Prose Header

Missing Morgan

by Berdine Jordan

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

A silent moment passed as I tried to collect my thoughts. “Oh.” I nodded, releasing my little spy.

Frustration and fear moved into our life full time then. Charles and I tore at each other with accusations and blame one minute and clung to each other, stranded by confusion and grief the next. Ethan seemed to lose himself in play, but alone now. He took all the blame and loaded himself with guilt, saying he knew he wasn’t supposed to get into Morgan’s things but did it anyway.

The concept of Morgan had fully shifted. My bright, beautiful child, full of potential was withering into a beast that I detested. There were moments where I could see the real Morgan beneath his persona, but my resentment made me shun him even then. Guilt for hating my own child hung on me like chains.

Colleen started Morgan on a heavy schedule of prescriptions and referred us to a pediatric psychologist. Initially, he fought taking his medication. I’d hand him his pills, then he’d scream and throw them at me.

Eventually I had no choice but to withhold his meals until he took his pills, until one day he simply stopped fighting. As I handed him the collection of small tablets he calmly swallowed them with a sip of water. He startled me further by looking me straight in the eye.

“Let me be,” he said. “You’re drowning me.”

“We’re helping you Morgan. It’s for your own good...” His eyes had already dropped to the floor and the exchange was done.

If Morgan had seemed withdrawn before, he was nearly catatonic now. Mostly, he just lay on his bed and rocked, staring at his collection of ocean posters. He didn’t even have an interest in his ship or working in his journals.

For nearly a year we lived together in an icy calm, until one sunny day, in an effort to try to be somewhat normal again, Charles and I proposed a hike and a picnic dinner. We decided on our old favorite spot at Marine Park. Morgan used to be thrilled to see the huge ocean liners come up and down the channel on their way to ports up river. Ethan loved playing in the sand and watching the huge wake come up to erase the stick drawings he made. What did we have to lose? Our dream of family was being erased by an invisible wake we could neither see nor control. Perhaps we could pretend we were just a regular family out for the afternoon.

The air was so crisp. It felt wondrous to me, that cool, clear fall air. Refreshed and inspired, I was almost hopeful there would be some passage out of this tunnel; a way that we could each emerge whole, healthy, lovable and loved.

We walked together, listening to the sounds of nature and occasionally the horn of a ship moving up the river. I whispered a wish that the sound would bring Morgan out of his cocoon and he’d emerge as his true self. Ethan led us to the beach and found a spot on the sand for our blanket. Morgan’s eyes stayed fixed on the water. There was no emotion in his expression.

We ate sandwiches, potato chips and warm sodas, while watching cargo ships glide past on their way to unload their bellies. Ethan started on a sandcastle foundation with a moat. Morgan slouched in the sand a few feet away with his head on his knees and his back to us. Charles pulled out a novel, so taking full advantage of the moment, I lay back and watched clouds float by.

A chilly breeze woke me. I couldn’t tell how much time had passed, but the heat of the afternoon had given way to the chill of evening. The light was low and dusk wasn’t far away. Gathering my senses, I checked on Ethan. His castle was knee high and his moat was ankle deep. Sticks served as his soldiers and he was staging a huge battle of some kind. I didn’t see Morgan. My eyes searched the shore.

“Where’s Morgan?” I asked. Charles looked up from his book and down the sand where Morgan had been. “He was just here.”

“Morgan!” I yelled. Ethan looked up from his play and scanned the area too.

“Morgan!” Charles yelled this time.

Jumping to my feet, my stomach lurched and I felt a deep primal panic. Spinning around I took in my whole three-sixty before moving away. Charles was up too, climbing the beach up to the woods, repeatedly calling Morgan’s name.

“Morgan!” He wasn’t near. I could see up the beach in both directions and he wasn’t on it. My throat clenched tight as I could think of nowhere else to look but the water itself. The Columbia is the largest river emptying into the Pacific and where we stood it’s half a mile wide. Scanning the surface of the water, any little dark spot warranted inspection. He couldn’t have — wouldn’t — I thought to myself.

