The Day Joshua Came Home

The skin on her fingertips was starting to peel. Both the cold and the adhesive were to blame. This was flyer number 1,273. “BOY GONE MISSING (8 YEARS OLD),” it read at the top. That was a lie. It had been two years. If Joshua was still alive, he was now 10 years, 5 weeks, and 3 days old. But Kate refused to acknowledge that fact. Acknowledging any of it meant admitting there was a chance her son would never come back. And despite plastering every telephone pole in Chicago three times over, Kate was not ready to do that just yet. But she was ready to call it a night. Just then, a phone call. The police station near the docks. A blonde boy dressed in nothing but a pair of soccer shorts and a torn blanket had just walked in — and he claimed his name was Joshua.

Sometimes, Kate looked at Joshua and tried to imagine what he looked like when he was nine. She had never seen him at that age, and she could never quite get the picture to de-pixelate. That’s what many of their interactions now felt like. She reached into a place, but there was no other hand to hold. The version of Joshua she longed to access was no longer there. That’s what the kidnappers had really taken. Not her boy, but a part of his soul. And unlike his body, that part might truly not return. It wasn’t that Joshua was mean, angry, or violent. On the surface, he seemed to be the same old Joshie, just more silent, more withdrawn, and that was a lot worse than any outbursts could ever have been. A black van, children in cages, the run for his life after a careless guard’s mistake — they never got past the central points of his story. Those were enough for the newspapers to spin a story in the same bold lettering Kate had used on her flyers — “THE BOY WHO LIVED — AND HIS NAME IS NOT HARRY” — but not sufficient to fill the hole in their relationship. The therapy helped, he reassured her time and again, but his mind had placed a firm lock on any of the deeper memories, and who could blame it? Would he ever be happy again? Would Kate?

When he was 15, Josh disappeared overnight. He missed both dinner and his curfew. All hell broke loose. First within Kate, and then all around her. She raised a search party, called the police, called the news. They combed the area around her house in a mile-long radius, but nothing. When the sun rose that summer morning, Joshua walked up the driveway, smiling. Waving. Holding a grey kitten with green eyes in his arms. He had chased her all night, determined to take a stray friend home. No matter what happened to them, it seemed teenagers would always insist on being teenagers.

By the time Grayla went to cat heaven, Joshua was 28 and had just finished vet school. Animals in cages, helping the helpless — the metaphors for his own story were all there, but Joshua didn’t see them. Didn’t need them. What point in telling a story when there’s someone you can help right in front of you? Whether it was the Eastern philosophy course, the book about Stoicism, or the years of therapy that did the trick, Joshua didn’t know. All he knew was that he had escaped from a dark place twice: once with his legs, and once with his mind. Whenever he returned home, his mom was beaming. She had never been a pet person, but whichever stray friend he brought with him, Kate was eager to cuddle and feed them.

Joshua didn’t become the world’s most sought-after veterinarian. Kate still had her mortgage to pay. There was no miracle reward for their trauma. But between the two of them, they often felt like Nobel Prize winners. If there was a gold medal for overcoming adversity, they sure each had dozens of them. And though the prize for their resilience was not one they could display in a glass cabinet, they forever carried it with them — and neither of them ever forgot the day Joshua came home.