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In a month and a half it will be my birthday and the anniversary of Jake’s disappearance. Three years. 1,095 days. No sign of him, still.
I often think about his last text to me, in which he said, Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.
The text is saved on a phone I don’t use any more, along with his other messages from the months before. I don’t turn the phone on any more for fear of accidentally deleting anything.
The last few sets of skeletal remains that were found have been dismissed as not being his, and I no longer haunt the NamUs website for clues because it takes me too long to recover.
I still have days I think he is probably dead, but I now wrestle with the likelihood that he is missing on purpose. If he is safe, I can have peace with that. Sons leave their mothers as a natural rite. We never like it, we always mourn, even when they have only moved a few blocks away.
Motherhood is mourning. For me, even in the happy parts, even when I know I’m failing forward. My friend, Natashia, told me that we must give up the hope that we could ever change the past in order to truly move on, to let go, to forgive oneself or others. I harbor the hope of time-travel, apparently.
Some days I have my own secret snow muffling the outside world. Maybe most days. I’m living with a permanent open wound that somehow is not getting infected, or if it is, it’s invisible to me. It hurts all the time, and I am thankful to hear from those who wonder where Jake is.
This passage from Literary Trauma resonates with me: “…psychoanalysis believes,” Deborah M. Horvitz writes, “that crucial to recovering from an experience of trauma is the capacity and willingness to incorporate that traumatic event inside one’s self as an indispensable piece of personal history and identity. Since, in the fiction in this study [Literary Trauma], narrative is inextricably entwined with memory and the process of remembering, the greater one’s ability to “make story” out of trauma, which is defined differently for each protagonist, the more likely s/he is to regain her or his life after that trauma” (6).
We survive by telling the story because we are the story. Not to tell the story is to brick ourselves into an airless box. We suffocate and no one knows. To tell the story is to make people uncomfortable and helpless, caught like flopping fish in a net because, no, they’re not getting out. You can’t get out; no one can, no matter whose pain it is.
Pema Chodron says that facing this is what will help make the world a better place. She writes:
What produces a genuine person is being open to not feeling okay.
“What produces a genuine person, I realized, is being open to not feeling okay. It means to be open to everything — to all the horrors as well as the beauties of life, to the whole extraordinary variety of life. I began to realize that this whole mess the human race is in—the fact that we don’t take care of the planet and we don’t take care of each other, the wars, the hatred, the fundamentalism — all actually come from running away. Individually, collectively, we are trying to avoid feeling bad about ourselves.”
Part 1: October 21, 2018
I’m still not in. Not mentally. Not in my body. Not in my sanity.
Rollercoaster is a cliche. “Being on a roller-coaster” doesn’t fit any experience like this because 1) you choose to get on roller-coasters, and 2) you can get off.
I’m on fire and grey-cold.
You know how your skin feels when you have a sunburn, like layers have been scorched off and the tips of your nerves are exposed and if someone breathes on you you go through the roof? My soul feels like that. The weight of a gaze like hot breath on seared skin. The weight of words in the air. The weight of my thoughts. It’s ridiculous to try to make this tangible, but I need words for everything.
I am waiting for final confirmation that the body found in Ocotillo is not Jake. I got my preliminary answer to this far faster than I expected because my husband called the right person, not the person I pointed him toward. He got nowhere by calling the coroner so he called someone he knew–and I had an answer that evening. Dental records do not match. Thank God for smart husbands.
I myself called the coroner. Got an answering machine, left a message. Called the officer on Jake’s case. Emailed the missing persons’ case manager for the unidentified body. Neither the coroner nor the case manager returned my messages, but the officer did, and he thinks that he should have the confirmation by tomorrow. Or negation. We shall see.
I am coping with quilting, of course. It works because the emotion part of the brain hibernates while the rational part is focused on something else.
Part 2: October 24, 2018
My phone died this morning just as the police officer was about to either confirm or deny that the remains were Jake’s. All he got out before I lost him was, “I just want to let you know–.”
I could not get re-connected to a power source for an hour, and during that hour I realized two things:
- “I just want to let you know” is different from “I’m calling to inform you.” Somehow I knew this immediately, but it took me a bit to figure out why I wasn’t in full-blown panic. “I just want to let you know” is informal–I just wanna let you know your car trunk is open/your fly is open/your dog is running wild in the streets again/your cat has made my flowerbed a toilet/the check is in the mail/I won’t be there today. Such benign things. I just want to let you know.”I’m calling to inform you” is formal and menacing–I’m calling to inform you that your bank account is overdrawn/your car needs a new engine/your mother is in the hospital/there’s been an accident/those are your son’s remains.
