that period with parents looking for their sons, and if the missing boys weren't in my living room, chances were that Taz knew exactly where they were, who they were hanging out with, what movie they'd gone to see, or how to reach them by cell phone. “Your son is like the social director,” one of the other parents commented. Indeed, he seemed happily woven in to a secure, safe, and friendly world.
Then they turned thirteen and got to eighth grade. Suddenly, Taz and all his friends were the biggest kids in the school. Many of them were taller than their teachers. They were jazzed about being “seniors” and going on to high school the next year. I could see therewas a lot less time being spent on homework and a lot more time being spent on MySpace, cell phones, and iPods.
Taz’ s first-quarter grades in eighth grade were OK, but for the first time in middle school, he hadn't made the top ten student list. What was more troubling was that he didn't seem to care, and some of his friends had also dropped out of the top ten competition.
This was when they stopped hanging out at our house. For the first time in three years, I was coming home to an empty apartment. Taz's daily calls to check in by cell phone after school tapered off, too. When I tried to reach him, all I got was the familiar “Yo, whaddup! It's Taz!” but he wasn't returning my messages. I called the parents who used to ask Taz where their kids were, but they had no idea where Taz was.
One school night, it got to be nine o'clock and I hadn't heard from him. I left Sport with a neighbor and went out looking on the avenue near our house where I sometimes saw kids hanging out. I peered into the pizzeria, the Starbucks, and the shadowy playground where groups of teenagers often congregated. The kids who noticed me looked away quickly, guiltily putting their cigarettes behind their backs and stopping their loud stories midsentence, not knowing whose mother I was and whether they might be held accountable for whomever I was seeking. But I didn't recognize any of them, and Taz wasn't among them.
I walked from one end of the avenue to the other,about a mile and a half round- trip, but didn't spot him anywhere. Then I walked up to the park where I sometimes, while walking the dog, saw teenagers gathering late at night to drink and smoke and do who knows what else. I had a whole speech prepared in my head about how dangerous it was for Taz to be in there this late, and how he should have called me, and how I didn't want him out on a school night, anyway. But I didn't get to make the speech. There was no teenage laughter coming from the park benches or the meadow where I'd seen kids in the past.
I sighed and headed home. I'm not the type to panic, but I wondered at what point was I supposed to call 911. I figured I'd try calling all his friends’ parents again, as embarrassing as that would be, because it would just be more proof that I had no control over my son. And I'd try his cell again, too, before letting my worries get too extreme.
And then I guessed that I'd have no choice but to call the cops. “Oh, your thirteen- year- old is missing at ten p.m. on a Tuesday night? Trust me, lady, that's not an emergency,” I could imagine the dispatcher laughing at me. But this had never happened before. To me, it was an emergency. In fact, the entire thirteenth year was starting to feel like one great big emergency.
I trudged up the steps to our building and opened the apartment door. There he was, grinning, standing with his dad and his brother, who'd been retrieved from the neighbor's house when Elon got home from work.
“Mom, where were you?” he said. “I tried to call you.”
Indeed, the answering machine was blinking. I pressed Play.
“Hi, Mom, I'm at Trevor's house. Sorry I didn't call you before. I was hoping you could give me a ride, but I guess I'll take the bus. I'll be there around nine- thirty. See ya.”
I felt like crying, but I wasn't sure