April 3rd 2017
Her feet are numb, red and raw. She bends at the waist, her vision clouding with stars for a moment before running clear, and reaches downward, desperately trying to rub warmth into them with purple fingers. Her breath comes in quick, short bursts and in the early morning fog she can see it puff into the sunlight, disappearing into the thicket of trees. Eyes darting in every direction, Eva does everything she can to try and keep alert, to watch for any sign of movement, before lifting a hand towards her chest, icy, and feeling her furiously beating heart. It hurts. Each breath she takes feels like sharp, arctic knives slicing through the membranes of each of her lungs, each step through the forest yields more and more slices against the tough skin of her bare feet, each moment away sets her heart racing again, deep, pounding bursts of fear against her ribcage. A cold shiver of terror washes down her spine and goose bumps arise on her exposed arms and legs. She inhales another painful breath, swallows past the golf ball sized lump of dread in her throat, and carries on.
The sudden snapping of a twig from behind sets her hair on end. Eva whips around, her breathing shallow, and focuses as hard as she can on every last sound emanating from the forest floor. She’s ready to sprint at the first sign of danger; one flash of bright red hair or that shiny copper belt and she is gone. Slowly, steadily, she creeps backwards, keeping the trees in her line of vision and heading, blindly, in the opposite direction. If she was back at Base, she could navigate the site with her eyes closed. Someone could blindfold her, spin her around a few times, take her offsite and ask her to find her way back, and she’d be home within minutes, putting a kettle on the fire and shucking corn for supper. But this is farther than she’s even gone before; the trees are thicker, the air is colder, and she’s not sure where she’s going. She’s in unfamiliar territory and she’s all alone, something Ma has always warned against. But she’s far from Ma, now. And anywhere is better than being there- even if she’s by herself.
Eva’s fear heightens and she continues moving. The trees grow thicker and even thicker still and soon, she can’t run through them. She navigates her way slowly and carefully, the sweat pooling and freezing in place on her skin, setting her body once again in shivers. The ground beneath her feet has yet to see the promise of spring and healing sunshine and snow still litters the ground in fluttery patches. Eva can no longer feel her feet; she wonders how much longer she’ll be able to stand, how much further she’ll be able to run, how much fight she still has left in her when it feels like so much of her life has been an uphill battle. Beneath a fir tree, something glistens and catches her eye and she moves towards it without a moment’s hesitation. Ice. It covers the majority of a stream, stuck frozen in place, and slushy, freezing water sloshes below. Eva, like a moth drawn to a flame, peers down, captivated by her own haggard reflection.
She isn’t sure what color her hair is. Dirt and mossy grass have caked and matted her tresses so deeply, she’s not sure she’ll ever remember. There are deep, dark circles around her eyes, which have sunken into her skull and a slash across her right cheek, still fresh, still bleeding. Her fingernails are encrusted with mud, her sallow skin matches the patchy snow, her arms and legs are an atlas of scars and bruises. She stares and stares, curious, and wonders if this is the same frightening picture that everyone sees when they look at her. Pa would say, Suffering is God’s way of strengthening. You cannot know love if you do not know hate. You cannot know happiness if you do not know pain. You cannot find the light if you aren’t in the dark. But Pa would say a lot of things and nothing ever made Eva feel any better.
Pushing away from the half frozen stream, Eva stands, a bit wobbly, and sets off again, pulling her threadbare sweater tighter around her tiny frame, desperately yanking her frock lower in an attempt to cover her knees and shins. She shivers as a wintry breeze tousles the trees she treads amongst, shaking snow into her hair and eyes. Her lungs constrict with each icy breath, her heart threatens to leap from the confines of her chest, and adrenaline races through her veins like wildfire, spreading without abandon. She’ll get caught. Any moment now, she’ll get caught- she’ll turn the corner and come face to face with Pa’s rifle, get dragged back to Base by her hair, be on the receiving end of an apocalyptic whupping… But not if she keeps moving. Again, she picks up speed, squeezing herself in between trees and pressing onward, keeping one eye on the prize and one eye over her shoulder, praying harder than she ever has to keep everyone away.
