By Amy Michelle Wiley
The lime-green of the sign across the way brings it all back like it was yesterday. I had been sitting on the front porch with a lime popsicle. My hands were itchy from the juice that dribbled down the stick and my feet tapped along with the nameless little tune I hummed.
I can still hear the phone ring, the murmur of my mother’s voice as she answered. Now, the memory of that sound holds so much emotion, but then it was only normal, only another noise in the everyday life that surrounded me.
The footsteps as she walked toward the front door are so clear that even now I almost turn to look behind me. They are the sound of coming uncertainty, of horror, of pain so deep it still twinges.
Mom sat beside me on the wooden steps and it was only after I turned to look at her that I’d felt the first glimmer of what was to come. Her face was grey, twisting in a way I’d never seen. Silence stretched out until it touched the edge of infinity.
The words that finally came out of her mouth shattered my childhood innocence, scattering the pieces so far I’d never be able to entirely put it back together again.
“Mark,” she’d whispered, “your brother’s been…taken.”
For a time I couldn’t breathe. I asked no questions. Perhaps I needed no answers. Facts wouldn’t change the truth. Knowledge wouldn’t make it go away. I knew right then there would be no happy ending. The remains of my popsicle puddled at my feet, pale green liquid against the solid concrete.
The clarity of my memory ends there. The next days, years even, were filled with police questions. Searches for the red pickup that had been seen driving away with my brother. Drawings of the man we’d never before seen. Clues called into the hotline. Minds wracked, trying to remember something, anything that might help.
And always dead ends. Hopes that were dashed to the ground, so often that hope nearly died, laying stagnant at the bottom of our souls.
Yet there was a different kind of hope. It was what kept us alive. What got us up in the mornings, gave us strength to put one foot in front of the other. That hope was our faith. It was the knowledge that wherever Tommy was, wherever Tommy wasn’t, God was, too.
I spent much of those first few years away in my mind, filled with a mixture of memory and fantasies about me and Tommy. Tommy and I. Always they were set in the castle we’d created.
That castle had dominated all the real life play we’d had. I’m not sure when it had first started, but at some point in our late toddler years we’d both become fascinated with medieval times, and our play had become filled with knights, princes, and castles. Eventually the castle had become a staple of all our imaginings, even when we’d gone on to other interests.
By the time of Tommy’s kidnapping, the castle had become something even more solid than that, for it had become a part of heaven, a part of our final life goal, of our relationship with God. We’d spent hours talking about the castle we’d have in heaven, and how we’d walk the halls of our cherished building in the very presence of God. Perhaps we’d even have a pet dragon, and Jesus would teach us to ride horses.
Somehow as I look back, it’s as though I see the castle through lime green glasses. The tapestry patterns are green, and even the stone walls themselves have a faint hue of lime. I know my mental distance caused my parents even more worry, but it was the only way I knew to cope.
At some point during those years, a time long after the police had stopped making daily visits, even after my parents had stopped calling for updates, I overheard a conversation that I think changed all of us.
“Sometimes I pray he’s not still alive.” Mom’s voice was apologetic, tears straining just under the surface. “I hate to feel that. Feel guilty feeling that. But John,” I could picture her leaning closer against his chest, “to think of him in heaven is so much easier than to wonder of the horrors he’s gone through.”
There had been silence for a time, before her voice had continued, so faint I could hardly hear it.
“They keep telling us to go on with our lives, but when I go on I forget to pray. And if he’s still alive, he needs us to pray as hard as we can, every second of the day.” Her voice had broken then, and her sobs had been muffled by Dad pulling her tight.
Dad’s words had come full of pain, but full of something stronger, too. “Ellen, God is there just as much wherever Tommy is, whether in heaven, or on earth. We have to trust Him, honey. We need to go on and follow the path God has given us, and rest in the knowledge that God is big enough, strong enough to take care of Tommy for us.” I heard the soft sound of a kiss, and knew he’d kissed her forehead in the comforting way he had. “It’s time to let go. It’s time to give him completely over to God.”
From then on, I spent less time in the castle, and more time with my family and friends. My grades came back up, and I graduated high school with honors.
Now the three of us sit once again in the police station, Mom and Dad now grey-haired. Through the window the green sign across the way turns in a lopsided circle, advertising The Dragonfly Café.
The police had called last week. A man arrested for another crime had confessed to several murders, they told us. They have locations of bodies. They think Tommy may be one of them.
I don’t know what to feel. After so long of uncertainty, I don’t know what to do with this knowledge.
The policeman comes out now, holding a clear zip lock bag. “The dental records agree,” he tells us. “These are the things they found with him.” He sets the bag on the table gently.
Then I see it. It’s a plastic candy wrapper, marked with that writing I still know so well. I pull it a little closer, instinctively knowing it was meant for me. It’s crinkled and old, but I can just make out the words.
“I’ll be in the castle’s north court, riding horses with Jesus. See you there.”