My daughter could be anywhere...
- Posted on May 7, 2009
Just after midnight my husband, Michael, and I were woken by the ringing phone. Michael spoke to someone a few seconds, hung up and turned to me with a sleepy smile. “It’s one of the guys at work,” he said. “He says we should go out and look at the northern lights.”
We had been living in Alaska for over a year and still hadn’t seen the famous aurora borealis. The folks at the Forest Service didn’t want us to sleep through it.
What a relief to get a phone call with good news, I thought as I pulled on a heavy coat. We’d been getting too many troubling phone calls lately, all concerning my 13-year-old daughter, Kristi.
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While her older sister had protested the move from Oregon, Kristi had seemed to handle the move fine. At first. Then came the secret friends, sullen silences and reports from school. She was skipping classes, disappearing, flunking her tests. Kristi was in trouble, but I didn’t know how to reach her.
Michael and I tiptoed past Kristi’s bedroom and went outside. High above us a sky full of light green curtains flashed and shimmered, changing shape like quicksilver. “Oh, my!” I whispered, overwhelmed by the sight.
“This was definitely worth getting up for,” Michael said, taking my hand.
The awesome beauty of it almost pushed my worries about my daughter out of my mind. Almost. “We should wake Kristi,” I said. Michael agreed. Maybe this will make her happy, I thought as we went up to her bedroom.
Kristi’s room was chilly when we opened the door. Her window was open. I shook Kristi gently under her quilt. “Kristi, honey? You need to come out and see...” I pulled the covers back and found just more blankets arranged to look like my sleeping daughter. “She’s gone!”
Michael and I ran back outside, searching the area and calling her name. The air was icy on our faces. The pale green lights in the sky made every shadow ghostly.
“Did she go in the woods?” I said.
Michael cast a worried glance at the pine trees. I knew what he was thinking: How could we find her in there? “Maybe she curled up in the truck,” he said.
Kristi wasn’t in the truck. We yelled into the pines and got no answer except echoes. We walked to the nearby train tracks and saw no one. We shone flashlights on the ragged lakeshore but found nothing.
“Let’s drive out to that old airstrip,” I said. “She likes to walk there.”
We checked the airstrip, then the small dock where Kristi liked to sit, and finally the local “lovers’ lane” hangout for kids. We still didn’t find our daughter.
Never had Alaska seemed more isolated. Kristi could be miles away. Every possible danger ran through my head as I looked up and down the empty highway: bears, moose, violent people. Is she on foot? In a car? With a boy? Partying? I looked out at the snow-peaked mountains in the distance.
The northern lights danced above them, cold and unsympathetic. How could any child be safe in this barren wilderness?
“Let’s go home,” Michael said, sounding as worried as I felt. “She might have come back by now.”
If only we’d never left Oregon, I thought as he turned the car around. I could have kept her safe in Oregon.
The house was empty as ever when we got there. We called the state police. They drove out and questioned us about where Kristi might have gone. The lights of their squad cars looked puny beneath the light show in the sky. “We’ll check all over,” a policeman assured us.
Michael walked the lakeshore again while I sat by the phone. “Please, God,” I prayed, staring at it. “We need your protection. Kristi’s all alone. I’m all alone.”
By 3:00 a.m. Michael and I were numb. The police had found no leads. Nobody had seen a 13-year-old girl walking the highway. Michael scrubbed at his face with his hands. He looked exhausted.
“Why don’t you lie down for a while?” I said. “You can stay here and listen for the phone. I’m going to take the truck up to the highway. She has to come home from that direction.”
I grabbed the keys to the truck and left Michael on the couch, sitting with his head in his hands. He looked so small and helpless. We were both small and helpless in this huge, empty country. How could I expect to watch over my young daughter out here in the wilds of nature?
I took the car to the entrance of our compound and scanned the highway, not wanting to miss a single car or the sight of a girl on foot. The radio was my only company. The black road stretched out in both directions as far as my eye could see. Far above me the northern lights shimmered. Would they guide me to Kristi?
My eye fell on one straight, sword-like streak in the sky, just outside the truck window. A thin, pointed band that began at the horizon and went...how far up? I twisted my neck around to look through the windshield, but I still couldn’t see the end of it.
I got out of the truck. Frost crunched under my feet as I walked around to the front, resting my hand on the fender. The streak went all the way across the sky, end to end across the heavens.
As I looked at it, it changed before my eyes.
Far above my head an angel was suspended. He looked like some kind of warrior. His wings spread from one side of the horizon to the other. Every feather in his wings was perfect, crystalline light. His chiseled features were confident and sharp.
I didn’t know whether to laugh in delight or fall to my knees at this tremendous being taking up the entire sky. Even the great state of Alaska shrank in size beneath his magnificent wings.
For the first time since I’d found Kristi’s bed empty I no longer felt helpless or afraid. How could anyone be afraid with this magnificent creature keeping watch? I could almost feel his strong arms around me, hear the crunch of his mighty feet on the snowy ground in the distance.
The sound came again—it was footsteps! And they were getting louder. They came from over by the train tracks. “Kristi!” I ran forward to meet her as she came out of the woods, shivering in her hooded sweatshirt and bedroom slippers. Her tear-stained face was cold under my hands.
“I’m sorry I scared you guys,” she said. “I just needed to walk.”
I wrapped my arms around her and led her back to the car. I put the truck in gear and looked up to thank my warrior protector. But he was already gone, replaced by the dancing curtain of lights. I could just make out what had been the tips of his wings disintegrating into a smoky green haze.
I thought about my warrior a lot over the next two years as Michael and I struggled to help Kristi find her way. It wasn’t easy. But when I doubted I had the strength to go on, I remembered an angel the size of Alaska was watching over me. And Kristi.
Neither I, nor my daughter, would ever truly be lost again.
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