I had really come to believe we would never know what happened to him. Then, over a week ago, around 9pm, my son alerted me to Auntie Mari’s Facebook post: “They’ve found Dad.” Phone calls had been flying around for the past few hours, but my phone had been in silent mode in my purse, and no one called the landline (I guess if you aren’t on FB or tethered to your mobile device you just can’t expect to know what’s going on anymore). Anyway, by midnight Jason had helped me get tickets to Salt Lake City for the two of us and Braden, and less than eight hours later we were on our way to the airport.
I can’t pretend to write about things that are important to me and then not share about the unbelievable days that followed. But before reading further please understand that I’m doing my best to tell a story that—well done or not—is certain to produce an emotional response and it may not be a good one. It may put pictures in your head you’d rather not be there. In our mostly protected, predictable world we don’t have a context for outlier happenings, and we are both hungry for and repulsed by such stories. Brace yourself a bit.
To recap briefly, Friday was a travel day flying to Salt Lake City, renting a jeep, and arriving in Monticello, Utah around midnight. We took a 1-hr detour in the late afternoon to see Arches National Park; Jason had never been to Utah before, and the towering structures are simply not to be missed in the evening light. Saturday morning we met up and had breakfast with my dad’s cousins Ken and Sally who had also made the trip down on Friday from Salt Lake City. Ken is my father’s namesake, and had participated in our first hunt for Dad over five years ago. His sister Sally happened to be visiting him when this latest news came in.
We shared fun stories about difficult people in our lives, specifically the one we were focused on today. This restaurant still had a rack of postcards from the business my dad had finally given up on; the cards are beautiful, but obviously had not moved much in the past half-decade. I asked to buy one—a photo of Monument Valley’s ‘the mittens,’ which was his trademark for the company. The cashier didn’t even know how much to charge me. I guess they are now decorative and forgotten. Then at 9am we met up with Sheriff’s deputies JJ and Jason, who had likely given up some important family time to be there for us, and we followed them out to the site – a small canyon carved out by flash floods that empty into a stream below.
We had been warned that we would have to stay a good distance away from the Sheriff’s deputies as they gathered ‘evidence’ at the site, and wait until they were done before poking around ourselves. But once we were all there and figuring out what that would mean, JJ and Jason decided that we wouldn’t obstruct the process if we didn’t touch anything until after it had been photographed in place. As it happened, we were able to find a number of previously undiscovered bones and artifacts that were added to the bags for the forensics team. But first we were allowed to see what had started this whole flurry of activity—my dad’s skull, discovered by a hiker at the bottom of the canyon near the stream. I got to hold it, dirt encrusted and missing the jaw, smaller and heavier than I would have imagined. I tried to see him in it, but I couldn’t. Instead I traced the ‘sutures’ with my fingers, the seams that hold the larger plates of the skull together. I tried not to disturb the clumps of silt and debris in the front, maybe not ready to see what was below. But one eye socket was very visible. There was no question about what this object really was. That said, when the deputy placed it back where it had been found, I could imagine overlooking it as just another round-shaped rock half buried in the landscape. What was it that drew it’s finder to look closer? What causes any of us to notice something that so many others would overlook?
To be continued…