A few more racing strides and then her stomach growls angrily. Glancing up, Eva measures the sun’s position in the sky and exhales an unhappy sigh. Right about now, Ma would be calling everyone for morning meal and Pa would be leading everyone in prayer and thanksgiving. It wouldn’t take them long to notice she’s gone- or to come looking for her. That thought alone gets her heart racing again and she pushes on despite the achingly numb feeling in her toes and the heavy way her breath comes to her. She cannot take it much longer. There must be somewhere she can find something to eat, somewhere she can take refuge until the sun climbs a bit higher in that bright sapphire sky and she can warm herself under its rays, or perhaps somewhere she can lie down and take a bit of a rest because she hadn’t slept at all the night before and she’s so, so tired.
And that’s when she hears the laughter.
Unable to stay away, Eva steps in that direction, wanting to fill herself with that friendly, joyous sound. The trees grow thinner and she’s able to walk without the awkwardness of bending beneath low hanging branches or squeezing her rail-thin body between two pregnant trunks. A weeping willow acts as an entryway to the sound of voices and laughter and suddenly, above its waterfall of leaves, Eva can see smoke. Smoke! Perhaps the forest is one big chain and instead of moving away from Base, she’s actually circled back towards it. Perhaps behind this curtain of willow leaves is Ma cooking morning meal and Pa teaching to repent their sins and he’ll tell her she’s late and must say an extra rosary and then they’ll all learn from her mistake, silly little Eva, getting lost in the woods. She frowns at this thought but then there are voices again, only two of them, and more laughter, and Eva thinks no one ever sounds this happy at morning meal.
Without a sound, Eva steps through the willow tree’s parted leaves and comes upon a small fire, much smaller than anything she’s ever seen at Base, and a brightly colored tarp, zipped closed. Two human beings stand outside the tarp, a He and a She, and they talk and laugh like nothing bad has ever happened to them. Eva watches curiously. He is dressed in black pants and a blue jacket that make Eva shiver enviously with how warm they must be, a hat upon his head and funny little things on his hands that make his fingers look like fuzzy claws. She is dressed similarly, warmly, and is tying a pair of boots as the scarf wrapped loosely around her neck begins to drape off of her shoulder instead. Unconsciously, Eva begins to move closer and something sweet-smelling fills her nostrils as He removes the odd shaped basin from the kettle and tosses water on the fire. It burns out. Eva watches the smoke turn white, rising into the air.
“You’re dressed like we’re going to the arctic north,” He says suddenly and the sharp cacophony of his voice makes Eva jump. “It’s not that cold.”
“Says the man who needed to go back to the car to get his gloves,” She replies and smiles as he pulls a silly face. “It’s only twenty-eight degrees outside. Spring, my ass.”
“You’re the one that wanted to go camping, Nora!”
“In the summer! When it’s hot! When I’m not going to freeze to death on some mountain somewhere!”
“I know exactly where we are.”
“Well, thank hell for that.”
In that moment, they both look up and, upon the sight of Eva standing there, She lets out a scream. Eva jumps nearly out of her skin and backs up as fast and as far as she can until she feels all the bones in her body come into contact with an unforgiving tree trunk. The She who had screamed just moments before slaps a hand over her mouth. “Oh fuck. Sorry! Holy shit. You scared me to death!”
“Nora!” He hisses and swats her arm. “You’re going to scare her to death!”
“Sorry!” She shrieks again and takes a step towards Eva, who presses closer to the tree. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Are you okay?”
“She’s not okay, look at her!” He replies. “She’s freezing. Her lips are blue, she’s out here without a coat on, her eyelashes have fucking icicles on them-”
“Now who’s going to scare her?” She scolds. “Sweetheart, are you lost? Are your mom or dad around here?”
