The Flag Pole

Some things you just never forget. Not always so much the event itself. But some innocuous little thing that accompanies the event. A car horn. The way the clouds looked just over the horizon. The sound of someone laughing in the distance.

A clanging chain against a flag pole.

I was writing an in-depth feature about two missing girls. There had been no trace of them. No real evidence. The families were in limbo.

The trail had long been dead.

I back-tracked their activities for the 24 hours prior to their abduction. I knew the color of fingernail polish they were wearing. The clothing they wore that day. Two little girls, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I knew their day together down to minute details until someone lured them away. Then probably hit the nearby interstate and drove out of town. With two unwilling victims whose screams could not be heard.

And so, on a cold blustery day, I stood on the concrete in an empty lot. Rubbish skipped across the asphalt. 

It had been a far different scene back then, when the girls were kidnapped. I tried to imagine the sounds of the carnival. The crowd milling about. The carnies trying to sell their wares. The sound of squealing children on the roller coaster.

But what I heard was the clanging of a rusted chain banging against a flag pole. Propelled by the wind. Over and over again. But I needed to be there. Because this was the last place they were known to be. And it was how I always ended things.

Years pass, and missing children become unwitting statistics. Made so by the sheer propensity of crime that is never-ending. 

For their loved ones, the agony never ends.

When a child dies, there is a grave, an ending. A period at the end of the sentence. For families of the missing, there are only commas, years of nothing, then occasionally false leads in the case to possible sightings. A seesaw of emotions. The passing of years. The losing of hope. 

There is inevitably a child's room, left just as it was when they last left it. With the accoutrements of the child's life that never ages. Untouched but for the dust that gathers, signalling the passing of time.

You stand in the room, the shrine it has become, and you take in the details. The school trophies. The baseball caps. The teddy bears. A room like any other child's room. You try to envision their last moments there.  

You have to take it all in, and then go someplace quiet. Where you will be undisturbed. Then you let your mind travel where it wants. Connecting the dots. The sequence of events that played out. Until there were no more.

I would put myself in the shoes of a victim, and ride out the tide until the trail was cold, or the person was given a headstone. Sometimes it took a toll on me. Yet I kept on doing what I knew. And I somehow knew how to follow footsteps all the way into shadows and then eventual blackness.

It was my way of paying homage. I felt it was a small price to pay. Using my skills, however they came about, to flesh out a person who wasn't there to speak for themselves anymore.

Once in awhile I'm walking outside somewhere, and I hear a sound much like the clanging rusty chain. And immediately I am drawn back there. To the large empty lot, where, every year at a certain time, it becomes a cacophony of carnival sounds.

One could turn and see the interstate from the lot. The passing cars and semis speeding along. All on their way to a predetermined destination.

One would have to wonder at the mounting terror of two little girls as they were being driven farther and farther away. As their childhood ended and hit a brick wall.

Years pass. Taking with them the memory of those girls who would now be women.

I live my life. Raise two children. Get married, Get divorced. Move from one state to another. And back again.

But somewhere, at some point, I will again be within hearing distance of a loose heavy chain caught up by the wind. I will pause and listen as it pounds against a hard surface.

Sometimes I think this is why, over the years, I became somewhat of a loner. The stories, the facts, the sights and memories, they live on.

And so I go out into the cold with my camera. I let myself be immersed in leaves and branches and whatever my camera sees. Sometimes it tells the story better than I can anyway.

Then I come inside and type my thoughts with stiffened fingers.

And hope you understand why.

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  1. What a profoundly deep post. I am sorry that you have not been able to write the conclusion of their story.
    Last month I spent a few hours looking at the RCMP missing persons database online. I read about the countless individuals who literally vanished without a trace. Having had a brother who vanished when I was 14, I can feel a bit of the emptiness that the families feel. Fortunately, for my family, my brother reappeared four years later. To live year after year not knowing where your loved one is, would be torture.

  2. Beautiful post! Isn't funny how events stay with us forever. How sounds can remind us of things in the past. The past never remains there. Little things can take us back there. Sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But such is life. We go on. This post made me think about many things and how they stay with us. Hugs, Teresa

  3. I can't life must change after an abduction. Sounds and sometimes smells bring all that pain that has been pushed far away, back to the surface for another time of why, oh why!! ((hugs))))

  4. What a heart wrenching story! My heart is still heavy since my son is away at boot camp. At least I can take comfort to know that I'll see him again though. Your story is a reminder of the cruel world we live in sometimes. Our children are the most precious thing on this earth and hurts knowing that so many have been victimized in some way.

