apple of her eye
Karen told me that after mom disappeared, Daddy called her every morning well before dawn to ask the same questions: What do you think happened? Do you think they missed her when they dragged the lake? the river? Could she have driven that Fairlane into the stone quarry out north of town and stayed hidden all these years? This daily dissection went on for years. Even when she was having Tony, her middle son, laid up after a C-section, the early morning call: What do you think happened?
People used to call us in the middle of the night. Whispered voices in the dark: "I know where she is, she's being held against her will." "She's in Grand Lake, just next to Ketchum Cove, in the deep water."
The calls were torture, and we finally stopped answering the midnight ringing phone. She was gone. No one knew where. The FBI couldn't find her, the OSBI either. Ponca City police convinced themselves Daddy did something to her, and they managed to misplace the two polygraph tests he passed with the FBI.
Karen and I went back over all of it last night, start to finish. What we'd done the night before (home, with visiting friends), what happened that morning (building a fire together, early Sunday morning), the missing gun, the fact of her leaving her glasses, her purse, hell, even her clothes. How could a 51 year old woman drive away half blind, with no money, in her nightgown and robe, and not be observed somewhere along the way?
That line of thought takes us back to the quarry, or the river, or one of Oklahoma's many lakes. But then there were the cards: hand-typed advertisements from a boutique in Chicago none of us had been to. We were so certain it was her that my father flew to Illinois. Wild-eyed and shaking, he confronted the boutique owner with the cards that had so oddly appeared in the mail. Still no answers.
Karen and I have convinced ourselves that it was her, that she was involved in the process of mailing those cards somewhere along the line, at the printer's shop, the typing service, mailing, something. It was the only clue, the only indication we ever had that she hadn't died the day she left, a victim of suicidal despair she'd fought for years.
We talked about her life, my mother's, how she'd changed herself to fit my father's expectations, how she'd survived the most hideous sexual abuse as a child, gone to college, met my Dad, and married him, the love of her life, in the 1940s. Marriage was probably a disappointment. I think it often is in small ways and big. It's just life. Nothing's perfect.
My 64 year old sister choked up as we were talking, remembering how mouthy she'd been as a teenager, wondering what would have happened had she been a little less so 50 years ago. And Margene ~ 14 months older than I, 10 years younger than Karen ~ she was starting to get a little mouthy too. "But you," she said. "You were the apple of her eye. She adored you, and you were so sweet. You spent so much time together. How could she leave you?" And I can only think how could she leave any of us? For forty years? How is that even possible?
It is the defining event of our lives. One day my mother vanished and our lives were never the same. And though we've long since moved on, made good lives, become productive citizens, it never goes away. Always, always, the nagging questions: what happened? where did she go? Why? Always and forever, why.
And you? Do you live with some mystery, some unresolvable thing that is always with you? Tell ~ or don't, because those mysteries can be very personal, can't they? Just yes, or no, and whether you wonder every day how such a thing could happen. It helps to believe there are others out there waiting for an answer.