He sheds his coat and steps closer to offer it to Eva. Eva, alarmed, ducks behind the tree. He frowns. “It’s okay, honey. Here… You’ve got to be freezing.”
“What’s your name?” She asks. “Are you lost? Is there someone I can call to come get you?”
Eva pokes her head out from behind the tree and glances at the jacket and then at the nice smile on his face. She reaches for it, remembers Pa, and then withdraws her hand. He tries again to coax her into taking it, saying, “It’s okay. I promise I’m not going to hurt you. Please put the coat on. You’ll freeze. It’s too cold out here to be in just that little sweater and your dress.”
Still, Eva remains with her hands firmly at her sides. She sighs. “Something’s not right. I’m serious, Danny, I’m getting all kinds of creepy vibes from this whole thing.”
“Well we have to help,” He says. “We can’t just leave her.”
“I know! I know!” She exhales. “Let’s call the police. She’s lost, she’s freezing, she’s obviously hurt… We need to call 911. They’ll know what to do.”
“Okay,” He nods his agreement and She nods too, taking out some sort of funny contraption and pressing it to her ear. He turns back to Eva and smiles reassuringly once more. “It’s okay, honey. We’re going to help you, okay? We’re going to get you home. We’ll keep you safe.”
Tentatively, Eva shakes her head.
He frowns. “No? No, what? You’re not safe?”
Again, Eva shakes her head.
“I’m sorry.” He says. “But we’ll help you fix that. And then you can go home, okay?”
Eyes widening, Eva once again shakes her head.
“You don’t want to go home?” He asks and when she continues to shake her head no, he asks, “Why not?”
Eva parts her dry, chapped lips and utters, oh so quietly, “Bad.”
Although He has to strain to hear, she knows He does. “Bad?”
At this, Eva nods.
And without another word, Eva collapses, fading into a deep, dark sleep.
April 3rd 2017
The moment she sees the sunshine upon the sweet summer grass and smells the fresh July breeze, she knows she’s dreaming, but she doesn’t dare wake herself up- and she’s not sure she could even if she tried. Something is chasing her; or, rather, someone. For a moment, she wants to be alarmed, her fight or flight engaged, but in her dream, she is not afraid, and she relaxes completely, allowing herself to be carried away by the feeling of freedom running gives her. She’s wearing her shiny white sneakers with rainbows on the sides, and for a moment Eva’s heart gives an unwanted tug, because she had loved those sneakers and Pa had taken them away. But Pa is nowhere to be found, now. And as Eva glances at her dreamed surroundings- the slide, the sandbox, the Minnie Mouse windbreaker- she realizes she can’t be older than two, three at the most. Pa is nowhere to be found and this is not a dream. This is a memory from before.
She watches as tiny little Eva ducks behind a bush, giggling but stifling her laughter behind her closed hand. A voice calls, Evie! Where are you, munchkin? I’m gonna get you! This does nothing but make tiny Eva giggle even harder and dreaming Eva ache with longing for these simpler times. The voice bears no resemblance to any she’s heard before and yet, at the same time, she has this strange feeling deep within her that this person, this faceless, deep-voiced person, means a great deal to her. Ma has asked her many, many times never to speak of this life she knew before and Eva wouldn’t dream of it- she’s still got the bruises to show for it- and Pa has said over and over she would never remember and for the most part, she doesn’t. For the most part, he’s right. But he has no control over her dreams. He may have say in what she believes, but he will never have power over her thoughts.
Her dream fades and Eva does everything in her power to stay asleep, desperately wanting to put a face to the voice, thoroughly, wholeheartedly believing that she’d know this person if she saw them. Unfortunately, her eyes flutter open and suddenly, she’s not in the forest anymore. She feels woozy and disoriented and her mouth is dry and cottony, like she hasn’t had a single drop of water in over a hundred years. But she’s warm; she can tell she isn’t on the forest floor anymore because the smell of pine has left the air and has been replaced by a lemony scent that feels all too clean and there isn’t a single wintry breeze to set her hair on end. She’s far from Base, now; she isn’t sure where she is, but she doesn’t think she could find her way back for all the prayers in the world. She inhales slowly and carefully, but the air doesn’t pierce her lungs here- wherever here is. She’s regained feeling in her toes. She feels better than she has in a long, long time.
