When Life Imitates a Journey


No matter how much some things change, others stay the same.  One of my best college friends was Frances.  She disappeared for the first time during our Freshman year.  She’d gone with her roommate to East Texas State University for homecoming.  The roommate was in love and hadn’t worried overmuch when Frances made herself scarce, but when it was time to head back to Nacogdoches, concern set in.   We didn’t have cellphones in those days, so life was a little more exciting.  When the pair did finally return, many hours later than anticipated, we scolded Frances, thinking her disappearance an aberration, but over the years her disappearances were legion.

Diappearing in the Bahamas

Frances’ most dramatic disappearance occurred in the Bahamas.  The first couple of  days Debbie, Frances and I stuck together like glue – visiting a casino, shopping in Nassau and hanging out on the beach.  Then one morning Frances announced she’d spend her day on a sailing excursion with one of the dealers from the casino.  As Frances gave us a telephone number, penned on a piece of notebook paper, we reminded her to be back in time for dinner.  A gala celebration with our very first lobsters was planned.  She assured us she’d be back as she boarded the shuttle to the other side of the island.  Stuck at the hotel while Frances sailed with her new love connection, Debbie and I felt a little smug when Frances failed to show up in time for the long-anticipated meal.  Hours later, when there was still no Frances, we felt a little less smug, but we went to bed certain Frances would come in giggling some time before the night was over.

Not only was this in the days before cell phones, it was long before Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba, so when Frances didn’t come back we were concerned about her, but we were also a little jealous.  Over breakfast we discussed what should be done with our fellow travelers and arrived at the general consensus that Frances was somewhere having a marvelous time.  So we tried to have a marvelous time, too.  Debbie and I borrowed bicycles from the resort to explore our end of the island.  In the late afternoon, when Frances had been gone for well over twenty-four hours, we tried to call the number she’d left behind for us.  That’s when panic set in.  The people at the other end of the phone had never heard of Frances and didn’t recognize the name of her casino dealer either.  We called the casino, who did know of him, but they hadn’t seen him since Frances disappeared.  They did agree to convey a message.

As night fell, Debbie and I went to the tour desk in the lobby to report Frances’ disappearance.  The tour company sponsored a lot of college trips.  They didn’t seem too upset by the whole thing, but promised that if we hadn’t heard from Frances by noon the next day, they’d take the situation to the next level.  Our circle of friends spent the evening drinking coconut rum at the pool, where we could keep a close eye on the lobby.  Once again, Debbie and I went to bed hoping our rest would be interrupted by a late-arriving friend.  Early the next morning the phone rang and a giddily giggling Frances assured us we’d gotten ourselves in a tizzy over nothing.  Debbie and I were washed by that strange dichotomous relief everyone has felt at one time or another – we were joyous our friend was okay, but we also wanted to kill her.

Now She’s Missing Again

Now decades later, Frances is missing again.  We’re all grown up and live all over the States.  We’ve married, divorced and married again.  Children have been born and have graduated from college.  One year, the usual Christmas card failed to arrive.  All of us, in this little circle of friends, have called her number and listened to the innocuous greeting in her husband’s voice.  We left messages, none of which have been returned.  We’ve sent letters to the address asking what happened to Frances, but have received no replies.  Other Christmases have passed.  We’ve searched the internet and it keeps telling us it thinks Frances is where we last knew she was, but she’s not there.  We continue to compare notes about the details we recall from her life, hoping to find one that will lead us to where she is.  Sometimes we agree she’s just being rude or has been taken into the witness protection program, but at other times we’ll discuss sadder options.  Perhaps we should report her disappearance to the tour desk, but as much as we want to know that she’s OK, I think we’re also reluctant to have her laugh at us again.  Do you have a Frances?  If you were us, what would you do?

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