What does it mean to wear a stranger’s name across your wrist? To wear a Hope Bracelet? To give yourself up to believing, to faith, even if you should know better, even if you have been told better? To hold that hope in your heart and let it glow, let it ward off all of the shadows of doubt?
Natalee Holloway has been missing for sixteen months. Yesterday, in the grocery store, the cashier asked what my blue bracelet meant and I said “oh, it’s Natalee, Natalee Holloway.” And her blank stare reminded me how long Natalee’s name has been out of the news, so that I had to explain, “she’s been missing in Aruba for a long, long time”.
It’s been so long. At one month it was so long, at six months it had been forever. At eleven months I was still pleading with God. At a year I was out of words. So now I keep her book in my car and I look at her face at red lights, at the life that once was, at the girl who once danced, at the future that once was waiting. At a mother with her arm around her child, and then I flip a page and see a mother shattered with grief.
This past Spring I traveled to Europe to attend a film festival and I was not surprised to find that Natalee went with me. She was there at the parties, so that I watched the bartenders make my drink, so that I wouldn’t take anything from a stranger, wouldn’t walk the dark streets to my hotel alone. Her loss was my warning. I am faced with the simple truth of Natalee’s life leaning against mine, if only for a moment, the way you might lean against a friend in a crowd full of strangers.
She was here. She was alive. She laughed and danced and waved at the camera and made silly faces and went to parties and woke up in the morning and lived her life. Had her own thoughts and her own secrets. She was not just this frozen girl, frozen in time, frozen in frames. She was here.
I want to scream at the world to remember that Natalee is not at home. That tonight her bed will be empty. That for a year her name was on the door of a dorm room she never once saw. That she was robbed of her life, robbed of college, robbed of the simple act of walking down the street and lifting her face to the rain. That these things were taken from her on a lonely beach, in another country, in another part of the world.
And still, I know in my heart, that Natalee is coming home. That she is out there, somewhere, and they will find her, and her mother’s arms will no longer be empty.
This is the belief I have worn across my wrist for sixteen months. This, I believe.
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