Curious, Eva glances around the room, much larger than any of the ones they have at Base, and wonders how far she’s gone. The walls are a pristine, shining white and one large window serves as her only connection to the outside world. Sunlight is streaming through the window, its rays splaying across the floor, up over her bedside (she’s in a bed- at Base, only Ma and Pa had one of those) and onto her stomach, keeping her warm. Upon further inspection, Eva realizes this bed of hers is just as white and pure as the walls of the room, but the blanket is a soft cream color and she feels herself getting sleepy all over again. She could stay here forever, in this cozy, comfy bed, and she’d be eternally grateful to whoever had brought her here.
But then, she notices the wires.
Her brow furrows as she lifts her right arm and inspects the small needle poking out of the back of her hand. In runs all the way up her tiny arm and ends in a small bag of fluid hanging from a pole at her bedside. Funny- she’d always thought water was meant to be drunk, but here it is, getting pumped into her arm. She takes a moment to eye every last inch of her skin and notes that many of her cuts had been dressed, cleaned and patched up. She doesn’t know where she is, but someone out there is taking care of her and for a moment, she wonders if she’s still dreaming. Surely, there isn’t anyone in this cruel world who could be so kind.
At that moment, the door along the far left wall opens, startling Eva so greatly she jumps, her heart racing. It’s a She, dressed in funny blue pants and a matching blue shirt, her hair tied back and out of her eyes. She has skin the color of the midnight sky and eyes as bright as the moon. Eva tenses the tiniest bit, pressing against the cool metal railing on the right side of her bed. Stranger. She notices Eva is awake, jumps a bit herself, and remarks, “Well hey there, sleepyhead. We were wondering if you were going to grace us with your beautiful presence any time today.”
Eva does not reply; instead, she watches, just watches, as She steps closer. “My God, you must be scared to death. You must’ve been in those woods a long, long time. Well don’t you worry, sweetheart. You’re safe now. And we’re going to find your mom or dad and get you right home.”
She crosses the room, picks up a small clipboard from Eva’s bedside, and reads it thoroughly, making a note here and there. “Jane Doe. You must come from a long line of Does; I’ve met many of your relatives.”
She chuckles. Eva does not. “Sorry, sweetie. Bit of hospital humor, that’s all. What is your name? We’ve been waiting for you to wake up so we could get that out of you- amongst other things.”
Eva merely blinks in response. She frowns. “Well, that’s pretty ridiculous of me, isn’t it? Asking something of you without offering anything in return? My name is Whitney Miller. I’ve worked at this hospital for about five years now and you know what the hardest part of my job is? The hardest part is seeing little kids like you, scared, sick, and alone. There is not a reason on this Earth why kids should have to suffer.”
Eva hears Pa’s voice above all: Suffering is God’s way of strengthening. If you are hurting, my child, it is only because somewhere, deep down, you know you deserve it.
“Anyway, enough of my rambling.” Whitney shakes her head, extending a hand towards Eva, who stares at it, puzzled. “It’s nice to meet you, honey. What’s your name?”
Whitney’s hand remains extended but, unsure of what to do with it, Eva remains as is. After a beat, Whitney drops her hand back at her side and wonders, “You won’t tell me your name, huh? How about how old you are? I’ve got a niece about your age. She’s eleven. Are you eleven? Twelve? Thirteen?”
