Read Afterward Online

Authors: Jennifer Mathieu

Afterward

 

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For Michaela Joy Garecht

and all those who have yet to come home

dearmichaela.com

 

CAROLINE—BEFORE

My mother takes the vase from the bookshelf and hurls it, smashing it to bits by my father's bare feet. My father doesn't even step back as the tiny pink and white pieces of ceramic skid past him on the hardwood floor. He just stands there, staring.

“Dylan! Dylan, where are you!” My mother shrieks my brother's name and collapses into the mess she's just made.

I've never heard my mother yell like this. Like the yell has crawled from the base of her feet and up her spine and forced itself out of her mouth. Like it's coming from some other planet. Her screams are especially scary because they're so different from the calm and collected way she behaved just moments ago when the police arrived. They came to say they don't know anything new. That they don't have the slightest idea where Dylan might be.

My mother nodded numbly, but as soon as she shut the door after them, she started to scream.

My father crouches down next to her on the floor, but when he tries to put his arms around her, she shrugs him off and spreads herself flat, kicking the pieces of broken vase out behind her with her feet and sending them spinning wildly out in front of her with her hands.

My grandmother and aunt run in from the kitchen, and as the anxious huddle around my mother grows, I slip down the hallway toward my bedroom, even though I don't understand how my body is managing to move at all.

Since my little brother disappeared four days ago, I'm actually not sure how we've all managed to stay alive much less move. My mother isn't eating, and my father isn't sleeping. I've done a little bit of both, but barely. Now I make it inside my bedroom and shut the door, then crawl into my unmade bed. I'm still dressed in my Violent Femmes T-shirt and butterfly-patterned pajama pants that I've been wearing since Saturday. I've got on the same underpants from that day, too, if you want to know the truth. My parents haven't changed clothes either, or brushed their teeth or combed their hair. It's like we've been frozen in that moment when we first realized Dylan was missing. And I mean scary, terrible missing. Not lost in the woods missing, which is bad enough. But taken missing. Kidnapped missing.

Burying my head under my pillow, I decide to count to one hundred and tell myself that by the time I'm finished, we'll have found Dylan alive.

“One … two … three…” I whisper.

With my whole heart I will the police to call our house or ring our doorbell with good news.

“Four … five … six.”

I imagine some nice lady ordering a pizza and seeing the neon yellow MISSING flyer with Dylan's picture pasted on the pizza box—the one where he's wearing his sweet toothy grin and his favorite cartoon space alien T-shirt—and then I imagine her looking out the window and spotting Dylan standing in her front yard, just waiting to be found.

“Seven … eight … nine.”

I fantasize that one of the many made up, hair sprayed, honey-voiced television news reporters who've been interviewing my pale, barefooted parents in our family room over and over these past few days runs another story, a story where the right person realizes the right thing and makes the right phone call and my brother, my sweet little brother, comes home safe.

“Ten … eleven … twelve.”

I make it to one hundred, but nothing happens.

 

ETHAN—BEFORE

All it takes is someone who isn't Marty opening the door of the apartment. In the end, it's as simple as that.

Simple. Yeah.

It's not one police officer who shows up but four or five. They have their guns up like on television and in the movies, and the little kid whose name I don't know and who is sitting next to me on the couch watching me play video games wets himself when they bust in. It's the third time he's pissed himself since Marty brought him here, and the first two times Marty swore and I scrubbed out the kid's pants in the kitchen sink and the kid just walked around making circles with his feet and whimpering.

But this time when he wets himself, I don't move to help him. I don't move at all. Because now the police are here, and they're shouting and asking us who we are, and the little kid is wet and crying and he gets up and runs to the door, and one officer takes him outside and for a split second I'm jealous. Because I don't know if I'm going to get to go, too. And I sit there, my game console still in my hands, the bleeps of the video game speeding up. They're going as fast as my heart is pounding. Suddenly, the electronic beats explode into a sad tune and I die on the screen, but my real heart—the heart inside of me—it's still pumping. I glance at the television and I look at the officers and I don't know what's up or what's down, what's real or what's not.

But my heart is beating, so I've got to be alive.

