We stood on a natural seam – where a grassy spell was stitched to the woods, creating a hem line holding together that where visibility was clear and that where brambles, briar and shadows lay. Megan and our unsmiling search-and-rescue team leader to my left, a gaggle of teenage girls to my right. Even the impending thought that we were about to hunt for a man whose likelihood of being alive was decreasing by the second didn’t keep the teens from gossiping, which at first was frustrating – this here was life and death – but quickly became a comfort. Those girls were life. Only.
“Take a step forward!” The leader’s voice boomed. “And another!”
Dwarfed by trees whose lengthy branches stretched to greet one another, blocking out the setting sun’s light, we stumbled into the forest. Flashlights clicked on, most of us realizing our light sources were no match for the dense shrubbery and blackberry bushes, and clicked them off. As we moved this was repeated over and over again, a tiny flickering cacophony.
Sunset was not a tangerine and rose-hued delicacy but rather a looming problem. The missing man was an Alzheimer’s patient. He’d left for a walk and not returned. Two days ago. We called his name. We called his nickname. Nothing came in response, not even an echo. Thorns snarled our sweatshirts and poked through our jeans. The teenagers kept gossiping, occasionally whining, returning to gossip.
My stomach felt small. My body felt smaller, like it was lifting away, and there was only my hands in existence to prove I was me. My hands grew. I kept imagining a very dear friend of mine who lost her mother to Alzheimer’s recently, how sick I would feel if it had been her mom missing, how distraught my friend would have been. And how she never had to feel was exactly how someone else was feeling now.
We didn’t find him.