My sister would’ve never left her kids
This is not the first time I’ve told this story. I know it by heart, by my broken heart.
On September 9th, 1982, I waited for the mailman. One thing that made it hard, being a military wife, was the distance it put between me and my family, especially my sister. We were 2000 miles apart.
I watched the mailman get closer from my living room window. I was anxious for a letter I hoped would come. When he stopped at our mailbox, I held my breath. Moments later, I ripped open her letter, disappointed it wasn’t a thick one. That meant no pictures.
“This is going to shock you,” I read, “but I’m getting a divorce.”
That can’t be right. She and Bob had been married for ten years. They were doing fine. Three little boys, their third house. What was she talking about?
I dialed her number. But instead of hearing her cheerful voice, she yelled,
“I can’t talk now, he’s harassing me again!”
In the background I could hear her husband taunting her.
“I’ll pray,” I told her, as I hung up.
All of this came flooding back the other day. Why? Because I got an email from an organization that locates missing people. Sometimes just their remains. She had seen articles I have written online and wondered if we could talk.
Memories are painful
I read this woman’s email over and over again, remembering so many things. Like how I felt getting the call just two days after Peggy and I had talked.
You see, Peggy did call me back that day, and then talked for about 20 minutes and said, “I have to go, I don’t want to run up the bill.”
Yep, that was my sister. So I called her and said, “Now it’s my dime, talk.”
And she did. For an hour she poured out her broken heart. Telling me of the abuse. I sat listening and crying.
“Calling the police was easy, I wish I would have done it sooner.”
So after our call, I was relieved. But my relief vanished two days later when I got another call from our sister-in-law.
“Did you hear? Peggy’s gone. No one knows where. She never showed up at work. Her husband said she just walked out.”
Gone. There are so many things that followed that I remember.
Having people pray that we would find out what happened.
And then one day, we spoke with her boys who were now grown. And one of them said,
“Has anyone heard from our mom?”
After just staring at him, I responded, “We don’t believe she’s alive.”
That conversation opened up our relationship with them again. A relationship which had been prevented by their dad.
After contacting a private investigator, months later, her missing person’s case was changed to a possible homicide.
I remembered how it felt to testify at her murder trial.
To point to her husband and to identify the photographs in my shaking hands, the ones Peggy mailed me of her kids so many years ago.
I stared at this woman’s email. I thought to myself, Do I want to have all of this come rushing back?
I told her I’d have to think about it. More importantly, I’d have to pray about it.
I decided to not enter in. After all, writing Peggy’s story was a lot when I wrote Broken. I relived the whole thing then.
I kept praying. It stayed in my mind. I kept talking to God about it. And I thought about my sister all the while.
I thought about how close we were and how we could talk about anything. I thought about how much I missed her and how much she missed.
The court scene
Ten days. We listened to testimonies day after grueling day. Finally we were about to hear the judge’s decision. No, it wasn’t a jury trial, but a bench trial instead. Not what we had wanted, but we weren’t the ones who got to choose.
The courtroom was quiet. Deathly quiet.
And then…“I find the defendant…”
Was it finally going to be over? This mystery that started the day I got her letter in Colorado?
“I find the defendant—not guilty.”
The deathly silence was replaced by cheering and high fives to the man who was on trial. Her husband of ten years.
Everything stopped in our world that moment. But on the other side of the courtroom was a celebration.
The same reporters who had wanted us to do a television program migrated to him with camera’s flashing.
Did you know when you have a murder trial, a member of the family is given the floor and they get to share how the murder affected the family?
I had thought long and hard which words would best convey our living nightmare. I had labored over it.
But this is an opportunity only given when there is a conviction.
No conviction. No crime.
We watched as the celebration continued, but not for long. At once, officers appeared at the ends of our row, ready to escort us out of the courtroom. We were led away, but I don’t remember walking.
I saw my brother, Gus, nearly collapse in the arms of my brother, George. I saw other family members shake their heads in disbelief. There were tears. Lots of tears.
I had been warned that he might not get convicted. A psychologist from a homicide grief group told me that.
I did not expect a conviction. And the truth was, even if he had been convicted, that wouldn’t bring Peggy back.
But I didn’t expect the flood of emotions that swept over us.
And then, we felt nothing.
And now, years later?
Do I want to open that chapter of our lives again?
To relive it? I’m choosing to do it.
Will we get answers we didn’t have? I don’t know.
Will my sister’s remains be found? I don’t know.
But I do know one thing. If the situation were reversed, my sister would have done anything and everything she could to find out what happened to me.
We’re sisters. And I miss her. I always will.
You never stop missing the missing.