Icy Heart by MagpieMagic (Sybille Sterk)
My little boy was special.
Don’t all parents feel that way, though? Each child is unique, each child is different, and each child is the apple of their parents’ eyes. And it is true.
But this isn’t about other children. I’m telling the story of my child, my son.
Even as a baby he rarely cried. He seemed rather emotionally distant. I would hold him, cuddle him, as any parent would–especially their first and only child–but he was resistant. He called for food and only occasional attention, and that was that. And as he grew older and learned to move, to speak, he became more-so.
My little boy was never rude, though. Polite as could be. But rarely would he instigate conversation. He did not like to play with others. In fact, I would often find him sitting in the window seat of his room, staring outside. He would breathe out against the glass and draw pictures, write his name, and some of his creations were simply fascinating. But trying to encourage him to draw on anything other than his window held no interest for him.
I consulted friends, family, specialists in child behavior, and the answers I received were similar and all equally unhelpful.
“It’s a faze.”
“It will pass.”
“He’s just shy.”
“Let him be.”
But how could I let be my little boy? He was my world, and yet he seemed to find no interest in the world outside of his own. He just continued to stare out his frosted window.
Searching for a world that he belonged to, because he was obviously born into the wrong one.
The only time he truly came alive was in winter. Perhaps the cold pleased him, gave him an excuse not to breathe all over his bedroom window. It inspired him, brought a smile to his face. The snow was his blank canvas, the ice his looking glass, and the gray sky a match to his eyes.
I was still terrified the first time he disappeared. He was able to walk easily and dress himself, but was still so young, so fragile in my eyes. But it was the first heavy snow of the year, and for the first time that I could remember, my son and I enjoyed ourselves outside, as family.
We played in the snow, making snow men and snow angels. Icicles were our swords, frozen tree branches our decorations as they glinted with icy droplets in dazzling sunlight. His laughter and true happiness at the sight of winter seemed to thaw the frost that kept his emotions hidden from me.
And as I came back outside from grabbing my camera, I paused at the door, staring at the hasty, childish scrawl written in frost on the glass. I almost missed it, for it was so low on the pane.
“Back,” it said.
‘Back?’ Back inside? Back up? What did that mean?
I stepped out and called to my son, knowing it had to have been him who wrote it. When no answer came I began my search, panic growing with each pass that resulted in no child.
I spent hours looking, until night fell and I received a call from my neighbor. I’d asked them to keep an eye out for my son as I looked–even the police were notified and out searching. My neighbor’s voice was a welcoming sound in my ear.
“Are you still out? We have him at our place–walked by and saw him sitting on the porch, drawing on the glass of all things! The cops know, so come and pick him up when you get back, okay?”
Thank goodness! There were many tears and thank-yous oozing from me as I hugged my little boy, picking at every part of him to make sure he was all right. He put up with it, obviously not caring much for my nitpicking.
We made it home and I asked him where he’d disappeared to. I was worried sick, didn’t he know he should have said something? Why did he go?
“I did,” he said. “I left the note on the window. I’d be back.” He sighed happily. “I just wanted to see more ice and snow.”
And he told me what he’d seen. Icicles as big as he was, snow drifts the size of cars, frozen ponds that he’d slipped around on. He’d had the time of his life while I’d had the worst day of mine.
I begged him not to leave like that for so long again, trying to explain how frightened I’d been and how dangerous it was.
“But I loved it,” he said. “I had so much fun.”
No matter how much I pleaded, I never did get a straight up acceptance from him.
And so his disappearing acts continued. He would spend the early morning with me and eat his breakfast, then be gone until lunch. We would eat again, and he would tell me about his morning romp in the snow. And then he left again, until the sun went down and it was time for supper.
He at least told me everything, which is more than I can say about other children. He was very open and honest about his playtime. I was still fearful, but extremely thankful for his sharing side. And the adventures he went on sounded wondrous.
As spring approached and the snow melted, he would become more melancholy. Once winter had fully passed, he was back to his icy self. Back to his window to draw landscapes of other, wintry places. Until winter came again, and the cycle started fresh.
This was my routine for years. I work from home, so I had that small bit of comfort to know I’d be right there when he returned. When school started it was a tough transition for him. Autumn was mellow and easy, but then came winter again.
At first he skipped school entirely, riding the bus there and promptly leaving, until I drove him myself and made sure he entered the building. But then it was disappearing at recess. It was hard to convince him that he needed school just as much as he felt he needed to be outside in the snow. But finally we managed a compromise. He would go to school, and then afterwards go wherever he pleased until it was dark out. Somehow he always managed to find his way home.
We still talked about our days, and he always seemed to get further away from home as time went on, judging by his stories. I was too afraid to ask how he got to these other places. I was beyond grateful to see him walking in the door every winter day.
My little boy was special, and getting older. He smiled a lot more as he grew, but coming up on his last year of high school, that smile was more scarce than I’d seen in such a long time.
A week before his graduation, I found the courage to ask him what was bothering him. I missed that snow-bright smile of his. It was spring, so it was a rare sight when not winter anyway, but it seemed like the past year was worse than any before it.
So I sat across from him on his window seat, watched for a moment as he breathed and drew, and asked him what was wrong.
“I do love you,” he said, switching gears and throwing me for a loop. “I want you to know that. I may not show it, but I do.”
“And I love you,” I responded. “But that doesn’t answer my question. You’ve seemed… off, all year. What’s wrong?”
And he smiled at me, but it wasn’t a smile I’d seen from him before. A sad, distant smile. His gray eyes were cloudy with something I couldn’t decipher. It made me uneasy.
“I love you,” he said again. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”
His graduation day went by so fast. Seeing him standing tall in his cap and gown brought tears to my eyes. As we met outside of the hall he gave me that sad smile again, but he hugged me all the same, and I hugged him back so tight I heard his back pop.
Family and friends came over after the graduation ceremony to celebrate, and there was much talk of how proud everyone was and questions of what he would do next.
“I’ve got something in mind,” was all he would answer with. That sad smile was on his face for the rest of the day, and when he looked at me it seemed to be even worse.
We went to bed late that night. It took a long time for me to sleep, in my excitement and nervousness at my son’s actions. But he was grown now; I was sure he knew what he wanted.
I woke the next morning to a quiet house–not unusual. I made breakfast as I always did, and went to his door to knock and let him know. Instead of the typical, “Be there soon,” there was no answer.
I knocked again, and when I still heard nothing I opened the door to find an empty room. His bed didn’t even look slept in.
I couldn’t bring myself to feel too surprised; my son had never seemed to truly enjoy his life here.
I sat myself on his window seat, as he had himself so often. I felt a chill there, as if he were still in the room with his cool personality and manner. I already missed him, and felt tears start to fall from my eyes.
I didn’t feel surprise at his disappearance, but it still hurt all the same.
Sighing loudly, I glanced up to see a frosty patch on the window–far too frosted for this time of year. Sitting up I leaned closer and around to get a better look to find a message written in the thick frost.
“Goodbye. Love you.”
In spite of my sadness, I smiled. Hopefully he found somewhere nice and wintry to settle himself in. At least then, I knew, he would be happy.