Today a photo from over 30 years ago popped in my Facebook memories, from 1987. Me, my sister Jennifer and my three older kids who were six, four, and three, Stevie, Melissa, and Jeremy. Megan wasn’t born until 1992. I still remember my kids at that age — I was 30 then and now I’m about to be 64. We all looked happy in the photo. You could tell we had been to the beach with disheveled hair and just a touch of windburn and/or sunburn on our faces. At that time, we lived in Newport, Oregon close to Jump Off Joe’s. We had moved into low-income HUD housing from our tiny apartment when it became open, a three-bedroom apartment with a cliff overlooking the ocean — the complex was filled with kids and there was no decent fence to keep kids away from the cliffs.
It didn’t occur to me how important this would be until that fateful day when I was washing dishes in our upstairs apartment and three-year-old Jeremy, my younger son who was too adventurous as fast as greased lightning, slipped out of the apartment without my knowing somehow while the others watched TV. Stevie, who was barely six years old, noticed he was gone and mentioned it to me. I immediately put the dish down and dashed down the flight of stairs. This was not the first time Jeremy had “disappeared.” A few months earlier, when the kids followed me to their Grandma’s place, Jeremy somehow disappeared, and we finally found him at the tire shop at the corner. The guys were trying to figure out what to do with a blonde, curly-haired curious kid who had wandered in to look at all the cars.
A cool, sunny wind blew in our faces as I dashed outside and looked around, calling Jeremy’s name. Then Stevie showed me Jeremy’s little toy riding car which was at the end of the apartment complex next to Jump Off Joe’s. Fear gripped me and my heart beat so hard I could feel and hear it. Probably the most terrifying moment of my life. Mom had told me not to call the cops unless I had to because I was a single mom and they might think I’m neglecting my kids.
But that didn’t matter. I ran around yelling Jeremy’s name near the cliff, and soon the neighbors came out to see what was up. Stevie and now little Melissa was also searching, and the neighbors were as well. Many were parents themselves and understood. I used a neighbor’s home to call the police. Nothing mattered but finding my son. I cursed into the salty sea air about not having a decent fence near Jump Off Joe’s and looked down at the perilous cliffs. There was a path which led down to the beach which we had taken before, but you pretty much had to know where to find it. Stevie and I ran to the path and made our way down calling Jeremy’s name, but nothing. Maybe he went another direction away from the cliffs. Who knows?
Soon two policemen joined the search, and I was grateful to have all the help. I was crying openly by this time, didn’t care what anyone thought, just wanted to find my little boy.
We searched all the streets nearby, and up and down the gravel road above Jump Off Joe’s, calling his name. Nothing.
Then, suddenly, as if out of a dream, my downstairs neighbor Dusty, with frizzy, long disheveled hair, a raging alcoholic at times, whose kids ran around outside barefoot sometimes, and you never knew if he or his wife would be arrested by the cops…Yes, that Dusty…he slowly sauntered down the gravel road holding a young child. At first, I could barely see them; they looked like shadowy figures in the late afternoon sun and tears still filled my eyes and cheeks as I stopped and watched them. Could it be? YES! Dusty was holding my Jeremy! I ran to them and my kids and several neighbors followed as I kept saying, “Thank you, thank you so much Dusty” and grabbed Jeremy who looked a little shocked and dazed, as if he’d been on this wild adventure himself.
I held Jeremy close to me, feeling his warmth, his heartbeat, as Dusty told us that he kept looking down onto the cliffs and at one point, he saw a blonde head wandering back and forth on a ledge that jutted out. He could barely see him because of the tall weeds. Somehow Jeremy had climbed to the edge, but was stuck and didn’t know what to do. How he managed to do that, none of us knew.
That’s what came to mind when I gazed at that photo today. Life is short.