In 1981 Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh, was abducted from a Sears in Hollywood, Florida. His head was found two weeks later. The rest of him is still missing.
I think a lot about Adam Walsh after moving to the same town as him. While my son is at school, I chain smoke and scan Craigslist for jobs. There isn’t shit to do in Florida. The beach is a mile drive down the main road, and I could easily go, but my son is in school all day. I don’t want to go by myself. We moved to escape Colorado and a lousy marriage, but the same problems found themselves here.
The Sears where Adam is abducted isn’t there anymore, but a Target is. I walk up and down the aisles. I was eight years old when Adam is murdered. I imagine the toy section where he stood twenty-five years prior before he’s kidnapped. The Lite-Brites, Battleship, and Monopoly have been replaced with electronic games beeping at me as I look at the ceiling. A water stain browns cheap white tiles. The closer I stare at it, the more it morphs into a distorted version of the face of Jesus.
There is a series of canals outside of the Vero Beach Airport, and I use Google Maps Earth View before driving to their location. This is the place where Adam Walsh’s head was found by two fishermen. I crouch awkwardly, straining on my ankles. The water is ugly and brown, like the stain on the Target ceiling. Everything in Florida is rundown, exhausted. Even the people. They don’t look you in the eye.
The skies are clouding over, and an acrid smell blankets the air. John Walsh roamed the streets of Hollywood looking for Adam but never found him. He checked every dumpster and back alley, wanting to find something but not wanting to find that something. Adam’s mother gorged her guilt with whiskey. Their marriage didn’t last. Mine didn’t either, for different reasons.
I drive to my son’s school, a dark rectangular building resembling a prison. The students are leaving the doorway in single file lines led by their teachers. I spot my son, a tiny boy weighed down by dark brown curls and a backpack with a monster face stitched on the front. I stick my hand out my window and wave. He breaks from the line and runs, hopping into the car after throwing his backpack on the back seat. I head east instead of west, the sun still pinned in the sky, a burning beacon. He asks where we are going, familiar with our usual route home. To the beach, baby. He bounces in his seat, eyes wide. Our bare feet step on soft sand, and he is running towards the water, a silhouette of someone familiar. He’s never seen the ocean. I want to tell him there’s no telling how deep the water is or what creatures live beneath. I want to say to him the waves are blue because they reflect the sky, but I stop myself. Some things shouldn’t have an explanation.
Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (CCM Press/The Accomplices 2019), which is featured in Entropy’s Best Fiction list of 2019. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and runs At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. Currently, she freelances as a writer, editor, and writing workshop instructor focusing on trauma writing. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Missouri Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. She will be attending The Kenyon Review’s Writers Workshop for nonfiction and will be a featured visiting writer at Western Illinois University in 2020. She lives in Colorado with her partner, her son, and their cat, Larry. Find more of her writing at http://www.hillaryleftwich.com