Thought I Knew You
Greg and Cody disappeared on the same day.
One or two Fridays a month, Greg and I hired a babysitter for date night. The idea was to take some time for ourselves and reconnect. The reality was significantly less romantic. We typically ate at Pesto Charlie’s due to some combination of availability and timing. I’d order whatever seafood was on special, and Greg would get Chicken Piccata—light on the sauce, of course. The food was always dependable, we never had to wait for a table, and with the low lighting and heady aroma of Italian spices, the restaurant was atmospheric enough to check Date Night off our to-do lists.
A few times, we tried other places, but the food wasn’t good, the service was poor, or we’d leave the restaurant late and miss the beginning of whatever movie we planned to see. Greg refused to go into a theater late. He called it rude and always clucked disapprovingly when others did so. So Pesto Charlie’s became something of a tradition, albeit not a very exciting one. We’d get home between ten and ten thirty, pay the sitter twenty bucks, and go to bed. Sometimes we’d make love, but not every time. Even date night wasn’t a guaranteed lay.
Greg was due back around one that Friday afternoon, having been on a business trip all week. He traveled for work more than I liked, but I’d stopped complaining about the monthly trips years ago and just accepted them as a part of life. Greg and I worked for the same company, Advent Pharmaceuticals. He was a professional trainer, not a weightlifting trainer, but adult education for the corporate set. He taught various courses on compliance to FDA regulations and the science behind Advent’s drugs. He was based in Raritan, New Jersey, about ten miles from where we lived in Clinton, but he often flew as far as Canada. Greg was good at his job; actually, Greg was good at almost everything.
I worked part-time as a technical writer. My job was less demanding than Greg’s, allowing me to work from home and take care of the kids. I didn’t have a career the way Greg did. Sure, the pay was terrible, but at least I could say I contributed, and the money helped with the little luxuries— a manicure or a more expensive haircut. Something to do, Greg once joked at a dinner party, his arm draped across my shoulders. My face had burned, even though I had said the same thing a million times.
“Mommy, I think Cody got out.” Hannah stood in the doorway between the hallway and the kitchen. Her previously neat blond ponytail had fallen to the side, and she had some furtively acquired lipstick smeared on her cheek.
“What? Hannah, seriously, stay out of my purse, please.” No matter how hard I tried, Hannah seemed determined to look a mess. It’s like an age requirement for four-year-olds.
She pointed at the screen door. “Mommy, look!”
Sure enough, the screen swayed gently in the early October breeze. The opening between the mesh and the frame was jagged, as if it had been clawed. Had I let the dog out? I thought so. With the girls and the library, the memory of the morning blurred.
I wasn’t concerned. Cody would have been more aptly named Houdini. Our yard was large, several acres, with a small patch of woods in the back, perfect for chasing small animals and sometimes bringing them back as prizes to drop them on the doorstep with a triumphant thump. Given that our closest neighbors were a quarter-mile away, Cody had the run of the place. Sometimes he vanished for hours, but he always, always, came home.
“Sweetie, he’ll be home. He’s just out for an adventure.” I poked my head out of the door and looked around the yard. “Cody! Come back, bud! It’s dinnertime!” It wasn’t, but “dinnertime” never failed to evoke a response.
I didn’t see him, but he could have been anywhere, like in the old barn that sat at the back of our property. I could imagine him there, tucked under the rarely used workbench, bathed in a shaft of light let in by the broken side door. I’d look in a bit, after the babysitter, Charlotte, came but before we left for dinner. I let the screen door slam and checked the time. I was surprised to see that the clock showed three fifteen already. Where is Greg, anyway?
I gathered two-year-old Leah from the playroom, her cheeks rouged from the same Hannah-pilfered lipstick, and plopped her in the highchair. After tossing some goldfish crackers on her tray, I picked up the phone and dialed Greg’s number. My call went directly to voice mail, so I left an irritated message. Frustrated, I tapped my fingers on the phone. Greg had likely forgotten our plans, his mind a million miles away, his wife last on his list. I stormed around the kitchen, slamming pots and pan lids, half-expecting him to appear behind me and say teasingly, “Feel better now?” as he generally does when I get cranky and start making noise.
I had to think a moment to remember the last time we’d spoken. Wednesday evening, he called to say good night and to tell the girls he loved them. He didn’t call Thursday night, but that wasn’t all that strange. I filled my time with kid-friendly activities, play dates, family, and friends, so Greg and I didn’t talk every night. I could think of a few trips, particularly in the last few months, where the week would come and go before I realized we hadn’t spoken at all.
“The bigger question, Hannah-banana, is where on earth is your daddy?”
At six, I called Charlotte and cancelled.
Then, I called my mom. “Can you believe he didn’t even call me? Should I be worried?”
“Nah, you never know when he’s coming home,” Mom reassured me. “Remember last month? His flight was delayed for a whole day.”
“Yeah, but he called, at least.” I bit my bottom lip.
“Not until pretty late, though, right? He was stuck on the runway. It’s probably the same now.”
I could envision her dismissively waving her hand in the air. Her lightness eased something inside me, and I exhaled a breath I hadn’t known I was holding. “I’ll bet he forgot. It’s so typical lately. I have no idea where his head is anymore.”
“Well, if his plane was delayed, I’m sure he can’t call. That whole ‘Don’t use your cell phone while flying’ rule.”
Mom and Dad lived about ten minutes away, in the same house where I grew up, and I talked to my mother no less than twice a day. She loved Greg and probably knew more about our life than a mother should, but she wasn’t privy to the small details. She didn’t know about Greg’s recent distance or our inability to have a conversation lately, or our apparent—mutual—sex strike, which caused our bed to be the scene of a new Cold War. Ups and downs, is all, I kept thinking. We all got ’em.
