Mary went for a walk.

September 9, 2019 § 4 Comments

My husband and I were driving home from Jacksonville after riding Amtrak down the coast from Trenton, New Jersey. We were tired when we pulled into the I-10 rest stop, ready to be home. The poster about the missing woman was small and faded, easy to walk past without a glance, but what hung there was a story, so I stopped.

It was 2015 when Mary went for a walk.

She was born in ’53, so she was younger than I am by a couple of years, but her walk and the walks I take are different. I always know where I am.

Mary didn’t.

According to the poster: “Mary requires medication and suffers from dementia.”

Her face on the poster looked like the face of a third grade teacher. It was an ordinary, sympathetic female face, one that has not been seen by her family or friends for four years.

The poster persists, appealing to random strangers: have you seen this woman in your travels? Do you see her even now, or do you just need a quick stop in the restroom and something from the vending machine before getting back on the road?

What are the odds of a butt-weary traveler stopping, looking, and recognizing Mary, who went for a walk in 2015?

Mary is a needle hidden in the haystack that is the world.


Always, as a storyteller I make the decision, whose story is this? As I reread what I have written I realize that this story belongs to those who taped up this poster, and who knows how many more like it, attaching them to concrete walls and bulletin boards.

Mary is gone, but how? Where? Mary lives on as an absence, so much more persistent and present than she would be if those who loved her had eulogized her and covered her grave in flowers.

The stories that satisfy us, even if they are sad, are the ones that resolve, allowing us to move on, to begin the next story.

Note: This is not the first time I have written about someone who disappeared. The first time it was about a boy I went to high school with.

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