The police meet Vee and Glenn at Dad’s house. They call me for details about Dad and where he would be likely to go. They want to know where he shops, where he banks, if he has friends he liked to see, who his doctor and dentist are, which area schools are the ones Alyssa has attended (since he had shown up at her elementary school in his pajamas just eight days before), what church he attends, and anything else that might help.
I told them everything I could think of; I told them things I didn’t realize I knew. They thanked me and said they’d be in touch.
I have to leave soon, to go to work; I am the manager-in-training at the Papyrus flagship store on Broadway and 76th Street in Manhattan. I am scheduled for noon until closing, which means I need to be on the 10:33 train. I would call out if we weren’t so short-staffed. As it is, our full-time keyholder, Mary, will be alone until I get there. Emery has a travel day and is going to be at both of his other stores giving performance reviews. Jacque isn’t scheduled until four, and since her review is supposed to be at the Columbus Avenue store, she probably isn’t even going to get to Broadway until almost five.
If I call out, Mary will be alone either until Jacque comes in, or until Emery can get there. That just won’t work—that store is just too busy, and cannot run with only one person on the floor for six hours—is there anybody else who can cover me on short notice? No. (So, what would happen if I got hit by a truck on the way there? Would they find someone then?) I’ve managed the floor by myself for hours, or worked a thirteen-hour open-to-close shift when staff calls out or just doesn’t show up; that’s precisely why I don’t do that to other people. Not even today, with this good a reason.
I call Mary on my way to the train to tell her my father is missing. She said, “Oh, did they find him?” I said, NO, HE IS MISSING. No one knows where he is.
I text Emery to let him know what is going on. I add that I am on my way in, but that someone else will have to close with Jacque if my father doesn’t turn up soon.
I get to Penn before eleven. I have no news from anyone. I have enough time to try to find a charger for my phone. I hadn’t charged it the night before and I’ve been on it almost the whole morning. I take the local to 79th Street, stop at the T-Mobile store to see if I can find what I need. No dice—the sales associate practically laughs at my three-year-old no-frills Samsung. I try the electronics store across the street. They don’t have one either, but I do replace my broken watchstrap with a new black leather one.
I get to the store by 11:30, clock in, tell Mary there still hasn’t been news, and try to concentrate on my tasks at hand.
I never bring my cellphone on to the sales floor, but I make an exception this day. I am fielding texts from my sisters asking if there is any news, while I am emailing back and forth with my district manager and Corporate about a man who had attempted to make a fraudulent return in our store. In between, I am ringing up Father’s Day cards for customers.
Frank checks in with me a couple of times, to see if I’ve heard anything, to hear how I sound. He knows me better than anyone else on God’s green earth. He can pick things up in my voice that even I don’t know are there. Such are the blessings of a long-term happy marriage.
“Hi Claud. Anything new?” (Are you okay? Tell me how you are really doing.)
“I haven’t heard anything from anyone. I’m going to Port Authority after work, in case Dad got on a bus.” (I’m scared and I don’t know what else to do.)
“Please take care of yourself.”
I have Mary take her lunch break at 2, and hope I don’t have to flee while she is gone.
Emery calls to check and see how I am doing.
“No news. Yes, thank you for offering, please come and close the store with Jacque. I don’t know where my father is, and I don’t know what is happening.”
I haven’t really taken a break this day. Jacque comes in at 4:40. Mary leaves at 5:20.
Emery comes at around 6. I tell him that I am taking a sick day the next day, either to go looking for my dad, or to recuperate from the stress of this day, depending.
Then, I am out the door.
I grab a cab on Broadway, and I call home from my cell as the cab makes its way downtown. I am going to Port Authority on the small chance that somehow, my dad tried to come to see me in New York. Maybe he waited at our old bus stop, got on the 113S bus, got out at Port Authority and…. what? Did I really think he could find his way to the 7 train, go to Corona, or to Flushing? No, I didn’t. But in case he did, I need to tell the cops to be on the lookout.
I hear the worry in my husband’s voice. I have to do this anyway. My mind’s ear hears him saying, “Come home now” when what he is really saying out loud is good luck, be careful.
