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Missing Archives. MAG
“She's back there,” they said. They being the fifth-grade boys, she being a girl from our school who had gone missing, and there being the woods behind our elementary school.
None of us present, even the ever-so-wise fifth-graders, had any real knowledge of who took her or where she was. Unfortunately, neither did the police. But we had plenty of theories, no matter how colorful or completely unfounded they were.
I was eight and she was 10 when she didn't return home one afternoon after walking her dog. Because she was older, I didn't know her, but I had seen her in the hallways and on the playground. I didn't understand why her disappearance meant we weren't allowed to go outside alone anymore, or why mothers now held their children's hands so tightly that they hurt.
“She's back there. I know it. My older brother said he found her bones,” one of the older boys informed us youngsters. We were entranced by their stories.
“Bones?” a kid near me asked.
“You know, like a skeleton on Halloween. Her skeleton is back there. He said he knew it was her because it was wearing her clothes.”
“But skeletons are dead and she's not dead. Only old people can be dead,” one of the younger kids said.
“Oh, she's dead all right,” another fifth-grader piped up. “Somebody killed her.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because he wanted to, that's why,” he snapped. I could see they were annoyed that we questioned their authority.
“What's his name?” my friend asked.
“How should I know?”
“Do the cops know?” I asked.
“Then he's not in jail?”
“Nope,” said another fifth-grader. “He's still out there looking for more little girls to kill.”
“But what if he only kills older kids like you?”
This seemed to make the brave fifth-grade boys a bit frightened.
After a moment of silence, somebody else said, “She can't be dead.”
“Then where is she?” one of the boys challenged.
“Maybe she's in a hospital and forgot her name, like on TV,” someone guessed. “Or maybe she's with Santa Claus.”
“Yeah! That's it! She's with Santa! She can't be dead; she's at the North Pole!” we all agreed.
It was our way, as we stood at the edge of the playground, to explain her disappearance. At the sound of the bell, we all disappeared too.
Back inside we went, away from the deep, dark woods and into classrooms. But she stayed with us.
Later, the final bell of the day rang, and we all scampered into buses and cars. But she stayed with us because she was the favorite topic of the people on the radio.
We went to our homes and grabbed snacks. But she stayed with us because the police were still on the news, holding up her photo, asking for tips.
On the weekends we would go out to shop or to eat. But she stayed with us because the town was covered in signs saying MISSING in big black letters.
Nighttime would come and we'd climb into our beds in our cozy pajamas. But she stayed with us because her face was still there when we shut our eyes.
On the playground, in class, in the car, at home, at the mall, and at night. How could someone who was gone be constantly with us at the same time?
Then suddenly it stopped. Mothers stopped cutting off the circulation to their children's hands. Older kids stopped trying to convince us that her body was in the woods. The radio programs stopped talking about her. The police stopped holding up her photo on the television. Her flyers came loose and blew away. When we shut our eyes at night, she wasn't with us as we waited for sleep.
She had been found. They found her and her dog and brought them home to her family, who cried and rejoiced on TV. The police arrested the man who had taken her, and he was going to jail forever and ever.
At least that's what I thought. I really did. I mean, why else would she disappear from our lives, our thoughts? They must have found her.
It was two years later, and I was 10, when I learned differently.
Her family was on TV again, still crying and begging for her to be returned home. As they walked down their street holding candles and signs with her name and that same old school photo, they weren't alone.
She was still missing.
He was still free.
For a short time she was back with us. The two-year anniversary of her disappearance was a top news story. But then it was over, and she disappeared again.
She was still missing.
He was still free.
Two years later, and I was now older than she had been when she disappeared. The police uncovered new evidence in the form of a video. There she was, walking her dog, when a van ran a stop sign and plowed into her. Out came a man, the man, who picked her up, put her into his van, and drove off. It was unclear from the video if she was already dead.
It wasn't quite the Santa story we had dreamed up years ago on the playground.
The video got her two more days of attention, and then she was gone again.
Almost five more years have passed, and I'm starting to think this time she might be gone forever.
She's still missing.
He's still free.
Now I can't remember if the color of her shirt in that infamous school photo was pink or green. And the name – her name – that I thought I would never forget, even if I wanted to, I can't remember anymore. And that worries me.
She's still missing, and he's still free, but no one seems to remember. Even me. But when I passed some woods today, I could have been eight years old again. She was once again foremost on my mind, and I wondered once more if she was really back there.