Don’t Blink

Amanda stared at the duck.  It was hard to deduce from the way the duck was standing if it had one leg or two.   Amanda wanted to figure that out.  Jan looked at the sky thinking about a possible solution to his programming problem.  I glanced at the circle of people gathered a few steps from the fountain.  They  seemed to be tourists but  not exactly.  I tried to sort out this dissonance and gazed at the group a few seconds too long. When I turned my head back toward the fountain, Robert was gone.

We were all in Boston Common on a warm weekend day.  All three of us knew that we had to watch Robert closely. He had insatiable appetite for bolting. He could wiggle out of any grip and run. Even Amanda, seven years old at the time,  knew that we had to watch Robert. We watched him.  Closely.    We were spread strategically around a fountain.  Each of us precisely 120 degree from each other.  Robert was running around. We did watch him.

Except for these few second when Amanda looked at the duck, Jan looked at the sky, and I looked at the circle of people .

Robert was gone.

It seemed impossible, illogical, unexplainable, and completely unbelievable. We all watched him.  At least one of us should have noticed something.

“Robert! Robert!”  I screamed knowing  Robert would not react. I screamed  to alert everybody. Soon, a young man approached me asking what had happened.   He didn’t have uniform but he had a police badge.  He notified park rangers. I described Robert to him, but couldn’t remember, at first, what he was wearing.  My first thought was to check the playground. I suspected Robert might remember it from his trip there  18 months before.   But Jan and Amanda decided to run around park’s border to prevent Robert from crossing any of the busy streets surrounding Boston Common.   I was told to stay in one place and wait.  I waited.

Someone told the policemen that a boy matching Robert’s description walked with a man just a few minutes before.  Luckily, that man’s clothes matched Jan’s. No stranger was holding Robert’s hand. Relief.  A few minutes later a loudly talking man approached me.   I thought he knew something but he was saying disturbing things.  The policeman asked him to leave. Amanda and Jan returned.  They ran around the perimeter of the park and didn’t see Robert.

Just  then the policeman told me that a parent called a  park ranger about a boy who was running around the fort like structure of the playground. This parent observed that  no adult was watching this boy.  A few minutes later, we were asked to come and get Robert.  The young park ranger was not able to hold his hand and walk with him to us.   Robert wiggled every time in his own way.

I held his hand tightly.  He was walking as if nothing had happened attempting to skip every few steps. Many toddlers dressed like little ducklings  walked in opposite direction with their parents.    It was a day for the famous Boston’s  Duckling Day Parade.

Robert  seemed happy. His joyful face confused the policeman who was convinced that the  children ran away because  they were unhappy with their parents. To dispel that belief  I said the thing that I have regretted ever since.  I said, “Oh no, he runs because he has autism.”

I still don’t know why Robert eloped so many times when he was younger.  I might make  assumptions about causes  of some of his escapades.  Those assumptions might be  wrong, but they are still better than using  “autism” as an explanation.

That night I was awaken by Robert’s cry. Many times before that night he screamed  from anger, discomfort, or pain, but he has never  cried like  that.  Like a person lost in a labyrinth.


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