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AFTERWORD Looking For Byron BY ELROY BODE 0 n January 26, 1999 my son Byron, thirty years old, drove away from his mother’s house in East San Antonio in his green pickup truck, headed for a half-way house in downtown San Antonio. But he did not go there. He disappeared. Over six months passed, and no one in his family saw him after that January afternoon. Until his mid-twenties Byron was simply Byron, the engaging, pleasant-featured son that I loved. His mother, Judy, and I had divorced when he was eleven, and yes, that had been painful and disturbing to him. But he seemed to handle the situation well enough. He graduated from high school, went on to college even considered entering medical school and perhaps becoming an emergency room physician. Then one night in San Marcos four years ago a hit-and-run driver ran into him while he was walking with friends. He suffered a closed-head injury which caused him to lose certain memory functions as well as his sense of smell. To add a classic insult to injury, he was shortly thereafter diagnosed as having a manicdepressive disorder. Suddenly the whole trajectory of his life changed. He was unable to function alone so he moved from his San Marcos apartment to his mother’s house in San Antonio. He suffered dizzy spells; he had double-vision problems. He went regularly to psychiatrists and psychotherapists for treatment and was placed on a number of medications to treat his obsessive-compulsive behavior and depression: Tegretol, Depakote, Klonopin, lithium. He became a recluse in his bedroom, staying in bed for long stretches of time, his mother’s Boston terrier asleep beside him. He lost interest in his song writing and guitar playing for which he had an undeniable talent. To self-medicate his despair, he began to take cocaine. Lots of it. He became an addict. In June 1998 Judy and I entered him into a private rehabilitation hospital in San Antonio. He stayed there for a month, and when he left he seemed positive again about his future even though we were told by his therapist that the relapse rate for cocaine addicts is almost 90 percent. He worked around the yard at Judy’s house, enjoyed the dogs and his music. But by the end of the year old patterns reasserted themselves: he started forging checks and stealing money from Judy in order to buy cocaine. By mid-January Judy felt she was at her wit’s end exhausted and depressed herself from dealing with Byron. With the help of Byron’s therapist she located a halfway house near Cypress and San Pedro. He was to go there and try to put some pieces of his life together. But he didn’t really want to go. Visibly depressed Judy said later he put canned goods from the kitchen into a plastic container, carried the basket to his truck which needed repairs and no longer worked in reverse and with fourteen dollars in his wallet he took off down the street. He never showed up at the half-way house. Judy called me in El Paso. We talked. We tried to make sense out of what had happened: where he had gone, how he would live, what he would do when he ran out of his medication which he carried with him in a strap-on pouch. She felt he might be suicidal. We waited, hoping that in a few days he would call. He didn’t. Should we make contact with the police and list him as missing? Where was he spending the nights, which had turned cold? I called Joe Esquell, a Hill Country rancher who leased ranchland property from me near Kerrville. I told him that Byron-had disappeared and might drive up from San Antonio to our cabin place and well, I explained, he was very depressed. Would Joe please drive down and check to see if Byron was there, then call me. Mr. Esquell telephoned me that night. He said he and his wife had driven around in the pastures before dark but did not see any sign of Byron’s truck. We listed Byron as a missing person with the San Antonio police department. He was put on N.C.I.C., the nationwide computer database. We contacted his friends. No one had seen him. I went to San Antonio, and Judy and I made a missing person’s flier with a sideview photograph of Byron on it smoothshaven, hair pulled back in a ponytail, a pleasing profile view. It gave pertinent information and also stated: “$1,000 reward for specific information resulting in his safe return.” We distributed the fliers in various neighborhoods. For hours I drove aimlessly, doggedly looking into driveways and back yards for a green truck returning, driving the same streets once more. I would stop where I saw a man pulling weeds at his front sidewalk, get out, show him the flier with Byron’s picture, tell him I was looking for my son who had a head injury and had disappeared from home and might not have access to his medication. The man would give the flier a long look, slowly shake his head No, he hadn’t seen him. I would drive some more, stop where a man was playing street football with a few kids, lean out the window and show the flier. Nope, didn’t recognize him. A woman called, saying she had seen the flier I had taped in the front area of a Wal-Mart, then had later noticed someone resembling Byron at the Eisenhauer Road flea market. She said she couldn’t help noticing the intense stare out of his blue eyes…. It made a kind of sense: Byron maybe needing to buy some cheap used clothes, or maybe just wanting a place to hang out inconspicuously among crowds of people drifting about, looking for bargains. I circled the flea market parking lot, looking for his truck, then walked for a couple of hours in the huge flea market it FEBRUARY 4, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29 v9.011114.4t. ox