Sunday morning. Same routine, same rush to get everyone out the door in an attempt to make it to church on time. Same route with the same irritating Sunday drivers. But two weeks ago, our Sunday sameness was interrupted.
“Look at that guy!” my husband exclaimed. A car had stopped in the middle of Lincoln Road and a man was standing near the driver’s door, talking to someone. That someone was a small boy wandering down the center of the street.
I wondered if his kid had jumped out of the car, but the boy seemed confused and wary of the man. We pulled up beside him and turned on our flashers. “I’m getting out,” I said.
The driver seemed relieved as I approached. “Is this your child?”
“No,” he replied. “He was just walking down the middle of the street! I can’t get him to go to the sidewalk. I think he’s deaf.”
Clad in a jeans and a long-sleeved gray shirt, and sporting a blond mini-Mohawk, the child ignored us and watched the traffic zipping down the busy road. He appeared to be about 4 or 5 years old. “Come on, honey,” I said, and took his hand. “You can’t be in the street – you’re going to get hurt.”
He let me lead him to the sidewalk where I knelt and looked into his eyes. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Where’s your Mommy?”
I knew he could hear me because he responded to the sound of my voice, but he didn’t answer my questions. Instead, he headed back toward the street.
Another car stopped behind us. “We’ve called 911,” the woman said.
I grabbed the boy as he stepped off the curb. “Tell them I’m taking the child to that church,” I said, pointing to a nearby building.
“Come on, buddy. Let’s go for a walk.” He willingly tucked his hand in mine and off we started. But his blue eyes kept darting to the road and he seemed enchanted by the traffic. “Cars,” he said.
So he could speak. I stopped and tried to hold his gaze. “Where’s your house, honey? Where’s your Mommy.” But he didn’t answer; instead he tugged my hand as if to say, “Let’s move already!”
I led him to a picnic table on the church’s lawn, but he didn’t want to sit – he wanted to run. Typical boy, I thought. Derek and the other drivers pulled into the church parking lot. But whenever the men approached, the boy took off and headed for the street.
As the minutes ticked by, the boy and I chased each other across the grass. Well, I mostly did the chasing. The man who’d originally spotted the child set up a perimeter to prevent the boy from running to the street. Since he couldn’t tell me his name, I decided to call him Matt, while we waited for help to arrive.
The woman who’d called 911 tossed me a toy – a small red apple with a bell inside it. “Come on, Matt, let’s play catch,” I said.
“He’s been reported missing,” the woman called out from the sidewalk. “He’s autistic and I guess he wanders away from home a lot.”
Whew, I thought. The police or his parents will arrive any minute. I tossed the toy to “Matt” he giggled when it fell to the ground, then picked it up and ran over to me. “Apple,” he said, and raised his hand for a high five.
“Good job, sweetie,” I replied and gave him five. “Down low?” I asked and he obliged. And we waited, but no one came.
Ten minutes passed. Then 15. The wind picked up and “Matt” and I were both getting cold. The assembled adults expressed worry and annoyance at the lack of response from emergency personnel. “They just said his mom was on the way,” the woman said.
Meanwhile, “Matt” and I played our makeshift game. He brought the apple back to me. “Red,” he said, pointing to the toy. “Green,” he added, fingering the leaf. “Good job!” I replied, and after getting his high fives, off he ran again.
After about 20 minutes, the child’s mother arrived on foot. She’d been out walking the neighborhood searching for him. He ran to her. “I’m getting a bolt lock,” she said. “He does this all the time.”
She thanked us but refused offers of a ride home. She started to walk away, the child’s hand in hers. “Wait,” I called. “What’s his name?” “Tyler.”
“Goodbye, Tyler,” I said. He stopped, turned around and ran back to me. He held up his hand for a high five, and I obliged.
“Good job,” he said, and ran back to his mom.
The following Sunday: another rush to get out of the house. Same route – same Sunday drivers, but as we drove down Lincoln Road, 10-year-old Sam said, “Hey! Here’s where we found that lost boy.”
I closed my eyes and thought of the all tragedies that had been avoided that day, and I breathed a prayer for the blond boy with the sweet blue eyes.
His name was Tyler. He stole my heart. And Sunday mornings will never be the same.