Eva knows her numbers- she’s not a baby- but she’s never heard of assigning a number to a human being. How can I be eleven, twelve or thirteen? I’m Eva. Just Eva. Whitney frowns and Eva wonders if she’ll give in. “How about how long you’ve been in the woods? Or how you got there in the first place? It’s a great camping area; my folks used to take us there when we were kids. Were you camping with your mom and dad? Did you wander off? Did you get lost?”
All of Whitney’s questions are making Eva’s head spin. She feels dizzy and lightheaded, like she could slip into unconsciousness once more without the slightest hesitation. Whitney says, “Huh. You just won’t talk to me, will you? It’s okay, you know. I know you’re scared. I know you’ve probably been through a lot. I’m sure that whatever happened made you nervous in front of strangers. But you can trust me, sweetheart. I’m here to help you. I’m not going to hurt you. You’re safe now; your days of getting hurt are over.”
She reaches for something on the cart on the other side of the room and then comes to stand at Eva’s bedside, motioning to grasp Eva’s hand, who, reflexively, pulls back without thinking. Whitney smiles patiently. “Honey, I’m sorry, but I’m going to need your hand again. I’ve got to take a small blood sample so we can check for any infections and get you feeling shiny and new again. I’ll do everything I can to make it as quick and as painless as possible, okay?”
Eva hesitates, then offers Whitney her hand, whose smile brightens. The needle stick feels like swiping her hand through a prickle bush and Eva hisses, involuntarily muttering, “Hurts.”
Shock colors Whitney’s face, but she remarks, “Well, well, well, you can speak, after all.”
At this, Eva bites her tongue and reverts back to silence. Whitney adds, “I’m sorry I hurt you, sweetheart. I just need a little bit more… There. All over, I promise.”
Watching as Whitney places the vial of blood back onto her cart, labeled and stoppered, Eva feels more alert than ever. Her heart races. At the doorway, Whitney pauses before deciding to stay whatever seems to be on the tip of her tongue. “Honey… I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I can’t imagine how scared you must be. But I can assure you- I promise you- that no one here is going to hurt you. We’re here to help you; we all are. But you can help us too, you know.”
A moment passes in silence and in contemplation. If Pa were here, he would say, It is wise to hold your tongue when in the presence of those who do not walk before God. To those who do not serve the Lord, we do not bat an eye.
But Pa isn’t here and that thought alone sends a rush of adrenaline through her veins. She’s never felt this much liberty in all her life.
“You don’t have to talk to me,” Whitney continues, but nods towards the hallway, where a police officer and a man wearing a tie and all black are standing, watching. Eva’s heart slams against her ribcage; how hadn’t she noticed them before? “But they are expecting you to talk to them.”
Eva opens her mouth and then shuts it, unsure of where to start. Excitement seems to burst behind Whitney’s eyes and she nods in encouragement. “Go on, honey. Say whatever it is you were going to say.”
And in a small voice that sounds foreign even to her, Eva emits, “Eva.”
Whitney strains to hear and ends up shaking her head and stepping closer. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you. What is it you said?”
“My name,” Eva whispers, not at all any louder. “is Eva.”
“Eva,” Whitney repeats, her mouth splitting into a grin. “What a beautiful name, sweetheart. Were you lost? Is that how you came to be in the woods?”
Slowly, Eva shakes her head.
“Then how did you get there?”
At this, she shrugs her shoulders.
“Okay,” Whitney nods, even though they’d really gotten nowhere. “How long have you been in the woods?”
Eva thinks back, back, past moons and seasons and snowy winters, past births and deaths and sunny skies, and says, “Long time.”
And Eva doesn’t know how, but the look on Whitney’s face is both happy and sad.
April 3rd 2017
“If I have to sell one more carton of staples or another dozen ink cartridges, I’m going to barf,” Jamie exhales unhappily, leaning against the side of their shared cubicle. “I needed a new job yesterday.”
Melina grins but shakes her head. “And why haven’t you gotten one?”
Jamie purses her lips. “Full medical and dental. Max got Tommy’s teeth, unfortunately, and if I didn’t have such good insurance, Aubrey’s hospital stay last year would’ve bankrupted us completely. Only my kid would come down with that bad a case of pneumonia. I swear, we have the worst luck.”
