Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Mommy, I'm the little boy who was kidnapped"

When I was about four years old, a little boy went missing in the city where I lived. Everyone thought he'd been kidnapped, and it was a very big deal in the local newspapers and on TV. If I recall correctly, he was missing for several days before it turned out that he hadn't been kidnapped at all but, equally tragically, had drowned in a murky neighborhood swimming pool, where his body was only found after a few days.

While the boy was still missing, my dad and I went in our car to pick up my mother at work. I had some of my favorite toy cars with me -- in my semi-autistic fashion, I could play contentedly with them for hours at a stretch even when I was four -- and played with them on the floor of the backseat of our ancient Ford. I vaguely recall really liking it there; maybe because the transmission hump running down the center of the car's interior made a nice hill for them to drive over.

We weren't there long before a cop came over and talked to my dad. I don't remember what they said -- I guess I just thought it was grownup talk, so I ignored them -- but after a couple of minutes the policeman left and my dad told me to stop playing on the floor and stay on the seat. He said I couldn't play on the floor anymore because he'd get in trouble. I wasn't very happy about that. I didn't see why all of a sudden I couldn't play in my favorite place in the car.

After we got home, my mom explained it to me. If somebody kidnapped a little boy, they might put him on the floor in the backseat of their car so he'd be harder to see. Some lady had seen me on the floor of our car and thought that I was a little boy who'd been kidnapped and called the police. That's why the policeman had come and talked to my dad. So I couldn't play on the car floor anymore.

That made enough sense to satisfy me, so I agreed to stop playing on the floor. There was one part I'd misunderstood though: I thought my mom meant that I'd been mistaken for a boy who'd been kidnapped, not the boy who'd been kidnapped. In fact, I noticed all the fuss in the newspapers and on TV about a kidnapped boy, and I thought it was actually about me. There wasn't really a missing boy; it was just a mistake because some lady saw me playing on the floor of our car.

So finally one night a special news bulletin came on the TV while I was trying to talk to my mom about something -- I guess it must have been when they found the poor kid's body -- and she shushed me. "Be quiet now, I want to hear about the little boy who was kidnapped."

In my most exasperated four-year-old, why-don't-the-grownups-get-it tone of voice I started to explain it to her. "No Mommy, I'm the little boy who was kidnapped." But she shushed me again before I could explain that it was all just a misunderstanding. It was only when she expressed her shock that the boy's body had been in the pool all along that I finally got that they'd actually been talking about some other boy.

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