My baby turned nine today. Nine. Is it a big deal to other parents? It took me a while today to remember exactly why nine jars me so - why my vision of my child flickers between baby and big kid. It took me a while because it's a gut thing, a sub-terranean thing - this business of what it means to be nine. The first nine year old I ever remember knowing was a strangely wise "big kid" - cool by virtue of her advanced years. In our small troop of neighborhood girls, she was just enough older that if she had pretended not to know us at school, we wouldn't have blamed her a bit. But she never did blow us off. She wasn't like that. She was both too kind and too popular to give in to the schoolyard caste system. She was unquestionably the girl boss in our neighborhood games - the one who came up with better poses for "Swinging Statues"; the one who told us Brownies the spooky Girl Scout campfire stories; the one who knew when to sass the boys back and when to make peace so they'd show us the bird eggs they'd found. I thought her very grown up. In fact, she was so grown up in my mind's eye, that it wasn't until I was in my twenties and saw her fourth grade school picture again after so many years that I realized what a baby she had been at the time. I wept. Big, fat, hot tears splashed onto the ducky fuzzed head of my newborn as I stared at her picture. In that, admittedly post-partum hazed moment, it struck me - literally STRUCK me - that she'd been a baby, someone's baby on the awful, February day she disappeared. I'd known her parents, so my brain must have realized at some point that she was someone's child, but it was my heart - my wide open, new mom heart - that broke all over again.
I had double vision: the confident, capable, compassionate big kid I remember overlaid by the image everyone else had always seen of a vulnerable, achingly innocent, and forever nine-year old girl. Nine. Never ten.
There are some images engraved in my mind that have not changed from that day. These photographs - dark and stark - match my memory exactly. They evoke the hot smells of cigarettes and coffee and the voices of the dozens of tired volunteer searchers - all carried on the cold wind. I can hear the ragged rustle of the bushes outside of my window as the German shepherds lunge through our hedges and comb our yard under the moonlight. I can feel the hexagonal pattern of the fabric on the back seat of our car - a pattern that I traced with my fingers over and over while we waited to be waved through the police cordon to get to our house. This is a view of my neighborhood in 1975:
Copeland Drive, in front of the home of Marcia Trimble, is crowded with police cars, Civil Defense vehicles and other cars as Middle Tennessee joins forces to search for the missing nine year-old. (Gerald Holly / The Tennessean) 2/28/1975
Tom McGinn, a Philadelphia dog trainer, unloads two of his German shepherds with the help of Metro Youth Guidance Officer Howard Bassham, while Sgt. Sherman Nickens, right, watch. (J.T. Phillips / The Tennessean) 3/4/1975
It's been helpful for me to dredge up these images, to write, to acknowledge the links. The formless dread I've been feeling is no longer so formless. I am facing a threat to my family - even if it is "only" a custody challenge and it resonates back in spiraling and layering ways with early trauma, fear, and the first loss I ever faced. A loss that I shared with my neighborhood, my city, and my era.
Now that I have connected some dots - it makes sense that the bare trees, the fading light, the cold wind, and the barking dogs have felt ominous. The pieces are settling. I am settling. My old grief is very much a part of where I come from. My fear of future grief and loss on any scale relating to my children is understandable. Strangely, connecting the two has melted the icy panic inside of me. Connecting the dots of experience enables me to connect to the healing and growth I've gained too. Someday maybe I'll detail how and why Marcia's faith impacted mine. Maybe someday I'll own up to exactly how much time I spent (and how much mayonaise and lemon juice I used) trying to get my hair to look just like hers. Tonight, though, I'm going to go sneak a peek at my sleeping big boy/little kid. Tonight I'm going to breathe deeply. I'm going to trust the process - not necessarily the court process or the police process or even the family process - but the bigger, wider, more cosmic process. Strangely I find that tonight, after all this, I can trust that it really will be ok. No matter what. Peace.
**Edited to add - here is the link for the first story breaking on this case. It is a pivotal story for me personally - and a huge story for Nashville then and now. Peace.