by Brittany Fonte
The grass-fed cows on the Mid Western farms posed no harm to children, alone. My mother, having picked parenting skills like soybeans, sweet corn, sugar beets (that nobody eats), often let me roam until the dinner bell rang: well-done beef and casseroles made with Campbell’s soup. Tang.
When we moved to another, sunnier state, those safe farm feelings hitchhiked, too. My feral fascination with wandering loomed, loomed large, like billboards of the missing. I was six, quite oblivious. Adam Walsh, so Wanted, was lost not so far away at all. Just one Sunday trip South, sans Amber Alerts, sans security cameras at a Hollywood mall.
My brother was young, then, barely-haired; he was bottle-fed and bouncy-chaired. His birth betrayed my freedom. A new apartment complex meant: a new playground, loud laughs, wild cries, and treasured trash. It meant days spent with sidewalk-scratched knees, chewing gum, villainous bees. The trees blew needed breath to me beyond my sliding glass doors.
Begging time to play outside translated to “Calgon, Take Me Away!” As bubbles are scarce with babies in berth, Mom said, Yes. Go. She practically pushed me, and I heard those cows of old moo. As children do, I donned a smile, found a friend, holed up in a moving box; I became another princess with long locks. Our peanut butter crackers were royal petit fours.
Four o’clock came hard, and went.
My mother, the Minnesotan milkmaid of orange juice promise, carried a gallon of guilt, along with my bother-brother, door-to-door. She rapped, so scared, and asked; she masked terror thinking of that boy, the 5 o’clock news, some O’Toole. There were five no’s, then six. He was just six.
Finally. Cut to a seventh living room: I was cutting Barbie doll hair to match Olympic gymnastics’ wear; I was inside a cardboard studio, deaf to Time. Cue my mother’s tears: torrential. I had no idea the headache I caused, the sickness I stirred in my mother’s sewn gut. The fear stayed until I left for college.
I’d just played—like a son once lost in a Sears Roebuck.