Red (Part 1)
What is the difference between being dead and missing? When you’re dead your loved ones know that you are gone and they can move on quicker. But when you’re missing, everything is uncertain. They are left with the light of hope that you might still be out there, just waiting to be rescued so that you can come back and be loved once again. They are left with the shadows of doubt that you will never return. But if you are out there, waiting, and you do return, nothing is really ever the same. They look at you differently; they treat you as if you are somebody else. Either way, their memory of you lives on, but for how long? Memories fade over time. You would be lost to them either way and their children will never know you. You would be forgotten only to be remembered in a photograph in somebody’s wallet. So which is better? To be dead or missing?
No, this couldn’t be happening. My car couldn’t have broken down. I didn’t want to walk to my grandma’s house in this rain. I didn’t even want to drive to get the chicken noodle soup from the store and drive to her house and visit with her. And what a day to forget my cell phone. If only I hadn’t been in such a hurry to get out, I would have remembered to grab it. Why did she have to have the flu? Why did it have to be raining? And to top it all off, I was starting to get a headache.
I zipped up my sweater and pulled up my hood. I forced myself to take the key out of the ignition and leave my dry car. Her house wasn’t too far away from here. There was enough light filtering through the clouds and scanty number of redwoods above my head. I locked my car behind me, even though I knew nothing worse could happen to it. Most people didn’t drive through this part of the forest. I had used it as a shortcut. The soup was still warm in my hands; it was a nice contrast from the cold pricks of water on my skin. I heard a car coming from behind me, so I moved off the road. The car slowed as it got closer. I turned to see what the driver wanted. It probably was a lost tourist, but what kind of people would come here in late February?
The passenger’s window rolled down as the car came to a complete stop. I looked in to see the driver’s face. I had seen him before, but I didn’t know him very well. He asked, “Do you need ride somewhere?”
“My car broke down. I’m taking this soup to my grandma. She has the flu.” I hold up the soup for emphasis. I tried to sound somewhat pleasant, but how pleasant could I be wet and cold?
“Where does she live? I’m sure I can just drop you off. Then you can call someone about your car.”
My conscience fought within my head. Either accept a ride from an almost complete stranger and call someone about my car at my grandma’s house or walk the rest of the way and get soaked. My aversion to all things wet and cold won; I hated the way the rain felt on my face, plastering my hair to my forehead. “Thanks. She lives just up this way.” I opened the passenger’s door and slid in. I squeaked on his leather seats and shut the door. The heater was on and felt nice. I pulled my hood off my head. It wasn’t going to rain in the car. I mustered a smile to show him my gratitude. He waited for me to put my seatbelt on and then we drove off.
She clutched the bundle of flyers filled with pictures of Cori to her chest wishing that it could bring Cori back. Fighting back her tears she read the top flyer for the tenth time in the past two hours. It read:
NAME: Cori Baine
DOB: February 24, 1989
MISSING: February 25, 2008
WEIGHT: 100 lbs.
If you have any information please contact Allen or Maya Baine at…
She could not continue. Reading the information on the flyer would not bring Cori back. Posting them around the city might. If the right person saw the picture of Cori laughing, they would be able to recognize her, and then she would come back home and then… No, she stopped herself; I must concentrate on posting the flyers. With the stapler in hand she stapled the top flyer to the phone pole. Allen was waiting for her patiently in the car. The rain was starting to pick up; she reluctantly opened the passenger’s door. She sat carefully and placed the stack of flyers in between Allen and herself. She looked out the windshield to the gray sky. It made her more depressed and Allen took notice. “We will find her, I promise, Maya. Gabe is waiting for us at home. We can put some more up tomorrow. The officers are coming over to talk again tonight.” She looked into his crinkled brown eyes; they too were fighting tears from a promise he did not know if he could keep. He leaned in to kiss her forehead and she let him.
He resituated himself to drive back to their two-story, three bedroom, and two and a half bathroom house in Trinidad, California. She turned the heater up just a little bit. It didn’t get past 44 degrees today, but that was usual for March.
She closed her eyes and allowed herself to think of the last time she saw Cori. Almost exactly one week ago. It was just a few hours before she disappeared. She had asked her to take some chicken noodle soup to her mom and to spend some time with her. Her mom was sick with the flu that week and she lived only forty-five minutes away in Klamath, thirty if there wasn’t any traffic. She would have gone herself, but she had to take Gabriel to his dentist appointment. He was just learning how to drive; she didn’t feel comfortable letting him drive in the rain even though it was light. She put up a fight, saying that she didn’t want to see a sick, old lady. She was always candid in that way. She grabbed the red hooded sweater she got for her birthday the day before and stomped out with the keys to her Maxima in hand. Things had been getting better lately; at least she didn’t yell or break anything. She knew something had gone wrong the moment she called her mom and discovered that Cori had not been by yet. Her right hand automatically drifted to the right side of her temples and started pressing hard circles. She habitually tucked her lips inside and bit them gently. It helped her calm down enough that she wouldn’t cry this time.
I traced my fingers over the people in the pictures again. I was trying so hard to remember. Any minute my dad could come in and take them away from me, telling me that I needed rest. But I didn’t want to rest. I wanted to remember my mother’s face in my own memory, not from these pictures. I wanted to remember every one of my first days of school. I wanted to remember my best friends. I wanted to remember the first time I kissed a boy. I wanted to remember what had happened to me to make me forget all of these wonderful memories. But I tucked the pictures under my mattress. Unpacked boxes lined up against the wall from our move. We were just finishing moving all of our boxes from our last house. No matter how hard or long I stared at the boxes, I still couldn’t remember.
