While Natalee was going to be out of town, Jug was going to his lake house to visit with his family and friends. In our marriage, the second for both of us, we rarely vacationed together. My son, Matt, had made his own plans with friends for the weekend, so it was the perfect time for me to take a much-needed, overdue trip to my family's lake house in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had not been there in a very long time. Birmingham is about nine hours away, so it was just too long a drive since moving here to make the trip on a regular basis. I was very much looking forward to visiting with my family. Everyone's plans were made.
In the wee hours on this Thursday morning Natalee and I loaded her things in the back of the car and headed off to her friend's house. It was very dark at that hour, and we were both only half awake. But we did talk some. Small talk. We reviewed what she had packed, going through a mental checklist of passport, cash, camera, sunscreen, and the like. When we arrived at her friend's house, she came to life. The adventure she had been excitedly awaiting for months was finally about to begin. She jumped out of the car and bounced to the back to get her bag. I got out and walked around the car to help her. She gathered her things and looked up long enough for me to kiss her on the cheek.
"I love you! Have a great time!" I told her.
She replied, "Bye, Mom! Love you!" and slung her purple duffel bag over her shoulder.
The bag made her walk slightly bent to its opposite side. I got back in the car as she made her way up the long walkway to the front door. Turning the car around to leave, I stopped and looked back over my shoulder to see her go inside. The front door of the house opened just wide enough for her to slip in. I saw her silhouette in the beam of light that shone from inside. The light narrowed as the door closed, then disappeared completely. It was pitch-black again. I drove away not knowing that would be the last time I would ever see Natalee.
I'm glad I'm alone to recount the events that have brought me to this place on this morning, preparing to pack up and leave this house and Mountain Brook. Standing in the doorway of Natalee's room, I unwillingly step inside to the center of it, look around slowly, take it all in. In what feels like slow motion, I bend my knees until they touch the floor, rest my hands on the light cream-colored rug in front of me, and roll over onto my right side. Curling up in a fetal position, my head tucked down, arms crossing over my chest, I close my eyes again. And the cry I have fought off for almost two years finally comes. The final good-bye cry. And it comes hard. From somewhere deep, deep inside me. And it feels as if it will never stop. As if the pain can never be contained again.
What does Beth think happened to Natalee?