A 3 part series by Courtney. Here is part 1.
The morning my mother died there was a blizzard. Which isn’t surprising in Alberta, in January. My oldest daughter, who had just turned twelve was running around to find a backpack, and I was yelling about missing shoes. It was dark and cold. The only light illuminating the scene was the dirty ceiling lamp by the front door. My toddler-who would turn two tomorrow-looked like an overstuffed bear. Her blue eyes peeking through her fur-lined hood, and a sparkly pink scarf. Her eyes were smiling. I’m filling my arms with diaper bags, backpacks, my lunch-my phone rings, my only thought-who calls at 6 am? I don’t look at the screen, just push the speaker button, and put my phone down.
“Mrs. Smith- I'm incredibly sorry, but your mother passed away about fifteen minutes ago. Your brother is here but he asked me to call.” I can’t breathe, I look up-my daughter heard it all. She’s fallen quietly to the floor.
“Um thank you, I’m about an hour or so away-will he be okay until I get there?” My eyes never leave her. She was destroyed. The day before she had made the drive with my aunt and brother to say goodbye. 36 hours before that, I had signed papers removing her from support. My child was incredibly mad that the decision had been made not to keep her alive, and she blamed me. I have big shoulders; I was okay with it. The nurse tells us the highway is closed, and not to worry. They’ve brought my brother a blanket, and a cup of tea. I hang up, and look at my child sobbing quietly.
“Mom, she was better yesterday, I swear. She had no tubes, and she wasn’t in pain. Mom-she was sleeping. I have to go with you, I have to see.” She is becoming hysterical. Her biggest champion is gone. Their relationship was incredibly close and tight-knit. The day my daughter was born, was the day my mother fell in love again. They had a connection I would have never been able to touch. I don’t let her come, it’s a moment for my brothers and me only. The next time she sees my mother is in a scattering tube, placed gently in a velvet bag. It's then put onto a place of honour, next to a picture of a younger, happier version of my mother. Keeley stares at the arrangement of photos, and memories for an incredibly long time. The funeral moves around her. My daughter, never mentions the day again.
Days and months have blurred together-spring is finally here. I sleep in the basement with my now two-year-old. Unable to turn my mother’s room into my own space-I haven’t mourned yet really. So, the room stands half-empty, darkened with closed curtains, and smoke stains on the walls. My alarm has told me it’s time to wake up the kids for school. I climb the stairs and take a giant step over the puddle that’s actually a golden retriever. I flip the light in my son’s room, then move to my daughter’s room. One of the beds is empty. My 8-year-old is under her pillow, and for once, my oldest daughter’s bed is made. With a note-Please, don’t look for me.
I’m not going through a stage. I’ve left, I’m not worth anything in this house. Don’t look for me. My entire body is shaking, and I can’t breathe, as someone who is usually the rock-I didn’t know what to do. I’m yelling, “someone, anyone get my phone and wake up Uncle Tyler-go now. NOW GO FUCKING RUN.”
Someone hands me my cell phone, “Use the house phone call your dad now.” My brother now up and confused calls my ex-husband-come right away there’s something wrong. I’m still standing in front of the empty bed, with the note, he hasn’t seen she’s not here. He hasn’t realized what was wrong until he hears me say the words to the dispatcher.
“My daughter has run away. She’s Missing, please, please help me.”
All anyone in my house hears is a one-sided conversation. I’m trying to keep calm and listen to the precise to-do list I’ve been handed. I’m checking to see what’s missing, her headphones, her phone, money from my purse. Clothes, her laptop-all gone.
“She’s 5’2 light brown hair, bright blue eyes, slim build. Probably wearing a black hoodie, and black leggings. Her headphones are the over the ear kind, big red. Black backpack...What? Yes, yes I’ll activate her phone now...I’ll text her friend’s parents immediately...Her best friend is-her mom said she wasn’t there...We fight a lot, and disagree on everything...yes, she’s been distant...yes, I’m worried she’s going to hurt herself...what do you mean how do I know? Just-help, please trust me...I just-I just know.”
I’m practically running from one side of the house to the other-my voice is shrill. It hits a note in my own ears that is making me panic more. The call finally ends without me evening saying thank you or goodbye. I hang up my phone and look at my brother, his own eyes are downcast, and he’s shaking. I hand him the note, and my voice is now catching and makes barely any noise. “I have to um, stay here. And post on Facebook to see if she’s been spotted. But, I can’t go anywhere-in case, um well in case the police need me, or she comes home.” He nods and sits in the living room.
