JAN. 11, 2017: On Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, Anne-Christine failed to show up for a Christmas dinner with her father. I didn’t learn of this until Monday, Dec. 12, as my crazy black lab Samantha yanked me through the gates of her favorite dog park and my cellphone glowed in response to a call from police.
The friendly officer was trying to turn a missing person’s report into an active investigation. I remember asking him, incredulously, if he hadn’t already seen my daughter’s domestic-violence report from more than a year earlier?
I sank onto an uncomfortable, steel green bench while Samantha cheerfully plunged into the pool to frolic with other dogs-who-live-to-swim maniacally.
The charming individual Anne-Christine once described as the love of her life, the one whose conversational focus was himself, his precarious health, comic books and the TV show Supernatural, the one whose fingerprints ringed my daughter’s neck 15 months earlier, the one who rebuffed anyone who interfered with his property, the one whose behavior informed my every waking moment — him.
I will forever appreciate the three guys who tossed balls into the water for Samantha (ignoring your ill-behaved dog is frowned upon at the park) while I sat, stunned.
The sun was still shining and the stinky smell of doggy bags in the trash receptacle nearby wafted through the improbably warm Texas sunshine. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Samantha barked.
She bounded over, oblivious to my growing panic, planting her wet paws on my clean jeans. Suddenly I could move again, and think, too. We sped home on one of those broomsticks all mothers have. I frantically emailed everything I had to police that might result in an immediate investigation. But, to my frustration, the emails bounced back.
I wish I could go into further detail, but it doesn’t matter. The singular truth is that late on Tuesday, the world-famous Texas Eqqusearch agreed to look for Anne-Christine. By the next day, a massive search was underway and reporters couldn’t wait to interview anyone and everyone about the beautiful young woman who’d gone missing.
In less than 24 hours, I’d gone from arguing with authority figures that my daughter was not a drug-using cocktail waitress off on a two-day bender or a loser who would just take off — a convenient narrative created by the X — to fielding questions from multiple media outlets and hugging genuinely concerned strangers who understood my dread and sense of urgency.
At Eqqusearch’s Dickinson headquarters, someone showed me Anne-Christine’s last Facebook post from the previous Thursday. I hadn’t seen it, because she’d blocked me after reporting the last round of horrific abuse. There were two photos I know she would never have shared with anyone, and they are the last memories no mother should ever have to live with. In one, she stares vaguely at the camera with what looked like a black eye thinly concealed by makeup. In the other, her face is contorted with fear. “It’s so cold,” the comment read.
Mothers know. I knew, but now I was certain. And I can’t get warm any more, either.
You can Google the many news stories that followed. Her frantic story garnered international interest. I can’t bear to type the words or repeat the narrative. But I can tell you I will never, ever buy a scented candle again. Just plain, simple purple ones that burn brightly in honor and in memory of all mothers, sisters and daughters caught up in the same kind of horror my daughter bore daily.
Today, the funeral home where her former sister-in-law works, called to kindly inform me that Anne-Christine’s cremains are safely back with them, in the small town where she will be buried close to family members once known and loved by her eight-year-old son. It’s a beautiful cemetery where he can visit his beloved Mamaw as well as his mother, and ultimately me. He’ll have to shape a new reality for himself, and I hope he will find some comfort in knowing she is surrounded by everyone he loves.
I was perversely jealous when Debbie Reynolds died immediately after Carrie Fisher’s death. My body broke into boils, I fainted, wretched and gagged incessantly, stopped eating and had to be babysat. But I have to live for her two amazing legacies. A kind photographer, who out-of-the-blue informed me he will create a poster-sized picture for ACJ’s funeral for free, told me he’s buried two wives and a daughter. You just wake up every morning, he advised, and wait for the tragedy to just become part of who you are.
We haven’t buried Anne-Christine yet. Unsure of when the coroner would release the body, waiting for family to fly in from around the world, trying to juggle schedules with the family priest who will deliver one of the most amazing homilies (for which he is famous), we postponed the funeral until the end of January.
Now begins the interregnum. In trauma there is before and after. We are suspended between Anne-Christine’s life and her senseless death, hoping the funeral and interment will bring some sense of peace and closure to family and friends.
Except for me peace and closure will remain elusive. And, I’m still cold. It’s so cold.