“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” — Robert Frost
LIFE GOES ON — EVEN WHEN IT’S CUT SHORT
I looked at the photo of the missing woman and wondered why people would be worried. The flyer indicated she’d been missing for only a few short hours.
Missing At Noon
Another Maurer student came in with flyers at about 4:00pm. I told her someone had been in already. Then I asked her, “What’s the deal here? This woman has only been gone since this morning. How can you call her missing? Hell, I’ve been out of the house since this morning and I’m not missing.”
The student had the lawyer’s poker face down already. She mumbled a few things that I didn’t quite catch and then she shifted gears. The woman, she said, now speaking clearly, was the wife of a well-liked professor.
“Come on, now,” I pressed. “What’s going on?”
The student took a few steps back, toward the door. “It’s really…,” she started. “I can’t….”
I filled in the blanks. “Is it a medical issue?”
She seemed relieved, as if by guessing correctly, I’d taken her off the hook. “I’m sure you understand,” she said, “there are privacy issues here.”
“Hmm,” I said.
I’d left the flyer the first student had brought in on a book cart. In the hours since she’d come in, that flyer’d been buried and reburied by dozens of books.
By 6:00, when I was locking the door and The Loved One was waiting for me with her flashers on outside of Williams Jewelry, I’d forgotten the flyer completely.
We drove home in silence. It’d been a tiring day for both of us. The Loved One turned right off 3rd Street onto SR 446. The sign at the Bruster’s still advised ice cream junkies to visit its downtown location during the winter, but I had my window cracked. It’s been a weird January.
Then we saw the flashing lights. Dozens of the them. Black and white squad cars, fire trucks, ambulances, unmarked police cruisers, they all formed a clot around the entrance to the new housing development that used to be a horse pasture.
The street has been laid, the utility vaults installed, and safety capped power cables poke out of the ground like plastic crocuses, but not one house has been built yet. None has even been started. Some recovery.
“Uh oh,” The Loved One said, “looks like a bad accident.”
Emergency vehicles were parked well into the new road. Some police cars were parked on the fresh sod.
“Well, what are they doing inside the development?” I said.
Then it hit me.
“Aw shit,” I said. “What if it’s that woman?”
“What woman?” The Loved One asked.
As we drove slowly past the scene, I told her about the students and their flyers. “We’ll find out soon enough,” The Loved One said, her voice indicating I shouldn’t let my imagination get the better of me.
“Well, I’m gonna go there and find out,” I said.
“You do that,” she said.
She pulled into our driveway and I jumped out of the car, grabbing the flashlight from the glovebox. The scene was no more than a couple of hundred yards away from our back porch, just over a rise that obscured the flashing lights until I hit its crest.
I saw a group of firefighters milling around an ambulance. Firefighters, I’d learned long ago in Chicago, usually are good sources of initial information at an emergency scene. They’re not as tight-lipped as the cops, as a rule.
“Pardon me, guys. What happened? Was there an accident?” I asked.
They all looked at each other. Finally, one guy spoke up. “No,” he said.
We stared at each other and simultaneously shifted on our feet. I tried again. “Okay. What happened?”
Another uncomfortable silence. After a long moment, the guy responded. “Somebody,” he said, “was injured.”
His pals all averted their eyes.
I knew I wasn’t going to get anything more out of them.
So I loitered a bit. A heavy duty tow truck came by and positioned itself to pull one of the squad cars out of a ditch. Judging by the ruts in the sod, it looked as though the driver had zoomed off 446 and gotten stuck. Maybe, I thought, it was a chase. Maybe another bank robbery. Maybe there was even gunfire.
Suddenly, I was nine years old again. I thought: Jeez, I’m a grown man and here I am getting excited over a police gunfight. I scolded myself: People get hurt in gunfights, my internal voice said. They even get killed.
The tow truck slowly began to tug the squad car out of the ditch, the driver hoping, I supposed, not to rip apart its undercarriage in the process.
A couple of cops ambled over to their cruiser. Things seemed to be winding down. I ran over to them before they could get in.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m a neighbor. Anything we should be worried about here?”
“No,” one of the cops said. Again, there was an uncomfortable silence.
“Well, what happened?”
He looked at his partner. His partner shrugged. The cop looked back at me. “They found somebody down by the creek.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said. And it hit me again. “Aw man,” I said, “was it that missing woman?”
The cop nodded.
“Is she gonna be alright?”
He stared at me, meaningfully. I caught on.
“Is she dead?”
“I’ll let you come to your own conclusion about that,” he said.
And then the two cops drove off.
I thought about those students as I walked back home. I thought about the professor, too. The woman’s husband. Right now, I thought, there’s a person in this town who’s likely suffering through the worst moment of his life.
I didn’t feel so tired anymore. And I remembered that flyer. I never did put it up.