I was four or five when I went missing. The house was full of relatives for some holiday or birthday. Just about everyone who could confirm the details is now dead, but from what I was told, suddenly nobody could find me. It was afternoon, and a dozen people circulated in and out of the back door of our small suburban ranch house, carrying paper plates of food, wearing the striped tube socks and mortifyingly short shorts of the early 1980’s. I was probably one of the youngest kids there, and so the natural recipient of fuss and attention. Round cheeks, dark bangs, and an inclination to perform and show off — this was just before my golden-haired little brother came along and ruined everything. At some point, over the sound of Hall & Oates warning that Private eyes are watching you, my mother’s voice rings out, tinged with an alarm that escalates with each syllable: “Where’s Nicky?”
They look in every room, under beds, in closets. They fan out across the unfenced backyard and onto the neighbors’ property. They start to look down the street, with dread-filled eyes cast towards the heavy traffic of the business district a couple of blocks away.
This may have lasted fifteen minutes or an hour. My only recollection of any of this begins with being shaken awake.
I had been asleep in a chair in the den. The chair was massive, covered in a rust-colored, tweed-ish wool, like the pelt of a classy Muppet. Its heavy skirt would have been an ideal refuge for a cat or a small dog, had I been allowed either. Its curved, padded arms outstretched generously like twin fainting couches for one’s forearms, and its body was all squash and tuft. Two broad, tall wings projected forwards from its back like horse blinders. The combination of the wings, the arms, the angle of the chair and the door to the den meant that anyone who looked in the room saw only an empty chair, not the curled-up child in it.
I don’t recall who found me, or anything about what happened on that day afterwards. But my last and clearest memory of that entire incident was the alien sensation that surfaced in my chest when I was told about first being thought missing — the way the party had abruptly stopped, the rising panic, the team of adults that had been mobilized to search for me. The feeling began as an interior trembling, one that quickly stabilized and expanded, a thing that seemed to feed on its own power. It was like an insectile whirring that slowly and mercilessly fills a summer dusk, chewing away at the edges of silence. A smallness that shocked with its capacity for resonance, a mix of fear, surprise and awe. The feeling coalesced to a single, gratified thought. “Good.”
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