As I stepped out into the cold April night I was aware that my son was not wearing any shoes. When he turned back and saw me following him, he took off running down the poorly lit street. My heart had already been pounding, now it felt like there was enough electricity pumping through my veins to launch a rocket. I don’t know how this is going to end, I kept thinking. I had only moved into this neighborhood two months earlier and did not know all the shadows and driveways and if Rahul ran off the street I would never be able to find him. I caught up to him quickly and he slumped his shoulders when he realized I was going to follow him wherever he went tonight. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he stared straight ahead, determined to out-walk me, if nothing else. Neighbors passed by us, but didn’t notice that he had no shoes on, or that he was breaking down. I whistled a tune so he would think I was calm and in control. When we reached the first intersection he started to dart across the street, not understanding the traffic lights or the “don’t walk” signal. I grabbed him and pointed to the oncoming traffic to show him that I didn’t want to stop him from walking, just from getting hit by a car. He pulled out of my grip, enraged that I was trying to hold him back, and charged ahead as cars drove toward him. I jumped between him and the cars and held my hands up to stop them as we crossed the street together. I prayed that they would see me and stop. I hadn’t stopped praying since his tantrum had begun.
Rahul had only just come home with me from India a week or so earlier. He was angry and irritated and uncomfortable most of the time since we had met, and a few times he had erupted in such rage that he would try to run away from me. He would start by putting his shoes on, the ones he had worn home from the orphanage, then he would carefully remove anything I had given him—a watch, a shirt—and try to leave my NYC apartment. He was trying to run back to India. Back to his house—his orphanage. Away from me. I stopped him the first few times. A few days earlier he had gotten so angry at my stopping him from leaving that he lashed out at me to the point where I feared I couldn’t control him. He was small for his age, but he was still a 7-year-old boy, and a strong one at that. I have never claimed to be very strong myself, physically at least. He spent several hours kicking, scratching, screaming and biting me, until finally he passed out on the floor in a heap. I fell into a heap myself that day, in tears, scared by what I had taken on. Unsure how to handle his emotion. But after that incident I decided that the next time he tried to leave I wouldn’t stop him, I would just go with him. I would be his shadow as he discovered that India is too far away to walk to. So that night, when he started walking out the door, I stood aside and let him go. As he struggled with the locks he got so angry that he threw his shoes across the floor. I looked in his eyes and said, Wow, you are angry! Then I unlocked the door and opened it.
Once we made it safely across the intersection I could see Rahul’s eyes scanning the edges of the street lighted area for somewhere to dash to. We walked another two blocks, then turned north. We were no longer walking on the sidewalk or the road, but balancing on a small curb. I prayed that there was no broken glass to cut his feet. And I prayed that this night would end well. We walked a few more blocks and Rahul turned right, crossing an overpass over the Henry Hudson Parkway. Where is he going? I thought. Then he made one more turn, down the entrance ramp. My heart raced as I realized his plan was to walk onto the highway. Did he think it led back to India? My brain was spinning as I followed alongside him. I knew if he made it to the bottom of the ramp I would have to physically restrain him and I wasn’t sure I could do it. My God, what would that look like to people driving by? Then, just as we reached the bottom, he stopped and turned around. I took a deep breath. Did this mean he was done? As we reached the top of the ramp and turned back over the overpass, without looking at me, he whispered, “House.” It was one of the few English words he knew and at that moment it was the most beautiful word I had ever heard. I said, “OK.” I could see that he didn’t know how to get home and his little body was shivering. I said, “ Can I carry you?” I wasn’t sure I could carry him very far, but I couldn’t let him walk anymore. He stopped dead in his tracks and lifted up his arms. I drew him up into my arms and tried to help him mold around my body. Having not been held much in his life, he was awkward in this position, with his neck stiff and his limbs just hanging limp. I placed my lips to his ear and said, “Rahul, I love you. I am not going to hurt you.” It was the first time I had told him that I loved him, and until this moment, I wasn’t even sure that I did.
The rest of that night was happy and there have been so many happy times since then. That night I began to trust my maternal instinct, which has guided me more surely than any advice or instruction. That wasn’t the last time Rahul ran away from me and it certainly wasn’t the worst night we have shared since he has been home with me the past two and a half years. But that night was the beginning of our very special relationship.
|Rahul circa April 2008 in his favorite outfit!|