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The phone rang first thing in the morning. My children were just finishing their breakfast. “We’re ready whenever you are,” the caller said.
I checked my watch, looking at my four-year-old, Ryan, eating his Cheerios, and my six-year-old, Jennifer, sipping her juice, our babysitter putting the milk away as though it were a normal day and I’d be heading off to work any moment now.
Today, nothing would be normal, and part of me feared that nothing would ever be normal again. “I’m ready,” I said to the caller. As ready as I’ll ever be, I thought.
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I called our babysitter out into the foyer. “I need you to take the children to the park this morning,” I said, keeping my voice low. “Stay there for an hour, then bring them home. I have a few friends coming over to help me pack. We have to leave. We’ll be driving all day to get far enough away.”
I explained more, trying to keep the edge of fear out of my voice, telling myself that she must have known. She’d been with us a year. She would have sensed the tension in the house, heard the raised voices, the irrational outbursts.
But what a terrible way to have to say goodbye. Once we were gone, really gone, who knew if we’d even see her again?
We hugged and she went to the playroom to get a few things for the kids. Moments later, they bounded out the door with her, having no idea their world was about to be turned upside down. I watched them go. I was really going to do this. It was time.
The house was eerily quiet. I’d picked this date because I knew my husband, Joe, would be away on business. He wouldn’t be here to stop me.
I looked out the front window. A small U-Haul truck was pulling into the driveway. A car pulled up behind it.
A few friends descended on the house like a SWAT team, putting things in boxes, wrapping up crystal, stacking books, filling up suitcases, packing toys. No one spoke much. They knew how urgent this was. We had to act fast.
I went through rooms and gathered every picture I could find of Jennifer and Ryan. Family photo albums, two-for-one specials still in their boxes, school portraits, envelopes full of negatives. It was wrenching, but we couldn’t risk leaving behind an image that Joe could post somewhere and use to track us down.
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The U-Haul was for the things we’d put in storage. What we’d need for the next few weeks—or months—went into our car. “That goes there...that there,” I told my team. “Thank you. I’m so grateful.” More than they could ever know. Then they vanished, the U-Haul disappearing down the street.
I stood in the kitchen, dreading telling the children. I hated uprooting them like this. I wished I could have warned them, but I had no choice. It was too big a secret for them to keep.
They bounced in from the park, their faces flushed. I had lunches made, and their favorite books were already in the backseat of the car. The babysitter and I exchanged glances, then she left me alone with them. She knew how hard this would be.