We sit upright on the couch, listening to the news.
Bullets raining hellfire on a sleepy town in Maine. A bowling alley, of all places.
I take stock of my children. This what you do when tragedy strikes, no matter how near or far.
College, basketball practice, upstairs doing homework. Down for his after-dinner snack, our youngest son Henry munches on Cheerios at the kitchen counter.
My phone vibrates on the cushion next to me.
When my son Jack was four years old, I lost him in the mall. I was pulling a sweater on over my clothes to see if it would fit, and in the three seconds it took for me to poke my head through the fabric, he was gone.
One minute, he was there, standing right in front of me with his overalls and his sticky hands from the lollipop he’d gotten when we’d stopped at the bank. The next, he was nowhere to be found.
At four, he couldn’t say his own name, but he could start a car.
At four, he didn’t know his phone number, but he could navigate an elevator.
At four, he had autism.
I knew he could be anywhere. I knew firsthand the way a silent child could slip under the radar—through the door, and into the sunset. I knew, because I’d seen him do it.
Jack is nineteen now.
He still has autism.
He is vulnerable in ways that are hard to capture.
He has no idea what is means to stockpile ammunition, or collect weapons, or break into a bowling alley to fire shots on a beautiful autumn night.
He doesn’t understand a bully’s quiet rumble before the attack, or the way companies on the Internet try to scam you out of your credit card number.
He’s pure, and unguarded, and real. He believes people are good.
Autism is without cure.
My son is becoming a young man.
I cannot always be there for him. I cannot always stand in between him and disaster.
Will you help me?
Will you help me keep him safe?
Will you peer into the blaze of hatred, and behold the beauty of a complicated person?
Will you show compassion for the unusual, and mercy for compromised?
Will you think before you speak and breathe before you act?
Will you listen for those who have no voice?
And if you see a boy standing all alone in a bowling alley with his hands clapped over his ears, will you lead him to safety if you can?
With his hand in yours, please, run. Run from the fire as if you are outrunning the sun.
I need you.
The next morning, I sit at my desk. The trees are tall and outside my window. Autumn’s candles blown out, as waxy confetti litter the grass.
His words echo in my mind.
Mom. Nowhere in the world feels safe anymore.