There are some things you just can’t forget.
The last few days old photos I saw long ago have been drifting back to me. When I wake up. When I’m just going about my day.
Like a camera flashing, the images just keep coming.
So today, I dragged out the box from underneath my bed and went through the old articles I’d written until I came across the one I wanted.
Then I got my coffee, sat down, and did a Google search to see if any other information had been brought forth since I’d last checked. And as usual, there was nothing.
It was a detailed account (gathered through known facts, interviews with her family and my own research) of the day a young girl named Charlotte, along with her friend Cinda, went missing from the Oklahoma State Fair.
It was Saturday, September 26, 1981.
I know what Charlotte, who had turned 13 just 16 days prior, ate for breakfast, what she wore, and who she talked to on the phone that day before she left with Cinda and her older brother.
I know that she called her grandmother and asked when they could go buy paint and pick out curtains and a new bedspread for her bedroom.
She was unsure just how she wanted to paint the room. She was thinking she’d paint it a soft lilac, but maybe paint one wall darker.
Her grandmother said she thought they should paint it the lighter color first.
Charlotte asked her what she thought about curtains.
She told her she would take her to look at curtains and bedspreads the following day.
I know that she also made plans with her cousin for him to come over that evening so they could watch movies. I know they talked about making popcorn.
And then she talked to her friend Cinda about when they would leave for the fair that day.
She had already gone to the fair the day before with another friend. But when Cinda invited her to go again, she agreed.
I know that she changed her clothing several times before she left, as girls often do. I know that she finally settled on a burgundy v-necked T-shirt with a white stripe around the border, blue jeans, and blue and white Nikes.
I know she put a comb in her back pocket. And put on two rings and a necklace.
Around noon Cinda and her older brother came to pick her up.
I know that her mother had a strange feeling of intuition at that last moment before her child walked out her door. And it led her to say: “I wish you wouldn’t go.”
But then Charlotte was already in the car, and her mother watched as it drove out of sight. It was to be the last time she would lay eyes on her daughter.
I’m going to skip what we pieced together as having happened later, at the time of her kidnapping. And the testimony from those who saw her at the fair that day.
The man who we believe kidnapped them. The horrendous crimes he’d already committed. That he was tried for but never convicted of kidnapping them four years after they disappeared.
That after the judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence, he was sent back to another state to serve his time for the kidnapping of two other girls.
I’ll save all that for another time.
Today is for bringing to the forefront the images that keep coming to me at odd moments. The things I saw in her room the day I visited her home.
One photo that keeps coming back to me is of her getting ready to swing the bat at a softball game. The top of her long blond hair was covered with a baseball cap. And she was smiling.
I found various notes and hair ribbons in her bedroom. I had asked for some time to just be in her room, to absorb who this child was. And they allowed me that, closing the door behind them.
And so I walked around and let who she was gel in my mind as I took note of what she surrounded herself with. That always tells a lot about a person.
There were cheer leading honors hanging from a Raggedy Ann bulletin board.
There was a “Jesus Loves Charlotte” sign.
There was a Tootsie Roll piggy bank filled with coins on her dresser.
And a card that read: “Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.”
One drawer of her dresser was filled to the brim with notes and letters she had kept.
And chillingly, when I turned to look at the opposite wall, I saw a Ziggy poster that read: “Wake Me When It’s Over.”
I remember I got goose bumps when I saw that, as though it was a premonition of sorts. The kind of thing that holds no meaning until the child who owned it is kidnapped.
Baseball caps hung from the window.
There were “I Am Loved” buttons scattered in a Ziggy cup.
A shelf stood in one corner. On it was a small TV and a stereo.
There were stuffed animals grouped on the pillow on her bed. A new “Ziggy” gown was lying there folded, the price tag still attached to one sleeve.
Through the nearly transparent curtain, I could see softball trophies facing the street outside.
I took it all in, every detail. So that what I wrote about her would be as accurate as possible.
The generations of family that had gathered there that day told me stories about Charlotte.
I know that every night her mother would sit at the end of Charlotte’s bed, hand her daughter the brown bear she still slept with, and tuck the covers in around her.
And then she would listen while her daughter said her nightly prayer.
“Goodnight. Sweet dreams. Say your prayers. And don’t forget your God blesses.”
All of these things are written in my detailed article. Because I felt that nothing was too small to make note of.
Because a little girl, who had just become a teen at the tender age of 13, never came home.
Her cousin did not come over to watch movies and eat popcorn.
Her grandmother did not go with her to pick out paint for her bedroom the following day.
Though later, they went ahead and redecorated her room, hoping for her eventual return.
Back then, they had to wait 24 hours before filing a missing persons report. Then had to convince the police that the two girls didn’t run away. It was four days before the case got any real publicity.
What had been an ordinary day turned into a nightmare that never ended. And has not to this day in time, 34 years later.
I don’t know why these memories come back to visit me from time to time.
I can’t erase all this from my mind. And I don’t really want to.
Because it makes her more than a case number in a cold case file.
It makes her more than another missing kid on a poster in a store.