I stood from my bed and walked over to my window. I cast the curtains away to see San Francisco’s morning hustle and bustle. Fog and the buildings across the street as always. Or was it as always? I decided that I should take my shower now before my dad got up. I needed all the hot water I could get. I walked down the short hallway, past my dad’s room, to the bathroom we shared. First, I brushed my teeth extra hard to get rid of my morning breath. I spat out the extra toothpaste and rinsed out my mouth with water from my cupped hands. I dried off my mouth and took a shower. It was a longer shower today; I took more time lathering the grapefruit shampoo and conditioner into my hair than usual. Then I stood with the hot water pouring down my body. At some point I realized that I was wasting water, so I turned it off and dried myself.
I returned to my room in a towel and rummaged through my drawers until I found a comfy t-shirt. I put on my favorite sweat pants on, too. I pulled my light brown, shoulder length hair up into a ponytail and went to the kitchen to have a bowl of cereal.
My dad emerged from his room. His prematurely gray hair was messy. He entered the bathroom to take his shower. I went on eating my cereal. I took my bowl to the sink and rinsed out the extra milk. My dad came out from the bathroom and returned to his room. I sighed when he came out in a gray suit and his messy hair brushed. I knew what he was going to say, but I pretended that he wouldn’t. He buttoned his coat as he walked over to the table. He leaned in and kissed me on my forehead, holding the back of my head and forcing me to look into his green and brown speckled eyes. He smelled of musk. “Happy Birthday, Brooke.” He grinned from ear to ear and let my head go.
“Thanks, Dad.” I managed to smile back.
“Go get ready; we are going to be late.” He looked down at his watch. I peeked at it, too. It read nine o’clock. I knew we were going to be late, but I didn’t want to go in the first place. I had enough of the therapy sessions. I didn’t want to talk about how I was feeling anymore. I wanted to remember my life before the last month.
“Do I have to go, Dad? Just this once, please. It’s my birthday.” I stuck out my lip as I begged.
“I am so sorry, but you have to go today. Especially since it is your birthday. I have to go back to my old office for a few days, but Linda will be staying with you. Go get dressed now, please.” The grin crept back on his face and it suited him well. I reluctantly went back to my room. I rummaged through my box labeled “clothes” and found some jeans and a brown long sleeved shirt. I breathed in the shirt as I pulled it out my face and it smelled good and clean, like I should remember it. I let my hair fall around my shoulders. I went to the bathroom to brush it before we left. I decided to put it up halfway, make it look somewhat nice. I held the clump of hairs tenderly with my left hand while I searched for a barrette with my right. I found a simple brown one and fixed it into my hair. At last minute, I decided to put on some make up. I should look nice on my birthday, shouldn’t I?
My dad called from the doorway. “Brooke, we are going to be late!”
“Almost finished.” I put the last stroke of mascara on my eyelash and rushed out of the bathroom. I shoved my feet into my brown Converse and met my dad at the front door.
“You look beautiful.” He handed me a coat, one I had never seen before. A deep brown and soft to the touch; I put it on and it was a perfect fit. “Do you like it?”
“I love it! Thanks, Dad!” I kissed him on the cheek to show my gratitude. We left our apartment and went to my dad’s car waiting for us in the parking garage.
“Can I drive today, Dad, please?” I begged
“Do you remember the last time I let you drive?” he said with a smirk.
“That’s the problem,” I replied. We chuckled uncomfortably as we got in the car, I in the passenger’s side and he in the driver’s side.
The drive was silent except for the songs playing quietly on the radio. He stopped in front of the hospital where I had my daily therapy sessions. Before I left the car, he said, “Linda will come and pick you up here in an hour.” I quickly left the car to avoid being squished by cars zooming past. I looked back to see my dad smiling encouragingly to go in. As soon as the door closed behind me, he drove off. I could have left then. I could have caught a trolley to Fisherman’s Wharf or China Town or anywhere else for the hour. Nobody would know except for Dr. Stav. If I didn’t show up, Dr. Stav would call Linda or my dad and then they would be searching for me. I didn’t want to put my dad through that again so I pressed the button for the elevator.
It wasn’t busy, so I had the elevator to myself. I pressed the button next to the number five and waited for the ascension. The elevator doors opened for me at the fifth level. I walked down the long hallway passing doors with names on them. I stopped in front of the door with the name Dr. Elizabeth Stav printed on the door. Other things were on the door, but I never paid enough attention to them. I turned the handle and was welcomed by the usual chairs and sofas with old magazines scattered throughout the room. Opposite the door I came in was another door and next to it a window with a woman sitting behind it. I made the routine walk to the window to state my name and then wait for it to be called. The woman behind the window slid it open and put a clipboard up for me to sign. I took the clipboard and the pen attached to it and signed: Brooke Conall. I put the clipboard back. I took set my new coat on the coat rack and plopped down in the closest chair.
No more than five minutes passed when the woman behind the window opened the door and called, “Brooke, Dr. Stav will see you now.” I had seen her before, but I couldn’t remember her name. She must be new, I told myself. I put the magazine I was skimming through back on the side table. The woman smiled behind the file, my file, she held in her hands. I followed her to Dr. Stav’s office. The woman handed Dr. Stav my file and closed the door as she left.