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When my best friend Christine let me know on Wednesday night that Meredith was missing, a ripple of fear immediately went through me. Missing. That was word that was reserved for people on the news. Other people. People I didn’t know personally. I shoved it down quickly and fervently ran through every news station on TV and on the web. Only one had something about Mere. It said she’d been missing since the night before, when she went out hiking with Ella. I thought to myself “Surely they’re mistaken. Mere would never go hiking alone. She’s smarter than that.” I puzzled over this for 30 minutes before finding something new about it, this time the information that Ella’s leash and Mere’s water bottles were found. That ripple of fear went through me again. Missing, in the cold, with no water.
I took a deep breath and shoved it down again. She’s smart, she’s experienced, she’s tough, and she’s got Ella with her. It’ll be cold, but she’ll be fine. Ella won’t leave her. When called that night, John and I immediately decided to go up the next morning and help look. I felt really good about it myself. I’m not a very fit person, but I have sharp eyes and was sure that we’d find her tucked under some leaves with Ella keeping her warm. I went to sleep that night dreaming about how happy she’d be when we found her.
The next morning, John and I got up at 4am to drive to Bruce and Christine’s house. John is an Eagle Scout, so he knows how to dress for cold. I was wearing 2 pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, four shirts, two coats and gloves, a hat, and a scarf. I could barely buckle my seatbelt as we got into the car. I looked at the thermometer on the dash: 28F When we got to Bruce’s house 45 minutes later, it was still 28F. My toes hurt, but I was still convinced that Mere was warm and happy under some leaves with Ella, just lost and staying put because she’s smart enough to know not to go anywhere. John and I met Bruce, Little Jon, Kevin, Tim and Marisa there, and we combined into two cars and began driving. We stopped at a gas station to fill up before getting too cold. 30F, but I was dancing in the checkout line imagining how happy everyone would be when she was found.
As we drew near the mountain, my hopes began to waver. The temperature had been dropping the entire time. We passed huge icicles and snow on the ground on the wavy road there, ad by the time we’d gotten to the tiny store and hotel there at 7am, the dash read 5F. We stopped to don our last layers and use the bathrooms before beginning a rough day. As we stepped out, the cold air whipped down the slope and ripped the rime off the trees. My breath caught in my chest; how could anyone live in this or more than an hour? “Ella,” I reminded myself. “She’s got Ella.” At the trailhead, we were the first people there aside from two policemen. They stopped us and said that the helicopter was up and they weren’t allowing people up the slope until it was done flying. They expected to be done by 10:30am, so they sent us all back to the little store to wait it out in the warm. As we got there, the first news van (11 alive) pulled up. One reporter went up the road to talk to police, the second stayed with us at the store. People were jovial and talkative. Hopes were high.
The second reporter, Julie Wolfe, began to interview a store employee. It was then that we learned a new bit of terrifying information: Meredith’s water and Ella’s leash hadn’t been found alone. With them were a pair of men’s sunglasses and a police-style baton. A weapon. The bottom dropped out of my stomach and I heard myself gasp quietly. Suddenly, she wasn’t lost anymore, she’d been attacked, taken, maybe even hurt and left to die. As the day progressed, officials came to give us updates and pray, we were moved to a central location, and a few teams of hikers were allowed up the mountainside. The vast majority of the gathered volunteers were left sitting around for hours, which made me angry. I could understand that the search didn’t need to be for more than one person, but I felt that there were more than enough experienced people there to lead a few unexperienced with them. The hours crept by and the news got worse and worse.
No sign of her, but lots of people report seeing her with someone else with a dog. That same someone may have had a baton on his leg. I shed a few fearful tears as the thought that she might have been taken crept in on me. We were all sent home that night, being told that only professionals were allowed back the next day. We got back exhausted and wind-burned, but I was still telling myself she had Ella and she’d be fine. She just fell down a slope and hurt herself, but she was fine. I had to go to a convention the next day, Friday. I worried she’d be found hurt and I wouldn’t be able to see her in the hospital for a week.
The day went by with no news. The man was being looked for, but nothing new had been found. Finally, at the end of the day on Friday, the news announces that Ella wandered into a Kroger alone, 50 miles south of the trails. I worried, but I didn’t want to jump the gun and worry too much because she might still be fine. A hour later, the news announced that her ID and a few other belongings had been found in a dumpster across from that Kroger. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the trails anymore. The awful truth was that she’d been taken. Taken and hurt.. or worse. I sobbed for hours, alone in my hotel room. I was so angry. Angry at the world, angry at that man, and angry at Meredith for going alone.
Police announced later that the man in question had been arrested at a gas station, attempting to clean his van. As I watched the news, photos were shown of Mere’s potential kidnapper. I couldn’t believe she’d been attacked by this man. He looked so frail, like she should have been able to kick his face right in… but where was she? Than the worst news came on… Police had found ‘considerable evidence’ that Meredith was no longer alive. I gaped at the television, tears running down my face, trying to deny it. She hadn’t been found yet, there was still hope she’d been attacked but fought her way free.
Days go by, but I can’t focus on anything. I keep thinking she’s fighting for her life, hidden away somewhere he’d put her. Then, the news I’d denied for so long: her body had been found. I cried again, but I’d been slowly facing the truth for too long. At that moment, I couldn’t think about anything but the things she’d never get to do. She’d ever get married, she’d never be the wonderful mother I knew she’d make someday. She’d never grace my portfolio again, she’d never watch bad TV with Christine and I again. She’ll never go back to France, never write another poem, never read another book, and never hug Ella again.
I’ll miss her so much. I’ll miss her laugh, I’ll miss her smile. I’ll miss the way she used to call Ella ‘Puppers”. I’ll miss her complementing my latest work, I’ll miss her telling me I looked good in this or that outfit. I already miss her zest for life. I just couldn’t smile after she’d been found dead. The world was just gray that day. I’m very thankful that I still have my life and my sister, who is so like her. I couldn’t stop crying at the memorial yesterday. I tried to sing Amazing Grace, but I couldn’t get out anything more than a few squeaks. I gave the photos I’d taken of her in 2006 to her parents because she loved them so much.
Even now, it’s hard to grasp. It’s like any minute now, a news break will come on and tell me that she’s been found alive in the woods somewhere. Or maybe it’s all been a bad dream. Or even that I can time travel and keep her from going at all that day. So many people have been touched by her, even a lot of people who never knew her in life.
We’ll ever get back what he took from us and from her, but we’ll never forget what she gave to all of us.