Documenting What I Cannot Change or Understand

She rises behind the lectern, carefully taking the steps. Each time, before she reads us our Sunday morning lesson, she flashes a smile our way. Not all lay readers approach their task with such lightness; some bring a decided solemnity to the event. Not her. We’ve walked with her through a recent journey—she’s lost an incredible amount of weight—and her joy spills over. Always a happy woman, she now almost glows.
*
I see him kneeling at the table during Hospitality Hour, knee to the oriental rug. He’s monitoring the little boy who sometimes reaches his hand to grab a treat from the laden table. Meanwhile, she cares for the little girl, splitting their resources like parents do. He’s a slight man, fair of complexion. The little boy has the same fair look, different from his mama’s dark hair and dark eyes. If he says anything to his son, I don’t hear it.
*
Her picture has appeared in the paper, one of those blown-up photos that result in a fuzzy, distorted image. Static, too: the same image, over and over again. Overcome with concern, I confess to the stranger seated beside me on the train, “A woman from my church is missing.”
“The kindergarten teacher?” she asks, and my heart sinks. Could this be real, this narrative that we all nudge along. Woman missing. Husband questioned. Tumultuous marriage of late, as though all divorces aren’t the most tumultuous times many of us ever face.
I remember her at a cross making workshop, enjoying the child-like activity as much as the daughter seated beside her. I didn’t know she was a kindergarten teacher, I didn’t know much at all. I remember each time I clicked “like” on the beautiful, smiling photos she posted, until I quit, embarrassed that I was making too big a deal out of how lovely she looked, as if she hadn’t been lovely enough before.
*
He appears on the evening news; his choice of their network puffs the reporters with pride. Under the “Husband Questioned” headlines his quiet demeanor has become unsettling—you know, his photos do look disturbed. Answering questions, he shifts his head from side to side, his gaze sliding away. When he says, his voice flat as a man on quaaludes, “I would never put my hands on her,” I wonder, who uses that kind of language? Then I think, is that the first time I’ve head him speak?
*
In my mind she rises from the behind the lectern. Like the “Have You Seen this Woman?” photo, my image of her is broken, snapped off from the stream of her life. A life I did not know, but a woman of whom I was very fond. They were a family, I thought, a part of our church family. Now with the answer to the only question that matters revealed, we know she will no longer lead us in our lessons on Sunday mornings. I dread seeing more images of her that I don’t want to be a party to. I will keep my own:
She rises from behind the lectern, happy, a little shy, and flashes us a smile.
May God rise to meet her coming.

disappeared, heather palumbo jones, husband questioned, woman missing

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