“Morgan!” Charles’ voice was far away in the trees.

“There he is Mommy!” Ethan yelled.

My eyes followed little Ethan’s arm and finger as it pointed east up the river. At the end of the public beach I saw the Haunuma cargo pier. A huge freighter was docked there. On the dock was a tiny person, so small I could barely make out the figure, except that he was running. A tiny figure in red and blue was running toward the mouth of that huge ship.

“Charles!” I screamed as my legs flew beneath me. The sand made my legs feel as if they were weighted with concrete. Ethan too was running to his brother.

Moving to the waterline, my feet made better distance on the compacted wet sand. Running harder, I briefly considered that I was leaving Ethan behind, but instinct propelled me forward. I couldn’t see the tiny figure anymore.

A chain link fence stopped me from going further. It must have been sixteen feet high. To my right it ran up the beach into the dunes and over the hill. To my left it ran into the river for forty, maybe fifty feet.

“Morgan!” I yelled, clawing at the fence. The ship was so close now it loomed like a five story building. Scanning the dock I saw nothing. Then movement... a person... a man in a tan uniform on the dock.

“Hey,” I screamed, “my son is up there! Do you see my son?”

The man looked around, doubting that I could be screaming at him.

“Yes, my boy is up there on the dock! Do you see a boy?” The man held up both hands and shook his head. Either he couldn’t hear me or he didn’t speak English.

Ethan and Charles were soon at my side. “He ran into the opening of the ship!” Ethan said. Charles flipped open his cell phone and dialed 911. I stood helpless in the sand with a wall of chain and a steel ship between me and my child.

Minutes passed as though they were hours. The police arrived and explained they had contacted the proper authorities to hold the ship and have it searched. The coast guard had been notified and would arrive soon to conduct the search. The property surrounding the dock, the pier and the ship were owned by a foreign transport company, so there are regulations and processes to be followed. “This is going to take a while,” we were informed.

Police brought us blankets and took us to a van at the main parking area. The beach was being monitored by officers, but it was dark by then. Only Ethan saw Morgan get on the ship. No one discounted his story, but there was a tension in the faces around us and uneasy glances.

A man in business attire approached Charles and asked if we wanted to file a missing child report. Charles said yes. I hollered at them both, “He’s not missing, he’s on that ship!”

When Ethan fell asleep in my lap, several officers including the man in street clothes suggested we go home, promising to contact us every hour or so with progress.

Being home was just as miserable. The clocks all seemed to be broken and the phone wouldn’t ring soon enough.

Thirty-six hours passed and authorities couldn’t hold the ship any longer. It had been searched by the coast guard, the Haunuma crews, and the FBI. We were told a dozen times by a dozen people that Morgan was not on that ship, but none of them knew Morgan.

Charles, Ethan and I knew he was still on that ship. When they notified us that they had to release the ship, we raced to Marine Park and the beach where we last saw him.

“Morgan! Come home!” we screamed at the steel behemoth. “Morgan, we love you!”

We hollered our pledges of love and begged for him to show himself. Soon our voices were gone. Then we all cried and waved our arms frantically as the tug began pushing the ship into the channel. It wasn’t until Charles started pulling at my shoulders that I realized I was standing waist deep in the river. He later told me that he feared I would dive in and swim after the ship until I drowned. He had good reason to worry.

There was nothing left to do but wait. Authorities assured us that eventually Morgan would have to come out of hiding if he were on the ship. Police would then take custody of him when they docked for fuel.

It took four days for the media to grow bored with our story. It would take thirty-two days for the ship to reach its next port, depending on the weather. In the meantime, a search went on here at home, since detectives were certain that Morgan somehow got off the dock and was either lost, abducted or drowned somewhere outside of the Haunuma ship. We never gave that possibility any real weight. Instead, Charles found a website that tracked cargo vessels on the open sea and from that we were able to follow the ship named Kuano.