“What's your name, son?” says one officer. She's a girl. A woman, I mean, with dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. There hasn't been a woman in this apartment in all the time I've been here.

I'm trying to catch my breath. I'm trying to speak. Without even realizing I'm doing it, my eyes go to the closet in the corner of the room. The one with the Master Lock on the outside. My tongue fills up my mouth, and I can't answer.

“Son?” she says. Her voice gets a little softer, and I look at her again.

The other officers are racing around the apartment, opening doors, yelling at each other.

“What's your name, sweetheart?”

It's the way she says
sweetheart
. That's what works.

“I'm Ethan,” I tell her.

 

May 25, 2016

HOUSTON, TEXAS.

An 11-year-old boy who disappeared from the town of Dove Lake, Texas, was found alive Wednesday in a Houston apartment complex almost 100 miles away from where he had been abducted, along with a 15-year-old boy kidnapped from the same area in 2012, authorities said.

The boys were found in the Houston apartment of Martin Gulliver, 43, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot when authorities attempted to arrest him at his workplace, Sheriff Joseph Garcia said.

The boys appeared physically unharmed. Dylan Anderson, 11, who has autism, was reunited with his parents and older sister on Wednesday evening. He had been last seen walking in his neighborhood on Saturday afternoon.

An area woman witnessed Dylan walking past her house alone, which she found unusual as she had never seen him outside of his house unsupervised. She told authorities that a few moments later she spotted a black pickup with severe damage to the rear bumper speeding away from the area.

Searchers from Dove Lake and surrounding communities searched on foot and horseback through the night and during the weekend. A break in the case came when Houston authorities were serving a warrant at the apartment complex on an unrelated case and discovered a pickup that matched the description of the vehicle seen near the scene of Dylan's disappearance. A check of the vehicle tags connected the vehicle to Gulliver's apartment.

Garcia says officers were shocked when they entered the apartment and discovered Ethan Jorgenson, 15, who had disappeared from Dove Lake in May of 2012. He had been heading to a friend's house and never arrived.

Ethan was reunited with his parents, Phillip and Megan Jorgenson, on Wednesday evening. In the four years Ethan had been missing, his parents had emptied retirement accounts to hire private investigators in an effort to find their son. Psychics hired by the couple told them their son was most likely dead. Ethan's disappearance served as a cautionary tale in the small community where residents often left doors unlocked and let children play unsupervised in nearby creeks and wooded areas.

“We lost our small town innocence the day Ethan disappeared,” said Beth Murphy, a resident who helped organize annual vigils held during the four years Ethan was missing.

After authorities found the boys, police approached Gulliver at his workplace, Gina's Italian Kitchen, where Gulliver had worked as a cook since 2008. According to Garcia, when Gulliver saw the officers approaching, he exited on foot through the back of the restaurant and shot himself with a concealed weapon he had been carrying. He was pronounced dead at Houston's Ben Taub Hospital.

Despite owning a vehicle, Gulliver often walked or took the bus for his shifts at the restaurant, and fellow employees say he rarely missed work. They were unaware of Ethan Jorgenson's presence and believed Gulliver lived alone.

According to Garcia, authorities in Houston and Dove Lake are working together to establish the motive behind the kidnappings. One law enforcement source who wished to remain unidentified said Gulliver lived in Dove Lake briefly as a teenager and may have returned to the town because he was familiar with the area but would not be recognized.

“It's highly unusual for there to be two abductions from the same area by the same perpetrator,” said Garcia. “There are a lot of unanswered questions right now. But the most important thing is two boys are back home safe with their families tonight.”

Abel Hernandez, 54, who lives at the apartment complex where the boys were found, said Gulliver was a polite but quiet man who kept to himself. Hernandez said he and other residents assumed Ethan was Gulliver's son, and that the two were regularly seen outside the apartment. According to neighbors, Ethan went by the name Ethan Gulliver. Hernandez said Ethan never appeared frightened of Gulliver and seemed to come and go as he pleased.

“One time I asked him how school was going, and he told me he was going to school online,” said Hernandez. “He didn't seem like a kid who'd been kidnapped.”

At a brief news conference held Wednesday evening in Dove Lake, both families thanked law enforcement for helping to find their sons.