I’m back on my phone, scrolling through pictures that are up-to-date. I notice-the most up to date pictures are from February 15th -my mother’s funeral. It's April 10th. Not one picture of her. Two months, and it’s like she didn’t exist in our house. I had been accusing her of acting like a ghost, and deliberately being difficult. I’m now realizing, I had cultivated her emotions by my own inaction. As my inadequacies form a shadow behind me, I select a picture of her alone, you can see her face, new adult teeth, and blue eyes. All clear as day.
“Please help, Keeley is missing. 5’2, light brown hair...” I start typing the description, hangouts, last seens, and friend’s names I will spend the next 3 hours repeating over and over again. The post is brief, I can’t type more. My friends share her picture over and over again. Until her photo is shared over 500 times. My phone won’t stop lighting up. I add an edit *Please do not call at this time, I need to keep my phone open for RCMP. Thank You.* I want to yell and scream, shut up and find my kid. Don’t ask me questions; go, now, run. Go.
I’m wandering between abject terror and blinding anger. No one is safe in my path; I’ve snapped at every person in the house. I’ve slammed every door I touch. I can’t even form complete thoughts, I’m just made of energy so tightly wound, even my hair hurts.
I stop, and the words in my brain are tripping my fingers up. I can’t form a decent text message with my fingers. My phone rings. “this is constable D of the RCMP we’ve received notice that your daughter is communicating with a friend. Please stay at home, they’ve agreed to meet her, and I’m on my way now. She’s been spotted at the school. We are going to wait to engage, so we don’t cause a scene.” A friend was able to get ahold of her through Instagram and convinced her to stay put. They’re on their way. As her daughter is talking to mine, I’m getting messages from her mom; I see her, she’s safe. I see her court. It’s going to be okay. I promise she’s safe. On and on she reassures me it’s my daughter she’s staring at across the parking lot of the middle school.
We live in the house I grew up in, and she walks the route I walked as a child to school. I know the area well. Its April-it will all be brown and melted muck. She will be able to see her breath in the chilled air still. The chain-link fence will be holding up the broken skeletons of bushes. Bushes that hide the metal with silvered green foliage for six weeks in summer. I’m imagining what my friend must be seeing through her truck window. Is Keeley crying, laughing? Is she alone, or in a group? What bush is she standing by? In my head I’ve dreamed up a scene of the agonizing drama, a fight to go with the police. Or maybe a scene with her friends declaring her decision to go out into the world, and make it work. But this is all me. My own memories are starting to imprint themselves into my imaginings, my brain is mixing up what is real and what isn’t. I try to snap myself out of it but my brain won’t stop-so on and on, made up scenes play over top memories of my own when there was a splash park there, and the trees were smaller.
She’s in actuality suffering in silence, her friends are wandering ahead of her, and into the school. She turns away from the door, says something to the girls huddled by the entrance, and walks away. All of this is playing out, unknown to my daughter, to a captive audience of three. The RCMP officer, my friend, and her daughter. Keeley’s former babysitter and friend. The teenager that convinced her to meet them; the young woman I’m convinced that kept my baby alive, is the first to approach.
I don’t know what is said, or how it's delivered. I just know the call from the police officer “We have her, I’m going to speak with her first” and her coming home to me, was much longer than the four-minute drive down to our home. I’m pacing the deck, waiting, praying, and asking quietly what do I do now? All I hear is the wind across dry grass and clicking of naked branches in our hedge. Finally, a quiet telltale crunch of rocks-and two SUV's pull up. One brightly labelled RCMP, the other just white, with my friend in the driver seat. The back door of the police vehicle is opened and out steps a teenager, with shoulders shrunk in defeat.
We meet in the yard, I have her so tightly in a hug, she can’t breathe. Maybe she can’t breathe from the wracking sobs, I don’t know which tears are hers, and which are mine. “Mom, everything hurts so much. I don’t know what’s wrong. Why couldn’t you let me go?” the sentence is broken up with sobs. I can’t even answer. I’m letting her cry it out until there is nothing left. She finally slows and she calms, my brother takes over so I can speak to the officer and her saviours. I bring everyone close to me, in a shaky tear-stained hug.
“She was going to kill herself, Mrs. Smith. Her options are you take her to the hospital, or I do. They’ve convinced her to go with you.”
“Where was she?”
“A friend’s house, from about 1 am on. She left out your back door.” I nod and say nothing. My brain is piecing the event together. The door that is attached to the vacant bedroom, and the friend’s mother that said she wasn’t there. I’m fixating on my daughter in my brother’s arms. Next to him, she looks like the child she actually is. I agree to take her in, and I do after we both have a shower, and eat.
In the car I notice her pants are dark green, I’m mildly surprised. She hates the colour green.