The cabdriver has overheard my conversation, and asks me if I am okay. I tell him my dad disappeared that morning and has been missing all day. I tell him why I am going to Port Authority. He asks me my father’s name so he can keep him in his prayers. We take the turn east on to 42nd Street, past Holy Cross Church, and at the southwest corner of 8th Avenue, he lets me out.
I find the police station in the terminal. I speak to the desk sergeant, who asks me to take a seat and wait for the officer who will help me. She is very understanding and kind—she has heard this story before (but it was never my story before).
I give her a description of my father. I pull out the wallet-sized studio photo of my whole family that my brother had set up for Dad’s 80th birthday. She photocopies it. When she comes back, I tell her that the day we took the photo was the first time in twelve years that we had all been under the same roof. The only other picture I have of Dad in my wallet is the one from December 1972, with him and Frank and me all dressed up for a gala dinner dance celebrating Our Lady of Sorrows’ 100th anniversary. In that picture, Dad is five years younger than I am now.
The officer reassures me that if Dad makes his way into the system, I will be notified. They will keep an eye out for him.
I call my mom’s best friend, Thea, as I am leaving the police station—she works at the 110th Precinct in Corona, our old neighborhood. She still lives next door to the house I grew up in, on 42nd Avenue. She will put the word out at the 110, just in case Dad somehow finds his way “home” to Corona. As soon as her husband hears the news about my dad, he takes a folding chair downstairs and sets it up in front of his building. He will wait there until about midnight, until he is exhausted and has to go upstairs to sleep. He is determined that, if my father comes walking down 42nd Avenue, he will intercept him and return him safely to Union, New Jersey.
It is 7 PM and Dad has been missing for eleven hours now. I call Frank and tell him I am done at Port Authority.
“Come home”, he says, “You’ve done all you can for now. Just come home.”
I won’t find this out for a while yet, but throughout the day, Frank has been trying to find ways to help me. Friday is one of his days at NYU’s School of Medicine, where he is the computer tech for a research group in the Psychiatry department. He has been asking the doctors who work there how he can best help me through whatever is coming.
On his way home from work that Friday, he goes up to a police officer and tells him about my missing dad. The cop gives him an outline of what to expect and when, if Dad isn’t found on the first day. Frank is taking the long view; he already knows that if Dad isn’t found before nightfall, the outcome is unlikely to be positive.
It will be longer before I come to that realization.
When I get to Penn, I stop into the police station on the Long Island Railroad concourse, and tell them my story. They are very kind and, as the Port Authority police did, they take down my information. I get on the 7:49 Port Washington train to go home.
I get in at about twenty past eight. Frank has dinner waiting for me, keeping warm on the stove. I eat, we talk. Unless we hear something tonight or early tomorrow, I will go to New Jersey in the morning to search for Dad. I will be with Barbara, George, and Alyssa. They, and Glenn, and Alyssa’s boyfriend Kevin have walked the woods by the house and near the Washington School several times already to see if they can find any sign at all of Dad.
After dinner, I turn on my computer. All of us sibs and spouses discuss next steps by email. Nancy and her husband, Chris, are thinking of coming up, but I think it’s better if they stay in Maryland for the time being. Their eleven-year-old son, Grant, still has another week or so of school. Nancy and Janet (who lives two doors down from her, with her husband Walter and their four cats) can make calls from home—they will call hospitals, senior centers, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, urgent care centers, clinics, and any other place they can think of to see if there are any John Does matching Dad’s description.
I send this email to everyone in my address book:
Subject: Prayer request – my dad is missing
Date: Jun 12, 2010 12:12 AM
My 88 year old dad wandered off from his home and has been missing since 8AM Friday morning. He was gone when his morning caregiver arrived. Our extended family and friends and the Union County police are looking for him. I visited the station at Port Authority and talked to the PA police (just in case he got on a bus, but I doubt it). I notified a friend of mine who works in our old home precinct in Corona (just in case he tries to go back “home”).
Please just keep us in your prayers.
Thanks so much~
~Claudia & family
I am emailed and talked and texted out. It’s time to sleep now, and I will sleep the sleep of a loving daughter exhausted by grief and worry.
My father has been missing for more than sixteen hours. It’s dark out. He is almost always cold, even on hot summer days. I try not to think about this. I do not succeed.
All of us, at Dad’s 80th birthday.