You never think it will happen to you, not your family. Even the most paranoid and anxiety ridden of us never truly believe reality could be this cruel. We hear the news stories, we see the families huddled together, broken and scared, desperately hanging onto their prayers. We glance at the posters briefly, if we stare too long the picture might become too real and force us to imagine the nightmare.
But then somehow, out of nowhere, everything we once knew shatters as we're dragged into one of life's horror shows.
The call comes on a sunny Sunday morning, your children are laughing and shrieking in the background as they play with their friends. Surely nothing terrible could happen when the world is so alive and beautiful. Expecting a friendly social call or perhaps a quick question about the upcoming summer birthdays, the words you hear instead don't make sense.
Silence. It doesn't make sense. The words can only mean one thing but it doesn't make sense. So you ask your mother to repeat herself, obviously you've misunderstood the statement's true connotations.
"Your brother went for a walk to the library yesterday afternoon and he never came back."
The world slows down as you fall to a sitting position. She continues to explain, no phone calls, not answering, phone's dead, driven all over town, filed missing person's report, words jumbled together explaining something that still Doesn't. Make. Sense.
Finally something registers with you. The taste of coffee, you were drinking coffee, you want another sip. Do you keep drinking your coffee? How can you possibly do something so mundane, so meaningless?
The first day is surreal, nothing sinks in. The calls go back and forth. Have you heard anything? When did you last hear from him? Did he say anything? Did you call his friends?
There are still valid reasons, fathomable scenarios floating through your head. You cling to a reasonable explanation, you don't dare to let your mind wander, not there. No, God, please not there.
But the seconds turn to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days. And soon you realize the police have nothing, the posters passed out, the hospitals checked, you've snooped through all his personal belongings searching for an answer, friends you didn't know he had contacted, phone records checked, bank activity checked. Nothing. You're left with nothing.
You're tortured by that last interaction, or maybe, as in my case, that lack of a last interaction. Why didn't you call him back? What if something was wrong and he needed you? What if you simply missed out on one last opportunity to hear his voice, make stupid jokes, commiserate about life's absurdity, to say, "love you too."
Every time you replay that last day you're left with the same unsettling thought: How could you have been too busy to call him back?
It's not rational, it's not healthy, but maybe it's the only coping mechanism you have left. If you stop obsessing, stop torturing yourself, stop crying, what are you left with? Nothing. You're left with nothing but the harsh realization that your life is going on without him. That you've been left behind to form some new kind of normal.
Food doesn't taste the same but you find you have to eat again, jokes aren't funny but you find you still try to make them, the tasks you use to find tedious are now unbearable but you still have to do them, you break down in the most obscure places and you still have to keep going.
People who have a loved one disappear must navigate a terrible path. There is no closure, there are no answers. You feel every emotion there is, and every emotion feels wrong.
How can you mourn the loss of someone who may be alive? How can you be angry at someone for leaving when it may not have been their choice? How can you say good bye to nothing?
You can't. All you can do is try to find a way to live your life around the hope that your loved one will return to you, you find a way to live your life around their memory. You find a way to push that nagging feeling that you're missing a very important piece of the puzzle to the back of your mind.
You find a way to finish your cup of coffee and keep living, even if it's no longer to the fullest. Because really, how can it ever be again?
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