So I’ve been having a pretty good week, all the regular stuff happening. Kids are good, house is good, husband is doing well. Nothing out of the ordinary has really happened at all. But earlier this week, I had to write a story for the newspaper I work for, and it was not good. It was the third story I’d written this month about a missing kid, and it was not a happy ending.
A 19-year-old named Erich Alley walked out of his house in Braidwood on Dec. 30, telling his Dad he was going out with a pair of friends for a while. He never came back. Erich’s mom lives in California, and she called us frantic, asking if we could help get the word out. So we did. I talked to her and her ex-husband for a while, learning about their son and where he might have been. He occasionally got in a little trouble, but not major trouble, and had never disappeared before. He had a cat who he absolutely adored that he would never leave. He had a best friend who he was always in contact with. He was due to come out to see his mom in California for vacation starting in mid-January. There was just no reason for him to be gone.
On Monday, after the rain had washed away much of the snow, a woman out walking her dog spotted Erich in a ditch. For almost a month, he had laid there, covered by the snow that fell the night he disappeared, and further covered when the plows came through. When the police questioned his friends, they said they had done a mixture of sleeping pills and alcohol that night, which frankly, blows my mind. I’ve taken sleeping pills. They put you to sleep. Why this would be a recreational drug is beyond me. While his autopsy results are not yet complete, police think Erich, attempting to walk home, either fell into the ditch or just laid down, and died that night. For a month, he laid there in the cold and snow, as people drove by or kids played in the nearby field or potential homeowners toured the house for sale just 100 feet away.
I feel so bad about this story. Obviously, it’s always sad when someone young dies. But it’s the way he died that has stuck with me this week. I remember as a kid, how often my mother would say, “Call me when you get there so I don’t think you’re dead in a ditch somewhere.” I myself have said that multiple times to my husband, when he’s going to be late coming home or he’s going out with friends or the weather is bad and he has to drive somewhere. It’s almost like American folklore. But for these two parents, it was real. While they worried and fretted and called the paper and posted every picture they had of their child on their Facebook pages, he was dead in a ditch somewhere.
I called Erich’s mom on Tuesday, and expressed my condolences. She responded by thanking me. THANKING ME. Thanking me for putting her son on the front page and calling her and keeping updated by the police. She said a few things that made me cry.
First — she mentioned how sometimes, boys and moms have really great relationships. Erich was her only child, and they really were almost like friends in addition to being like a parent and child. She said to me, “What am I going to do without my boy?” As the mother of two sons, I got a little sad over that.
Second — I asked her when Erich’s services would be. She said they were on Saturday. Then she paused for a minute before she told me a story about the two of them. She said that Erich was a fan on the group, “Bowling for Soup.” He had pestered her to take him to a concert, and last year she finally got them tickets to a show. She said they went and they had a blast. She said it was really great. Erich noticed that the band would be playing in California while he was due to be there on vacation, and asked if they could go again.
“I got tickets to go,” she told me. “We were supposed to go Saturday. But instead I’ll be at his funeral.”
You had better believe my two sons got the hugs of a lifetime after I hung up the phone. And I can say this too — I’ll probably never again in my life use the phrase “dead in a ditch.” It’s a nightmare that came true for a mother I’ve spoken to, and it’s just not funny anymore.