When Meghan was 12 years old, her mother disappeared. Of course, no one realized she had disappeared at first. At first, Meghan just thought her mother was late getting back from a planned trip. Her mom hadn’t taken any trips away from her before that because her mom worked a lot and usually when she got time off, mom took her on weekend trips or sometimes vacations to visit friends. Mom always said she was lucky to have friends who lived in interesting places not too far away.
This time, Meghan’s mother had gone to Florida; at least, she had flown to the Tampa airport. Meghan’s grandmother, where Meghan stayed for the weekend that her mom was supposed to be gone, said it wasn’t really like her mom not to give a lot of details about where she was, but this time she didn’t. She only said she would call when she got there–and she did call, but only right after her plane landed, while she was still in the airport. She said she wasn’t sure where she was staying because her friend was making all the arrangements, but that she would call later to give the information. But she never did.
Meghan’s world began to crumble on Monday morning, when she woke up and her mom still wasn’t back. Her grandmother and grandfather tried to keep happy faces on, but Meghan knew they were worried and then terrified. They scanned the news for any word of plane crashes, bridge collapses or other disasters between their house and Tampa, Florida, but all news was good news. No planes had fallen out of the sky, all bridges stood strong and tall over calm waters, traffic carried on along the highways. Surely mom would be back soon. The door would burst open and there she would be, happy and rested from her time away, and arms out for Meghan to run into, to be surrounded, safe and warm, by love.
On Tuesday, Meghan’s grandparents called the police. They took all the information, flight number, destination (only the airport, though, nothing more), and seemed entirely bored through the procedure. Did moms go missing every day? Couldn’t they see that Meghan was already starting to disintegrate? Her mom was gone! Nothing could be right until she was back. Her grandparents let her stay out of school that week, but by the next Sunday, she knew she had to go back. Something deep inside her said that keeping up a routine would help, at least on the surface. It was something she would cling to for the next six years.
The following week, calls came from the Tampa police. They wanted photographs and permission to contact the airlines. Were Mims and Papa sure that their daughter had not left any information about a hotel, car rental, anything? No, she hadn’t. Just the flight information, which took nearly two weeks to verify and that she had, indeed, landed in Tampa and left the plane. After that, nothing. Apparently, she had walked out of the airport and into thin air. According to police interviews, none of the flight crew remembered seeing her on board, and no one in the airport recalled her, either.
Meghan wept silently each night after her grandmother tucked her into bed. If only she had been a better girl, maybe her mother wouldn’t have felt the need for a vacation. She could have kept her room cleaner. She could have got up earlier, could have asked for an alarm clock so her mom didn’t have to wake her up. She could have been more eager to learn how to cook, to help her mom around the house. She could have prevented this. It was her fault. She knew it.
The days passed and became weeks, then months. Calls from police dwindled. Mims called every week instead, and the detectives always said they were doing everything the could, but everyone knew it wasn’t much. Meghan kept up with her school work because she knew her mother would want her to, but every day was a struggle to get up and face the world. She felt a million years old, heavy with the weight of guilt and dread. She felt her grandparents’ eyes on her all the time, and they tried to talk to her about how she felt, but even though she knew they loved her and were worried about her, she couldn’t bring herself to tell them about her awful secret. She pulled away from her friends, stopped taking phone calls, stopped hanging out after school with anyone.
The worst time was when Meghan and her grandparents had to go back to her house and pack everything up. Meghan cried the entire time, softly, trying not to let the tears fall, but they filled her chest so full she could hardly breathe. Her body ached with sorrow and for the first time, she understood the creaking gait of old people, weighted down with the sorrows of life. During the time they packed up hers and her mother’s belongings there were times when the physical pain grew so intense that it took everything Meghan had not to scream aloud each time she moved. After several agonizing days, things were finally organized. Megan’s things got moved to her room at her grandparents’ house and most of her mother’s belongings went into their basement, packed tightly away along with the fading hope that their owner would ever reclaim them.
And still, no word. Not a phone call, not a letter, not a post card. Not a sighting. No crank calls saying that the woman in question had popped up in a diner on the other side of Alligator Alley, or that some crazy homeless woman in St. Petersberg kept talking about a daughter she had left behind. There was just nothing and nothing was the worst.
Meghan’s grandparents had to hire a lawyer in order to get paperwork stating that they could be Meghan’s legal guardians. Megan’s mother had divorced her father when Megan was only four. She didn’t remember much about him, but she remembered that her mom was scared of him, even though she couldn’t recall her ever saying that. Fear was a scent Meghan remembered from her childhood and when, after the divorce, her father had opted to return to his hometown in West Virginia, she remembered the air clearing as if a strong wind had blown through a smoke-filled room. Meghan hadn’t seen or heard from him since, and she was sure her grandparents weren’t going to go out of their way to inform him of this development.
So the years passed. Megan did well in school, began to think of college and a future. The summer before her senior year, she and Mims decided it was time to go through her mother’s things. They both knew her mom was never coming back, but they still hadn’t been able to say it. Finally being able to let go of those physical reminders would help. Maybe by saying good-bye to things, they could finally figure out a way to say their good-byes to their owner.
It was simply by chance that Meghan got the box. She and her grandmother alternated pulling them down, checking them, and marking them for Goodwill, trash, or other destination. It was a banker’s box, with a fitted lid and no markings. She carried it over to the side, away from where her grandmother was working. She settled down beside it and pulled off the lid. The box was filled with spiral notebooks. Meghan picked up the first one and turned to the beginning. The first page was blank, except for the words “Notes 1990 – ” in the middle of the page.
Meghan’s heart began to race. Even in those few words, she recognized her mother’s handwriting. She flipped forward a few pages.
“…don’t think that I can carry on with this shadow life any more. I need to end it, but I just don’t know how. He’s so entwined in my heart, my soul, I don’t know how I could unwind him out of me without losing myself…”
Meghan felt sweat prickle down her back. Her face was hot, as if she had a fever. She might finally, at long last, have a clue. Maybe, maybe, her mother had left an inkling of what might have been planned for her final weekend. Meghan looked up to call to her grandmother and then stopped, her mouth still open. Mims was holding one of her mother’s vests, a thing she had loved to wear, a funky sun, moon and stars thing that made her laugh. She said she wore it when she knew she was going to have a bad day, like armor. Mims was hugging the vest close and trying not to cry. Meghan bit her lip and looked away.
This had to be her secret. She would go through these books from the first page to the last, and she would find out what had happened to her mother. It was clear that no one in authority cared enough to work it out. That was fine. She could take the matter into her own hands. She felt her mother’s eyes on her, urging her own. She could almost hear her voice, “Find me!” in the back of her head.
She stood quickly and pulled the box to her, almost running it into the house. Her grandmother turned.
“What’s in the box, honey?”
“Oh, nothing much, Mims, just some books I thought I lost.”