It’s No Marathon

I. am. tired. It’s been a long few days. But I’m boarding a plane, that will take me to another plane, that will take me to another plane, that will take me home. And then I’ll rest. So I can get through the next 11 hours, thinking about that.

I wish I could see the place and time of rest ahead in other aspects of my life. I see no end to Michael’s battle with CVS, though there is hope of a breakthrough one day or a medication that helps. I see no end to our search for Austin, though there is hope of a search with results or maybe even a call with his voice one day.

I sometimes wish Michael had an illness with more risk but more possibility of cure. I sometimes wish we could have a funeral for Austin, with not the answers we wanted but answers regardless.

I think it’s one of the hardest parts of having a missing loved one, that there’s no rest in sight. This isn’t a sprint, isn’t even a marathon- you know how long a marathon is- it’s long, but it does end. For some of us, our search will never end and we’ll never find that time of rest here on earth.

But there’s always hope. It may not be forever, it may end tomorrow. Or we may be on the first leg of a long trip, one that takes us to another point, that gets us closer to yet another point, that eventually gets us there.

But you can’t get there unless you start moving…. time to move.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Room 533

It’s a rough week in our house, with Michael in the hospital as a result of a CVS episode that is kicking his butt.  We’ve battled this for a very long time, with the first episodes just before we met.  At the time we knew so little, and had no idea how many years, hospitalizations and tests he would endure.  Like just about anything else, I think our whole family battles it.

the good stuff

I’ve become as much of an expert on his treatment and illness as possible, his voice and his reminder when he’s pushing himself too hard. Our kids know that Dad gets sick a lot and his hot baths and our frequent quick escapes from dinners out are part of their routine.  My mom picks up the slack when he needs to rest, and especially when he’s in the hospital.  As tough as it is for us, it’s unimaginable for him.  And when we’re in the midst of it, I can’t even believe the world keeps moving outside our hospital window, keeps going without us.

It’s so much like our search for Austin, where we spent the early days not seeing how the world could keep moving, how we would keep moving.  But we each did our part.  In both, some days feel like giving up is the way to go.

But we have to keep battling, have to keep finding real hope in each day.  I sometimes wonder what God has planned for us, when we have so many situations where hope can be hard to find, with so many days of exhaustion and heartache from it all.  Some days are overwhelming.  Today is one of them.

But I still know where my hope lies, not in the outcome but in God being there no matter.  Knowing that God can use even us, even this.  That is hope. 

Tonight I just needed the reminder.

Friends In the Woods

Growing up, we lived on a few acres at the end of a dirt road, bordered on two sides with woods.  Austin and I made fast and forever friends with the kids who shared another side and had even more property..  We spent countless hours exploring those woods, always in a pack and always finding something to get into.  They really weren’t that dense or deep, but we had such a sense of independence in being able to roam.

Years later, Michael and I bought our first house in a small neighborhood not too far from where I grew up.  Just about a week before Austin disappeared, he found himself depressed and unable to settle down in the house for the night, needing some space and time to wander.  He cut through a neighbor’s yard and out into the woods, wandering much of the night, even though the pain in his knees grew with each step.  I had been alerted to his mental state by a friend, and I worried but had no idea what was coming.  When asked about what was going on after finally coming in, he insisted he was okay and had just needed some time.  A few days later, he again insisted the same to my mom when she came to visit, and after hours of conversation with him, she also didn’t know how serious it was or what was to come.

The morning after we realized Austin was missing and the report had been filed, those woods were walked and searched by several people who had no formal training, but were driven to find him.  I’ll never forget my Dad searching ceaselessly, and worrying that he couldn’t withstand much more of the heat and terrain with his breathing difficulties.  But he wouldn’t stop until he felt he had covered it all.  I was so worried about him holding up for what might take days or weeks.  I had no idea it would be years.

There were more woods in that area than I ever could have imagined.  We had no idea what needed to be covered, so we traversed it all the best we could.  We called in volunteers and friends, had family drive hours to help (time after time) and kept at it.  But we couldn’t believe how many square miles of woods were around us, the aerial maps astounded us.  What was also hard to believe were the numbers of people living in them.  There were whole families, young kids to elderly people, all making their home right there.  They were off the beaten path, and out of the public eye, so easily overlooked or forgotten.  They were mostly kind, mostly offering hope that he would be found.