But when we had talked on Wednesday, things seemed a little better. Greg wanted to go to a movie; we hadn’t done that in a while. And he even suggested Mexican. His long silences, usually heavy with unsaid words, seemed lighter somehow. Almost easy. When I tried to end the call, I sensed an unusual hesitancy. Generally, Greg ended the conversation first, a sense of urgency coming through the line from the minute he said “hello,” but Wednesday had been different. Or maybe that was just my hopeful thinking.
Leah started crying from her high chair.
“Ma, I gotta go. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
After seven o’clock, I secured the girls in the playroom in front of the television before bed and hiked to the back of the yard, skirting the edge of the woods. Behind the woods was a steep hill, ending at some little-used railroad tracks.
“Cooooody!” I called him over and over again. I expected him to come bounding over the hill, carrying some treasure from the tracks. When he didn’t materialize, I fought a sense of deep unease, of everything being slightly out of place, the two voids in the house defying reason.
Worried about leaving the girls alone too long, I jogged back to the house. On the back porch, I turned once more to gaze out at the inky yard, a black starless sky swallowing the earth that seemed to shift ever so slightly beneath my feet. Trying to convince myself that Cody would show up later, I went inside to wait for my husband.
I put the girls to bed with only a minor inquisition from Hannah about her missing daddy. I waved the question away with a cheerful façade. She let it slide, used to going days without seeing him. After calling Greg again and leaving yet another message, I curled up on the couch for some backlogged DVR. I skipped around, aiming for distraction as I fought the unease that had settled in the pit of my stomach. Pulling the blanket up to my chin, I shivered from the end-of-season chill, wishing—suddenly, pitifully—that I had my husband to curl up on the couch with, even though it had been months since we’d done that. Briefly, I considered the irony, how we’d avoided talking or touching in the evenings, but how when faced with a growing sense of anxiety, I longed for him. When he gets home, we’ll fix this.
I was startled awake at one thirty in the morning, the hazy remembrance of dream slipping away. As I sat up on the couch, the fear hit me. Greg. Is he home? I checked the doors—both still locked. I checked our bedroom—no suitcase on the floor, no Greg on the bed. I checked the garage—no car. I was angry. One lousy phone call. Hi, I’m stuck on a plane. Hi, I missed my flight. I tried his cell phone and left a third message. After I hung up, worry bore down on me, heavy and oppressive.
Taking a deep breath, I logged onto our laptop, which had a permanent home on the kitchen island, and Googled United Airlines, the only airline Greg would fly. From the junk drawer, I pulled out the notebook where Greg always wrote down his flight numbers. The entry for October 1 read, “Flight UA1034.” I typed in the flight number—“On Time.” I called the toll-free number at the bottom of the webpage and asked if Greg Barnes had checked in for the flight. After confirming our address, I was put on hold.
“We have no record of Greg Barnes checking in on Friday. He did check in on Tuesday evening for his incoming flight from Newark to Rochester, and he picked up one bag at baggage claim.” I heard keyboard clicking. “No, I’m sorry, but it does not appear as though he boarded the return flight UA1034 on Friday morning. Can I help you with anything else?”
The question jarred me. Sure. Can you help me find him? I said, “No, thank you,” and hung up the phone.
I sat at the island, drumming my fingers. Could he have missed his flight? I tried to think like Greg. If he had missed his flight, he would have rented a car. The drive would have only taken four hours, so he would have been home even before the kids’ bedtime. That also didn’t explain the dead phone.
Before I had time to think, I called the police station.
A woman answered on the second ring, her tone clipped and official. “Hunterdon County Police Department.”
“Hi, this is strange, but my husband went on a business trip and was scheduled to be home at one o’clock yesterday afternoon, and he’s still not back.” After I said it, I realized how I sounded. Pathetic. “I can’t get in touch with him; he’s not answering his phone. This is really unlike him. I’m not sure what to do.”
“Would you like to fill out a Missing Persons Report?” she asked, sounding bored.
I heard the sound of a clacking keyboard in the background. “I’m not sure. I mean, I’m sure there’s an explanation, but I’m worried. He’s usually much more… reliable.” I paused, unsure of how to finish, unsure of anything.
“How long has he been gone?”
Not missing, I noted. Gone as in left? “He’s been missing since one o’clock yesterday afternoon. I mean, he left on Tuesday…” I trailed off, and my words echoing back to me through the phone sounded helpless.
“Well, we can send someone out tonight to take a report, if you’d like. Typically, we won’t initiate a missing person’s report for an adult until he’s missing for forty-eight hours and—”
“Forty-eight hours seems excessive,” I interrupted, anxiety tight in my chest. Forty-eight hours was two days. Surely he would be back before then.
“Ma’am, with all due respect, most husbands or wives who are reported missing choose to be missing. So yes, forty-eight hours is our procedure. By then, maybe he’ll come home on his own.” She no longer sounded bored. She sounded compassionate, and that infuriated me.
The finger of fear inched up my spine. “My husband is not choosing to be missing. It is very possible that something has happened to him.” I felt panicky, nauseous. Zero to sixty. Less than ten minutes ago, I wasn’t even worried.
“I’m sure it’s possible, but in most cases, the spouse returns within a day or two, with a very plausible explanation for their absence. You can call us back tomorrow or Monday, if you’d like to initiate a report or if there is a new development.”
“Thank you,” I said quietly. I felt it then—the certainty that I would be calling her back. I would not be getting any explanation, plausible or otherwise.