Thirty-four days after the ship left Marine Park, family and friends gathered at our house. One reporter who had been following our story joined the crowd. The Kuano was going to dock that afternoon to refuel. Hope filled my brain like a drug and made me giddy with anticipation.

It was two-thirty in the afternoon when Ted Darcy, the detective on Morgan’s case, came to the house to see us in person. He confirmed that port authorities did not find a child on board the Kuano. Interviews with the crew revealed there was no indication that anyone other than themselves were aboard.

Ever innocent, Ethan told the reporter that Morgan use to sneak food from our kitchen to hide in his play ship’s hold. “Morgan was very good at hoarding,” he confided.

With this news the numbness set in, a chilling deadness that hope had kept at bay for over a month. Now, I had to surrender. Morgan got what he wanted; freedom.

Friends held us, fed us and then they went home to their regular, contented lives. I dead-bolted the front door behind them.

That night, the thirty-fourth night, was clear and bright. It was cold, but I didn’t take a coat out with me, only a box of matches, a taper candle and scissors. Ethan had been tucked in bed hours ago, but Charles, ever vigilant about my stability in all this, followed me out the door.

I strode directly to the rough wooden structure we knew as Morgan’s ship. I slipped onto the deck and slowly lowered its colors. I cut the flag free of its cords and draped the brittle fabric over the steering wheel. In the sharp night air I struck a match, lit the candle and let the wax drip thickly on the flag and wheel.

Holding the candle upright again, the flame softly illuminated the ship. Charles watched from a gentle distance. With a deep breath I held the flame to the corner of the flag. It flared instantly into a large flame and felt hot on my face.

I watched as the wax melted and sizzled and caught fire itself. It seeped into the old dry wood where it fed the flames and drew them in deeper.

Climbing out of my son’s first ship, I stood next to Charles, who silently watched the fire grow. Taking my favorite pair of scissors back out of my pants pocket, I reached up and gathered a handful of my hair. Half cutting and half sawing, I cut the clump of hair from my head and tossed it over the rail and into the fire. Again and again, I hacked at hunks of hair and threw them into the ever growing blaze.

Charles reached for my hands, but very slowly, not sure how I would react to his intervention. Carefully, he took the scissors from my hand and tenderly lifted a locket of my hair and cut it free of me. He held it out to me so that I could make the offering. He cut until I stopped reaching out for more. I turned to him, his cheek glowing with the reflection of the fire.

He held the scissors out to me, the handle in my direction and knelt on one knee, lowering his head to me as though I were his executioner.

Shocked at his gesture as he must have been by mine, I lovingly allowed him to join the offering. I cut a handful of hair from the crown of his head. He stood and held out his hand which I filled with dark brown curls; curls that then fell into the blaze. We stood there, frozen in spirit while the engulfed ship burned our faces and chests.

In the spring, I asked Charles to till the scorched meadow, explaining I wanted a garden there. I wanted something nourishing to grow from the ashes. He tilled and I planted and then it started to rain, out of character rain, even for the northwest. Monsoons of rain poured down from the sky, turning my healing garden into a river, washing away the tender seedlings.

* * *

Purged of my sorrow for the moment, I open my eyes again. As after a restless sleep, I’m groggy and drained. The rain too has subsided. After wiping my hands on my jeans, I reach into my pocket and pull out the damp, tattered paper. It sticks to my fingers as I pull out the wrinkles. My eyes bounce around the words, looking for information I hope I missed before.

“...Philippine authorities report hijackers captured the vessel and its cargo, leaving the original six crew members stranded on lifeboats in the open sea...”

“...crew members described the hijackers as four Asian men and one Caucasian youth...”

My focus shifts past the paper, down to the ground where earth and water swirl together. My emotions are the same as that earth and water. Streams of mourning for what was stolen from me swirl together with the relief of not having to mother a young man whose spirit was not my son’s. Together they leave churned up muddy hatred; hatred of myself for not embracing the freedom Morgan found.

Unsteadily, I rise to my feet and turn my back on the plot of dirt, resigned to waiting out the rain.

Copyright © 2011 by Berdine Jordan

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