Someone is missing from 923 Oak.
It’s a single mother, a few years younger than me. She lives in Tennessee, next door to Jamie, whom I met on my 923 Oak roadtrip. When Jamie mentioned he lived in a duplex, my ears pricked up: another person with a 923 address!
“Do you think your neighbor would be open to chatting with me?” I asked him at our first meeting.
He sat across the restaurant booth from me and pondered my question. “I wanna say no.”
“Why do you think?”
“She’s very cool – tatted up, as Southern as Southern can be. But she’s one of those people who doesn’t want any information ever shared, because she’s a very strong conspiracy theorist.”
The subject shifted as I explained my challenge with recruiting residents to participate in my project. Jamie and I share a mutual concern that we, as a people, veer far closer to the skeptical and suspicious side of the spectrum than the warm and welcoming side.
Cut to last week. I sent Jamie a link to a Maya Angelou story I’d read among the myriad online tributes that followed her passing. During my conversations with Jamie – eight hours over two visits – I learned a lot about him and his “tribe.” This quote about Maya Angelou, delivered by a New York City subway rider, resonated with me and immediately made me think of Jamie and specifically, a dear person in his life. Jamie is normally super-responsive, but this time, I didn’t hear from him right away. Oh dear, I thought. Maybe that story struck a nerve.
He did not reply until the next day. “Look at what is happening at 923B Oak. My dear friend and neighbor is missing. And it does not look good.” He sent me a link to a news story: “Police suspect foul play in the disappearance of local woman.”
I won’t share that link here, because it mentions the town in which she (the “local woman”) and Jamie live. One of the guidelines of The 923 Oak Project is to keep the residents’ towns and last names private. Jamie is actually not concerned about revealing his town or last name, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. At the same time, maybe the more people who know this woman’s name and face, the sooner she can be found. I’m conflicted.
It’s been twelve days since anyone has heard from her. Her little boy was at her ex-husband’s house, hours away. Her two dogs were alone at her house for days. Her purse and cell phone were in her car, in her driveway.
This story – one we hear all too often – feels different to me. I didn’t even know this woman existed at this address, but I feel connected to and protective of the people of 923 Oak. Even the ones I don’t know.
She is one of my people now. Part of my tribe.
What I’m trying to do with this whole project – using 923 Oak as a microcosm of America – is help us remember that we are all connected.
Say a prayer tonight. Whisper a blessing for her safe return. Light a candle and send her and her loved ones words of peace and comfort in this dark time.
We are all each other’s tribe.