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“Tamara, do you have everything packed?” My mom asked me, looking distraught.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I replied. I said my goodbyes to my dad and my brother and then climbed into the front seat.
The three hour car ride to my new sleep-away camp had just begun and I was already bored. Not that I wanted to go. My mom signed me up for this six week camp because she wanted me to explore all possibilities and that it would be good to have a fresh start.
I looked out the window and saw my reflection. My dirty-blonde hair was up in a ponytail, and each time the car hit a pothole, it bounced. Maybe this will be a good thing. Try to be positive, I thought. Then I saw an ad near the bus stop, with a picture of my sister and words that read: Have you seen me? If you know any information, please call 1-800-MISSING. It brought me back to where this whole mess began.
It was a hot Saturday in June (June 12th, 2007 to be exact), in my hometown of Atlanta. My eight year old sister (she would be 11 now) Shannon had been in the backyard all day, kicking a soccer ball around with her friend. After her friend left, Shannon wanted to bike down to the local ice cream shop to get her favorite banana fudge sundae. But none of us could go with her. My mom was taking care of my 4 year old brother Jacob, who is now 7. She couldn’t leave him because he wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t even home at that time. My mom decided to let her go alone since it was only five minutes away and the neighbors were out. Thirty minutes later, she didn’t return home. My mom began to panic. She called the ice cream shop asking if any of the workers saw a little girl with strawberry blonde hair came in. One of them did but she left after receiving her treat.
I was at my best friend Kaylee’s house when I heard my phone buzz.
“It’s my mom,” I told Kaylee. “Let me answer it.”
“Go ahead.” She replied.
“Hello? Mom?” I asked.
“I’m outside of Kaylee’s house. You need to go right now.”
“What? Why? But I-“I tried to say.
“Tamara. This is important. I’m not kidding. Come out right now!” My mom said in a concerning tone.
“Okay, I’ll meet you out there. Bye.” I hung up the phone and turned to Kaylee. “My mom sounds really worried. I have no idea what’s going on but I have to go.” We hugged and I walked out of her house extremely confused.
When I stepped into the front seat of our car, I turned to my mom. She was a wreck. Her face was red and she was yelling at someone on the phone. It looked like she didn’t even brush her hair.
“Who are you on the phone with?” I asked my mom.
“It’s the police. We can’t find your sister.”
I began to shake. This had to be some misunderstanding. What was she talking about? Why did she answer so coldly? How was Shannon gone?
The first night, none of us got any sleep. My parents were on the phone with the police for hours. I didn’t show up at school for 4 days because I couldn’t handle the pain I was going through. I was only 11 years old! I felt even worse for Jacob; he really never knew Shannon. At the time, Jacob and I didn’t know what was going on. To this day, he still is unsure of what happened. But it’s the best thing for him right now.
The detectives have been trying their hardest to piece this puzzle together. I gave as much information as I could about Shannon, like who she was friends with and what sports she did. The detectives were very sympathetic. At first, it seemed like they had a suspect but he was proven not guilty. I remember feeling so disappointed after the trial was over.
I mentally pushed the thought out of my brain. Maybe Mom was right-it was a good thing to go to camp. Even though I didn’t know anybody, I wanted to be anywhere but my house.
When I arrived in my cabin, three girls were there. I introduced myself to them, and I found out their names were Samantha, Leah, and Caitlin. Leah had long blond hair and bright blue eyes, and she was a bit shorter than me.
“Hey, we’re going to be outside and venture out. You want to come?” Samantha said.
“Can I meet you out?” I asked. “I need to get settled in and unpack.”
“Sure,” She answered.
I didn’t realize how tired I was until they left. I unpacked all of my clothes quietly. I saw the picture I brought with me to camp. It was my entire family-even my sister. It was the only thing keeping me sane right now. I laid on one of the bunk beds and sighed as I looked at the picture. After I realized it had been a half hour since they went to explore the camp, I decided to look for them.
“Hey,” Samantha said nonchalantly. She had brown curly hair up to her shoulders with dark brown eyes and fair skin. She wore jean shorts and a light green t-shirt.
