“Holder,” I interrupt. “You were just a little boy.”
He ignores my comment and continues on. “Your dad walked over to our yard and asked me if I knew where you were.” He pauses and clears his throat. I wait patiently for him to continue, but it seems like he needs to gather his thoughts. Hearing him tell me what happened that day feels like he’s telling me a story. It feels nothing like what he’s saying is directly related to my life or to me.
“Sky, you have to understand something. I was scared of your father. I was barely six years old and knew I had just done something terribly wrong by leaving you alone. Now your police chief father is standing over me, his gun visible on his uniform. I panicked. I ran back into my house and ran straight to my bedroom and locked the door. He and my mother beat on the door for half an hour, but I was too scared to open it and admit to them that I knew what happened. My reaction worried both of them, so he immediately radioed for backup. When I heard the police cars pull up outside, I thought they were there for me. I still didn’t understand what had happened to you. By the time my mother coaxed me out of the room, three hours had already passed since you left in the car.”
He’s still rubbing my shoulder, but his grip is tighter on me now. I push my arms through the sleeves of my shirt so I can take his hand and hold it.
“I was taken to the station and questioned for hours. They wanted to know if I knew the license plate number, what kind of car took you, what the person looked like, what they said to you. Sky, I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t even remember the color of the car. All I could tell them was exactly what you were wearing, because you were the only thing I could picture in my head. Your dad was furious with me. I could hear him yelling in the hallway of the station that if I would have just told someone right when it happened, they would have been able to find you. He blamed me. When a police officer blames you for losing his daughter, you tend to believe he knows what he’s talking about. Les heard him yelling, too, so she thought it was all my fault. For days, she wouldn’t even talk to me. Both of us were trying to understand what had happened. For six years we lived in this perfect world where adults are always right and bad things don’t happen to good people. Then, in the span of a minute, you were taken and everything we thought we knew turned out to be this false image of life that our parents had built for us. We realized that day that even adults do horrible things. Children disappear. Best friends get taken from you and you have no idea if they’re even alive anymore.
“We watched the news constantly, waiting for reports. For weeks they would show your picture on TV, asking for leads. The most recent picture they had of you was from right before your mother died, when you were only three. I remember that pissing me off, wondering how almost two years could have gone by without someone having taken a more recent picture. They would show pictures of your house and would sometimes show our house, too. Every now and then, they would mention the boy next door who saw it happen, but couldn’t remember any details. I remember one night…the last night my mother allowed us to watch the coverage on TV…one of the reporters showed a panned out image of both of our houses. They mentioned the only witness, but referred to me as ‘The boy who lost Hope.’ It infuriated my mother so bad; she ran outside and began screaming at the reporters, yelling at them to leave us alone. To leave me alone. My dad had to drag her back inside the house.
“My parents did their best to try and make our life as normal as possible. After a couple of months, the reporters stopped showing up. The endless trips to the police station for more questioning finally stopped. Things began to slowly return to normal for everyone in the neighborhood. Everyone but Les and me. It was like all of our hope was taken right along with our Hope.”
Hearing his words and the desolation in his voice causes me nothing but guilt. One would think what happened to me would have been so traumatic that it would have affected me more than the people around me. However, I can barely even remember it. It was such an uneventful occurrence in my life, yet it practically ruined him and Lesslie. Karen was so calm and pleasant and filled my head with lies about a life of adoption and foster care, that I never thought to even question it. Like Holder said, at such a young age you believe that adults are all so honest and truthful, you never even think to question them.
“I’ve spent so many years hating my father for giving up on me,” I say quietly. “I can’t believe she just took me from him. How could she do that? How could anyone do that?”
“I don’t know, babe.”
I sit up straight, then turn around to look him in the eyes. “I need to see the house,” I say. “I want more memories, but I don’t have any and right now it’s hard. I can barely remember anything, much less him. I just want to drive by. I need to see it.”
He rubs my arm and nods. “Right now?”
“Yes. I want to go before it gets dark.”
The entire drive, I’m absolutely silent. My throat is dry and my stomach is in knots. I’m scared. I’m scared to see the house. I’m scared he might be home and I’m scared I might see him. I don’t really want to see him yet; I just want to see the place that was my first home. I don’t know if it will help me remember but I know it’s something I have to do.
He slows the car down and pulls over to the curb. I’m looking at the row of houses across the street, scared to pull my gaze from my window because it’s so hard to turn and look.
“We’re here,” he says quietly. “It doesn’t look like anyone’s home.”
