She's very small.
With that in mind, sit up and focus on the harsh glare of whatever screen holds my words as I tell you about how I learned the feeling of terror.
We live close enough to my work that I can ride my bike home for my lunch break. Sometimes my wife is home when I get there and we can eat lunch together. Yesterday, I arrived home and all of the lights were on. A tuna noodle casserole was out on the counter, ready to be eaten for dinner. My wife's computer was on the kitchen table along with her cell phone. Great, I thought, she's home! I took my coat off as I called out her name, walking further into the apartment.
"Nicole?" No answer other than my dog running to meet me from the living room.
Thinking that perhaps she was taking a nap (she's the heaviest sleeper you can imagine), I went into the bedroom. The bed was neatly made. I walked through the entire apartment. She wasn't there.
The cell phone on the table was strange. My wife never leaves her cell phone at home. Huh, I thought. She must have just forgotten it. Weird, but not a big deal. She probably just went to study with someone and forgot her phone. As I walked back into the kitchen, I noticed something. Nicole's school bag was sitting on the floor by the kitchen table. She never leaves that if she's going to study, whether at a coffee shop or with a friend somewhere. The only possibility was if she took her iPad in her purse and didn't need the rest of her stuff.
Getting a little worried, I hastily tore into her school bag. Her iPad was still there. Maybe she didn't go to study; maybe she just walked downtown to meet up with a friend and forgot her phone. I quickly checked, but no. Her purse and coat (she's always cold and never leaves without her coat) were still there. I scanned her Shelf of Shoes (she has a million pairs) and every single pair of shoes and boots that she has worn recently were still there. Her gloves were there, her hats and scarves were all there.
Her keys were gone from the key rack.
I tore out of the apartment; her bike was parked outside. I raced to the parking lot behind the building. It was dark out, but I ran through all the cars until I found hers. Lights off, hood cold. She wasn't inside. I ran back up to the apartment. We don't know any of our neighbors, so she wouldn't be in any of their apartments.
Getting desperate, I checked her phone. She had sent text messages to a friend just ten minutes before I got home. This meant she had been here a mere twenty minutes before, and now she was nowhere to be found.
I was starting to get really worried. Sweat was popping out of my forehead and my heart rate was increasing as fear ripped through me, releasing adrenaline to surge through my veins. A million thoughts raced through my mind, surging ahead of one another in leaps and bounds each second. Nicole is really small; it would be no problem for some nasty criminal dude to follow her into the apartment or knock on the door, then put a hand over her mouth and walk out the door. We don't have one of those peep holes in our door, so this last one was a real possibility. With that thought, every terrifying B&E scenario imaginable began to run through my mind. I ran through the apartment, looking for any sign of a struggle. Nothing; everything was in place.
I checked the shower and between the bed and the wall, in case she had somehow passed out or was unconscious somewhere. I convinced myself she wasn't in the apartment, and began to pace. I knew she couldn't be at the mailboxes in front of the apartment because I had passed them on my way in. However, the only explanation that I could think of was that she had walked out with her keys to get the mail and come back into the apartment. Then, with her back to the street as she opens the mailbox, someone grabs her and gets in a van and...
I sat down at the table to think, focusing on staying calm. I remember the feeling of my sweaty palms on the lacquered wood grain. Minutes passed as my mind raced. What should I do? Who should I call? The police? No, can't call the police; hasn't been long enough, and no evidence that she actually got taken. They'd just shrug it off, tell me to wait. (Man, I'm starting to sweat just remembering this). It had now been almost a half hour since I knew she had last been in the apartment, and everything was so very quiet. She was out in the cold somewhere, with nothing to keep her warm, with who knows what having happened. If anything else had been missing with her keys, but no - everything had been left here! The silence in the apartment was almost as thick as the panic that swelled within my chest. I swallowed hard to control it, wrapped it tightly inside me and forced it down.
I took stock of the situation:
1. My wife is gone.
2. My wife always leaves a note if she's going to be out when I'm coming home for dinner.
2. Her shoes, coats, purse, school stuff, laptop, iPad, cell phone - everything she would take if she were to go somewhere by her own free will was left in the apartment.
3. Her keys were gone, meaning she had taken them with her when she left. Maybe not... I checked the pockets of all of her coats. Nope, no keys. She took them with her.
4. The only thing I could conclude was that I did not know where my wife was. But maybe someone else does...
I was now desperate and scared enough to no longer care about seeming foolish. If you've ever reached that moment of panic after having lost someone, you might know how I felt. There's a certain reckless abandon that comes over you. I got her phone back out and called the friend with whom she had been texting right before she disappeared, just in case they had been planning on getting together, but hadn't mentioned it in the texts. No answer. Called again - still no answer. I checked her calendar, planner, and email just in case she had some meeting or appointment that I had forgotten about. At this point, I was grasping at straws.
I got her cell phone back out and scanned through her older texts. She was planning on meeting up with a friend at 8:00pm! But no, it was only just after 6:30pm, there's no way she had already left for that, especially not leaving everything behind the way she did.
That was it. I was out of options. I couldn't think of one more positive explanation for why she would have left the apartment, without wearing any shoes or a coat or anything, without coming right back in unless something prevented her from doing so. Something that kept her out there. Forcing myself to ignore a dense, swollen, tidal sense of panic, I started moving by rote. I got the leash for my dog Naiya, who at this point had caught the tense mood and was freaking out right along with me, though she surely had no clue why. I took her outside and let her do the Deuce. I went back inside.
And there was Nicole.
"Where WERE YOU!?" I almost exploded with relief, voice and hands shaking as I rushed over to wrap her in a hug.
"I went out for a run! It was so late, I thought you had taken your lunch break before I'd gotten home and that I'd missed you!" she stammered, caught off guard by my white face and overly emotional response. This made sense, as I normally take my "lunch" at around 4:30-5:30pm, working on second shift.
I looked down at her feet. Running shoes. She had been taking a break from running and hadn't gone for one since finishing a marathon last month. It hadn't even crossed my mind that she might have been out running. You don't wear a coat, scarf, hat, school bag, or purse when you go running.
But you do bring your keys.
Relief welled up within me, and I wrapped her in another huge hug, tighter than before. I don't think either of us realized just how scared I was until my tears began to mingle with her hair. I had convinced myself that I had gotten home just minutes after my wife had been taken from me. You might think that I was rash, jumping to foolish conclusions, but to me the evidence had just been so overwhelming that...
No, you know what? This is my blog, so I need make no excuses or waste my time hedging, trying to save face. Next time, I will more readily assume there's simply something I'm not seeing, but right now I'm just glad my wife was ok.