When my younger son, Andy, was 19 years old he was so thin the vertebrae in his back looked like rungs on a knobby ladder. Our nights were interrupted by Andy stumbling through the dark into the bathroom to throw up. His primary care doctor pronounced him “a little underweight.” This was like calling the Donner Party a little hungry. He gave us a referral to a gastrointestinal specialist and handed me a sample pack of antacids.
When Andy went for his checkup, his dentist suggested that he might be diabetic. The dentist took one look inside Andy’s parched mouth and then took a second glance at the 20 ounce bottle of water my son had at his side. When we met the next day with the specialist, I mentioned the dentist’s suggestion and Dr. P. ordered fasting lab work.
When the lab results came back, Dr. P. called me and told me to go find my son. The rest of the story included a trip to the emergency room where a nurse who wasn’t much older than Andy met us at the door with a wheelchair. I jogged along behind her bouncing pony tail as she pushed my son down a tiled hallway that echoed with the moans coming from the curtained rooms we passed. We did not stop to fill out paperwork or answer billing questions.
When Andy was three years old, I lost him while Christmas shopping. One moment I had his damp, sticky hand clenched in mine, the next I let him go so I could flip through a display of clearance sale clothing. It was enough time for him to slip from the store and vanish, swept along by the current of holiday shoppers. I grabbed my older son, Robert, and demanded, “Where’s Andy?” as though he had stashed him away like a toy he didn’t want to share.
Just as I found a security guard, we spotted two older women walking toward us. Grey haired bookends in sensible shoes, they each had a firm grip on my son. Andy did not look concerned at all. I thanked them over and over, and despite their quiet reassurances, I felt I should explain that I was a good mother, and I had at least managed to keep one child in sight.
During his hospital stay Andy mastered the art of insulin injections and glucose level testing. Soon after his release, he found a job at the local ice cream distribution center. He came home at night and told us “You can eat all the ice cream you want!”
“That doesn’t seem like the best job for a diabetic,” I remarked.
He worked in a refrigerated warehouse, tossing pallets of ice cream into the back of a waiting truck, an activity that required a heavy parka and protective gloves to guard against frostbite.
His career at the ice cream warehouse came to an unfortunate end after the plant manager locked him in the company parking lot one evening. Andy called to let me know he would be late for dinner, and might spend the night in his truck. I made the twenty minute drive to rescue him in less than fifteen minutes, and managed not to damage any property, run over any animals, or become the focus of a helicopter police chase.
As I pulled up to the padlocked gate at the parking lot, I saw Andy leaning against his bright red truck on the other side of the ten foot tall, wrought iron fence. We met at the padlocked gate and discussed options.
“I could throw a rock through the office window and set off the alarm,” he offered.
“I believe a more reasonable alternative is calling 911,” I replied. When the dispatcher answered I asked her to call the emergency contact person listed for the ice cream company. While my voice shook as I mentioned that Andy was diabetic, hers remained quiet and calm, and she assured me she would keep trying the contact number until someone answered.
I left Andy abandoned at the junior high school one night after band practice. My work schedule changed, and I thought my mother-in-law would pick him up, but she forgot I had asked. By the time I arrived home from work the street lights were clicking on in the dusk. I realized that Andy had been waiting for a ride home since four that afternoon. When I got to the school and pulled into the parking lot, there was enough light left to see Andy waiting outside the band hall, sitting on the ground and leaning against the brick building. When I asked him why he didn’t call someone to come get him, he replied, “I knew you’d miss me and come get me.”
While we were waiting for the 911 operator to call back with good news, a patrol car arrived. The policeman, a young man with perfectly clipped dark hair, rolled down his window as he pulled up behind my car. At first I wondered if his appearance had something to do with my 911 call, but when I asked the officer he said no. We must have made a curious pair of vandals, a middle aged woman in baggy shorts and house shoes, and a skinny, long haired boy in faded jeans loitering on the other side of the fence.
“How did you get in there?” The police officer strolled up to stand beside me at the gate.
“I stopped to check my oil and everybody left,” Andy replied.
I noticed the officer kept his hand near the cuffs on his belt, and I mentally went through the list of people who might provide bail money.
“My son is diabetic,” I said. I hoped the policeman would look at us less like criminals he might need to arrest.
The officer squinted in at Andy.
“Are you okay in there?” the cop asked, and glanced back toward his idling patrol car, outfitted with a crash bar. I imagined scenes from action movies where the hero busts through the gates and escapes. The officer seemed disappointed when Andy replied he was okay, but he was a little thirsty.
When the plant manager arrived he rushed up to the gate with his keys in hand and asked my son, “How did you get in there?”
Andy rolled his eyes and replied, “You locked me in,” and I realized that his future in ice cream distribution was over.
We headed home and I followed along down the highway behind Andy’s bright red truck. He changed lanes and passed cars and vanished over the crest of a rise in the road. I knew we would eventually arrive at the same destination, so I lifted my foot some from the gas pedal and sang along with the car radio. My son went on without me, lost from sight, but not missing.