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the sandbox

The police questioned her for several hours. Too many hours. There were plenty of witnesses that knew she'd done nothing to Jamie, plenty of witnesses that knew, like she did, that he'd just up and disappeared. There was even that one little girl that said exactly what Evelyn kept saying to herself, though she hated to think about what it could mean, that Jamie had disappeared not from the sandbox but into it.

One policeman had believed her. His name was Jason, Jason Lodge. He'd gotten a couple uniform cops to dig up the sandbox, check to make sure Jamie's body wasn't in there. Jason was nice about the whole thing, the nicest of any of the cops that dealt with her. Even when it was so obvious that she was wrong about what had happened to her son, Jason Lodge had not thrown it in her face, like she knew some of the other detectives would. He just convinced her that they needed to look in another direction, look for answers some place else, some place other than the sandbox.

Jason told her he knew about missing kids. He'd been involved with such cases before. But, Evelyn knew he didn't know anything about it. She knew now that when they say you can't imagine a thing until it's happened to you, that they were telling the truth. And, an awful truth it was. She couldn't fathom any longer why anyone would ever even want to imagine such feelings as she was experiencing. She couldn't imagine that she might have ever wondered what it might be like to lose a child. But, she had had such thoughts. From the time she first knew she was pregnant, she had thought about it almost every day, tried imagining the horror of it, the shock of knowing that her child, this beautiful, perfect piece of her, could be taken away. And, it wasn't that she consciously sought out such imaginings. She would just be sitting, going about her life, maybe stopping down to concentrate on feeling Jamie kicking inside her, maybe not even thinking of her own child at all but instead seeing some other mother with some other child walking by her on the street, and she would think about losing a part of her. She knew now that she'd been right in thinking that it would be nothing like losing a limb, nothing like losing an arm or a leg. She knew now that she would gladly trade an arm or a leg or both her arms or both her legs or all four limbs for even another day with Jamie. She could live without her limbs. She couldn't live without her boy. Missing an arm or a leg, she could still do things, still live her life. With Jamie gone, it seemed that there was nothing left.

Doug tried to help her as much as he could. But, Doug wasn't home all the time. He'd made the decision, after only a week and a half, to go back to work, to put himself back into his normal life. Not to forget about Jamie--even Doug was not that unfeeling that he could simply forget their little boy--but to keep himself sane, to keep himself out of that place into which Evelyn was now sinking. When he was home, though, he dropped down into that place. And, even if it was only temporary, his presence there made Evelyn feel a little better, like she wasn't going through this whole thing alone. But then, inevitably, some part of his real life would yank Doug back out, the phone ringing, a report on the news, toast popping up from the toaster, someone knocking at the door, anything and everything. Sometimes, Evelyn thought Doug was waiting constantly for that excuse to leap back into that other world, that one without pain, the entire time he was down in that darker place with her. She resented him for that. She even went as far as to hate him. And, when she bothered to hate him, she'd think of that horrible day when she had been sure that their marriage was over, that Jamie's disappearance--it was always his "disappearance," never his "death," not in her mind, not in her conversation--had finally driven that final nail into the coffin of a marriage that wasn't all that sturdy anymore anyway.

It was two days before the memorial, three days after her third and longest interview with the police, and six days after Jamie's disappearance. Doug hadn't gone back to work yet, though he was already saying he would soon enough, that he needed to get back into his routine. Doug was insistent that they go ahead with a memorial service. His parents agreed. Evelyn's own mother agreed as well. But, Evelyn just knew it was wrong. It wasn't that she believed Jamie was alive somewhere, maybe tied up in some dark chamber while his kidnapper made himself a sandwich in the next room, or living a new life, inexplicably not remembering anything of his life with his real parents. She believed Jamie was dead. But, until she knew what had happened to him, until she knew where he was, until she saw her little boy's body, she wanted nothing to do with any memorial service. It just wasn't right. She called the one person she was sure would agree with her--Jason Lodge- -but he came down on Doug's side, told her that the memorial would help concentrate her grief, help her "channel it where it needs to go," help her let it out, which was what she needed to do according to Jason Lodge. She told him she couldn't let her grief out, that she didn't want to let it out, the she would never want to let it out. Her son was gone, she told him. Her son was gone. There was no getting him back, no fixing things. And, there was no good reason to get her grief out so she could go on with her life. She had no life without Jamie, she told him, no life at all. And, she hung up the phone.

