Note from the author:
When Christine disappeared, I should have done more to find her. I know that now. I often think about why I, nor any of her friends had tried harder. Most of it could be blamed on Christine, herself. By all accounts, Christine was a “unique” person who gave the impression that if ever she disappeared, it was because she didn’t want to be found.
I do say that as an excuse, though. As upbeat and optimist as she seemed on the outside, all of her closest friends knew that there was a damaged little girl deep inside. She smiled and laughed on the outside. She organized parties and camping trips. She was a social butterfly. But we all knew that she had a darker side.
The first time she disappeared should have given us a clue that it would happen again. But the first time she had warned us. She had told a few of us that she would be taking a “sabbatical from life” as she put it. She didn’t make it seem dramatic. She simply said that she needed a break. She also referred to it as a stay-cation, so it didn’t register as a red flag.
Her disappearance this time, however, was a little different than the last. This time she didn’t call me to tell me that she was going. She didn’t tell anyone as far as I could tell. And this time she didn’t reply to emails, not even the ones about potential work. She simply dropped off of the face of the earth.
A part of my personal guilt about Christine’s disappearance, and I have a lot of guilt, has to do with whether or not I could have done anything to prevent her from going. I’m not sure if I could have. I would like to think that if I had truly and honestly known that something was up with her, that I would have done something. But the other part of that highly qualified statement is that everyone knew that there was something going on with her. There were parts of her life that were an open book and others whose secrecy spoke volumes more.
Christine was always very selective about who she let into her social network circle. Social network acceptance was how we could all tell who she considered a friend. When you were within that circle, her posts gave you a portal into her crazy inner life. She was a woman of never ending ideas and emotions. She posted things that kept all of us thrilled and worried for her at the same time. And just before she left, as I think about it, her social network posts did offer a few more red flags.
As I think about it now, I remember her mentioning how her work was becoming overwhelming. This was nothing new though, she regularly worked herself to the point of burnout. But what I also remember was her posting something to the effect of her “eliminating things from her life”.
As I recall, she had said something along the lines of her having to remove more and more distractions from her life to have the energy to continue her work uninterrupted. That post should have raised a red flag for me, but again, that was Christine.
It was shortly after that when a quick successions of posts appeared. It was something along the lines of everything falling apart on the project that she had spent the last 9 months on. She posted something to the effect that she either needed heroine or chocolate cake. And then 20 minutes later, she posted a selfie of her at Whole Food’s bakery.
Those posts perfectly epitomized Christine. She was both dramatic and self-reliant. But none of us had guessed that those would be her last posts before she disappeared.
Actually, no. Those weren’t her last posts. If I remember precisely, her last post was something about Peru and how she wanted to go or was going, or something. I just took it as one of her “tomorrow I’m doing something crazy” posts. And immediately following that, she was gone.
Considering that she had deactivated her social networking accounts before, the only thing any of her friends wondered was if this was one of her purges or a deactivation. Christine was also infamous for deleting masses of people from her life for no apparent reason. So first that had to be determined. But after it was decided that this was a deactivation, we all chalked it up to it being Christine, and decided that she would be back.
My real concern came as time passed and I got the opportunity to compare notes with her outside circle of friends. Something that came up repeated was that she had said that her latest project was “killing her”.
Everyone who heard it made note of how blankly it was stated. Upon casual inquiries into her project, she would flatly reply, “it’s killing me,” and then nonchalantly move onto another topic. As her friends considered her disappearance, that phrase would grow to haunt them.
It was after I heard “it’s killing me” enough times that I began to consider that she had done something harmful to herself. I want to say that I dismissed the idea because I decided that she would never do something like that to herself. That’s what I want to say. But the truth is something else.
By the time I began considering that her job had literally killed her, it had already been six months after her disappearance. And if she had killed herself, wouldn’t she have done it by then? If she was going to do it, wouldn’t she have done it the night of the last post? I mean, that night must have been her lowest point, right? If she was going to do it, wouldn’t it have been the night that everything fell apart?
So, if she had killed herself on the first night, what would I find by searching for signs of life six months later? If I searched then and found out she had killed herself, even with my finger pressed firmly on the denial button, I would have had to admit that I did see signs. And after that, I would have had to admit that I could have helped but hadn’t. How would I live with myself then?
On the other hand, if I looked for Christine and found her, I would be finding someone who clearly didn’t want to be found. What would I say to her? Do I confront her? Do I demand an explanation? Would she just walk way? By changing her phone number on me, she had made clear that she didn’t want me in her life. How much clearer could she be?
