It's early morning, and the house is quiet. I'm still lying in bed, eyes closed. I don't want to open them, because when I do, I'll have to face the day I've dreaded the most for the past twenty months. Today I have to pack up Natalee's things for the last time. Today I will have to say the final good-bye. And I'm not ready.
Eyes still closed, I hear an occasional car pass in front of the house. Another one stops across the street, and I hear the car door open, letting music and cheerful muffled voices escape for a moment. Then close again. The stillness in the house is interrupted by the harmonious tapping of little paws as Macy the dog and Carl the cat move across the hardwood floors. Stopping for a moment. Then tapping again. The cold morning brings the sounds of life's activities as people step into another day of their routines. Maybe if I don't open my eyes this day will just pass, and I won't have to face what I have to do. The painful inevitable chore that has been looming over me since my beautiful daughter, Natalee, disappeared on the last night of her senior high school trip to Aruba. The day has come to take her room apart and box it up. I have to go through her belongings, which have remained untouched since she left home on May 26, 2005. The movers will be here day after tomorrow. Nothing from my life before Natalee disappeared in Aruba has remained intact. Not my career. Not my home. Not my marriage. My husband, Jug, and I are divorcing after six years. My son, Natalee's younger brother, Matt, and I are moving in two days. I have a lot to do. I manage to swing my legs off the bed and sit up. Reluctantly, I open my eyes and sit on the edge for a few moments. I feel like concrete. Heavy. Very heavy. Finally I stand up and slowly walk a half dozen steps or so down the short hall and turn right at Natalee's bedroom doorway.
The morning light shines in through the wall-length windows at the far side of the room illuminating all her neatly organized things. It used to be in disarray most of the time. But today everything in here is in order. It's cheerful and sad at the same time. Light purple—her favorite—and delicate greens. A crisp white bedspread. Pillows with special sayings about friends and love and life. In the corner a purple-painted curio cabinet with four shelves holds all of her treasures. Her collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia is prominently displayed in the tall narrow cabinet. To my right I see her white high-school graduation robe hanging on the outside of the closet door, the honors cords still around the neck. Inside this closet are two beautiful sundresses we bought for her to take to college, the tags still on them. And behind those is the little black dress she wore to her proms, both junior and senior. Photos of friends and certificates of her many achievements are visible everywhere. A bulletin board over her daybed is covered with reminders of meetings and events and parties coming up. She had big plans.