“How do you like the camp so far?” I asked.
“It seems pretty cool.” She replied.
“Yeah.” I said.
“Wait, you look familiar. Were you on TV or something?”
“Um-“I tried to say, but I was interrupted.
“Wait, I know who you are! Are you the girl who has that missing sister? I think I saw you on the news talking to a reporter a few weeks ago. Sorry to hear that your sister is still gone,” she said.
I didn’t even know what to say. My mom’s stinging words were in my head “Nobody will know about Shannon.” I felt like I was holding inside the biggest secret in the world, like my sister was some kind of criminal. Why was my mom trying to hide the fact that my sister was missing? Maybe she can’t accept the fact that we’re not a ‘normal’ family anymore.
When she saw the stunned look on my face, she said, “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to say it like that! I know that’s a sensitive subject. Ugh, I feel like an idiot now.”
I gave a weak smile. “It’s alright.”
I didn’t even realize that Caitlin and Leah were right behind Samantha. They waved.
“Do you want to back to the cabin and get ready for dinner?” Caitlin asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Let’s go.
That night I had the worst nightmare about Shannon.
It seemed like a dream at first. I was sitting on my couch at my home in Atlanta, surrounded by my parents and my younger brother.
The sky was black. There was a loud cracking noise. Then the doorbell rang about ten times in a row.
“I’ll answer it,” I said.
Then I saw him. The kidnapper of my sister. He had deep brown, almost black eyes, and a buzz cut. He was as pale as a ghost. He was holding a large baseball bag.
“You want your sister back? Take her!” He screamed.
He threw the baseball bag across the room and stormed out. I immediately opened it. Five seconds later, I realized it was my sister. She was dead, and covered in blood. I woke up screaming.
“Tamara, what happened? Is everything alright?” I heard a voice say in the dark cabin.
I rubbed my eyes, still trembling. “Sorry to wake you up,” was all I could whisper. “I just had a terrible nightmare about my sister.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Now I recognized the voice; it was Samantha’s.
“I’m fine,” I replied.
“It’s 4 am! Why would you want to talk now? I’m trying to sleep!” Leah called.
How was I going to fall asleep now? At least Samantha made sure you were fine, I thought. I guess I was the closest to her out of everyone in my cabin. Even though we were the same age, she acted older. Maybe it was because of the first day when she asked me about my sister. I guess I seemed a little sensitive. I was surprised that Leah had said something. Sure, it was 4 am, but friends are supposed to be there for you no matter what. It doesn’t matter. She’s probably just tired. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
It had been two weeks since camp began. I was having a great time meeting new people and doing fun activities. I knew my mom was right about this experience. But Shannon was always on the back of my mind.
That night, we had a campfire, with s’mores and everything. But I wasn’t in the mood.
“What’s wrong?” Samantha asked me.
“It’s nothing.” I replied. “I’m just really tired; I’ll be in the cabin.”
“Are you sure? You’re usually the night owl here,” she said.
I walked back to the cabin. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Luckily, nobody else was there. I lay on my bed. I hated campfires.
I remembered the last time we made s’mores was the last night that Shannon was with us. It was a cool evening and lightning bugs flew everywhere. I helped Shannon and Jacob make their s’mores. Their smiles were as bright as the emitting glow from the fireflies. My family and I had a great time, laughing and talking constantly.
After my parents put Jacob and Shannon to bed, I went outside onto the deck and relaxed on the patio.
“Don’t you just love moments like these, Tamara? Remember them; because it could all be gone in an instant.” My mom said.
And unfortunately, she was right.
The next day we went back to the main lodge, and our councilors told us we could use the camp’s phone and computers for an hour. After going on the computer with my friends, I decided this was a good time to call Mom.
The phone rang and rang until it went to voicemail. I smiled as I heard our greeting. “Hey, you’ve reached the Dolson’s. We’re not available right now, but please leave a message and we’ll be happy to get back to you!”
Beep. “Hi Mom, its Tamara. I’m having a great time at camp! I love-“
“Hello?” My mom finally answered the phone. “Sorry, I didn’t recognize the number.” My mom has been really cautious ever since my sister went missing.
