This week is an embodiment of the original vision for Story a Week. What I mean by that is that this story is raw, unpolished, and very much a first draft. I normally wouldn't introduce a piece like this, but I have to confess that lately I've been struggling to get material. "Ronnie" is kind of special in that I've finally got something down. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed getting back into that creative stream. Tell me what you think in the comments section or shoot me an e-mail. I'd love to hear your fuming criticisms and sarcastic praise.
I first noticed he was gone almost first thing in the morning. I went upstairs to get his laundry, it was about seven-thirty in the morning on a Saturday, and I went into his room, he was gone. Just like that. Ronnie was gone. My Ronnie was gone. All of his things were left behind except for some clothes, his keys, and his money. I would have thought he had been kidnapped or something like that, except that a note was left there on his bed that nothing more than, “Carpe diem!”
A lot of things went through my mind. At first, I thought that maybe he had just gone out early or there was something was forgetting about. I picked up his hamper, which seemed abnormally light and brought it down to the laundry room. I set breakfast on the stove and then sat at the table to wait for him to come home. I just sat there reading the paper for a good two hours before I called his cell phone. That was my second warning flag. He had left it behind on the table. Ronnie had never forgotten his phone before.
It's so strange. He never gave any warning before he left. He never seemed like he was terribly unhappy and he was never in with a bad crowd. I thought for sure that I was raising him right. His grades were good, his friends seemed to like him, and I didn't mind his friends. Whenever I set a curfew, he would follow it within margin. Except for the odd mishap, Ronnie never got in trouble. I was so proud of him. I'm still proud of him.
He had just turned sixteen two weeks before. I couldn't afford to buy him a car like most of the other kids. I'm a single mom. I work two terrible jobs, but Ronnie never complained about it. He was never vain, never selfish, he never asked for too many things. And usually when he asked, I would give. Not always. I'll never be able to afford “always.” But I tried. By God, I tried.
Ronnie's father, Avery, left almost immediately after I told him I was pregnant. He skipped town and I've never heard from him again. I can't say that I want to. It takes a real piece of work to leave like that. I had a hard time with men for a while. I'll be the first to admit that I slept around and I'll be the first to admit that I was stupid. I drank too. Finally, my stupidity got the best of me and one bad contraceptive later, I'm pregnant. I could have and I should have stopped. Avery was the worst of all the men I slept with. Sometimes I wonder what happened to Avery... but that always results in me losing my mood. I used to cry over it, but then I would remember Ronnie. Such a blessing.
I eighteen, I had left home to live in Los Angeles. I wanted to be away from my family. But by twenty-two, after my hard life had gotten me with child, I hopped on a bus to go home. I didn't want to abort the child, but at that time I certainly had no intention of raising it with a crap in the world. My intention was to go home, have the baby, and dump it on my mom. But on the bus, a miracle happened....
I sat next to a pastor. At first, I thought he was just a nice man trying to get by the hours-long ride with small-talk, but it didn't take me long to realize that there was something more to him. He listened as I sobbed through my miserable life story. When I finished, I felt bad for going on so long and I asked him what he did. He didn't let us talk about him for very long. He kept himself very interested in me; in my story. He loved me, but not like Avery and all those other men said they said. It was something more real, something I had never experienced.
And suddenly I wanted to have that love. I wanted to have that love and I wanted to give that love. That's when I gave my life to Christ and everything changed.
I got home and I made the baby in my womb my top priority. My parents saw the change in my life and they were amazed. I brought them to church a few times and soon, we were your regular church-going family. Very soon after that, I had Ronnie. I gave him the best I could.
And now he's gone.
It's been four years and I haven't anything from him. Not a phone, not a letter, nothing....
I wonder what I did wrong. The most obvious thing would be that he never had a father. I skipped that step, I skipped looking for one, because I wanted to focus on raising my son. I gave up a lot for him. I gave up my stupid attempts at a music career, I gave up looking for a man... I gave up practically anything for myself for Ronnie. He knows this, he knows how hard I've worked and how it's all been for him.