Words mattered hard today. In this case they kept me from throwing up or running off the road.
- It’s a bad idea not to carry a charging cord everywhere when you’re waiting for news. I’m always waiting, really, so this is a timely reminder to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ll just stick them with every set of reading glasses I have.
The remains that’ve given me fretful sleep do not belong to Jake, but DOJ is still going to run a DNA test. I don’t know why they’re doing that except as a final check, but I’ll take it. The coroner’s office is also going to request another set of remains be compared to my DNA, and possibly others that they’ve found in the past two years. While I’m relieved these weren’t Jake’s remains, I’m now sick with the old lurking dread that his actual remains will surface.
I’ll be adding to this post but for now I’ll leave you with this:
If you struggle with what to say to someone who is suffering, this page has some helpful info.
I’m sharing Brene Brown’s video here, too, so I have it in my media files. If you want to connect with me, to help in any way, I ask that you watch this video. It will help others, too.
When I calculated the days for this year so far, I was surprised that it’s only been 148 days since May 1. Two years ago on this date, Jake had only been missing 148 days. That doesn’t seem very long.
I don’t really live in days, anyway. If you calculate minutes, 148 days = 213,120 minutes. Today the total is 1,264,320, and lately I’ve been feeling each one that passes like a 10lb musket ball. I’m shot clean through, and some days I feel like there’s not much left of me.
I keep finding myself humming songs from my childhood, like there’s something in them that comforts me. Today it is Mouth and MacNeal’s How Do You Do.
I re-read Day 709 today, and I think I’m doing my math wrong. Just as well I don’t really count them.
I still carry his boots in my car, and I keep in sporadic contact with his former unit now that they’ve deployed. Sending baby wipes and handmade kerchiefs comforts me, too. Doing these things are little minutes I’m able to claim for myself.
Thank you for asking about Jake, George Morgan.
And thank you, Natashia Deon, for asking the right questions.
I am embarking on a trip in a few days that will lead me to connect with my past in good ways, and I am in full panic mode. I’m half convinced I’m going to die, the same way I used to feel in the past when I went over bridges. I read years ago that it was likely rooted in my fear of change. My therapist told me that a lot of people fear heights because they’re afraid they’ll succumb to the urge to jump.
In this case I’m taking the leap.
So I’ve got 3586.6 miles ahead of me.
(I shouldn’t have added that up. It adds a whole new layer of dread.)
But there it is.
And I am going.
I’m going to see my mother’s sister for the first time since the 70’s. Mama is dead, but I hear her voice when I talk to my aunt.
I’m going to meet my very first born son and his parents–him for the second time, them for the first. I am very blessed to be welcomed and loved there.
And then I’m visiting my best friend from elementary school, whom I have not seen since 1976.
How does so much time slip by?
I’ll write about it as I go to keep my brain occupied with the beauty and adventure. I’m bringing my sewing machine and some fabric, which strikes me as hilarious but I’m telling you, it’s absolutely necessary.
I will be thinking of Jake, too. He traveled up in the area where I’ll be the winter before he disappeared, and I know I’ll look for him. I’ll have to.
I won’t find him.
But I’ll have his boots in my trunk.
My mantra: When you’re going through hell, keep going.
The moon is packed. http://onegirlriot.com/2017/07/pack-up-the-moon
I haven’t written, but this ain’t me:
By vice of hermitry, I rarely venture out of the house unless I absolutely must. I’ve become a hermit because of grief, and I’ve yet to ascertain whether this is to my detriment.
Today I was reminded of the outside world and others who care about Jake, and me, to some degree by association.
The handle on the shut-off valve to our water tank broke this morning, which I knew would mean I’d need to go out in the heat, so I mentally lumped the task with other errands. But it turned out I didn’t need to because today was our water delivery day. But that’s not the cool thing. (Jake has not been found.)
When I took the handle out to inquire about how to get it fixed, I was told that our regular guy had called in, but he, Robert, would see to it that the info was passed on. As he was climbing down the ladder from filling the tank, he said, “I have an odd question for you.” I braced myself, thinking, “Oh, heavens, he saw the kitchen.” He stood carefully, like he was braced, too, and he said, “You have an unusual last name, so I’m wondering if you’re related to this guy I worked with.”
It took me couple of beats to move from Bodus to Furrer, and then I knew he meant Jake. “At the mine, you mean?” I asked.
