It's an average, modest bedroom. It was just right for Natalee, and she loved it in here. It was her place to work and her place of solace. It's where she giggled with friends and studied for tests. It's where she dressed for the prom. Where she donned her graduation robe. Where she packed for her trip to Aruba. It's Natalee's own space, and everything in it represents her. She was a hardworking young lady, full of life. Smart, gutsy, determined, and very dependable. She had always been that way.
Natalee and her younger brother, Matt, were born in Memphis, Tennessee, where my first husband, Dave, and I had moved after college. Natalee was three years old and Matt was one when we left Memphis and moved the family to Clinton, Mississippi. Dave and I divorced shortly thereafter. It was a long arduous battle, but I was finally awarded sole custody of both children.
The three of us were tight-knit. Matt and Natalee were very protective of their mother. One night when they were elementary-school age I was going to go out for dinner. I discovered my escort sitting on my front porch with his head buried in his hands. I looked up to see my two children pounding his car with Matt's metal cleats. I was so embarrassed! And very surprised—shocked—that they would do such a thing. They apparently didn't want anybody at their mama's house. They were punished accordingly, and I had to repair his paint job. I don't remember that guy ever coming back. The story must have gotten around, because I dated rather infrequently in the years that followed.
After I had been divorced from the children's father for about seven years, I met George "Jug" Twitty while he was on business in Mississippi. We dated for about three years before marrying in 2000. Matt and Natalee absolutely loved his two older children, Megan and George, and looked forward to moving to the lovely bedroom community of Mountain Brook in Birmingham, Alabama, to join their new family and start their new life. Mountain Brook is about as stark a contrast to where I grew up as one could imagine. Back in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I was the only white girl in my ninth-grade study hall, and one of about three in my history class. Many of my friends were black in this small, unassuming town. All my life, including seventeen years teaching in Mississippi and Arkansas, I have lived in culturally and racially diverse communities. So have my children. It never occurred to me that it wasn't like that everywhere, because I simply never thought about it.