“At least they’re cute,” Melina teases and Jamie snorts, nodding.
“Thank heaven for that.” She agrees. “Come on- let’s go to lunch. That new pizza place in Armory opened last week and I’ve been dying to try it. My treat!”
Melina shakes her head. “I can pay for myself.”
“Didn’t say you couldn’t. Still, my treat!”
The phone on Melina’s desk rings and Jamie frowns. Melina lifts a finger to shush her friend, answering, “Hearst and Lindeman Office Supplies, this is Melina speaking. How may I assist you?”
Jamie sighs and whispers, “Come on!”
“One moment and I’ll transfer you.” Melina answers dutifully before pressing the necessary buttons and hanging up. After, she stands, gathering her coat from the back of her swivel chair, eyeing Jamie reproachfully. “You are very pushy. We’re salaried; it’s not like we have to clock in and out for lunch.”
“Yeah, well you know how I get when my blood sugar drops.” Jamie shrugs and, as they pass a rival coworker’s desk, she asks, “Heather! You coming to lunch with us? I’m buying.”
“No thank you,” Heather replies shortly, pulling a salad out of the cooler she keeps inside her desk drawer and picking at flimsy lettuce with a plastic fork.
Jamie entices, “Come on. Anything will be better than that sad old salad.”
Heather narrows her eyes. “Some of us have plenty to do besides gossip about the workplace and will be working straight through lunch. Enjoy your greasy pizza.”
Melina pulls a face and the two push onward. “I don’t know why you do that everyday.”
“Because I always want to get a reaction out of her and she never disappoints.” Jamie snickers. “Besides, I don’t know what her deal is anyway. Why is she being so diligent? You’re always the top seller in this office anyway.”
“That’s not true,” Melina disagrees. “Rich Calloway beat me three months in a row last year. And why does it even matter?”
“It doesn’t.” Jamie shrugs. “I just like being best friends with the best.”
At this, Melina chuckles and they leave it at that. Armory Square is just a short walk from their office, but in the bitter, unseasonably cold April afternoon, it feels like miles. She’s about frozen solid by the time they reach the new pizza parlor, which is filled, wall to wall, with people and helps her thaw. It takes much too long to order and even longer to get their pizza, which, when they finally receive it, they decide it’s deceptively average, certainly not worth their time or their money. Melina isn’t sure, however, if it’s the pizza or her attitude towards the specific food; pizza had been one of her daughter’s favorites, after all, and Melina’s found that her taste for the Italian classic had all but disappeared since she’s been gone. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
“Ugh,” Jamie continues to gripe as they step into the building and the subsequent elevator following lunch. “Whoever thought that I’d be pushing forty and my glamorous job would be a regional saleswoman for an office supply company?”
“You didn’t have to.” Melina shrugs. “You wanted something to keep you busy while the kids were in school.”
“Well, yeah, because what would I do all day without them?” Jamie asks. “Sit around my empty house and wait for them to come back? I mean, that’s so…”
Melina feels her friend’s eyes on her and wonders if she knows where she just messed up. She senses Jamie does. The sentence dies on her lips and she swears, “Shit. I’m so, so sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Melina says automatically, because it’s the auto-generated response she’s been spitting out for years, even if it’s never been true.
“No, it’s not. I am such a moron. My damn mouth! Tommy says it’s my worst quality- that I never know when to shut up.” Jamie shakes her head. “Seriously. I’m sorry, Mel. I… Jesus, and I call myself your best friend, huh? I’m so, so sorry.”
“Jamie,” Melina stops her as they reach their desks again. “Don’t do that to yourself. It’s fine. I’m okay. I can talk about it; it’s been years.”
It’s been ten years. It’s been ten long, unbearable, excruciating, mind-numbingly painful years and it isn’t okay no matter how many times Melina says or pretends it is.