  5. It is hard to even imagine. It does play with your mind and pull you in. You feel things so deeply. It's okay to like to be alone. (((((HUGS))))

  6. Your post ..expresses the chilling evil that is in the world that we can't even fathom/ don't know how to express it when we do encounter or read about it..but you do. You know how to evoke that with your writing.

  7. I've just been watching a tv show about a young boy who was abducted and victimized for 4 years and eventually returned to his parents. He is forever changed and it was not the happy reunion that we would like it to be. When our youngest daughter was in kindergarten, I would watch her get off the bus across the street. Another little girl would still be standing on that corner even after our girls crossed the street and came home. I asked my daughter if her classmate was waiting for her parents to pick her up. She didn't know, and when I looked out again, the little girl was gone. I found out later that year that the 5 year old girl was afraid to go home where she was being sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend while her mother was still at work. Although I thought it was odd that there was nobody there to meet her, and commented to my husband that it was terrible that her parents were late to pick her up, I never suspected anything as horrible as what was happening to her. It doesn't matter where you live, it happens everywhere. I can't imagine what the parents of missing children go through.

  8. There are many sick people in this world we live in..,not always are they the ones that you would expect them to be...If I had a list of 1000 different people I would NEVER of picked the name of the abuser who molested my 2 grandsons...his name would of been probably the last name I would of ever was the 14 year old son of my daughters very best friends...and they were our friends too and were like family to us all...we loved them...needless to say my grandsons told my daughter what he was doing to them...85%m ofm children never the counselors informed them how lucky they were...right under our noses he was abusing them every chance he got,,,he was convicted and tried as an adult,,yet he spent no time in prison because of his age..if it had come out after he was 18 he'd be sitting in orison where he belongs today...he has to register every year as a sex offender and take counseling...if he misses one class he will be put in prison..the age has changed since this happened to our family about 5 years ago...he ruined my 7 and 9 year old grandsons childhood and the 7 year old is still in counseling because of please don't always look for the obvious loooking criminals when they could be someone you know..we loved him and still cannot believe this happened to them and devastated us all...always be watching closely to your children!!! Carol

  9. What an awful thing for everyone concerned. The children's pain is likely over but oh- the pain that is branded into the heart of family and friends. That is never eased as long as there is the questionable hope that the children are out there somewhere.

    It is the most terrifying thing that could befall a parent- even more agonizing than losing a child to death. xo Diana

  10. I can feel the emotion just pouring off this page...and the hauntingly beautiful photos that accompany your words are so powerful. I am going upstairs now, to hug my son a little tighter tonight.

  11. It is a hard lump in my throat and salty years in my eyes as I write to you .Just this week in Minnesota we left our porch lights on in recognition of Jacob Wetterling having gone missing 24 years ago ( ) I doubt there is a week that goes by that I don't think of him or his family. I know he is one of thousands that is gone from us, I feel their pain more strongly than the others. Your pain came through in your writing, and today I am feeling it along with you.

  12. You need to be an author and write a book. I am thankful each day that at this point in my life I have not had to suffer with pain like so many families do. How painful it must be for a parent to search and keep searching and no answers. I ask myself why was I put here and not somewhere else where there is so much pain and no beauty.

  13. Haunting post Brenda but so beautifully written.

  14. Brenda, your words move me. I can feel the emotions pouring out. Thank you for sharing this.

  15. There was a prayer that I read when I was a child asking God to take care of those that are awake in the dark and are lonely or afraid. Your haunting, lonely story was written so well that I immediately thought of that prayer of comfort. I can not imagine the sleepless nights of those parents and other relatives. How could they bear the anguish? The evil of the offenders can not be comprehended by a normal mind.

  16. A couple where I came from have never found their son. He moved off somewhere after highschool and has never been heard of or found. He was a year younger than me. This family will always grieve. Yes death is a closure.

  17. Haunting really is the best way to describe your post -- amazing writing. Glad Debra sent me over. I don't know how parents faced with this situation survive it.


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