In truth, that feeling of abandonment was behind why I hadn’t gone looking for her immediately. If she was still alive, it meant that she had purposefully abandoned me. She had abandoned all of us.
She could have reached out to a friend if she was having difficulty with her life. She could have given me some sign that she needed help past a public post on Facebook. I would have done something to help her. I’m not sure what, but I would have done something and I could have helped. But instead she just selfishly disappeared.
I went through major life events after she vanished. These were events that I would have wanted my friend at. Didn’t she realize the effect that her disappearance would have on the people she left behind?
I understand if she needed to take time away. Sometimes we all do. But when the rest of us do it, we let our friends know that we’re going. We let our friends know not to worry if they don’t hear from us. This is what she had done in the past, so clearly she was aware of this particular piece of social etiquette.
But not this time. This time she just up and left, or killed herself, or something. After 10 years of friendship, she just left me and all of us without explanation or warning. At least when people kill themselves they leave a note. Christine just dropped off the face of the earth. I ask you, how is a friend supposed to deal with that?
In all honesty, Christine’s disappearance wretched untold havoc on my life. I don’t trust people as willingly as I once had. I’m sadder than I used to be before she left. Whenever I think about her I endlessly waffle between guilt and anger until I finally scream “Screw her!” and force thoughts of her out of my mind. It was all kinds of hellish.
But when one year turned into two, I thought about Christine less. Whatever guilt I felt from not looking for her began to fade. And whenever I happened to drive by her old apartment and I saw her door still painted the sky blue she had painted it, it reminded me of her. I thought of the blue door as a sign from Christine that she was still around, though it could have easily have been a sign that the landlord hadn’t painted it.
Even after two years, though, I wondered what would happen if I knocked on that sky blue door. Would she answer it with the same vitality she had had before she left, or would a stranger appear proving once and for all that Christine was gone?
Maybe I should have knocked during those two intervening years. It would have allowed me to put the mystery of Christine to rest. I could have been freed of the self-doubt that had subtly entered my life. But of course, if I had stopped by during those intervening years, it would have made what happened next less amazing.
It was almost two years to the day from Christine’s disappearance when I had decided to go to The Grove for a cup of coffee. It was a Saturday and I had nothing to do. Being close to the area I had thought about how years ago Christine and I used to grab coffee at the coffee shop there. It was a good memory. Over an iced something, we would talk about guys or girls or life. We would sit there for hours and time would fly by. It was for that reason that I headed there for a coffee on that day.
The Grove was how it always was. It took a long time to find parking and the crowds were thick. It was a Saturday during the summer so there was a band playing on the grassy knoll. The band was covering a familiar song making me double check to see that it was indeed a cover.
Weaving through the masses of people, I noticed that many of the stores had changed since the last time I had been there. There was still a Gap and Nordstrom’s, but there were new stores like Topman and Zara. And just like before, there was a bright red trolley that ran down the center of it.
Walking into the coffee shop, I ordered an iced something and hung out by the order pick-up sign for the young, lean guy behind the counter to make it. I watched as the nicely dressed couples came and left, and when my name was called, I collected my drink and headed outside.
Scanning the tables, I found them all taken. There were a few individuals sitting at two tops, but I wasn’t European enough to join them. Instead, I waited a minute for an older couple to get up, and when they were up, I swooped in and sat down.
Although the previous few days had been warm, this day had turned out to be quite pleasant. Even if the seat had been in the sun, it would have been fine. And leaning back to settle into a lazy afternoon, I stretched my legs.
Accidently kicking the chair at the table in front of me I watched the woman with her back to me to see if my actions warranted an apology. She budged, so I quickly offered a ‘sorry’ hoping it would be enough. She didn’t turn around so I figured that it was.
My gaze lingered on the outline of her body a little longer. There was something familiar about it. My heart raced though I didn’t know why. And when the recognition hit me, my chest clenched robbing me of breath.
‘It couldn’t be,’ I thought. But the round hips and upper body fit. Her hair was cut a bit differently but the texture and color were the same. I was frozen considering what to do next, while realizing that at any moment, she could get up and walk away.
I had to know. I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away. So forcing myself to my feet, I shifted to get a better look. She was there by herself and seemed to be waiting for someone. But not getting a clear view of her face, I moved over.
Circling to my right I got closer and closer. Her profile came into view and my heart pounded. Circling further, her lowered face obscured my view. But when she looked up, when her heart-shaped, caramel-colored face came into focus, I knew her immediately.
The emotions I felt at that moment are hard to describe. Relief, anger, surprise, wonder, they all rushed through me. And when I saw the recognition in her eyes, I didn’t know what to do.