...something terrible happened. It was a Friday night, John came home from work and was mauled by all the children, as usual. He walked off to change into comfy clothes, and I put the finishing touches on dinner. About 30 minutes later, we called the children in for dinner and all of them came but Vera.
I walked back toward the boys' room and called again, thinking that perhaps she was playing in there and didn't hear me. No response. I sent Alex to run around the house and see if she slipped outside to play. He returns quickly and says he didn't see her. We all yell through the house now, no Vera. Alex runs down to the creek that runs through our property. No Vera.
At this point, I am concerned that Vera has made it across the shallow creek, up the steep bank, through the barbed wire fence and onto a fast and busy road. I jumped in the car to see if she was on the road, but she wasn't. Because we actually have to drive around quite a ways to get to the road, this took a while. In the meantime, John and the other kids have abandoned any thoughts of dinner and are combing the house and land. No Vera.
As soon as I returned I told John I was calling 911. I thought he might disagree, tell me she'd show up any second now, say something, anything reassuring. Instead he told me in a panicked voice to hurry.
I tried to remain calm describing my precious girl to the dispatcher. He said an officer would be out shortly. An officer? One? Eventually one officer showed up. By this time I was incapacitated as far as searching goes, as Emma had picked up on our fears and wanted to be held. We told him our daughter had apparently just left, and he assured us that more officers were on the way. John and the kids are continuing to search. Still no Vera.
By the time two hours had passed (if you are reading this, note the time, then in two hours think back as to how long that would be without your child) the acreage we are on was crawling with officers. On duty, off duty, from PDs all over our county, even a retired detective who brought his wife to comfort me. They combed our house (oh yes, even the closets), I combed our house. During one time through, I came upon the closed door to our toilet and opened it to find Luke standing there, holding a picture of Vera, crying. I bawled with him. They continued to comb our land and one officer took Alex and took off walking up the creek. Another one or two started walking down the creek. No Vera.
During all of this my mind was racing. Did someone pick her up on that road? Did the questionable neighbors who live behind us have her? He laughed at me when I called to ask if he had seen her. Had she fallen in one of the deeper spots in the creek, or a detention pond? Was she now far away? How could I breathe without her and her unbelievable love? How could I face each day without that smile? How could I possibly let her orphanage know that I had lost their special child, clearly loved? My prayers were simple: Where is she? Lord, find her and bring her back.
During that time, John was standing by an officer and heard over his radio: do we need to call in CPS? John's first thought was please do, if they'll help search. Still no Vera.
Three hours after Vera had left the sun has set and light is fading. I am trying to talk to the retired detective's wife, showing her my picture of Vera, when an officer walks by and I hear over his radio: We've found her. I look at him, most assuredly with wild eyes, and ask "Did they find Vera?" He just nods and I look around for John and the kids and start screaming that they've found her. We all take off running for the street (a quarter mile from our house). About the time we get there three police cruisers pull up, the last one with Vera and Alex in the back seat. Alex had been calling for her and heard her. He told the police officer and they found her stuck on the creek banks in some thorny vines, her legs all scratched and bleeding. Vera!
She was smiling, of course, what a grand adventure! I pulled that child out as fast as I possibly could and collapsed with her on the ground, weeping uncontrollably, now that I could breathe again. John and the kids gathered around us and he prayed over us all. After hugging and thanking all those police officers and letting the ambulance look over her scrapes, we walked home in the dark, whole again, back to the dinner table full of food, now cold. Who could eat?
We found out, after Vera was safely in our arms, that our police department was preparing a helicopter with heat-sensitive radar to look for her. I had no idea we had such a wondrous thing available, but it turns out what we needed was what we got: manpower.
As we walked in the door, my mom called. During all the searching I had tried to call both she and my Dad on their cell phones, but they didn't answer. Once they left the restaurant and saw two calls from their phone phobic daughter Mom called right away. I started in to tell her that she should have been glad she didn't hear the first call and I thought I was telling her what happened, but after the first few minutes she finally said, "Jill, I haven't understood a word you were saying. Is everything OK, can you start over?" I can't imagine what I said to the various people I encountered that evening.
For days afterward, Luke and I would look at each other and just start crying. I told you, in a previous post, that he has a big heart. He knew he couldn't breathe without his sister, either.
The next day, I drove Alex to the spot where he found his sister. It was nearly a half mile from our home. As best we can tell, for reasons known only to Vera and God, she decided to walk the creek and just kept going. I don't get the feeling she was ever particularly scared or realized anything was terribly wrong, and for this I am both grateful and concerned. We have had many, many talks with her since that time, but we are still on high Vera alert in many ways.
And no, we never heard from CPS. I'm glad it's not last year anymore.