But it has to be. Because that’s what everyone else wants to hear.
And then, they always ask the same questions, mostly out of their own guilt: Have they heard anything? Any luck? Is there anything I can do?
Jamie doesn’t disappoint. “Is there anything-?”
“Let’s just get back to work.” Melina shakes her off, because no, there isn’t anything she can do, there isn’t anything anyone can do, and there never has been.
The odds grow smaller and smaller with each passing day. Right now, Melina’s looking at one in a billion.
Instead of crunching numbers, instead of responding to the dozen or so emails she has in her inbox, instead of calling in customers’ orders or answering her incessantly ringing phone, Melina pulls up the internet and leans in closer to her computer monitor, shielding her search bar from view. She needn’t enter in any information; she has it bookmarked. In seconds, the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children illuminates her screen and her heart gives that all too familiar tug. It hurts; she wonders if there will ever be a day when it stops hurting. It’s been ten years of the same routine, ten years of the same search on this website, ten years of grief and mystery and pain. She checks this website everyday for information. It always looks the same. She always checks, anyway.
In the search bar, she types in Evangeline Daley and again, her heart hammers wildly in her ribcage. She feels bile begin to rise in the back of her throat. Her legs turn to jelly.
At the top of the page, in big, bold letters, reads the header: HAVE YOU SEEN ME? But it’s the photo of her beautiful baby girl that always gets her. It’s the school photograph- the only one she’s ever had- from her very first year at preschool and that wide, toothy grin on her little face says it all. Evangeline- Eva, they’d called her, for short- had loved school so very much. She always woke with a smile on her face that would last the whole day through. In the photo, she’s wearing a white, long-sleeved top with red stripes and red overalls, her baby soft tumble of brown curls pinned back and away from her face by two heart-shaped barrettes. There’s a certain sparkle in her chocolate brown eyes that only comes from being tiny and precious, pure and good. Melina could stare at this photo all day; on her worst days, she does. She’ll stare and stare and stare and shout to the moon, the stars, the sky- I haven’t given up on you, baby girl. I never will.
Next to the photograph she had provided is another, but this one leaves a strange feeling in Melina’s stomach, a sour taste in her mouth. It’s a computer-generated image of what Eva might look like today, since, even if it is hard for Melina to believe, her tiny girl is not so tiny anymore. On this computerized Eva, wearing a generic grey shirt and the same winning smile, Melina does not see any of the childlike innocence or wonder her daughter had always possessed, and it is as realistic as it is disheartening. This experience had robbed her of that and it will forever be the very thing that keeps her up at night, haunts her dreams. Gone are the barrettes and overalls; instead, her hair falls at her shoulders and her eyes lose their luster, glassy and fake. It aches and this is not a good ache, not an ache she would wish on her worst enemy. Someone out there had robbed Eva of a natural childhood and, in doing so, had sucked the life from her mother, too.
In between the two photographs, real and imagined, is the list of the facts. Melina reads them over and over like she hasn’t already committed them to memory:
Missing Since: October 16th, 2006
Missing From: Fayetteville, NY
DOB: August 4th, 2003
Age Now: 13
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Brown
Weight: 31 lbs.
Below is a reminder to call local authorities with any information, as well as the number for the Center. Melina stares at the glowing monitor until the screen goes blurry.
And then, her cell phone rings.
It’s an unknown number and Melina frowns. This is her third phone number in two years; seemingly incessantly, people will call her with fabricated tips, useless information, false hope. In the beginning, she believed every word coming out of their mouths and each crushing blow did a number on her ego and her anxiety. It wasn’t until after she left her husband- or he left her; the story’s version changed depending on her mood- that she realized she couldn’t take everything at face value. She needed to listen to each and every word the offering person would give her, but she couldn’t put her hopes and beliefs in the validity of their statement. If she went in thinking the worst, expecting nothing, then she wasn’t disappointed no matter what the outcome.