One night many years ago, when I was pregnant with Jake, I was driving with my then-husband on 6th Street in El Centro when a kitten dashed out in front of my car. I hit the brakes and heard a thump simultaneously, and, already shrieking, I shoved open my door to run around to the front to find the kitten. It wasn’t there. I stood there holding my grief and fear like they were empty bags. It’s been 29 years since that fright, but sometimes I still hold my breath on 6th Street.
In 1986, a year after I moved to El Centro, I had to drive on a muddy ditch bank to get to my job, and I didn’t know yet that driving on the mud was akin to driving on black ice. I was rescued from the ditch by four burly farmers who lifted my car like it was a little red wagon. Some feat, that, given the mud.
The summer rains are typically warm and hard, and water sits a while on the dirt, like it’s on concrete. It seeps into the dirt and creates a clay that reminds me of the clay my mother would throw on her pottery wheel. Slick and thick, it sucks your feet down, sometimes so far your heart quickens because you don’t know if you’ll hit hard dirt beneath it. I’ve sunk down to my thighs before. I avoid the fields now. There’s no frolicking in them here in the Valley.
When the boys were little, I soaked the lawn and flooded the palm trees so they could play in the mud. In the summer shade the water was still warm, the clay gooey and, as Jake would say, “throwy.” I stood with them in the mud sometimes because I liked to feel the roots of the bermuda grass as my toes , feet, and calves sank into the clay. I liked to feel the scrape of small rocks not broken down by the water, squishing between my toes with the clay. *Note the glops of mud on the little one’s face. *sigh* Throwy.
When I think of this time, I realize my sons probably don’t remember these things.
Should I be talking in singular now?
I looked for Jake in the Unidentified Persons database today. Emailed two admins to do a comparison. One was ruled out, and I’ve noted it on Jake’s webpage.
I understood something today for the first time: Because Jake had been researching ways to commit suicide and not be found, I can’t rule anything out. He could be anywhere. This means I don’t focus only on California but on Utah, and Oregon, and Montana, and Wyoming, and the entire midwest. I have no real idea where he could be. I do my level best not to waste NamUs volunteers’ time so I go through each possible match and reason my way through it. If I have any question, I forward it–and I do know this makes me look like I’m grabbing at straws without considering what’s actually possible. I am grabbing at straws, but methodically, and I will not stop.
Things you find when searching for your missing son in the databases:
- terms like putrefaction, or scalps that “slid off,” or insect activity
- skeletal remains of children
- terse narratives of how bodies were found
- socks delivered to the coroner separately from the clothing on the body–why were his socks off? Why did they have to note that they delivered the socks separately? Why not just include an inventory list?
- unidentifiable tattoos on withered arms or legs
- eyes with undeterminable color
- skeletons whose weight can only be estimated because parts are missing
One man was found under a bush in the desert near Bombay Beach, next to a bible. Another man was found in a river, believed to have come from Mexico. Another was burnt to near cinders in an abandoned building in Detroit. I carry them inside me; no one else has claimed them.
Jake could be anywhere. His body could be anywhere.
Me, I’m here, with two empty bags, and a graveyard soul.
*Title is a line from W.H. Auden’s poem, here.