I know Boston is a much bigger deal, but in terms of proximity my last 24 hours in Happy Towne have rearranged my sense of reality.
A 14-year-old girl went missing.
It hit Facebook, and by 7 p.m. last night a search was organized. I was alerted to this at 9 p.m. There is no sense in my response, but I had to help. Call it the Kantian in me; I closed up my Astrobiology outline that I've been devoting my every spare hour for the last two weeks and I headed to the missing girl's house where volunteers were meeting for assignment.
I took flyers and went to South Happy Towne where I canvased a neighborhood that I've never before visited until 11 p.m. The search was postponed until this morning at 8 a.m. When they asked who would be available to help I raised my hand. I don't know what prompted me to do this. I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination.
At 7:30 a.m. today I woke, dressed and fed L— and B—, kissed them hard and drove them to school, and then headed back to the west side of town to get my new assignment. I teamed up with two other women, one of them taught the missing girl a year earlier in seventh grade. I did not know these women. We were sent to a section of town, north west, with hilly, treed embankments and various homes and businesses. Our instructions were to ask businesses if we could post flyers, to leave flyers on homes without knocking, and to search the wooded area and the dumpsters near businesses for signs of a body.
I waded through wet, knee-high grass, up and down that hill, turning over anything that wasn't plant or dirt, combing through piles of fallen leaves, pushing thick foliage out of the way to reveal whatever lay beneath. I personally went through three dumpsters.
I prayed the entire time that the girl would be found. God and I reconnected on that hill. But I also prayed that I would not be the one to locate her.
Each garbage bag I hefted, evaluating if it were heavy enough to contain a 68 lb body, or even one or two limbs. I noted that in less than twenty-four hours since her disappearance a body would not begin to smell like anything other than the sticky sweetness of blood. Every time I opened a bag I was prepared for a hand, an arm, a face. One that wouldn't be much different from one of my children's. I was braced and ready.
Shortly before 10 a.m. police notified search volunteers that the girl had been located, alive and well, in a city 20 miles north where she had ridden her bike the day before instead of going to school.
Obviously there are lots of questions remaining, but they aren't mine.
This ordeal took four hours of precious study time, but I can't think of a better way I could have filled them. I'm certain there are those who are angered or annoyed by the volunteer time and massive manpower that was mobilized for this search by social media. I'm not one of them.
After returning to the police search station, drinking a cup of cocoa and listening as the police captain answered media questions at a press conference, I drove home thinking to myself that doing the right thing doesn't mean you will be any sort of hero or even remembered for your contribution.
I went inside and stripped off my soaked clothing to stand under a scalding shower. Hot never felt so alive. Water never felt so wet.
The limbs I found today were my own.