The day after my Graduation Party, my girlfriend left for a trip to England with her parents. Our three year old relationship was as turbulent as a stormy flight and a secret from all who knew us. Her mom didn’t exactly like me: I was the weird local lesbian, she was the girl next door. The girl that every mom wanted their son to date. Porcelain skin, rosy cheeks, and straight brown hair. A Rory Gilmore look alike. Because of that, we will call her Rory.
The first time I slept over Rory’s house was New Years Eve 2005. Sleepovers were next to impossible for us. Because I was out to my parents and they knew Rory was my girlfriend, they felt that her sleeping over was the equivalent to my sister’s hypothetical boyfriend sleep over.
Days before New Years Eve, Rory sheepishly approached her mom while she was cooking in the kitchen, her version of Heaven. It was equipped with everything a Professional Chef would want and need. From the corner of the kitchen, Rory begged and pleaded while her mom stirred the fresh pot of soup. Sensing that Rory wasn’t giving up on this, her dad stepped in. Just this once, he said. Rory internally erupted before rushing back to her room to text me the good news.
The night of our sleepover, Rory’s mom curbed her hatred for me with Red Wine and a home cooked meal. Conversation between us was non existent aside from her offer of a snack. She entered Rory’s bedroom without knocking, hoping to catch us engaging in illicit activity so she’d have a reason to send me home. Once inside, she offered me an orange. Upon accepting, she ‘tossed’ it to me, a gesture that nearly gave me a bruise on my forehead.
As an only child, Rory’s mom was the quintessential Helicopter Mom. During one of our covert night time phone calls leading up to her trip to England, we researched internet cafes near her hotel to coordinate logging onto Instant Messenger. This was during a time before unlimited texting, WhatsApp, or instagram. My flip phone could barely take a clear photo!
The time difference between New Jersey and London proved to be another challenge we hadn’t considered. Butterflies made a home in my stomach during the days leading up to her departure. I knew she’d be visiting a guy friend that I long suspected of liking her and sometimes feared she harbored similar feelings back. I was young and jealous of every boy that looked her way, how could I compete with them?
A few days after my Graduation Party once Rory had left for England, I was in my basement bedroom shredding chords in Guitar Hero. My TV lived in the corner opposite of my bed coupled with a cream colored LoveSac. Behind it sat my makeshift desk, a rickety card table joined by a folding chair that I stacked with pillows for comfort. In between songs, I noticed the red and green lights of my silver flip phone were lit up with a text notification.
Jen was missing.
She hadn’t come home the night before and her phone was turned off.
No one had heard from her.
My confusion twisted to frustration as I fired back texts.
Where was she last night?
Who was she with?
Every second I had to wait for answers was filled with a gurgling belly and sweaty palms. With racing thoughts and lingering questions. With perimeter-of-the-room pacing.
What if she didn’t have money to get a taxi ride home?
Or what if her phone died and she couldn’t contact anyone because she didn’t have phone numbers memorized?
What if she was cold?
What if she was hungry?
I stayed by my mom’s side the entire day, following her on errands to the grocery store, to our neighborhood lake to pick up my siblings, to the pharmacy.
I repeatedly, desperately shot off emails to Rory.
No one knows where Jen is. I don’t know what to do.
The irony dawned on me: my protector needed to be protected. My savior needed to be saved.
I attempted to put together a Search Party. Since it was nearing Midnight, the plan was to leave early in the morning and drive to the City with print out photos of Jen. Then I sent a picture of her yearbook photo to everyone I knew that frequented the City. There was nothing left for me to do except wait until morning.
I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling of my bedroom counting the intentionally placed holes in each tile. My version of counting sheep. Was Jen counting ceiling tiles too?