November 16 2012

There are monsters on my three-year-old son’s pajamas. The monsters have googly eyes, which reveal a lack of serious focus. They have askew antennas and too many feet, impeding a frantic chase. Monsters are reduced to background decoration, dotting his limbs while he dreams. In the morning, a cereal bowl is slid in front of the monsters. Milk dribbles and runs down the fleece. I peel the monsters off and throw them in the washing machine so they’ll be ready for another non-threatening night.

My son is not afraid of monsters. If you can wear a monster, it can’t wear you.

He doesn’t know there are monsters with serious focus. He doesn’t know there are beasts who stride smoothly with great speed, impeded by nothing but a paranoia which they eventually overcome. Their arms snatch and their legs push a gas pedal. Their heads pivot to see if anyone is watching. They wear you.

One early fall morning, a ten-year-old girl left her home to walk to school. She never arrived. A seventeen-year-old boy confessed he snatched her and drove away, removing her from the sidewalk, the street, the city, the world. He is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, murder. He was turned in by his own mother. Both of these children lived in our neighborhood. The school the girl was walking to is a 5 minute stroll from our front door. The house where the boy lived is one street over, ten driveways up.

The little girl’s favorite color was purple. Before her body was found, an unknown person tied purple tulle around dozens of tree trunks and fence posts at our park. The ribbons were a plea for her return and a message she wasn’t forgotten. Some are large flouncy bows with tails that lift in the wind. They are shades of indigo, lavender, violet. Some have silver sparkles that catch sunlight. It has been six weeks since the morning she was taken and they remain.

Everyone who enters and exits our neighborhood sees these ribbons, including the family of the boy who confessed to the crime. When I come and go from mundane routes taken to mundane places, I am yanked back to the truth something tremendously ugly and evil happened in the place we call home. But I’m riding high in my warm van with healthy children who wore Halloween costumes while two mothers, women of our neighborhood, have been shattered.

The ribbons fly and do not fade.

My three-year-old son sees these ribbons, too. From his propped vantage in his car seat, he’s noted them streaming in the wind. I’ve often been caught off-guard by how beautiful they are—bright, light, shining, contrasting the fall colors, heightening texture. And then I quickly remember and feel confused and a little ashamed. I’ve confronted the question if I’ll miss them when they’re gone. They are soft and lovely and should have never been needed in the first place.

She should still be walking to school. She should have seen November. Any tulle associated with her should have been at a ballet performance or her Halloween costume. But for the monster.

He looks like a boy who probably wore milk-wet pajamas.


  1. Marie

    Hauntingly beautiful post, Gretchen.

  2. Donna

    We all want to hold our kids and grandchildren a little closer when something so unthinkable happens.

  3. Wow. Crying. I can count how many blog posts have brought me to tears. I’ve always said you are a beautiful writer. I’m happy to say you are a beautiful friend. Your words honor Jessica and all the little ones like her that are physically gone but so not forgotten. xox

  4. oh my heart, Gretchen. your writing moved me to hardly be able to say anything.

  5. I have to confess I’ve avoided Jessica’s story at every turn. She – a late January baby with dark straight hair and funky pink glasses – reminds me so much of my oldest daughter, I just can’t bear it.

    Thank you, dear Gretchen, for holding up this other part of the story, the devastation of knowing the one who confessed, the horror that both families are living in, the way it reverberates through a whole community.

    Few could write this the way you do. Thank you for taking us there with you.

  6. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for both families as time marches on…I’m sure that seeing those ribbons and tulle invoke far uglier thoughts and memories. We can’t forget to keep praying for those families!!!

  7. Absolutely haunting story, beautifully told. So hard to imagine any 3-year-old in milk-stained pajamas growing up to be a monster. But it happens. Lord, have mercy. Praying for both these families and for all of you who live nearby and wonder what to think of those ribbons in the park.


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