Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The made-for-television move Adam played on October 10th, 1983, six days before I turned eleven. In the ads, the parents wandered darkened streets, calling their boy’s name, then the screen went blank. The cries continued in voiceover as the letters of the boy’s name flashed across the screen.
Reading Les Standiford and Joe Matthew’s Bringing Adam Home made me remember the ads for Adam for the first time twenty-seven years, but a line from the movie didn’t need prompting from any book. It was the last line I heard before my parents sent me to bed. The words have echoed through my mind ever since, equipment hanging close at hand, leaping into my consciousness any time I hear a certain word or inflection. The man who played John Walsh, teeth clenched in rage, chokes back tears as he tells his wife, “They found his head.”
My parents probably wanted me to watch so I’d learn about what would come to be called Stranger Danger. I think they realized I might learn a little too much.
I took my time going upstairs, looking over my shoulder every step. The boy was dead? How was that possible? Children didn’t die in movies, and let alone movies that were supposed to be real.
By the time I heard that line, the nation had been obsessed with this tragedy for nearly two years. More than my family’s worry, more than being ten-going-on-eleven, I think the line has stuck with me because I never found out what happened.
Apparently another hour of TV wouldn’t have done me any good; it took twenty-five years to solve this one.
Toward the end of Bringing Adam Home, when members of the killer’s family reveal the knowledge they’ve shared for so long, I was forcibly reminded of Terri Jentz’s Strange Piece of Paradise. All the locals knew who took an axe to Jentz and her best friend on a camping trip some decades before, just as it was “common knowledge” in the killer’s family that he’d murdered Adam Walsh. Bringing Adam Home will enrage you for what ifs, near misses, and unspoken truths. It’s emotionally wrenching and impossible to put down.
Detective Joe Matthews’ struggle to give closure to the Walsh family makes this book more than just an excellent police procedural. The way Eric Larson's Devil in the White City sets up the Chicago World’s fair as the playground of two men - one the architect who dreamt it into existence, the other the killer who stalked it - Bringing Adam Home uses Adam Walsh’s abduction and murder to speak about good versus evil, the best of men’s nature against its absolute worst. Once you begin reading, you won't be able to put it down.
Since finishing the book, I’ve looked at Dylan - six, the same age as Adam when he was abducted – and can’t help thinking of what happened to Adam Walsh. I force these images from my mind, realizing what happened is beyond comprehension.
I can’t let the world’s darkness spoil my time with this amazing kid. All I can do is scoop him up and smother him with kisses, to try and show him he’s loved.