The first thing that caught my attention was her name.
She was just as old as I was, a year younger in school (since I had started school at an early age). Like me, she was a good student, pretty enough, cared about her future. And she grew up in the South too.
Those are the reasons why she stayed with me for months, and why recently her case held my attention for days again.
As I finished my second year of college in 2005, she was gearing up for her high school graduation. And as I started my first summer job — a school library assistant — she was already on her post-graduation trip. Aruba. That’s where she vanished. In the morning of May 30, I stared at her picture, flickering behind the old computer screen in the musty library basement.
I was sure she’d be found. Yet days passed, weeks. Michael Jackson’s trials ended, but no sign of Natalee. He’s not guilty! Come back!
I had a boyfriend then. My first real love, and things were starting to waver. Our relationship was suffering an internal earthquake, and the cracks began to show. Slowly, like the investigative progress in Aruba that summer. I turned off the TV as the heat dragged on in the months of June and July, and when he came to visit, we played poker together, drank grape soda and vodka, and smoked cigarettes. I baked him a cake. I wrapped presents for his birthday. And at nights, we lay naked under a blanket on the living room floor.
In the mornings, I checked for signs of Natalee. These things happen all the time. She’ll turn up.
She didn’t. Katrina happened at the end of August, hundreds lost their lives, and we still had no clue what happened to the little girl in Aruba.
As the new school year rolled in with September, I turned my attention to schoolwork. It was almost as if I was preparing myself for the worst, which came at the end of the month: I found out he cheated. With my best friend.
My world ended there. And I forgot all about Natalee.
A few days ago, I was browsing the Internet for story ideas at work, when I came across her name again. I felt a pang of remorse. Lifetime made a movie on her, and her mom wrote a book. Amazing. I piddled around until lunch, and when noon hit, I was out the door. I walked around the block, made a library card, found the book and checked it out and began to read.
It took me two days. A powerful story — powerful in that it’s not a story, but reality. A girl like me puts her guard down for two seconds, and it’s over forever. Two seconds was all it took. It didn’t matter how careful, how responsible she’d been in the rest of her days. Two seconds.
They believe she was drugged, raped and either murdered or trafficked into a foreign country. Terrible. Why would I want to read a story like this? Because I believe that the people who have been through the worse, the biggest hardships, can teach us the biggest lessons. And Beth, Natalee’s mom, did. It was her faith and faith in God that helped her pull through that horrible summer. And although, she never got her daughter back, it was her faith too that helped her heal. I am very surprised at how a person can exhibit such courage, strength and persistence through something as terrible as this. But thank God she did, and now she teaches young people around the nation how to protect themselves.
A new role model. May Natalee be in peace, whether she’s in this world or the next one.