In What She Left Behind – Maggie Messitt

  1. “There really wasn’t anything of value,” the detective declared, handing me a brown paper bag, folded in half, marked evidence. I left the Maui police station without looking inside.
  2. Last summer, I spent hours and days into weeks tracing over copies of her handwritten letters, transporting myself back in time, finding ways to feel how her hands moved, how the position of her fingers would have gripped the pencil, and to feel her story hit the page.
  3. I once sat for two days spinning and spinning microfiche of the Eugene Weekly, looking for her in the classified ads from 1999. She was there, tucked inside the smallest ad she could buy.
  4. I’ve read I Know Where I’m Going three times—a borrowed book returned to me, instead of her. I hold on to it and thumb through its pages looking for signs of life. It had been preserved on a shelf for the better part of a decade. Elsewhere in the book borrower’s house, sits a paper sculpture, tiled with Wonder Bread logos—a handcrafted gift from my aunt.
  5. Somewhere in Manhattan, on the office wall of a musical friend, is a framed photograph of them after a concert at the Southpaw. A green scarf covered her hair.
  6. I’ve listened to a copy of a ten-year-old mixed tape on loop, and I imagine her doing so as she painted, or sculpted, or wrote.
  7. At some point, I slipped her handwritten recipe for flax crackers inside a vegan cookbook in my kitchen. It falls out every once in a while.
  8. I find unassuming entrances into post offices she once frequented, those that feed into nooks of silver-faced boxes in Greenwich Village, Yelm, Eugene, New Orleans, and Paia. I sit on the floor near her old mailbox. I place my hand, flat against its door and close my eyes. This is where I talk to her. And, as I stand up, dusting off to leave, I make sure to touch the keyhole with my pointer finger.
  9. She once stayed in a house that backed up into Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, in New Orleans. Like me, she loved to wander the stories marked in stone. She found peace in the cemetery. And, so, on the island where she was last seen, not far from Haiku where she last lived, I found myself wandering through the ocean-side cemetery of a Buddhist temple. I could see her in the beads left behind for others, and the jars of water, each intended for mourners to wash away the worries of this life before sitting down to speak with or share a meal with the deceased.
  10. One hundred days ago, I sat on the floor of our hotel room in Maui and emptied the brown paper bag with my mother. Inside was a collection of the long past and near past. Inside, sat a strangely curated and sparse time capsule, items collected by the police for the sake of identification: a pocket knife, a flashlight, a box of crayons, a birthday card from my mother, a photograph of my eldest sister, decades old, sheets of artwork, and a prominent illustration of Legba.

 

An independent narrative and immersion journalist, Maggie Messitt has spent the last decade reporting from inside underserved communities in southern Africa and middle America. Typically focused on complex issues through the lens of every day life, her work is deeply invested in rural regions, social justice, and environmental sustainability. Messitt currently resides in southeast Ohio where she’s completing her doctorate in creative nonfiction and working on her next book, a hybrid of investigation and memoir, the story of her aunt, an artist, missing since 2009. The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa (April 2015) is her first book.

 

 

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