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One night last week I had one of those dreams that seem to last for hours, the ones that leave you fatigued and out of breath when you finally struggle into wakefulness.

In the dream, a kid was missing. Not one of my actual three sons; they were all there. But in the dream, my twin sons had a third twin, a boy with no name, who could not be found. I kept going back to the faces that were present and asking them, "Where's your brother?" They said nothing and left me searching. I searched and searched for the third twin, but couldn't find him. Then I awoke feeling like someone had stomped on my chest.

Over coffee the next morning, I thought about the dream. By the light of day, it seemed clear what it meant. One of my sons, or at least part of one of my sons, had become a mystery to me. It wasn't the oldest -- the one whose honesty sometimes cuts deep and is clear as glass, brutal and revealing. It wasn't the twin who talks politics with me, who wears his heart on his sleeve, who's always looking over the edge at what's beyond. It was their brother -- the happy, well-adjusted, easy-going one, the one who demands the least attention.

I called his dad and we talked. We agreed that neither of us really knew what, if anything, was going on with our boy, that there were no alarming danger signs, but that we felt we didn't really know him at age 15. We agreed to make an effort, to let him know that we were interested.

My son's dad was the only child of a single mom -- a much-adored kid whose mother knew him like the back of her hand. But coming from a family of four kids, I could easily remember being lost in the crowd and intentionally keeping things from my parents. I didn't want to worry them. I didn't want to get in trouble. I feared their disapproval. I loathed hurting them.

Once in high school I got into a little trouble for smoking on a porch of the school. It wasn't a big deal but the consequences were unfair and humiliating. I didn't tell my mother but she found out. I remember her tearfully asking me, "Why didn't you tell me?" I told her I didn't want to cause her to worry; she already worried so much. In truth, I didn't think she could do anything to help me, but I didn't tell her that.

My sleepy son emerged from the basement stairs. His brothers were still sleeping or sleeping at someone else's house. I asked if he wanted to go to breakfast at Waffle House where we love to sit in the counter seats and watch the egg fryer do his magic. We threw on some clothes, jumped in the car and headed out.

At breakfast, we stared straight ahead as a tall, skinny guy smashed bacon beneath a heavy steel spatula with one hand while cracking eggs with the other. I told my son my dream. I told him what I thought it meant. I asked him if he would tell me or his dad if anything bad was going on in his life, or if he just felt like talking. "Sure," he said. "Promise?" I said. "Sure," he said. We ate our waffles and eggs and bacon and hash browns and settled the bill.

Outside, a perfect sunny spring day was in progress. Normally on a Saturday such as this, my sons disperse to the winds -- downtown on bikes, to street hockey games, to friends' houses -- while I enjoy the solitude of a day at home. But today I was running errands, and I asked my son to come along. He did. We grocery shopped. We bought bird seed. We went to a movie. We shot the bull and laughed. We fought over the radio dial. He told me I would lose my radio privileges if I didn't stop yelling at inane commentators on public radio.

Later, at home, I thanked my son for spending the day with me. I told him I understood that parents don't know everything about their kids, nor are they supposed to, but it was important to me to feel in touch with his life. He shrugged me off and made fun of me and asked if he could go to a friend's house. "Sure," I said. He offered me a hug, a sweet and real one. Here was my son, my third twin, lost and found on a Saturday, sure to go away again and hopefully always to come back.

  • Kathryn Eastburn on the dream of the missing son

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