“Have you heard from him?” a woman says into a cordless telephone. She’s pacing her living room, her five-year-old son and his three-year-old sister are sleeping on the couch; the Lego Movie DVD menu repeats on the television. Her husband has gone to search the neighborhood.
It’s after midnight in Crosswinds, a cookie-cutter, select-your-floor-plan subdivision. Every third house looks almost identical, only in different colors. Families in the neighborhood are all middle-class PTA-involved SUV owners. Their boys are on the same sports teams. Wives travel downtown for girls’ weekends once a month, where they rent hotel rooms and visit Macy’s and fantasize at Kitchen Window.
Felicity is her name, the woman in her living room. Her eyes are red and watery. Shawn is her son, a 15-year-old honor roll student and close runner-up for homecoming king. It’s one o’clock on a Wednesday morning and he isn’t home. He’s always home by six for dinner, and he always, always, always, responds to text messages.
“I don’t know where he is. I keep texting him. He isn’t responding. I haven’t seen him since Sunday,” says Cassie, one of Shawn’s neighborhood friends, from the other end of the line.
Bob is Shawn’s father, a Corporate America middle manager who has work happy hours on Thursdays and poker nights every other Saturday. He’s scanning the lawns and the vacant lots of Crosswinds, though he know it’ll do no good. Wherever Shawn is, he isn’t here.
Felicity calls Shawn’s phone again. Like every other attempt—now numbering in the hundreds—it rings and rings until, “Hey, this is Shawn. Leave a message.”
Bob squints through his windshield. Squinting doesn’t help. Or maybe it does. He squints anyway.
Shawn wouldn’t run away. He doesn’t do that stuff. And he’s happy. There’s nothing wrong with him. He’ll have a helluva excuse, I’m sure.
Bob leaves Crosswinds to scan the sides of the “main” road outside the subdivision. The speed limit is 45 out here. It’s 19 in Crosswinds.
He’ll find Shawn, he knows it. He’ll find his son. He will.
There’s a blue Corolla somewhere in the woods off the main road; Bob passes it by without noticing. Inside the car is the blank face of a 15-year-old boy, eyes half-open, staring into the Toyota logo on the Corolla’s steering wheel. There’s a hole through the driver-side headrest and a dent in its roof.
“No, no,” Felicity says into the phone. “There are no ‘signs of mental distress.’ How dare you suggest that! He didn’t run away. He’s in trouble somewhere.” The police, as they’ve said a thousand times, have nothing. “We’ll call you the minute we find something,” they tell her. Again.
Earlier in the week Cassie’s father couldn’t find the pistol he uses at Pioneer Sport, a gun range he visits with friends, where he taught his wife how to use a gun for protection. He was terrified that one of his kids had found it—he keeps it “hidden”—and immediately thought of himself as the next CNN story about the negligent father responsible for, well, you know.
Shawn’s dinner is wrapped up in tin foil on a dinner plate that Felicity bought as a package set. Eight coffee mugs, eight salad bowls, AND eight dinner plates for $14.99. Shawn will want food when he returns. The mac-and-cheese has been sitting out too long, but Felicity puts it in the fridge anyway. She tries calling Shawn again.
“Goddammit, Shawn. Where are you?” Bob notices his air conditioner is on high. He turns it off and rolls down the windows. He starts yelling Shawn’s name.
There’s a phone in the cup-holder of the Corolla in the woods. The phone lights up and starts vibrating. On the screen, in Helvetica: “Home.” The call will go unanswered.
Felicity will freeze Shawn’s room in time. Bob will hate Cassie’s father even though he knows he shouldn’t. The Channel 3 news will spend exactly seven minutes on the story and the evening anchor will flawlessly transition to a story about the weather. There will be a vigil at First Baptist Church. The Home of the Fighting Tigers will offer counseling to students.
Everyone will ask why.
There are 4,600 child and young adult suicides every year in the United States. Parents don’t always catch the warning signs. Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.