Etan Patz Case Still Captivates 30 Years Later

Then she checks on Etan, who is putting on his blue pants and a T- shirt. While Julie goes to the kitchen, he laces up his racing sneakers, the light blue ones with the fluorescent green lightning stripe on the side. His best friend Jeff has just grown out of a blue, wide-wale corduroy jacket and Etan is now its proud owner, even though the name sewn inside hasn't been changed. He already has on his favorite hat, the Future Flight Captain pilot's cap he bought for a dime at a garage sale and sometimes slept in, as he comes into the kitchen where his mother is making lunches.

Julie watches as, unbidden, he takes the milk out and pours himself a glass. With a naturally contrary older sister and a typically terrible-twoish younger brother, Etan is an easy middle child. There are the usual qualifications, of course. He actively tries to please, a refreshing change of pace after Shira, but he knows the secret ways to provoke his sister as only a sibling can. He is fiercely protective of baby brother Ari, but equally jealous. He is sunny and sweet, but has a stubborn, moody streak. He is fanciful and full of stories, planning trips to far-off lands with his imaginary playmate Johnny France-America. For a while, he felt like he could walk on water as Jesus had, if only he practiced hard enough, so he spent hours walking flat-footed around the house.

He is on the slight side, but not undersized. His smile reaches up his whole face and through his blue, blue eyes to light up a room. He looks a lot like his mother. She encourages his self-sufficiency, and every morning he fixes his own breakfast of toast and chocolate milk. Now he quickly finishes up both, picks up his cloth lunch bag, the blue one with the white elephants, and heads into the front room to position himself by the door.

Etan has a reason for being one step ahead of his mom. This is a big day. The school bus stop is two short blocks away, down Prince Street, then a quick right onto West Broadway, in front of the corner bodega. All year he has been begging his mother to let him walk it on his own. A lot of the other kids are allowed, why not me, Etan would say, with classic 6-year-old logic. Now first grade is almost over, and he has only a few more weeks to carry out his mission.

Stan and Julie were of mixed minds about this walk to the bus stop thing, but Etan's pleadings wore them down. It wasn't as if there had been one moment when they decided, yes, this was the day. It just sort of happened. His parents also thought it would be a good confidence builder for him— they were concerned about the tentative streak that coexisted with his thirst for adventure. Etan was particularly fearful of being lost. Once, when he was five, he and his mother rode an elevator, and when the door opened, she made it off but he didn't. She turned as the door closed and would never forget the expression on his face. She could hear him screaming all the way to the top and back down safely to her.

But this morning he is so pleased with himself, acting so grown- up, and at the last minute he even remembers to bring the dollar he "earned" the day before. On his way home Etan had run into the neighborhood handyman who'd pretended to need the boy's help in some small task. Now Julie tells her son to put the dollar in his pocket, but he wants to hold it in his hand as he walks. He plans to stop at the bodega before getting on the bus, to spend his pay on a soda for lunch.

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