When Bonnie went missing, we did all the usual things parents do. I called 911; we filed the reports, cooperated with the police. We helped with the search. Late at night now, I sit in the rocking chair in her room and rewatch old footage on my phone. My face is illuminated with blue and white light as I stare at old photos, crime sketches, and news conferences I have memorized.
Mike and I were the parents on TV asking if you’d seen our child. “Ten-year-old female, brown hair, green eyes, last seen wearing a purple shirt and red shorts,” the sheriff said. Posters with her picture went up, and Amber Alerts simultaneously brightened hundreds of thousands of phone screens.
After a while, John Walsh’s group came to help find her. I remember hearing someone commenting on how odd I didn’t cry much, especially on camera. Once spoken aloud, the suggestion caught fire. Others agreed; things got ugly. Sticky sweet gossip clung to us; people stopped looking, convinced I knew more than I was saying.
They were right; I did.
I remembered the dreams. Hindsight accumulated memories into thick shadows that showed on my face and haunted my eyes. I’ve seen the same expression on the faces of other parents whose children have gone missing. There’s a look in the eyes as they scan crowds, searching for a flash of recognition. A hard swallow. A hidden secret that, if ever confided, would confirm insanity.
Folks eventually moved on. More urgent situations took over, and the police moved Bonnie’s picture to a billboard. The side of milk cartons is the old joke, but it’s not like that anymore. Every once a while, the local news station would send a team out to do an interview. The first time it was the main news anchor, then a procession of interns wearing too much lipstick and a plastered look of concern. “Kate, how does it feel to know your child is missing?”
“It’s not something you get over,” Mike would answer for me, voice cracking. “We wait for her every day.”
That’s the truth. Her room is the same as she left it; I haven’t changed a thing. Well, I made her bed. But I didn’t wash any of her laundry until she’d been gone for a full year. That day I sobbed, in private at the washer, loading the last few items of clothing that still smelled like her. I cried as I measured a cup of detergent and thumped the lid shut. What kind of mother washes away the scent of her child?
But when she gets back, I don’t want her to see a pile of rotting clothes. She won’t fit in them, of course. But she’ll be back, I reminded myself; she’s always come back before.
The other times weren’t this long. So, on that day, I thought she’d back in a few minutes. Then, a few hours.
That’s why I waited to call the police, which was the first thing I couldn’t explain. Delays imply foul play, and it wasn’t long before they asked if I was willing to take a lie detector. But I could hardly tell them the truth; they’d have hauled me away in a straight jacket.
Even Mike had a hard time at first, and he’d lived it all alongside me. Mike knows this trial from the first dream to the stab of seeing our little girl’s age progression photo high above us on I-4. It’s been a long twelve years.
I guess I had the first dream around the time I was just a few weeks pregnant. It started the same way they all do, although I didn’t know that then.
Somewhere deep in REM sleep, I saw flickers of orange and yellow light, the way dappled sunlight on a bright day glowed behind closed eyelids. A warm feeling washed over me, and I was aware of my sleeping body curling up in a ball, arms crossed over myself in expectant mother protection.
An embryo is smaller than a black-eyed pea at ten weeks, cocooned within the deepest parts of me. But bright light saturated the shell of my body and wrapped around her, fingers clutching coveted treasure. The light flashed white, blinding my inner vision, and then disappeared. I felt empty and surrounded by darkness.
I knew she was gone. Whatever the light was, it had taken her away from me.
I lay there, cold, broken out in a sweat, moaning a pitiful cry of grief in my sleep. Mike tried shaking me awake, which didn’t work. He told me later that he had to lay on top of me to get me to stop thrashing. I wouldn’t wake up, couldn’t tear myself away from what I was seeing.
Images flashed in rapid succession: a line of women in green military uniforms walking under a colonnade of palm trees against a blue tropical sky. And then, a row of gleaming steel medical instruments aligned on a white cloth atop a steel tray. I saw a woman look up and make eye contact with me. She was strikingly familiar, with large green eyes, and she smiled with bright painted lips as if seeing me made her happy.