First, the book.
Lisa Thompson's The Goldfish Boy is the story of Matthew, a 12-year-old boy with severe OCD. Like, wash-your-hands-in-bleach-and-scalding-water-several-times-a-day OCD. Something has recently happened to trigger a downward spiral and he is refusing to leave his room. He spends him time watching his neighbors, even jotting down their daily activities in a notebook. When a young boy across the street goes missing, Matthew is the last one to have seen him. He is now uniquely qualified to solve the mystery since he has been observing the comings and goings on the street for so long.
There are obvious comparisons between both The Curious Case of the Dog at Midnight and the classic Hitchcock film Rear Window. However, this book stands on its own. It both holds the reader's attention as you try to solve the mystery and as you root for Matthew to deal with his compulsions to find away to reenter his life. As you read, you begin to figure out the trauma that instigated Matthew's obsession with germs. The novel ends on a hopeful note as Matthew finally talks to his parents and tells them he wants to get better.
Now, for the personal stuff.
A bit of a spoiler for the book: The little boy is kidnapped by a neighbor who believes the child is neglected. The kidnapper was not trying to hurt the child, but instead protect him.
I have never posted this on social media, so not everyone knows, but this happened to us. In February, my then four-year-old boy was outside, waiting on his front steps for me to come home. A neighbor, unbeknownst to us, was suffering from mental illness. She had become obsessed with the idea that this particular child was being abused. In a moment when she was unwatched and our boy was unwatched, she took him. When my husband realized our son was missing, he obviously called the police. But so did this neighbor. She reported her delusions to the police. When I got home, our boy was on the other side of the street. We couldn't go over to him until the police investigated. When they finally brought him over to us, he asked me, "Why did that lady take me? I told her I didn't want to go." And praise God, the detective was right there when he said that. In that moment the police understood this was not a negligent parent case, it was a kidnapping. She was taken away in handcuffs. However, DFS still had to come and clear us to keep our children.
This happened and was resolved very quickly. My boys were left alone with me about an hour after I got home. Then the what-ifs started. One of my favorites was "What if she gave him something with nuts in it? She didn't know he has a severe peanut allergy and could have killed him with a Snickers bar." Of course, there were also what ifs I can't even begin to go into.
So, in May we found out that this woman was no longer in a hospital for her mental health. She was moving back. Next door. My anxiety doubled. My immediate response was to sell the house and move. We began to take steps to do so. I don't think that was an overreaction; we know this woman was a threat to our child at one point.
Well, the months have gone on and things seem normal. Our son was not panicked when he has seen her, if has even noticed her. The woman tries to stay away from us. But the anxiety remains, ebbing and flowing. And this book certainly increased the tide of what ifs.
I know how blessed I am that the what-ifs are negative and not positive. Let me explain, my boy is fine. Unhurt and un-traumatized. My what-ifs are around negative scenarios that could have happened. If he had been hurt, my what-ifs would be around positive scenarios that could have prevented that hurt. But the anxiety is something that I still live with.
Today I watched my boys playing on a playground, happy, energetic little boys. I thought about God's grace to us on that day in February. And I thought about all the things we can't control. Harm could come to them in the future in hundreds of ways. My son is about to start school. I can't control if he is bullied by others or immediately makes friends. I pray with my boys and read the Bible with them every night. But I can't control their decision to follow the Lord as they grow. But on this day in this moment, my boys are happy and energetic. And for that I am thankful. And I will keep taking these anxieties to the cross.
I guess like Matthew, all I can conclude on is that I know where to take my fears. I know that I can get better.