“It’s fine,” I replied. “Any news about Shannon?”
“Not yet,” She said.
“Why don’t you seem so disappointed?” I said angrily. “Don’t you care about your daughter?”
She sighed. “Honey, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week. You’re at camp. Your dad and Jacob are at that Boy Scout retreat. It’s been three years and the police haven’t found any helpful clues yet. You know I’m always going to love her, but I think we need to just move on with our lives.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was only my second week of camp. Why was everything changing so quickly?
“Why do you have to be such a downer all the time? Am I the only optimist in this family?” I shouted. “Goodbye. I really don’t want to hear this.” I hung up the phone, and went to find Leah, Caitlin, and Samantha, but they found me first.
“Wow, that was quite an argument you had with your mom,” Leah finally said. “What were you fighting about?”
“How did you know we were fighting?” I asked.
“Oh come on. We could hear you from across the room.” Leah said.
“We weren’t even yelling!” I said. “Whatever. Anyway, I got angry at her because she was telling me that we should just move on with our lives and give up about my sister. Why do you think she’s being so pessimistic?”
Leah spoke up. “I think your mom’s right. It’s good to be optimistic, but it’s been three years. All you can think about is her coming home so everything can be back to normal with your family. We feel like even though you say you’re having a great time, you’d rather be home trying to help the police or something. I think you need to let go and just live the life that you want.”
“I’ve been having a great time! I’ve been doing everything with you guys!” I exclaimed.
“Tamara, I saw the picture of your family. It makes sense why you weren’t at the campfire, but I know you would’ve had a lot of fun.” Caitlin said.
“It’s just a campfire,” I said. “What, if I miss one thing, it’s the end of the world?”
“What about the first day! And-” Leah began.
“You know what? I’m done.” I told them.
Now I felt like everyone was against me. I couldn’t even respond to what they said. I never should’ve trusted these people I barely knew. Who were they to judge me?
I sprinted back to my cabin, ignoring the footsteps behind me. I knew Samantha was on my side, but I didn’t want to talk to her right now. I tried not to pay attention as I heard the echoes from Caitlin and Leah “I’m sorry!” and “I didn’t mean it like that!”
I had another dream that night. This time, I was at the nearby lake. I jumped into it and immediately felt the cold water numb my body. But it felt good. I felt calmed and relaxed; it was like I could finally forget about my troubles. I began to swim across the lake, and with each stroke I felt invincible. I swam a few feet farther into the lake. I realized that I was alone, and that I couldn’t stand. I tried to swim away but it was like the water was holding me back. I tried to float but eventually I just sank down into the water, drowning.
Suddenly I heard a voice talking to me. I couldn’t recognize it at first because I was still trying to escape the water’s wrath. It was my sister talking.
“What’s happening? Am I going to die?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied. “This is just the beginning. You see how the water is holding you down and you can’t escape? You’re trapped, but you somehow manage to breathe. Just think about it. I’m the water, the gravity.”
“What?” I asked.
“How many times have you wanted to do something but you couldn’t because you were too sad that I was gone? What about your new friends from camp? I’m holding you back from them, from everything! You used to be this friendly, outgoing person, but now you just sit around feeling sorry for yourself. If you’ve made it through three years without me, you can handle anything.” She replied.
I woke up speechless.
It took me three times to realize this, but I knew my mom, friends, and sister were right. I couldn’t let the fact that my sister was missing control my life.
The next morning I went to apologize. “Leah, I’m sorry about how I acted yesterday. I guess I wasn’t ready to accept the fact that I may never see my sister again. But I think I’m going to be fine.”
“It’s fine.” Leah said. “Sorry if I came off a little rude. It’s just how I act before I get to know people.” She looked down as she pushed her long blonde hair out of her face.
I nodded, and then turned to Caitlin. “You were right about the campfire. I would’ve had a great time. But I let my sister get to me.” I told her.
“Don’t worry about it.” She said.
“Let’s go people! We’re going to be late to breakfast!” Samantha said.
I smiled. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Now the only thing holding me back was utter gravity.