He nodded. “He taught me some. I didn’t know him well, but, you know, sometimes we had 12-hour shifts in the truck.”
He didn’t realize that Jake was still missing, so I caught him up and gave him the URL here (http://onegirlriot.com/about-stacy/info-on-search-for-jake/) so he could stay abreast if he wished. Before he got back in his truck, he said, “I guess I should tell you this. Jake used to talk about getting back to basics, so you know, maybe that’s what he did.”
My takeaway: this was an enormous God-hug. The synchronicity delights me: regular guy calls in, my handle breaks, which prompts me to go talk to the new guy, new guy worked with Jake. I wouldn’t have gone out there if that dumb handle hadn’t snapped in my hands.
This situation is still difficult. I ache every day from the not-knowing and the fact that I do not have my son in my life at all. It also hurts that, if he is not dead, I am part of what he sought to escape. No mother wants that. I would have given him space if I had known, which I believe he understood, but I’m part of the community so ….
If you’re reading this, ever, Jake: I love you and hope you are safe and content.
There’s a way for you to reach out to me or anyone and remain unfound:
This song captures my heart for my sons. (Songwriter-performer Kelis wrote it for her son, who is in the last scene.)
Some of the lyrics:
I was walking, was living
My melody was acapella
There’s a beat I was missing
No tune or a scale I could play
The sound in the distance
No orchestra playing together
Like a boat out to sea
The silence was too deafening
My whole life was acapella
Now a symphony’s
The only song to sing
My whole life was acapella
Now a symphony’s
The only song to sing”
Even when they’re missing, they’re part of the symphony. It doesn’t matter where they are, your song will never again be acapella. My own symphony has music from the unknown and the known, and I am thankful.
I have to get up early tomorrow and do range duty as Chief Range Safety Officer for a group of men visiting from out of town. I’ve been doing RSO duties for a long time now, and this is not a big deal.
But I do not want to go. I would rather hole up at home and sew or read or binge-watch something that takes me out of the ache for a while. I don’t want to engage with people, and I definitely don’t want to get up early. Twice I’ve picked up the phone to call Skip, our scheduler, to beg off with the excuse that my heart hurts. He would then have to scramble to find another RSO, but he wouldn’t complain because he feels badly for me and he doesn’t want to add to the weight I carry.
Twice I’ve put the phone down, partly because I don’t want to cause extra work, but mostly because I know that once I get there I’ll be fine. I’ll be in the moment, I’ll enjoy being with the shooters, and I’ll have gotten out of the house. All I have to do is show up.
That’s all I ever have to do, and it’s the hardest decision to make. Sometimes I have to choose it every five minutes.
The last six months have been unaccountably difficult and lately I’ve been faced with the growing possibility that Jake is dead. I think about it every day, and the world looks so…barren inside the idea of no Jake on the planet.
Right now, I deal by showing up. I commit to things knowing that later I probably will wish I’d kept my calendar free. But I also know that just showing up works for me.
I have used emotional pain as an excuse not to show up before. I don’t any more because showing up feels better than not. (Seriously. Beating myself up for letting others down makes it worse.)
I keep thinking of the link between perseverance and strength, and this is true for me, here: “…tribulation brings about perseverance;4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5: 3b-5
And James 1:3: “The testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Well, I also think that trials and suffering produce resignation. I’m not a fan.
But I recognize strength.
The problem, for me, is that I have to wonder what’s next. I’m getting stronger for what?
My character could always use the refinement, but dang. Can’t we find a way that doesn’t involve pain?
Dread has a light touch.
I’ve been told that Jake does not appear in databases after early 2016.
He is smart enough to be off the grid on his own terms, and hope says yeah.
But chances are growing that he isn’t living in the wilderness, isn’t bedraggled and scorned in some inner city grayness, isn’t….
I am held together by bits of string and stray scraps of paper and cloth; a tumbleweed made of chickenwire and rags.
This is hell. I may never know what happened.
Wizened and leathery, in an arroyo at the foot of the Chocolate mountains?
In a heap of bones and tattered clothing at the bottom of a mine shaft?
Unidentified skeletal remains in Mexico?
And then hope.
Relationship status: complicated.
It feels like an abusive relationship and the honeymoon phase of the cycle is about 5 minutes long.
I have never been able to open up those Pillsbury roll cans. I have walked outside and gone to a neighbor’s house and asked someone to open the can out of my earshot and then bring it back to me on the porch. I cannot bear not knowing when the can will pop. (I quit buying them. I’m sure the neighbors appreciate that.)
