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You Look Like the Color Yellow
The news report came in today.
“‘MISSING GIRL FOUND AFTER FORTY-THREE YEARS’
At fifteen years old, Lily Adams suddenly disappeared from her small hometown in 1974. Yesterday, after forty-three years of searching, she was finally brought back home.”
I read it as I drank my morning coffee at my house. There was a quiet settling, creeping across the room. Yellow rays of bright, early morning sunshine streamed through the darkness of my kitchen.
So I knew it was her. Despite such a generic name. In all the days before, the wind seemed to rustle the leaves feverishly, the chatter in the local coffee shops anxiously fast, like a beckoning had come from the mountains to wake the world up. Lily was like that, I recalled even after all these years.
And now I felt something had rested. A beast that had finally been tamed.
It was her.
“Out of state visitors had been hiking in the forest that lines Adam’s hometown of Hermann, Missouri when they stumbled across a hollowed area in the ground-a bunker that was built decades ago. In further exploration, the visitors discovered what they described as a ‘comfy underground loft’.”
I had met her in my 9th grade math class. She sat in front of me, always poised like a dandelion, eager just to live and learn. I liked her because she always asked how my day was going, and actually cared to listen. Every single day. I had always admired her patience for such things. I mean I had never cared to ask anyone else. Looking back, I don’t believe I ever even asked her. Oh how our regrets come back to haunt us.
My phone shook in my hand--a call from my son. I didn’t pick up, it didn’t seem appropriate to dismiss someone who had long been forgotten.
“It took investigators months to try and piece together why she would have been down in a bunker. They hoped that in doing this, they could put a timeline together, a motive, any other explanation that would eliminate a kidnapping or murder. All thoughts of something so horrible would have been difficult to think, especially given that some of her previous classmates from 1974 work in the police department.
'Lily Adams had a lot of friends. She was so nice and smart that it was hard not to like her,” Rachel Smith, a sophomore when Adams disappeared, recalls, 'She was always smiling and laughing. Lily was delightfully funny like she didn’t have a care in the world. She lived to make people laugh and think. She liked to get to know people. No matter how odd they were.’”
One day, while we worked on an assignment, she turned to me, “Hey, Anthony, what’s your favorite color?” I stared at her, and she stared back with a stupid grin on her face.
“I mean,” I stammered, “I don’t know. Green, I guess.”
“Really? I would have thought it was red. You seem like that kind of a person!” And she turned back around, her tangled hair bouncing as if there was a breeze in the classroom. Now, 9th grade was a weird year, many people said weird things. But Lily had a way of making anything sound profound.
“Many statements like Smith’s helped the investigation. However, when actually analyzing the crime scene, police found the bunker to hold a much more compelling story. On the walls of the bunker, were pictures of Adams when she was a young girl all the way up to her 14th birthday. In addition to the hundreds of pictures were her ‘Missing’ fliers. It was made clear to investigators after the visitors had called the local sheriff, that Adams was held there for months after she went missing, as there were chains bolted to the walls with Adams’ dried blood on them. There were also blankets and food wrappers, as well as strands of her hair that was recently identified through modern DNA testing. There were no signs of where her body was until-”
“Well, then what’s your favorite color?” I whispered to her.
“Yellow!” She said. She didn't turn around.
I sat back. That made sense. I beat my pencil against the desk.
“But,” she finally looked me in the eyes, “not that obnoxious kind of yellow you see on taxis. Like the ones in New York. Or even a highlighter yellow. It’s more of a softer, paler yellow. Like the sun or a rose. You ever see a yellow rose before?” Lily had this grin, a lopsided and goofy grin that she somehow made elegant. Even after she disappeared, I held on to that grin. I mean, she was yellow: everything about her was bright.
“Her limbs were found in a black garbage bag locked within a safe that was hidden in the bunker. Though evidently a previously bloody sight, much of what they found of the body had decomposed. The Sheriff’s department did not find the rest of the body in the bunker.”
I didn’t think much of it when Lily didn’t show up for class on a Monday in early January, even though she never missed school. People were entitled to their days off, right?
But then she didn’t show up for the rest of the week. And then the next two. The winter grew colder without her sitting in front of me. No amount of heat pumped through the vents could warm her chair.
I missed her asking about my day.
A rumor went about that she had run away. Or that she had gotten into drugs. Or that she had died. None of them were really ever taken seriously. And we never really got an answer. I just kept on wondering what had happened to that girl in my math class.
“Where they did find it was a few yards east of the bunker. There, police dogs located the scent before authorities unearthed the body’s torso and decapitated head in a shallow 4x4x4 grave. The rest of the body had been so decomposed over the years that pathologists had to use dental records to prove it was Adams. After examining the body’s lesions, pathologists have confirmed that Adams was alive when she was dismembered, as bleeding out had been her cause of death.”
Setting down my phone, I finished my coffee. She would have been fifty-eight this year. I thought about that statement as my phone buzzed again. Key words: would have.
Thinking back now, I didn't really know her. I knew the little things: that she was good at algebra, that she liked yellow, that she always wore this necklace with a ring on it. I didn't know what her goals in life were, what she wanted her future to be like. I never cared enough to ask. Even still, I would bet my entire life that even after forty-three years, she still would have had that grin. Maybe there would have been lines around her eyes and mouth, grey streaks in her hair. Maybe her voice would sound a bit raspier. But I could guarantee that she still would have been smiling.
It’s unfortunate that the good die young. But perhaps it’s so the bad can learn from them--take their message and send it out into the world. A martyr, after all, must stand for something.
I sat back. How odd it is, that someone was put here on this earth with so, much light and joy and compassion, someone who held such a presence in the room, was meant to have all that stripped away. She didn’t deserve that.
Someone burst through the front door. The loud crash rang through the emptiness. “Dad!” My son called, “Dad! I’ve been trying to call you! I read the news report. I know what you’re thinking.” He came into the room, hair all tangled. He sighed, “She didn’t deserve it. But how can anyone ever deserve something like that? We can’t do much about it.”
And it was like Lily had stepped back into my classroom, a ferocious wind blowing through the open door as if she was reminding us that she was still here. It is the dead whose demands are the loudest and the world will continue in its chaotic nature until they are heard.
Lily wasn’t the type of person to dwell on what could have been. I stared at my son, astounded at the timing of it all. Lily would have pointed out that it was like the lost had never been lost at all but with us the entire time, living through us.
“The murderer was never identified and authorities express their slim chances of finding them. The motive is unclear. It seems that Adams' journey is far from over. The justice system still needs to be put into play."
You know, I often wonder what went on in her head, before she went missing and during those months in the bunker. I wonder more now than ever, and gosh do I wish I held onto more of the things she had told or said to me. I might have become a better person sooner. Become more of a red rather than the green I thought suited me. She had that way about her. That old soul who saw in color.
“After forty-three years of hoping and waiting, her family is now fronted with the truth, despite their hopes for the latter outcome. With all the thoughts and prayers from the community and her many high school friends who have come back to town just to mourn, hopefully, Adams and her family will soon come to rest.”
Perhaps she was thinking about yellow roses. I have some in my garden that I’ll have to show my son.