Some things you just never forget. Not always so much the event itself. But some innocuous little thing that accompanies the event. A car horn. The way the clouds looked just over the horizon. The sound of someone laughing in the distance.
I was writing an in-depth feature about two missing girls. There had been no trace of them. No real evidence. The families were in limbo.
The trail had long been dead.
I back-tracked their activities for the 24 hours prior to their abduction. I knew the color of fingernail polish they were wearing. The clothing they wore that day. Two little girls, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I knew their day together down to minute details until someone lured them away. Then probably hit the nearby interstate and drove out of town. With two unwilling victims whose screams could not be heard.
And so, on a cold blustery day, I stood on the concrete in an empty lot. Rubbish skipped across the asphalt.
It had been a far different scene back then, when the girls were kidnapped. I tried to imagine the sounds of the carnival. The crowd milling about. The carnies trying to sell their wares. The sound of squealing children on the roller coaster.
But what I heard was the clanging of a rusted chain banging against a flag pole. Propelled by the wind. Over and over again. But I needed to be there. Because this was the last place they were known to be. And it was how I always ended things.
When a child dies, there is a grave, an ending. A period at the end of the sentence. For families of the missing, there are only commas, years of nothing, then occasionally false leads in the case to possible sightings. A seesaw of emotions. The passing of years. The losing of hope.
You stand in the room, the shrine it has become, and you take in the details. The school trophies. The baseball caps. The teddy bears. A room like any other child’s room. You try to envision their last moments there.
You have to take it all in, and then go someplace quiet. Where you will be undisturbed. Then you let your mind travel where it wants. Connecting the dots. The sequence of events that played out. Until there were no more.
I would put myself in the shoes of a victim, and ride out the tide until the trail was cold, or the person was given a headstone. Sometimes it took a toll on me. Yet I kept on doing what I knew. And I somehow knew how to follow footsteps all the way into shadows and then eventual blackness.
It was my way of paying homage. I felt it was a small price to pay. Using my skills, however they came about, to flesh out a person who wasn’t there to speak for themselves anymore.
Once in awhile I’m walking outside somewhere, and I hear a sound much like the clanging rusty chain. And immediately I am drawn back there. To the large empty lot, where, every year at a certain time, it becomes a cacophony of carnival sounds.
One could turn and see the interstate from the lot. The passing cars and semis speeding along. All on their way to a predetermined destination.
One would have to wonder at the mounting terror of two little girls as they were being driven farther and farther away. As their childhood ended and hit a brick wall.
Years pass. Taking with them the memory of those girls who would now be women.
I live my life. Raise two children. Get married, Get divorced. Move from one state to another. And back again.
But somewhere, at some point, I will again be within hearing distance of a loose heavy chain caught up by the wind. I will pause and listen as it pounds against a hard surface.
Then I come inside and type my thoughts with stiffened fingers.
And hope you understand why.