As I sprinted down the street, my neighbor looked at me from over her shoulder. She could hear me huffing and puffing before she saw me. As I neared her, she slowed her pace. I’m sure I was a sight– wild eyed, beginning to sweat and completely out of breath.
I know I locked the door. I know it was locked. How did he get out?!
Ronan was almost half-way down our street when I caught up with him. Right before I was within an arm’s reach of my son, my neighbor turned around to head back to her house. She looked at me and said, “I feel for you . . . ”
“Thanks,” I sputtered. “Thanks.”
Even if she hadn’t said anything, I know she understands. She’d never point a finger at me. She’d never shake her head at me. She wouldn’t tell me that I should’ve done this, this or that. She understands. She empathizes. She sprints into action without question. She knows that, as much as we try, wandering is an ugly reminder and a constant worry that comes with Ronan’s regressive autism.
Ronan had only gotten two houses away from home before I sensed he was gone. Darting out to look for him, two of Ronan’s sisters ran up the driveway and toward the left. The other sister ran toward the right. Ronan’s brother and I were in full sprint and ready to tag team had Ronan gotten farther—he would look down one driveway and me down the next. This time, we found Ronan before he got too far. As we surrounded Ronan, our expressions changed from panic -stricken to forced happy smiles. We got Ronan’s attention and encouraged him to come back home.
“I feel for you . . . ”
Those words could’ve stung had they been uttered by someone else, but they didn’t coming from this neighbor. She understands all too well the type of situation I am. She has a child with a physical disability and with neurological delays. Her son cannot walk and relies on her to get him where he needs to go. Her day is spent guiding her son, lifting him into and out of his wheelchair. She is the sole provider and is tasked to provide a great deal of care for her son, while also ensuring that he is physically comfortable. Some days I think she carries a heavy burden. With how quickly Ronan can leave undetected, I bet she thinks mine is heavier.
By the time Ronan and I approached our house, I saw our neighbor sitting on her front porch. I waved quietly and whispered thanks. Thank goodness she saw Ronan when he got out. Thank goodness she spied him when she did. Thank goodness she leapt into action before Ronan slipped farther away.
“I feel for you . . . ”
Her simple statement ran through my head.
I feel for me too. And for every family whose child wanders.
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