I did everything for him. Maybe it was too much. Maybe I was too controlling, maybe I was too demanding, maybe I was too there for him. I mean, I could hardly stand the thought of being away from him, but I don't think I was too severe. I tried so hard to do everything that maybe I tried too hard. I don't know. I can't know. Ronnie can't tell me. He's gone. He's just left. He's gone....
I pray for him every morning. I pray for him every night. I pray that he might one day come back. I pray that if he doesn't, he's alive out there and happy with what he's doing. I think sometimes that maybe I just needed to be out of the picture for whatever it is he wanted to do. Sometimes I think that maybe I filled my purpose in his life and needed to be discarded. But I know that isn't true.
I know that ultimately Ronnie made the wrong choice in his life. I know that ultimately he made a very selfish decision to leave me and “seize the day”. A few times I've tried my very hardest to be angry with him. A few times I've tried my very hardest to forget about him and move on. There were even a few times when I've tried to believe that my Ronnie is dead. But I can't. I can't hate him or bury him. I love him. He's my son.
Today, I found that I'm still working the same two jobs and I'm still living in the same house. I find myself still, even after four years, going into Ronnie's room to get his laundry. I can't help but cook for two when I make dinner. Whether he intends it or not, Ronnie is always going to be there with me. I can never forget him and I can never stop hoping.
Am I delusional? Am I crazy? Should I give up? I don't know. I just want my son back.
Ronnie, come home.
Seven years after the sudden disappearance of her son, Amy Laughlin still was not ready to give up. When the economic recession hit, she lost one of her jobs and eventually her home. She quit her second job and moved back in with her parents. It all became too much for her. Depression sank in and took control. Against her will, Amy's parents enrolled her in a six-week psychiatric program. Hope seemed distant for her deteriorating mental state.
Seven years to the day of Ronnie's disappearance, Amy found herself sitting in front to the television at St. Michael's. There sat she clad in a pink bathrobe, frizzled hair, and heaps of medication weighing her mind. On the screen was the local news. Amy was only supposed to watch cartoons and happy things, but she had figured out how to watch whatever channel she wanted. If she kept the volume down, then the attending nurse might not notice. Amy watched because she hoped to find some word about her missing son. Maybe... just maybe...
“Miss Laughlin,” a deep voice said sternly. “You know aren't supposed to watch-”
“Quiet, Ronnie might come on,” Amy shook as she waved him off.
“Come on, let's go do something else,” the deep voice suggested. To Amy, he was just a voice. Her world was the television and nothing else. Her schizophrenia had gone almost completely out of control, but medication kept her at least partially in the real world. She would have to focus in order to accept that others existed; others besides Ronnie. And in this moment, her focus was on the television.
“Shush, go away!”
“Miss Laughlin, come on, we're going somewhere else,” the voice combined itself with a feeling on her shoulder. A very firm one.
The news report, which was almost completely useless, ended and the commercials began. “Alright, I'll come but you have to shush,” Amy told the voice as she stood from her chair. She kept her eye on the TV.
“How about we go draw a nice picture?”
“Wait!” Amy snapped and then came back to the TV. She dropped to her knees and intently watched. “That's him! That's my Ronnie! There he was! He was on TV! He was!” The commercial was for a local music festival which featured various local up-and-coming artists and washouts.
“No! Wait! He'll come back!” Amy watched like a hawk. The editing was fast and exciting, but... had she really...?
“We have to go.”
“Shut up! Shut up! I see him! I see my Ronnie!” Amy burst into jovial tears as she threw her arms into the air. “We have to go! We have to see him! He's there! He's alive! He's my Ronnie! Oh, oh! Oh!” There was a young man who played something on an electric guitar. He was there for less then five seconds, but it was enough. Amy simply knew it was him.