In the suburbs of New York City, the police were called to detain a trespasser who had been witnessed climbing the fences of several residents’ backyards and digging up their lawns with a steel shovel. The trespasser was a woman, a mother who said she was investigating the yards because she felt sure that she’d discover the entrance to an underground tunnel leading directly to Manhattan, a tunnel in which she believed her daughter was trapped. Her daughter had gone missing last year, as was well-documented by Baltimore County Police and well-publicized by the Maryland media, when, on a class trip to Gunpowder Falls State Park, she ran away from the class and presumably drown in the Gunpowder River which was overrun with early spring snow melt-off. But, as Gunpowder Falls State Park is clearly located in central Maryland (one of the New Jersey police officers had even spent a day hiking there the previous summer), the police questioned the sad woman, whose torn clothing, rat’s nest of hair, and pungent smell suggested weeks or even months of neglect of personal hygiene, concerning her true intentions in prowling through these quiet backyards. They were additionally suspicious, because a quick background check revealed that the woman had a criminal record. She was once a successful landscape architect who had, many years ago, served a short prison sentence for illegally investing funds that she had collected as treasurer of her Episcopal church. Still, it appeared that her delusion was true, and so the police and the victims of her digging spree agreed that no good would come of pressing charges.
Walking to the Harbor late one summer morning, my companion and I took an indirect and leisurely route, and we found ourselves crossing a public park, where, as children, we had each had a sibling abducted. We thought about how we had been allowed to keep playing, but our respective brother and sister were taken away and never heard from again. What’s worse is that my mother never spoke a word aloud after that day, and my companion’s mother never left her home, except at night, after her child was taken from her. As we walked out of the park we could hear the final shouts of our lost family members and we were reminded that this park was the very place that called us back to Baltimore.
Sitting on the small patch of public grass across the street from our row house was a young boy whose sweatshirt bore the name of the local middle school, although he said he was from Modesto, California, which my neighbors who eventually brought him into their living room (he seemed lost and afraid standing outside) dismissed as a childhood fantasy. The boy, whose homework worksheet, which they found in his backpack, identified him as Sheldon Weathers, explained that his real name was George and in June, right after school had let out, he had boarded a bus from Modesto to Phoenix, then to Chicago via Denver, and finally to Baltimore (after having spent an afternoon in Washington, DC). In August, right before the new school year was set to begin, he said that he had returned to Modesto, but sitting in a classroom in California on the cusp of fourth grade, he realized that he had no desire to stay in Modesto and so left school immediately and set out on another days-long Greyhound trip, retracing his steps to Baltimore. My neighbors called the police who responded immediately and, after about an hour, with just a few phone calls, confirmed that the boy’s story was completely accurate. They also learned that at seven years old he had shot and killed his father, a physically abusive man, and that the court had deemed it best for the boy to live with his aunt far away in Baltimore. Social Services records suggested that even in his new home, Sheldon, as he was newly christened by his aunt, was a victim of abuse; this time the abuse was neglect.
John Dermot Woods draws comics and writes stories in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Baltimore Atrocities (Coffee House Press), Activities (Publishing Genius), and The Complete Collection of People, Places & Things (BlazeVOX Books). The image-text novel he wrote with J.A. Tyler, No One Told Me I Was Going To Disappear, was released by Jaded Ibis Press. He edits the arts quarterly Action, Yes, and is a professor of English at Nassau Community College.