Jon came in and said he was going to mow the lawn. "Please make sure you lock all the doors so Ashton doesn't get out" I say automatically. I knew he would lock everything like he always does, but something makes me say it anyway. "I will, I always do" he replies to reassure me, somewhat mockingly. Through the years we have stepped up our game as Ashton's problem solving skills evolved. We went from a general child safety knob cover to a more sophisticated knob cover and chain to our current double sided keyed lock and chain lock. The sliding glass door has a door lock, bar lock with key, and a piece of wood tightly in the bottom as an extra measure. When we are both home the chain is kept locked as well as the main lock of course. When one of us runs out for a bit, we typically haven't been locking the chain lock due to the pain of letting the other person back in the house. We felt safe having the double sided lock on the front door, as safe as you can feel when you have a child that likes to bolt given the opportunity.
After the grass was trimmed, Jon came in, showered and offered to go get some pizza if I called in the order. I called the local Italian pizza place at 12:58pm. They said our order would take 30 minutes, so Jon left between 1:15-1:20 to get the pizza. I heard him leave, I heard the lock mechanism lock after he shut the door. I wanted to take a shower as I was still in my pajamas, but decided to wait until he got back. Ashton, Kayleigh and I were back cuddling enjoying our relaxing day when Ashton decided he was tired of cuddling. He heard the door close and bolted from the bed when the door shut, he likes to watch Jon leave from the window. I didn't think anything of it when he left the bedroom for the living room humming along the way. He came back in and grabbed the iPad and ran back out of the room a moment or two later. A couple minutes later I got up to use the bathroom, I left the door open as I always do listening for anything that needs my attention.
When I was done, I sat back down beside Kayleigh and noticed something that I don't notice very often.....quiet. No humming, no stomping, no singing, no crashing....NOTHING besides the TV. This was not normal...the soundtrack of our lives is a cacophony of noises, sounds, vocalizations, singing, reciting lines from favorite movies but never ever quiet. Quiet spawns panic. I briskly walk out of the bedroom to check on Ashton. I call his name...no response. The eerie quiet sustained. I look to the left and my heart dropped as I spy the front door ajar with MY set of keys dangling from the double sided lock. The dream state began...it felt like my feet were in cement. The air was thick with dread. All I could hear was the sound of my heart beating...quickly beating faster and faster. The thoughts, the terrible thoughts and feelings of guilt began to barrage me. I felt the stomach acid rise to the back of my throat. All the "what if's" began attacking me.... What if he gets hit by a car? What if he wanders into the woods? What is he wearing? I think to myself. Grey.....this is not good...not good at all.
As quickly as I could, I ran outside to see if I could see him. I yell his name a few times at the top of my lungs "ASHTON" and listen for any sort of response, any rustling of leaves, any humming any noise. NOTHING....not a sound. I couldn't even hear the normal sounds of nature, I was in a glass bubble. I immediately think about the pond that is less than 100 yards from our house. I ran back in and grabbed my phone and told Kayleigh to sit on the bed and not to move. I run back outside forgoing shoes "AAASSSSHHHHTTTTOOOONNNN" I yell again with terror laced in each syllable as I see my neighbor Christy rushing over. She yells, "what's going on?". "Ashton GOT OUT" I reply quickly. She bravely says "I will stay with Kayleigh, you GO". I resumed yelling "ASHTON" at the top of my lungs as I attempted to dial 911 from my cell phone. In this dream like state, I found it hard to think straight.
Before I am even able to physically hit "send" I hear a reply yell..."I HAVE HIM, HE IS SAFE" a female voice responds then quickly recites her address. "ACROSS THE STREET, I HAVE HIM, I called the sheriff" she yells as I dreamily follow the voice across the street and down her driveway, the gravel cutting into my feet. As soon as the trees clear, I see him beside her standing there as if nothing happened. He glances up at the sky squinting his eyes then focuses his eyes on me for a brief second. My phone rang just then at 1:29pm, I briefly looked down at my phone and didn't recognize the number. I wasn't thinking that it could be the Sherriffs office, I wasn't thinking straight at all. All I was thinking was "there is my boy, my heart, my life...SAFE." I didn't answer the phone, I ran up to Ashton. I try to quickly explain as I grabbed his hand and held him close to me. Holding him tightly I try and explain. "He is autistic, I am so sorry" partly to her and partly to him. How could I let this happen?
Thankfully she explains that she is a teacher and noticed that he had autism as soon as she saw him. Which I guess was very apparent when he rang her door bell, walked right in and started immediately playing with her daughters toys before she could even get to the door. She also noticed the tracking device on his ankle. I am so thankful for this awesome neighbor that I had never met before. I am thankful that Ashton's angels were working overtime to lead him to the perfect place that would recognize the situation and would do the perfect thing by calling the sherriffs office. I am so thankful that he is safe, sleeping in his own bed tonight.
The unspoken understanding is that we have to step up security measures yet again but words can not even scratch the surface of explaining the emotions and fall out of the event that occurred today. This was THE single most horrifying event that has ever rocked my life and I am thankful beyond words of how it played out. I am honestly still in shock, still shaken up. My head is still pounding and the nausea will not subside. I am unsure how long it will take for me to be able to get over this.
I understand, more now then ever, the studies comparing the stress level of a combat soldier and those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to an autism mom. Since Ashton's first elopement attempt we have been sitting in our metaphorical foxhole planning, preparing and waiting for the next "attack" facing it and preparing for the next, always stepping up our game. We don't sleep soundly, we have to be constantly vigilant day and night. We can not function like typical parents do. The constant nagging worry will be stronger and more toxic this time around. An event like this will have lasting effects on the both of us physically, emotionally and mentally. Please pray that we can find some sort of normalcy in the coming weeks, months and years. Please pray for Ashton's safety above all. As we saw today, he is a determined little guy that will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.