Now there is no precedent for a sentence like that last one. I’ve never heard it before, or used it before. I’ve never heard anyone else use it in conversation. In fact, when the words hit my ears they had no impact because they made no sense. I started to ask: “… kid? … locked? What?”
But she was gone.
So I grabbed my car keys and hustled out the front door.
As I came around the side of the house I had no idea what to expect. I knew that, due to the heat, I had left my car windows open but as I approached the car they now appeared to be rolled up. My wife and my daughter and one of the neighbors were standing there looking at my car like it had suddenly sprouted wings. I grabbed the door but it was locked. I never lock my car in my drive-way during the day. I peered around the inside of the car, looking quickly for dead bodies, guns, knives or crime scenes but something seemed to be blocking my view.
I pulled my focus back and realized that the tiny face of a very small boy was nose to nose with mine, just on the other side of the glass. He was standing on the passenger-side seat watching the commotion outside with great interest. He was smiling. Sort of. I backed away to take stock and reassess the situation: There was a tiny kid locked in my car. I had no idea who he was. My glove compartment was open and all of the ink pens, sunglasses, papers and pocket change from the center console were strewn about the floor.
“Hey buddy,” I hollered through the glass, “what are you doing in there?”
He nodded and smiled.
I looked toward the small group of neighbors that had begun to assemble in my drive-way. They just shrugged. I looked quickly again for a discarded weapon or for someone hiding in the shadows of the back seat. I felt a little silly; I mean he WAS just a four year-old. But he had locked himself in my car with the windows rolled up on a ninety degree summer afternoon, so conventional explanations didn’t seem to apply.
I fumbled for the right key. I put it in the lock and slowly opened the door. At first the kid tried to relock the door but saw that it wasn’t going to work so he backed off a step. As the door opened he moved quickly to escape but I blocked his way and said “Whooaa there buddy… not so fast. You’re not in trouble, we just want to help you find your mom. Hey, what ‘you doing in my car?”
He looked at me blankly and said something unintelligible. I asked him his name, his age, where he lived but got only garbled answers.
Did he live around here or was he visiting?
“Do you know where your Mom is?”
“Mom.” He pointed towards the creek, the only direction she couldn’t be.
“What’s your name?”
I gave up.
The police had been called and within minutes a cruiser pulled up in front of the house. Police cars always seem disproportionately large for the situation and given the narrow, overgrown nature of the neighborhood, this one seemed enormous. The officer that emerged was friendly and relaxed and seemed to already be familiar with the case.
“Hello Jayden,” he said directly to the boy, “where’s your Mom?
At this point I suppose I should probably tell you about the neighborhood.
• • •
The neighborhood that I live in is relatively old and built up along a tight meander in a local creek. It is wooded and very pleasant – with a variety of older homes that are decidedly middle class. But within that “middle class” there is also a hierarchy. Most of the houses are kept up nicely but a few are rather run-down and dilapidated. The worst house in the neighborhood just happens to be the one directly behind us, through a thick hedge of bushes that we’ve let grow as dense as possible.
There are also three families in the neighborhood that have lived here forever – inbreeding and spreading out like suburban hillbillies. It is rumored that, back in the 1950’s, a member of one family murdered a member of another, setting off a Hatfield and McCoy situation that exists to this day.
Which brings us back to the occupants of the house behind us.
It is an extended family group that includes two elderly retarded brothers, a 16 year-old unwed mother, a very loud and foul-mouthed woman of undetermined relationship and an assortment of low-lifes that drop by to say hi. And somewhere within that cauldron of domestic tranquility sits Jayden and his mother. Apparently they live somewhere else in the township but are known to police because every time Jayden becomes frightened, which is often, he runs away and locks himself in a car.
• • •
We learned through the neighborhood grapevine that, later that day, Family Services had come and taken the boy away. The incident with my car was just one in a long string of events that dated back many years and was the straw that had broken the camel’s back. His mother was told that she would have to seek counseling and parenting classes before she would be able to get him back.
• • •
Begrudgingly, I now lock my car in my own drive-way.