Heretofore I’ve been an eager watcher of suspense flicks, and now, if I hear the first note of tell-tale music dread marches up the skin of my arms to my throat and I have to plug my ears. I’ve been known to bolt from my seat to pace during scary parts of movies. Now I can’t bear suspenseful music, or the threat of physical violence–the threat, mind you. Not the actual violence. Once it’s happening I can relax.
I connect it to my not being able to know what has happened to my son. I have no control over that, and the longer he is missing, the worse the suspense is getting.
Today I talked with a colleague about some things I’m doing in my classes, and she said, “Oh, THAT’s why you’re here at work. You’re passionate about it.” She explained that she could see how focusing on work was helping me to deal with my ordeal.
I was relieved to hear this perspective because I’ve been feeling like there’s something wrong with me that I’m not massively depressed. I love my son, and I am fractured and fragile. I feel like a train wreck, and I think the journey’s miles are heavy on my face. I saw it today when I looked in the mirror. I’m old and gray today. You don’t get frequent flyer miles this way, but you do get some perspective.
Viktor Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl’s words of wisdom have helped me to maintain perspective.
Here are some more, all from Man’s Search for Meaning:
- “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
- “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
- “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
And I pray.
This is a hideous circumstance, but I see grace in my work, in my friends, in my beloved son, Josh, and husband, Tom.
Often I’m angry and despairing at how unfair this is. It is unfair.
But it’s also unfair for the woman whose toddler died on the beach.
It’s unfair for the woman whose daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
It’s unfair for the woman whose son is suffering from neuroblastoma and may die any day now.
Viktor Frankl has this to say, too: “The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
In love there is grace.
And I’m surrounded by both. Even when I can’t see it.
I’m taking care of myself by being open about my state of mind. If you ask me how I am, I will tell you the truth: not good. I am sad. And tired. I cry every day. I keep remembering all the times I could have been a better mother. No, I am not okay. But I am not depressed.
That seems oxymoronic.
Jake’s birthday is coming up. If I could take it to the neighbor’s house, I would.
“Pop this sucker open, wouldja? But wait till I’m down the block.”
I’m thinking out loud here.
I waffle about posting about what I’m thinking and feeling about my son being missing. I am not adding any new information, and much of what I share is about what I deal with emotionally day by day. It’s repetitive. The grief never subsides, although my awareness of it ebbs and flows.
I ultimately choose to post about it because I don’t have another safe outlet to talk about this ordeal. And right now I’m giving myself this little note to remind myself that I have permission to be repetitive, to grieve through the written word, to write the things that keep me up at night. I have to do this because I inevitably second-guess myself and castigate myself for not shutting up. And I’m doing this for anyone else who can relate.
So: lately I’ve been sleepless and preoccupied with questions I can’t get answers to. I cannot shut my brain down.
- Where is my son? This is an obvious, simple question, but thinking about it and trying to answer it take up much of my brain time. I still search ditch banks. This is a reflexive action; I cannot help myself. My brain says, “No, you might have missed something the last time you looked. Look again.” I drive down alleys. I scope out the local cemeteries. And I still check the unidentified persons database. I’ve managed to put some days between my searches, but for nearly a year I was checking every day. My brain says, “Many volunteers contribute to this database. You have to stay abreast of the new. Check again.” I have stopped short of volunteering to work for the database and help them add more unidentified bodies. It’s tempting to think that I would have more control over this horrible circumstance if I were helping in that way. It is not off the table.
- Is my son dead? This also takes up a lot of brain time. I’m not thinking it when I’m searching, nor when I’m teaching, nor when I’m engaged in any of the stuff I do to mute the agitated neurons. (I’ve signed up for a lot: Kiwanis activities, organizing an upcoming teacher conference, writing projects, teaching and research, enrolling in graduate classes, reading, someday-quilting, and Clash Royale.) This is also when I tap my inner tape that says, “It’s easier to disappear on purpose than by accident.” It doesn’t matter that I don’t fully believe it. It temporarily sedates.I don’t fully believe it because my son’s smart enough to do it right. The one real comfort I have is that he did not seem to be thinking clearly before he disappeared.