That's when she noticed Doug was standing nearby, listening to her.

She needed this, Doug told her. She needed to accept Jamie's death and find it in her to move on.

Move on?

She needed to get past the initial shock of it . . .

What did he know of the shock of it?

That's when Doug said it, said what she knew was the last straw. Maybe the marriage would last a while longer, maybe a few days, maybe a week, maybe a month or two, maybe even a whole year, but it would end. Now she knew, it would end. It wouldn't survive losing Jamie. He wasn't there, Doug said. So, maybe she was right. He wasn't the one that lost their boy, so certainly the shock of it was different for her . . .

He went on, but Evelyn didn't hear any more of it. She'd heard what she needed to hear. She understood his view. He wasn't the one that lost their boy, he'd said. He hadn't said the next part explicitly, but it was implicit in what he had said. She was the one that had lost their boy. He wasn't. She was. The worst thing was, she knew he was right in placing the blame on her. She had lost their boy. She had lost Jamie.

She'd only turned away for a second. That's what she'd told the cops. That's what she'd told Doug. That's what she'd told everyone, and that was what she'd keep telling everyone. But, she wasn't so sure it was the truth. She'd been talking to Liz Dorsey and Carla Wyndham Post. And, not one of the three of them were really watching their kids closely. Jamie was in the sandbox with Ashleigh and Zachary. Zach and Jamie were fighting over something or other, but it wasn't much of a fight, nothing worth the efforts of their mothers, not yet anyway. Ashleigh was sitting back, watching them, making sure to stay out of it, just like Liz always stayed out of the dispute between Evelyn and Carla. According to Ashleigh, that's when the sand in the sandbox shifted, or "got all weird," as she put it. But, Evelyn and Liz and Carla were all but oblivious. Evelyn couldn't help but wonder now what was so important then. She couldn't help but wonder what it was that was so damn important that gossiping about it was worth losing her son's life.

She'd only turned away for a second.

Wasn't that what all mothers say? Like carrying on a conversation of her own with two fellow mothers wasn't something that was allowable. Like not keeping her eyes constantly on her son, never blinking of course, was something evil. Why did she have to justify having business of her own out there in the park?

The thing was, she knew why. Jamie was gone. He would never get to grow up, have kids of his own. Maybe pass on the Sanfilippo name, maybe not. Maybe get a good job, maybe not. Maybe be famous, maybe be content with the simple life. He would never get any of the choices that everybody deserved. He'd never get anything. Never get anything ever again. That was why. That was why she had to justify having business of her own. Jamie was gone. After less than half a dozen years, the life of Jamie Sanfilippo was gone, erased.

In hindsight of course, Evelyn knew it was wrong to ever look away from her child, wrong to ever let anything except for his welfare get into her head. But, at the time, she'd not known what was coming. But, now she couldn't help but think that that didn't make it any better. And, with Doug implying that she was responsible, she just knew that she really was.

And, in those increasingly more rare excursions of her husband's into that dark place in which she now resided constantly, she hated not just him, but also herself, maybe herself more than him. No, definitely herself more than him. She'd always believed she'd make a good mother. She'd always believed she'd raise a handful of kids, and they'd turn out great, and they'd love her and thank her everyday for how great a mother she was. Now, she knew that was nothing but the naive fantasy of a girl who knew nothing about the real world. And, for some reason, Doug still lived in that world where that naivety was normal. Doug could never blame himself, not in even a small measure. He hadn't been there. He'd been neglectful of his fatherly duties. But, he could never accept that. Working, making money, supporting the family--that was all well and good enough for him, good enough to fulfill his fatherly role. At least, in his mind. And, until Jamie had been lost in that sandbox, Evelyn knew, she had thought that very same way. Just the same, she had thought that being there on that park bench, gossiping with her lady friends, was all the mothering she had to do while her son played in the sandbox. She had believed herself to be that good mother she'd always imagined she'd be. She had believed that she was doing all she needed to be doing.

But, she'd only turned away for a second.

And, Jamie was gone. . .

May 14, 1999