.
The Detective returned.
“I can give you more time if you want?” he offered.
I pushed the folder away.
“Can we please leave?”
“Sure,” he said, holding the door open, “We will need you to come back and make a statement.”
“That’s fine,” my husband said.
We returned home in much the same silence as the journey down. We entered my mother’s home.
“Do you have any whiskey?” my husband asked.
“Sure, in the cabinet,” my mother said, pointing to the wooden dresser next to the TV.
“What happened? Did they find the guy?” she asked.
I ignored her.
“Simon?” I said, seeing my son sit on a chair in the living room, playing on his iPad.
He turned, his face beaming as he recognised me. I crouched down in the doorway, opening my arms. He put his game on the arm of the chair and ran over and embraced me. I hugged him back.
He is my son, our son, no matter what.