I slowly turn my head and look out his window at the first home I ever lived in. It’s late and the day is being swallowed by night, but the sky is still bright enough that I can clearly make out the house. It looks familiar, but seeing it doesn’t immediately bring back any memories. The house is tan with a dark brown trim, but the colors don’t look familiar at all. As if Holder can read my mind, he says, “It used to be white.”
I turn in my seat and face the house, trying to remember something. I try to visualize walking through the front door and seeing the living room, but I can’t. It’s like everything about that house and that life has been erased from my mind somehow.
“How can I remember what your living room and kitchen look like, but I can’t remember my own?”
He doesn’t answer me, because he more than likely knows I’m not really looking for an answer. He just places his hand on top of mine and holds it there while we stare at the houses that changed the paths of our lives forever.
Sunday, May 2nd, 1999 2:35 p.m.
“Is your daddy giving you a birthday party?” Lesslie asks.
I shake my head. “I don’t have birthday parties.”
Lesslie frowns, then sits down on my bed and picks up the unwrapped box lying on my pillow. “Is this your birthday present?” she asks.
I take the box out of her hands and set it back on my pillow. “No. My daddy buys me presents all the time.”
“Are you going to open it?” she asks.
I shake my head again. “No. I don’t want to.”
She folds her hands in her lap and sighs, then looks around the room. “You have a lot of toys. Why don’t we ever come here and play? We always go to my house and it’s boring there.”
I sit on the floor and grab my shoes to put them on. I don’t tell her I hate my room. I don’t tell her I hate my house. I don’t tell her we always go to her house because I feel safer over there. I take my shoelaces between my fingers and scoot closer to her on the bed. “Can you tie these?”
She grabs my foot and puts it on her knee. “Hope, you’re about to turn five. You need to learn how to tie your own shoes. Me and Holder knew how to tie our shoes when we were five.” She scoots down on the floor and sits in front of me. She says it like she’s so much older than me. She just turned six. She’s only one year older than me because I’m almost five.
“Watch me,” she says. “You see this string? Hold it out like this.” She puts the strings in my hands and shows me how to wrap it and pull it until it ties like it’s supposed to. When she helps me tie both of them two times, she unties them and tells me to do it again by myself. I try to remember how she showed me to tie them. She stands up and walks to my dresser while I do my very best to loop the shoestring.
“Was this your mom?” she says, holding up a picture. I look at the picture in her hands, then look down at my shoes again.
“Do you miss her?” she asks.
I nod and keep trying to tie my shoe and not think about how much I miss her. I miss her so much.
“Hope, you did it!” Lesslie squeals. She sits back down on the floor in front of me and hugs me. “You did it all by yourself. You know how to tie your shoes now.”
I look down at my shoes and smile.
Sunday, October 28th, 2012 7:10 p.m.
“Lesslie taught me how to tie my shoes,” I say quietly, still staring at the house.
Holder looks at me and smiles. “You remember her teaching you that?”
“She was so proud of that,” he says, turning his gaze back across the street.
I place my hand on the door handle and open it, then step out. The air is growing colder now, so I reach back into the front seat and grab my hoodie, then slip it on over my head.
“What are you doing?” Holder says.
I know he won’t understand and I really don’t want him to try and talk me out of it, so I shut the door and cross the street without answering him. He’s right behind me, calling my name when I step onto the grass. “I need to see my room, Holder.” I continue walking, somehow knowing exactly which side of the house to walk to without having any actual concrete memories of the layout of the house.
“Sky, you can’t. No one’s here. It’s too risky.”
I speed up until I’m running. I’m doing this whether he gives me his approval or not. When I reach the window that I’m somehow certain leads to what used to be my bedroom, I turn and look at him. “I need to do this. There are things of my mother’s that I want in there, Holder. I know you don’t want me to do this, but I need to.”
He places his hands on my shoulders and his eyes are concerned. “You can’t just break in, Sky. He’s a cop. What are you gonna do, bust out the damn window?”
“This house is technically still my home. It’s not really breaking in,” I reply. He does raise a good point, though. How am I supposed to get inside? I purse my lips together and think, then snap my fingers. “The birdhouse! There’s a birdhouse on the back porch with a key in it.”
I turn and run to the backyard, shocked when I see there actually is a birdhouse. I reach my fingers inside and sure enough, there’s a key. The mind is a crazy thing.
“Sky, don’t.” He’s practically begging me not to go through with this.
“I’m going in alone,” I say. “You know where my bedroom is. Wait outside the window and let me know if you see anyone pull up.”