He was gone.
He wasn’t in the backyard where I’d left him to play, five minutes before.
“Mama, I go pet the chickens, pwease? I be really nice to them. Pwease?”
“Your brother is in the middle of trying to go down for a nap,” I had said, over the cries drifting in over the baby monitor. “You know – the nap he needs because you went into his room at six in the morning and woke him up?”
DragonMonkey hung his head in feigned embarassment for the prescribed amount of time, then repeated, “I go be nice to chickens, please? I not chase them. Please?”
“Fine,” I had with a sigh, wincing at the indignant shrieks coming over the monitor.
I had led him down the stairs to the side yard, closing the gate behind him with a final admonishment. “I need to stay inside until Squid settles down – you are NOT to chase the chickens, and you are NOT to open this gate. If you need anything, just call me. I can hear you from the living room.”
“Yes, Mama,” he said obediently, edging towards the chicken with a predatory sidle.
I was going to pretend I didn’t see that. It was only 10:30 in the morning, but I was already going to pretend I didn’t see that.
Five minutes later, Squid’s “I-don’t-need-no-stinking-nap” howls slowly wound down, and he dropped off to sleep. I’d glanced out the living room window a couple of times during my wait, watching Matty as he did his best to refrain from running, following the chickens around with a tortilla chip in his hand, trying to force them to eat it. This time, however, I couldn’t see him.
The chickens (Martha Stewart, Moaning Myrtle, and Tanesha) were pecking slowly around the yard, relaxed.
Where was he?
I slipped on my sandles and headed down to the side yard.
He wasn’t there.
“DragonMonkey?” I called.
Silence greeted me.
Maybe he’d slipped past me to go to the bathroom? I went back up the stairs and into the house, looking in both bathrooms.
He wasn’t in the bathroom.
He wasn’t in the living room.
He wasn’t in the playroom, or his bedroom, or my bedroom. He wasn’t in the laundry room.
He wasn’t in the basement.
I checked the yard again, going as far as to look inside the chicken coop.
“DragonMonkey?!” My voice was taking on a shrill, frantic tone. This wasn’t funny. This wasn’t funny at all.
I dashed back into my house, exchanging my sandles for tennis shoes I slipped hastily over my bare feet.
I jogged to the end of the drive, calling for him. “DragonMonkey? DRAGONMONKEY?!”
I ran back up the drive, and did a circle around the house. “DRAGONMONKEY?!”
I noticed that the gate from our yard to the field was ajar, and gave an angry sigh. Had he gone up there without my permission? I was going to let him have it when I found him up there. I jogged up the hill, ignoring the burn in my calves, and out into the open field.
I was greeted by the sight of long, waving yellow grass, a couple of buzzing flies, but no three-year-old.
“DRAGONMONKEY?!” The sound of my own voice, thin with fear, ratcheted my heart rate up even more. “”DRAGONMONKEY! ANSWER ME! RIGHT NOW, YOUNG MAN!”
Nothing. I saw nothing, I heard nothing.
Forget fear. I was past fear. What I was feeling was raw terror – every mother’s worst nightmare slowly unfolding in front of me.
Twenty minutes, y’all.
Twenty minutes is how long I looked for him, called for him.
I should have called the police after the first ten minutes, but I didn’t want to stop long enough to find my cell phone.
It was the longest twenty minutes of my life.
Finally, FINALLY, I heard him answer.
“Over here, Mama!” he called cheerfully from several houses down, thin legs scratched from the brush as he made his way down a hillside. “I go mountain climbing up, now I going mountain climbing down!” His voice was tiny and faint from hundreds of yards away, but I nearly sagged with relief when I heard it.
“GET OVER HERE, DRAGONMONKEY! YOU’RE IN BIG TROUBLE!”
I’ll fast forward past how tightly I hugged him to me when I finally pulled him into our yard. I’ll fast forward past the lecture I gave him in a shaking voice, and the way he sensed my genuine fear. I’ll shoot right past the way I lied to him about “Great Big Evil MonkeyMen” who lurk in the shadows of the hillsides around our house, hoping to terrify him into never doing it again, even if it means he’ll have nightmares until he is thirty. I’ll fast forward past me dragging him back in the house and telling him he was never allowed outside by himself, never, ever, ever again.
I’ll fast forward to about five minutes later, where I sat on the couch, still shaking, trying to let go of the adrenaline still coursing in my veins. DragonMonkey was safely hidden in my bathroom, using the toilet.
I could have lost him. He could have walked into the street, or stumbled into traffic. He could have been snatched up. He could have tripped, and fallen into a creek and drowned. I was lucky. I was damned lucky. I was…
I was really mad.
He was supposed to be going poo. The last time I checked, going poo didn’t involve the crash-boom-bang of solid objects flying around the bathroom.
Stomping down the hallway, I threw open the door to the bathroom. The DragonMonkey stood there, pantsless, standing ankle deep in a pile of unwravelled dental floss. At the sound of the door hitting the wall, he jumped, forgetting to hide the can of hairspray behind his back.
“What are you doing?!”
He raised the now-empty can up, guiltily, and gestured at the bathroom. “I spway the bathroom.”
“I spway the bathroom.” He held it up, and gestured at the countertop, depressing the button which made a faint spluttering noise. “Like this.”
“STOP THAT!” I said, grabbing the canister out of his hand and setting it down on the now-sticky countertop….which matched the sticky toilet, the sticky floor, and the sticky tub. The entire bathroom was covered in a tacky, greasy “All-day, Natural Hold!” film.
I stared at him for a moment, taking in the mess, and the dental floss, and his half-naked self, and tried to count to ten.
I swear, if he ever runs away from home again, next time I’m not going to look for him quite so hard.