Somewhere Out There
Michael C. Keith
It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity. — Michel de Montaigne
Little Brodie stood on the rise behind his family's house and stared at the vast expanse of high plains that stretched to the horizon in every direction. He knew that the town of Seymore was somewhere out there and that his daddy had gone there a month ago and never returned. His mother had driven them out to the western Nebraska town several times and had inquired about her husband, but nobody had seen him.
"How could he do this . . . just disappear on us?" Jenny Parker had repeated in a tone her son had never heard before as they rode back home.
Little Brodie tried to wrap his young mind around the idea that his father might have literally disappeared. How did someone do that? wondered the seven-year-old. Was he there and then suddenly not? Poof, just like that, gone? Daddy must have had magic, like on TV.
People had done just that on some of the programs he had seen, and the notion that his father might have possessed the ability to vanish fascinated him. But it also scared him a little, too. Maybe daddy was right there with them now, but they could not see him. Why would he not let them see him? C'mon, Daddy, let me see you, he would mutter longingly as he lay in bed, unable to sleep because of the pain he felt over his father's absence. Please, daddy, let me see you. I won't tell anyone . . . promise.
His pleas went unanswered, as did his mother's.
"How come the police are looking for Daddy? Did he do something wrong?" asked Brodie.
"Of course not, honey. They're just trying to help us find Daddy and bring him home to us."
Jenny tried as best she could to explain to Brodie that his dad had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since returning from service in Afghanistan.
"Daddy sometimes feels bad about being away at the war. It made him unhappy, and he's been trying to forget about it. But it takes time to get better."
"You can disappear when you're sad? Did that make him disappear, Mom?"
"I think it might have. Don't worry. I think he'll come back soon . . . when he is happy again."
Another month went by with no sightings of Kyle Parker by Jenny or the authorities. However, this was not the case for Little Brodie, who had seen his father four times during his wanderings in the open spaces surrounding his house. When he first reported seeing his father to his mother, Jenny was surprised and excited.
"Where is he, honey? Is he coming home? Did he tell you where he'd been?"
"No, we just played, and then he disappeared again."
"Did he say where he was going, Brodie? Please, tell Mommy everything you remember."
"He said back to the clouds," replied Brodie, his brow scrunched contemplatively. "I guess that's where he disappears to."
"Honey, are you sure you really saw Daddy?"
"We played Frisbee, and then when I threw it really high, Daddy disappeared again."
"Honey, are you making this up because you want to see Daddy so badly?"
"No, Mommy, he's somewhere out there," answered Brodie, pointing toward the mid-afternoon sun.
"In the clouds?"
"Yes, in the clouds," said Brodie, his big blue eyes looking skyward.
When Brodie told his mother he had seen his father again, she began to become concerned about her son's emotional wellbeing.
"I think you're making it up, sweetie. Your father went away. You know that."
"Yes, he disappeared. But he comes back and we have fun," protested Brodie.
"What does he tell you?"
"That he loves us."
"Look, honey. I want you to stay closer to the house. Play in the backyard. I don't want you wandering off to where I can't see you."
"But if I don't go out there, I won't see him, and I want to play with Daddy," said Brodie, pointing toward the empty distance.
"Please, just stay in the yard for now."
Growing increasingly anxious about her son's behavior, Jenny contacted Family Services in Seymore and was put in touch with one Mrs. Dalkey, a child psychologist. After a lengthy phone conference with the therapist, a date and time was arranged for her to make a visit to the Parkers' house to meet and observe Brodie.
"It would be best to see Brodie in his own environment, so I'll make the trip. I don't mind really. It's a chance to get out of the office," said Dalkey after Jenny expressed concern that she had to travel nearly twenty miles.
"Well, I'll make lunch. Thank you so much. I've been really worried about Brodie."
Two days hence, Mrs. Dalkey arrived at the Parker residence. In the interim, Brodie had reported seeing his father again.
"In the yard? You saw him in our yard?"
"No, he didn't come close. He stayed out there," replied Brodie, flicking his hand toward an area far beyond the wood fence that bordered the property.
When Mrs. Dalkey arrived, the two women sat in the kitchen and discussed the situation further. When it was time for lunch, Jenny called for Brodie, but he did not appear.
"Kids are always somewhere that blocks their mom's voice," joked Mrs. Dalkey, recognizing Jenny's anxiety.
Jenny went outside and walked around the house, but there was no sign of her son. I told him to stay in the yard. Why . . . why is this happening? Where are you, Kyle? Look what's happened because you disappeared on us, lamented Jenny, returning inside the house.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Dalkey. He must have wandered away. He's probably looking for his father.
"No problem, Mrs. Parker. I can return at a better time."
"Please stay for lunch. I've made us salad and chicken sandwiches. Besides, I could use the company."
"Of course, dear. I'd love to. Thank you," said Mrs. Dalkey, patting Jenny's arm.
A mile across a parched field that led to the dirt road that ran to the Parker's house, Little Brodie noticed the dusty contrail of an approaching vehicle. As it got closer, he recognized it. "Daddy's truck. He's come to play with me again!" he yelped, joyously.
The battered Ford pickup stopped, and Brodie's father jumped out and ran up to his son with his arms spread wide. He scooped the boy off the ground and held him tightly.
"Daddy, you brought your truck this time!" said Brodie, delighted.
"Huh? This time . . .?"
"You didn't bring it before."
"Before . . . ?"
"Yeah, when we played out there, Daddy" said Brodie, pointing across the plains.
"Sure . . . okay. Whatever you say, son. So, how's my Little Brodie? I've missed you, boy! I'm so sorry I left you guys. I just had to work out a few things. But I'm back, and I'm better. Let's go see Mommy."
Kyle carried his son to his truck and placed him in the passenger seat.
"You want to drive, kiddo?"
"Yeah, Daddy, let me drive."
"Maybe when you're a little bigger," chuckled Kyle, patting his son's cheek after climbing behind the wheel.
"Mommy cried because you disappeared. How did you make yourself disappear, Daddy?"
"Sometimes you feel you have to disappear. You'll understand when you're older."
"Will I disappear, Daddy?
"I hope you won't have to. Now. Let's get home."
When Jenny heard the sound of the approaching vehicle, she knew it was her husband's pickup.
"Oh, my God. Kyle? It's Kyle!" shouted Jenny, jumping up from the kitchen table and dashing to the front door.
As Kyle drove up to the house, Jenny ran to meet him.
"Honey, I'm sorry . . . so sorry! My head was all messed up, and I didn't want to subject you and Brodie to the demons in there."
"You didn't have to disappear, Kyle. We could have worked things out together. Got help."
The Parkers stood wrapped in a long embrace and then climbed the porch steps, where Mrs. Dalkey stood taking in the scene before her. As they passed her, Little Brodie spoke.
"See, I told you I saw Daddy!"
About the Author
Michael C. Keith is the author of an acclaimed memoir, numerous story collections, and two-dozen non-fiction books. www.michaelckeith.com