By Michelle Wilson
The flyers went up, reluctantly: BOY MISSING: 5 feet 2 inches tall, 98 pounds, sandy brown hair, dimples. Last seen playing Call of Duty in the Johnsons’ den. Honestly, we figured he was with the Johnson boy, sucked into a video game marathon at an undisclosed location, curfew the last thing on his mind. The Johnsons were the liberal, jet-setting type who left the credit card on the kitchen counter while they flew off to Aspen for the weekend. The boys had ordered dinner from Seamless and were slaughtering enemy combatants in a secret hideaway. Boys will be boys. They need freedom to run wild. Worrying about others (such as their frantic parents) wasn’t in the How to Raise a Confident Boy handbook. They’re different from girls. You teach them to obsess over others’ needs, they’ll turn out timid.
“Besides, boys can take care of themselves,” we said aloud, knowing the other boys were listening. “No need to watch them like the girls.” Not a day later, two more vanished: black hair, glasses, introspective; ginger, freckles, pronounced stutter.
Neither of them had a Call of Duty account. Some pointed to the pornography on their phones—violent, extreme. Rumors of a beast filled the air, suggestions of building a wall.
We weren’t about to panic, though, because boys are easy. It’s the girls who are difficult, with their miniskirts and lip gloss and bad judgment walking home alone at night. Boys are safe in the dark. Boys know better than to talk back. With girls, it’s always a negotiation. So many tears to manage. Girls need guidance; boys are natural-born leaders built to conquer. To the girls, we said, “Try,” and we forgave them when they failed because we only ever expected them to be second best. To the boys, we said, “Make it so,” and when they did anything less than succeed, we swore revenge on those who denied them, who dared to humiliate our men-in-the-making. Seizing our boys by the shoulders, we insisted, “The world is yours! You are entitled to everything under the moon and stars. Take what rightfully belongs to you. Punish those who stand in your way!”
Less than an hour later, three more vanished—seemingly into thin air.
We told ourselves they’d gone on a camping trip. Hunting and fishing. Because boys are rough and tumble. They need a different kind of challenge. Unlike girls, they get bored easily, what with no emotions to parse, no relationships to sort out. Boys are simple creatures; boys don’t cry. “Never show weakness,” we warned them.
And while we were building a wall, another three slipped away into the night.
“They’re out conquering the world,” we said to our dwindling, remaining boys. “They’re making a name for themselves—becoming legends. What are you waiting for? The world is yours for the taking: money, houses, cars, women. All these things belong to you. Impose a firm hand. Confident men take what they want. The world bends to your will. And if it doesn’t, raze its villages to the ground.”
Come morning, the last of our boys were gone.
How we missed them, then: their high-pitched shrieks of delight, the sight of them tumbling like lion cubs in the grass. How we missed their curiosity and inquisitiveness, the wheels of their fresh, young minds turning. Much too late, how we missed their vulnerability and need for tenderness and self-compassion.
Our village is now bereft of youth. The boys are gone; the girls have grown up and moved far away to careers in big cities, to new families so very different from our own. Those of us who remain are old and frail and afraid.
We tremble behind the wall that failed to keep out the darkness. Despite our efforts, the beast came in the night and took our boys. And now he has returned with an army. We can hear the sounds of gunfire just outside the gate, the screams of innocents, of crowds scattering from the bullets—so many bullets.
The beast took our boys, and they are all grown up now. The boys are back, and they are full of rage.