- Is my son homeless and helpless? In the summer I worry that he doesn’t have water or shelter to get out of the heat. I know he hates being hot as much as I do. We both have metabolisms that make us radiate heat. We are always hot, and the summer is particularly miserable for us. Is his face sunburned? Does he have athlete’s foot and jock itch? Does he have soap and toothpaste and deodorant? Is he thinking he smells like garbage, or is he past caring? Does he have coherent thoughts? When he was in high school he found errors in his calculus book, used Legos to build puzzling geometric problems, and went by the online name of 2brncells1gun. When he worked at the mine, someone asked him if they used fresh water or saltwater to excavate, and he answered, “I don’t know. I’ve never tasted it.Is that Jake apparent to anyone around him now?
I worry now that winter is at the door because toes and fingers need protecting. Heads need covering. Weak bodies suffer more.
Is he wearing a coat when it’s cold?
Does he have those cursed small boots on, still? Is he punishing himself?
Is he sleeping under a bus station bench and getting kicked by people who hate homeless people?
Does he have dirty hair and a dirty beard and grungy clothes that disgust people when they see him?
Does he get rained on and then have stiff frozen clothes when it freezes overnight?Is he wearing a trash bag over his clothes?
- Is my need to know where my son is more important than his right to be left alone? Am I invading his privacy by writing about him? Am I keeping him away because he is afraid everyone will shame him? If I shut up will he come home? If I do everything perfectly will he appear? Oh, toxic thinking.
- How can I best love my son? Am I doing it correctly now? When did I do it right? What did that look like? Is it too late?
- Do I have to parade my faith for it to be evident? I can’t make myself do that. I believe there’s a bigger picture that I can’t see. I believe I am not singled out for suffering. I believe that talking about my suffering gives others permission to talk about theirs. I think that is unconditional love in action. I believe that those pockets of indescribable peace come from trusting God. I think perhaps I don’t blurt my faith walk because I fail so much. If I trusted God more I’d have more peace, y’know? I worry about this because I think it’s built in me to worry about what people think. I need more songs to pipe into my brain to help me shed that habit.
- Today, a new question: How can I help other mothers? I grieve over suffering children, and today on Twitter I saw the link below.This is happening right now: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-13/yemen-blockade:-sick-and-starving-trapped/9143140
A few days ago, “…at al-Sabheen hospital in the capital, the ABC’s producer in Sanaa witnessed more than a dozen emaciated babies and toddlers receiving treatment in the
malnutrition ward. Their tiny skeletal bodies are evidence of the dire food crisis that is overwhelming this country” (Mcneill).I found this: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/06/world/iyw-yemen-resource-list/index.html
And this: https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/nigeria-somalia-south-sudan-yemen/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-famine
It feels so small. I feel so small. And I wish I could see the actual help.
I hope others will join me in this.
We are small. And we matter even when it doesn’t feel like we do.
*Jake has not been found. Thank you for checking.
A phrase keeps going through my head: “give voice to bear.”
That phrase makes no sense to me but I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere.
I looked it up, and Google has no idea what I’m talking about.
It did, however, point me toward an interesting book called Giving Voice to Bear: North American Indian Myths, Rituals, and Images of the Bear, by David Rockwell. It does not contain the phrase I’m looking for, but it yielded this tidbit: “Joseph Henderson, in his book Thresholds of Initiation, tells us that bears…symbolize the ethics of maternity” (4).
I guess I’m trying to give voice to my bear.
Every day that I drive to and from work I weep. It’s the only time I do this, and it always catches me by surprise. You’d think that if I do it every day it should not surprise me. But it does.
One minute I’m belting out Meghan Trainor’s “Me, Too,” and the next I’m weeping because I don’t know where Jake is. Or I’ll be thinking about one class or another, and suddenly I’m crying because maybe Jake’s dead. It’s like PTSD, but weirder because there’s no body memory and no trigger. It’s like the route from home to work and back belongs to sorrow.
Occasionally I ask aloud why other mothers get to keep their sons. It’s a fleeting question, and I’m embarrassed by this, too, because millions of children die every year, according to the World Health Organization. Mothers grieve everywhere. I am one of many. It doesn’t diminish my grief, but it reminds me that I haven’t been singled out. Life isn’t fair.
You have all this tar inside you but you still have to do your job. Show up, which I do. And I engage, and find meaning in what I do, and yet I feel sort of drift-y. Full of tar and drift-y.
Gah. Tar is too heavy to drift.
So tomorrow I’ll drive the sorrow road and get to class and then forget for a while. I’m thankful to be busy, to be doing meaningful work, to be doing what I love.
This guy here is who got me hooked on Trainor’s song. I want to live with that exuberance.