Spoiler alert: This week’s column has a happy ending. I wish all stories about lost children could end the same.
Stepping lively, I dodged traffic cones dotting the street, thankful the end of roadwork season is almost here.
I savored the glorious October sun, knowing my regular treks around the neighborhood will soon be replaced by boring indoor workouts at the gym.
Adjusting my headphones, I cranked up my walking music and my pace. A tug on my arm startled me. I’d been so focused on boosting my heart rate, I had failed to notice the approach of two small boys.
“Do you know where Standard Street is?” one of them asked. “We’re lost.”
If this scenario sounds familiar to readers, I’m not surprised. I seem to collect lost boys the way other folks collect license plates or trading cards. From a tiny autistic boy who’d escaped from his house to play on a busy street one Sunday morning, to Ricky who got confused when he got off the school bus one afternoon, I seem to be a lost-boy magnet. This time there were two of them looking at me with anxious eyes.
I’m embarrassed to admit my route is so familiar I don’t pay attention to street names.
“I think we’re on Standard,” I replied. “But there’s a sign on the corner – let’s check.”
We approached the sign and verified we were on Standard, but the boys weren’t reassured.
“Actually, we need to know where Lyons Street is,” the spokesboy said.
“What’s your address?” I asked.
Two pairs of eyes stared at me blankly.
“I don’t know it,” the smaller boy said.
“Me either,” his friend admitted. “But it’s apartments.”
Taking a deep breath, I asked them their names and ages.
“I’m Marc with a ‘c,’ and I’m 9,” the taller boy said.
“I’m Luis, and I’m 8,” his friend replied.
I asked them how they got lost.
“Well, we got off the bus at a friend’s house after school,” Marc said. “But he couldn’t play, so we decided to walk home, but we don’t really know where we are now.”
“What school do you go to?” I asked.
“Linwood Elementary,” he replied.
Linwood is about 2 miles away from my Shiloh Hills neighborhood and across bustling Division Street. They couldn’t remember where they’d gotten off the bus.
As we chatted, we kept walking because I assured them that Lyons was north of Standard, and if we kept walking north hopefully they would be able to spot their apartment building.
“How about I call your parents?” I offered as we walked. “Maybe one of them can come pick you up.”
It was 4:20 and the boys said the bus usually had them home by 3:30.
“We’ve probably been walking for HOURS,” opined Luis, who didn’t know his phone number.
Marc said his mom was home and gave me her number. I called repeatedly from my cellphone as we walked, but no one answered.
“She has MS and sometimes she doesn’t answer the phone,” he said. “Especially if she doesn’t know who’s calling.”
By this time we were almost to my house, and I estimated they still had at least a half-mile to walk.
“If I give you guys a ride do you think you could show me your apartment building?” I asked.
“Yes!” said Marc.
“My legs are really tired,” Luis admitted.
I offered them some water, but they declined.
“I’d like some crackers if you have some,” said Luis.
I dashed inside to grab my purse and discovered we were out of crackers.
“What are you doing?” my son, Sam, asked.
“Taking some lost boys home,” I replied.
“What? Again!?” he said, shaking his head.
The boys buckled up and Marc opined that my car was similar to his mom’s. He knew the make and model of her car. It would have been more helpful if he knew her address.
However, as we approached the neighborhood park, they got excited.
“Hey! I know where we are now!” Marc yelled. “We’re almost home!”
Sure enough, he spotted their apartment building and I dropped them off.
When I wrote about my afternoon adventure on Facebook, a friend said, “I hope you gave them a lecture about getting in cars with strangers once you safely delivered them home!”
Honestly, I was just so relieved I’d been able to get them home; I never thought to scold them. I did lecture them about learning their addresses.
“You need to know the name of the apartment complex and the street address,” I’d chided.
They’d both just shrugged and nodded.
My relief at the happy outcome gave way to dismay. I wished I’d scolded them about getting off the school bus at someone else’s house without first making sure they had permission. I was horrified that they seemed to think it was acceptable to go to a stranger’s house and then get into her car.
They were so trusting and sweet and had absolute confidence in my ability to get them home. And that’s what really made me sad.
Because I’d like to think we live in a world where grown-ups are trustworthy. Where parents have confidence that when their children are out of their sight, other adults are watching out for them.
And mostly, I want to believe that all lost boys return home safe and sound.
Contact Cindy Hval at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.