Every night, I see his face. I see his little body cradled in my arms. His eyes staring into mine…” Jalissa said, with tears streaming from her eyes.
It had been eighteen years since the kidnapping of her son, Robert Jr. He was only six hours old when a female nurse walked in the hospital room and took him for a bath. She was sixteen years old the last time she saw him.
“I am his mother!” she screamed. “I was supposed to protect him.” She began to sob uncontrollably, when a lady sitting beside her placed some tissue in her hand and consoled her.
Jalissa lived in Little Rock, Arkansas in a pretty, upscale neighborhood. She has attended the Women’s Hope for Change focus group for the past sixteen years, and for sixteen years, she’s told the same story. No one judged her. No one told her to be quiet or demanded she get over it. Each time she told her story, she gained hope that someday her son would return to her. Group ended as it always did—with Jalissa feeling somewhat relieved to have gotten out a little bit more of her frustration, hurt, and confusion.
“You are so brave,” she heard a voice say from behind her, as she was headed out the door. She turned to see Shayla, a young widow woman whose husband died in active duty some years back. Even though she was young, her eyes aged her. They told a story of pain and resentment. Much like the eyes that Jalissa saw in the mirror every time she looked at her reflection.
“Thank you,” she softly spoke. “Sometimes I don’t feel like it.”
“Out of all the years that I’ve been coming here, I admire you the most,” Shayla admitted. “Every day you manage to get up and start your day, never losing hope that your son will return to you. That’s a strength I only aspire to have.”
A warm smile crept over Jalissa’s face. “Believe me, it’s not easy. Every day, I sit counting the days, weeks, months, birthdays, and holidays that I will never be able to get back. It is nearing the end of May, and Mother’s Day was a few weeks ago, and this holiday hurts the most. It reminds me that my motherhood was taken from me, but I have faith that I will see my son again. I have to be strong for him.”
“Well, you’re doing a great job,” Shayla reassured her.
Jalissa walked away, humbled that her story had yet reached another person in a positive way. She looked at the sky as she always had after a meeting, and said, “I love you, son.” She hoped that wherever he was her words would reach him. She stood there waiting, hoping she would hear him whisper it back. Like somehow, their souls were connected and they could hear each other’s thoughts. Shaking herself out of her trance, she got in her car and headed down the highway.
“Angie,” Jalissa called through her cellphone. “I’m telling you. I can feel it in my bones. My son is alive, and we will be together again.”
“I believe you, Jay,” Angie agreed. “He will turn up. How long has it been now?”
“He just turned eighteen years old this past Saturday. I wish so badly I could have celebrated with him.”
“You remember what we did for his sixteenth birthday?” Angie asked.
“Yes. How could I forget? It was his Sweet 16. We had balloons everywhere; there were so many people who came out, and the cake was huge. Two news broadcast stations came. I just knew for sure his party would get national attention and he would show up saying, ‘Mama, it’s me, Robert,’” Jalissa said, her voice cracking. She cleared her throat and fought back tears. She had cried enough.
“You remember that pregnancy scare you had back when we were in high school? I was so excited because I thought we would go through our pregnancy together. Then you had to up and leave and head for Chicago. I don’t know why you did that and left me here by myself. You didn’t come back until just before Robert Jr. was born.”
“Yeah, my mom made me go and stay with my grandma. She said if she couldn’t get the wild hair out my butt then maybe my grandma could.” Angie laughed and sarcastically said, “Old people. I had to jump through hoops just to get back here to Arkansas.”
“I think we both had wild hair.” Jalissa laughed. “But I wouldn’t trade it for nothing in the world. I gained a beautiful baby boy that I miss terribly.”
“Awe, Jay. I’m so sorry,” Angie said. “I tell you what. Let’s go get some lunch. What do you want to eat? Whatever you want it’s on me.”
“It’s alright, Angie. I’m not that far from McDonald’s. I’ll just grab something there and meet you after. Will you be at home?”
“I have a few errands to run, but I should be home right after.”
