Ever had an individual who’d left a permanent mark on you and your life as a whole?
Some time ago, I wrote a poem about a girl I once knew which I turned in to a video format:
Here is my story behind this video (originally published on Medium which can be read here)
“How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?” — Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
June 23, 1987
There are few specific days that I still remember from my childhood. This particular one was a day when my idyllic view of the world around me changed.
It was late morning and I was over at the Briggs’ residence for Vacation Bible School. We’d just finished with a craft project and was cleaning up in the living room when there was a knock at the front door.
I immediately recognized the blonde middle-aged woman as my Aunt Bea. I knew she was there to pick up my two cousins, Steve and Julie; but, there was something about her facial expression that caught and held my attention as she conversed with Mrs. Briggs in the kitchen.
There were tears in her eyes. Their voices practically in whispers as if they feared other kids hearing the words they were saying.
The last time I saw this somber look on my Aunt’s face was the day she told my mother about the death of my best friend and cousin, Darren.
A few moments later, she walked over to where I was sitting in the living room and told me she would be bringing me home.
I thought this as odd.
My house was only two miles away and I always walked home after VBS.
“Why?” I asked.
“Kari Nixon is missing,” she answered, “police are thinking she was kidnapped.”
Living in a small mountain community, everyone practically knew one another. The Nixon family was no exception. They lived in Ausable Forks, a town only six miles from my house (which was located near the banks of Ausable River in the hamlet of Jay).
I grew up in a time when people still left their doors unlocked, a time when kids still played outdoors, unsupervised, from sun up till dinnertime. A time when parents went to work during the summer days entrusting the younger children to the eldest child instead of an adult.
The big bad world, up to this day, was kept at bay by those mountains.
But on June 23, 1987, this all changed.
I looked up to my Aunt’s face and shook my head, “No. I will walk home.”
She bit down on her bottom lips, “I will call your mother and let her know then.”
Mom was working in Ausable Forks as a telephone operator for Ma Bell. My dad was in the same town working for the local grocery store as a clerk.
As Aunt Bea walked out of the house with her kids, I glanced out the opened front door and saw my younger brother and sister in her car. She’d been keeping watch over them so I could attend VBS.
I knew I should have gone with her. I knew it was selfish of me not to, but I was determined to not be afraid of whoever had took Kari Nixon (this all sounds so ludicrous to me now as I think back).
But, I was afraid.
As I headed down the long gravel driveway to the rural road, I made a point to find the largest stick I could carry as a weapon, and started my two-mile walk home.
I remember looking over my shoulders every few minutes scanning the tree lines for any strange shadows or vehicles, but, I was alone on the heavily forested Valley Road. I could see for a few miles down the road behind me and to the end of it ahead of me.
I remember the feeling of relief washing over me as I reached my house. Moments later, my Aunt pulled in. I later learned she followed me home from a distance.
The Girl At the Playground
Both my parents knew Kari’s parents as they went through high school together. Both Kari’s mother and aunt worked for Key Bank in Ausable Forks; I remember seeing them each time I went with my mother when she had business there.
Kari and I were of the same age (I was born in January ’71 and she was born in May ’71) but we attended different schools (my parents opted to put me in a private Christian school instead of the public school where she went). Because of this, she and I rarely saw one another.
My most vivid memory of her took place during the summer of 1980.
When I was younger my parents would send me to “playground” during the summer days. It resembled to today’s Summer Day Camps. It was held at the Ausable Forks Elementary School. Here they had two large athletic fields (one for softball and the other for baseball), a large playground, tennis courts, huge bleacher area, and a pavilion/utility/restroom sections.
As a nine-year old girl who was hearing impaired with a very noticeable speech deficit, I was probably the only kid there that didn’t go to a public school.
I pretty much stuck out like a sore thumb.
A total outsider.
It was also my first summer attending “playground.”
So, needless to say, I felt quite lost, and alone.
It was near mid-day, and I was sitting at one of the picnic tables by myself. Several feet away was a small group of girls sitting in a circle on the grass. There was this girl (whom I hadn’t met personally yet) in the center. She had this long golden brown hair that went all the way down to her waist. I’ve only known her as one of the popular girls in town. She held a plastic case that was filled with various make up items, and was applying them to the other girls’ faces.
She happened to glance my way, and smiled.
“Hey, come on over!!” She waved at me.
At first, I was unsure if she was talking to me and glanced around to make sure there wasn’t another girl nearby.
No, she was actually talking to me.
After hesitating for several moments, I made my way to the group on the ground. I could feel the other girls’ eyes staring at me as my stomach quivered.
“Sit down here,” she patted to the spot beside her.
I complied and sat down, trying hard to ignore the others’ continued stares at the very visible hearing aids I wore.
“Ever tried make ups before?” she asked her smile wide and sincere.
I shook my head.
“No problem!” She replied and set the case down in between us, “let’s wash your face and give it a whirl, okay?”
That was how I’d first met Kari Nixon.
Of all the girls I’ve met at the “playground,” she was probably the only one who never treated me differently. I was just one of the girls.
And that made me feel, well, normal for the first time in my life.
Seven years later, after I learned of her sudden disappearance, I’d automatically thought of that day. It was her simple acceptance of me for who I was that left an impact which continues to affect me today.
Sadly, her story does not have a happy ending.
Even though she is no longer on this world, her kindness will always be with me as I hope to “pay it forward” to each person I meet.