The sheer amount of woods and the people living there made such an impression on everyone involved.  How could we live right there all along and not really see what was there?  

But what I’ll never forget about those early days, more than anything else, were the friends in the woods.  Each of us had friends involved, and I’ll forever be grateful to them all.  But the ones that stand out to me the most are the friends who never knew Austin, yet quietly and without being asked went into the woods.  I am rarely caught without words.  However, I’ll always remember when I heard about a group of five ladies who ventured into the woods together to help.  They weren’t asked.  They didn’t want to be thanked.  They faced fears of spiders and snakes, got dirty and scratched.  They gave me hope.  Several months later, another friend casually mentioned that he felt sure Austin wasn’t in a specific area because he had been searching there.  I looked down as he spoke and realized that his arms were covered in scratches that were quite bad.  He had not been asked, and didn’t want to be thanked.  He gave me hope.  I had no words to thank any of them then, and barely do today.

As a kid, the woods were magical but as an adult they’ve become a place of learning.  Learning about Austin’s last days, learning about seeing what’s around us, and most importantly about how real friends will go anywhere, even in the woods. 

Oh the places you’ll go….

Many wild experiences have been had during our search for Austin, some that prove we’ll do anything to find him, and this one that just may well prove that we’re crazy.  I will start off by saying it was all my mom’s fault… well, it was her idea anyway.

A few months into Austin being gone, there had been possible sightings of him in a town near Gainesville. His photo had run in their small town paper and created a lot of buzz, and I believe, a lot of false sightings.  But we had to follow them, had to look.  We spent a lot of time there, staking out locations, searching state parks, and talking to anyone we saw.

One day, a call came in from a man who thought he might have seen Austin.  Though he wasn’t involved in drugs himself (so he said), he did do car repair work for some people who were known to, and he thought he might have seen Austin at one of these houses.  He suggested that though we shouldn’t visit any of these places ourselves, that if we really wanted to see if he was there, he would go with us.  After all, he had kids and couldn’t imagine one being missing, and he really wanted to help.  Uh huh.  Mom knew that this was probably a bad idea, potentially a really bad idea.  But when your son is missing, you’ll go anywhere.  And when your mom will go anywhere, I guess you go with her.

Mom and I, along with a friend of Austin’s and a guy she knew, left about 10pm.  We took two vehicles, and went to the man’s house, arriving about 11pm.  We decided that a few people would go in the car that he would be riding in, and one would stay in another car a bit away to monitor what was happening and be available by cell.  So we loaded up, and off we went.  He seemed nice, and as he got in the car my mom was driving, he chatted about where we were, why he knew these people…. oh, and that we shouldn’t go in and he’d be glad to but they’d be suspicious if he didn’t have some money on him.  So we gave him a bit of cash, pictures of Austin and set off.  You wouldn’t imagine how many of these sorts of houses exist in a small town.  It blew me away.  A few houses were dark and seemed empty, but a knock on the door would reveal someone rough looking who would look at Austin’s photo and invite our ‘friend’ inside for a moment.  I’m sure it was just for better light to look at his photo.  A few seemed like party houses, with music and people milling about.  I was terrified at one house when someone approached the car and asked what we needed.  But mom calmly replied that someone was inside for what we needed and we’d be leaving in a minute.  At each place we went, he did show the photo to every person around.  We saw lots of heads shaking no, some looking at us with sad eyes.  I wondered if any of them had someone searching for their faces in a crowd, or even in a drug house somewhere.  Even if they weren’t missing, someone somewhere was hurting for them for the life they were leading.

The night ended uneventful, with us never knowing what happened to the cash, and our friend never offering answers.  He did follow through with what he said he would, taking us into places we couldn’t have gone otherwise, and showing everyone he saw Austin’s face.  He kept some fliers and said he’d show more people, and you know, I think he probably did.

It wasn’t our smartest move, and it could have ended badly.  But desperate people do desperate things, and I’d do it again.  Austin would have told us we were crazy, and he’d be right.  But I’m pretty sure if I was the one gone, crazy or stupid wouldn’t have stopped him either.