Jalissa ended her call and pulled into McDonald’s. She went inside, ordered a number one to go and sat in a booth near the window. While she waited on her food, she contemplated her next call. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Siri call ‘My Baby Daddy’.” That’s what she had Robert Sr’s number stored under. It was another way of making her son feel real and alive. The phone seemed to ring forever before he answered.
“Robert, please don’t hang up,” Jalissa responded quickly.
Her relationship with Robert ended a year-and-a-half after their son’s kidnapping. It became too much for the young couple to handle. They secretly blamed each other, which only spilled over into their many arguments. With all the attention from the news and social media, it became a burden to Robert. He was ready to move on with his life as a Senior in high school. He wanted his life and his dreams back. So, he went off to college, played a little football, and settled into a job back home as a football coach at his old high school.
“What do you want, Jalissa?” Robert snarled. “I don’t have time for this today.”
“Robert, just listen,” she almost begged. “Do you think of him at all? Do you wonder what kind of life he is having? Do you…”
“STOP IT!” Robert yelled. “I can’t keep doing this with you. He. Is. Gone. And he is never coming back. Don’t you get that? It’s been eighteen years already.”
“So, you do remember?” Jalissa became excited.
“What!?” Robert said, agitated. For him, it felt like a never-ending story with Jalissa. “You need to move on. Live your life. You cannot let this consume you.”
Jalissa quickly tuned him out when she looked up at the door. In walked a tall, caramel-skinned young man. He sported a fade and was dressed in a navy-blue suit with a white button-down and navy-blue tie with white stripes. His walk. His almond shaped, brown eyes. His beautiful wide grin.
“It’s him,” she said above a whisper. “Robert, it’s Robert Jr. I’m looking right at him.”
“My God! There is nothing I can say to you, is it?” Robert said in frustration. “Every year around this time you do this.”
“No seriously. I will take a picture,” Jalissa said. “Hold on.”
Just as she took her phone away from her ear, Robert ended the call. She opened her camera app on her phone and began taking pictures. She couldn’t stop staring. Something on the inside of her was drawn to him, pulling her towards him like a magnet. As she listened, he was there to apply for a job. She sat and stared, trying not to be obvious. Should she say something or say nothing at all?
The more she stared at him, she so saw Robert Sr. It was in the way he moved, his laugh, his smile, and the way he would run his thumb across his fingers when he looked to be thinking. It was like watching young Robert Sr all over. Her body froze as she watched him head for the door. She knocked over her purse as she stumbled to her feet. Just as she kneeled to pick up her things, the young man came to her aid.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
When she stared into his eyes, she knew. She opened her mouth to speak, but the server interrupted that her food was ready. After picking up her purse, she grabbed her food from the server then turned back towards the young man, but he was gone. She was so numb; she hadn’t heard the Cash App notification sound that went off on her phone.
Jalissa hurried out the door, searching to see which way the young man went. Her eyes scanned over the parking lot until she saw him getting in a black Altima. Her mind was racing with what to say. Should she introduce herself? But how? As who?
“Hey!” She yelled out. “Excuse me. Excuse me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, shutting the car door.
“I heard you were looking for a job,” she said nervously.
“My name is Jalissa, and I would like to help you.” She smiled.
“Thank you, ma’am.” He grinned. “My name is Chris.”
Jalissa fumbled through her purse and pulled out a receipt and wrote her name and number on the back. “Here’s my cell,” she said, ripping the receipt and handing him both pieces. “Write your number on the back of this receipt and as soon as I hear something, I’ll let you know.”
Chris wrote his number down and handed it to Jalissa, said goodbye and drove off. There was so much more she wanted to say. She watched until his car turned the corner. Standing there with her food in her hand and a mixture of joy and sadness in her heart, she began to cry. Visions of all the birthday parties, holidays, and school events that she missed flooded her mind. Her heart broke and her chest became tight. The horn from a car brought her out of her trance of emotions. She apologized, barely above a whisper, and ran to her car.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY
LESLIE FORD, READER
"...I could feel every emotion..."
L. SMITH, READER
"...I was drawn into this story...In my own way I could relate to her (Jalissa's) grief."
MONIQUE TURNER, READER
"...I was engaged from the start."