We had just moved into a little ranch house in the suburbs. Storybook neighborhood—quiet, friendly neighbors, picket fences, the whole nine yards. Suffice it to say that this was supposed to be a new start for me, a recently single dad, and my three-year-old son. A time to move on from the previous year's drama and stress.
I viewed the thunderstorm as a metaphor for this fresh start: one last show of theatrics before the dirt and grime of the past would be washed away. My son loved it anyway, even with the power out. It was the first big storm, he'd ever seen. Flashes of lightning flooded the bare rooms of our house, imparting unpacked boxes with long creeping shadows, and he jumped and squealed as the thunder boomed. It was well past his bedtime before he'd finally settled down enough to go to sleep.
The next morning I found him awake in bed and smiling. "I watched the lightning at my window!" he proudly announced.
A few mornings later, he told me the same thing. "You're silly," I said. "It didn't storm last night, you were only dreaming!"
"Oh..." He seemed somewhat disheartened. I ruffled his hair and told him not to worry, there should be another storm soon.
Then it became a pattern. He would tell me how he watched the lightning outside his window at least twice a week, despite there being no storms. Recurring dreams of that first memorable thunderstorm, I figured.
It's easy to hate myself in hindsight. Everybody assures me there's nothing I could have done, no way I could have known. But I'm supposed to be the guardian of my child, and these are useless words of comfort. I constantly relive that morning: making my coffee, pouring milk over my cereal, and picking up the newspaper to read about the pedophile local authorities had just arrested. It was front-page stuff. Apparently this guy would select a young target (usually a boy), stake out their house for a while, and take flash photos of them through their window while they slept. Sometimes he did more. My stomach sank as the connection was made.
At the time, it was merely something from a child's imagination. In retrospect, it is the scariest thing I've ever heard. About a week before the predator was caught, my son came up to me in his pajamas. "Guess what?" he asked.
"No more lightning at my window!"
I played along. "Oh, that's nice, it finally died down, huh?"
"No! Now it's in my closet!"
I've yet to see the photos police have collected.