Say He Went Missing at the Playground

Devan Collins Del Conte


When my two-year-old became obsessed with his shadow, his obsession took the shape of fear, a frantic fruitless running away. I was dismayed but not surprised; these things, they run in the blood. After many tears, he came to a place of peace, followed by transfixion. We walked down the sidewalk and he waved, Hello Tito shadow, he'd say. Tito is what he called himself. 

Our daily walk to the playground tripled in length because, depending on the angle of the sun, following the shadow meant walking into lawns and neighbors' driveways, crossing the street with eyes glued to asphalt. As the days cooled and shortened, I planned ahead, made sure we walked at midday, hoped he didn't notice his diminutive ghost. I found myself praying for clouds, for rain, for night. 

Doesn't it worry you? I said to my husband while I fixed my hair, trying to keep my voice light. 

Worry me? Why would it? He said. He was getting dressed behind me in our bedroom. This exchange between us, it could have been the tagline of our entire marriage. 

What if he's . . . like me? I said. We were late for a dinner. The sitter was already downstairs, waiting for us to leave. It wasn't the time for this. 

The shadow thing, I pressed. It seems ominous. 

My husband heaved a sigh and bent to put on his shoes. 

Danny? I said. 


I shoved a final pin in my hair and went downstairs to show the sitter the baby monitor. That night I slept on the couch, had horrific nightmares. The next morning, sleep-deprived, angry at nothing, needing to leave the house, I wished desperately for a walk to the playground with no interruptions. Lately my son had been refusing the stroller, the wagon, my hip. There was nothing for it but to walk, and I wanted to do so without worrying he'd throw himself in front of a mail truck. 

I packed his backpack and slid it over his narrow shoulders, enough heft to feel substantial. I loaded my own bag, angled our bodies to avoid a view of shadows.

When we stepped out the front door into the morning sun, I glanced at the ground. My own image stretched across the front steps. Not his though. Where my son's feet met the ground, the concrete was lit, impossibly, on all sides. He didn't notice. 

He sat, scooting himself down one step at a time saying, Big 'tep, Tito big 'tep. The sunlight haloed him all the way. Seemed almost to shine right through him. I watched as we made our way to the park, how with each step he seemed to lighten, fade, atoms of him loosening, drifting in the mild breeze. Until at last I grabbed for him and his backpack fell, unsupported, to the ground. He was gone. The trees rattled in the wind and I bent for the bag, breathed the scent of milk and vanilla. I learned over the course of months not to talk about this, and everyone around me, they learned not to ask. Not to say, with blame on the tongue, that I reached too late, reached with the wrong kind of feeling.