True Story, Issue #15

"This Is My Oldest Story" by Emily Brisse

True Story, Issue #15

Emily Brisse was just eight years old when eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted from their small Minnesota town. Haunted by the long-unsolved mystery of the boy’s disappearance, Emily tries to make sense of a terrible story that isn’t really hers to tell—but that also shaped her entire life.

From "This Is My Oldest Story" by Emily Brisse

In front of us now stretched fields. Farmland. Ready soil, that time of year. In the roadside ditches, small shoots of crisp grass punched up among the old stalks of winter. The wind, swooping low, blew across it all, audible and hollow in the open.

My skin tingled.

“There,” said one of us, pointing.

And together, we hopped off our bikes, stepped forward, our sneakers crackling atop the road, not stopping or speaking until we reached a patch of field, unremarkable, yet to us as distinct as the space between before and after.

“Do you think he’s dead?” someone asked.

“No,” we said.

“Yes,” we said.

“He’s fourteen now,” one of us figured.

We thought of ourselves: Ten. Almost eleven. The age he’d been.

I don’t remember how long we stood there, how long we studied the grass in the ditch, how long we strained our eyes for a clue that had been missed, how often we dreamed about the second when—on October 22, 1989—the road we were standing on became not a road but the last road, when the bike went from upright to flat in the grass, the rear tire spinning, when not only the grass and the ditch and the road and the town and the state but the entire world changed.

One of us kicked at a pebble.

We glanced across the field, toward the wooded country road beyond, where he had lived. We imagined the quiet of his bedroom.

In a few weeks, my classmates and I would finish fourth grade, and then my family would pack our bedsheets and videotapes in boxes and move fifteen miles south, to a new house in a new neighborhood in a new town. I was nervous about leaving. Scared about losing my best friend. But I remember saying, or maybe just thinking, peering at that ditch, “I won’t miss this.”

I was right, but not in the way I meant then. You can’t miss what never leaves you.

Eventually, one of us spun a bike from that square of heavy field, and like a flight of swallows, the others turned too, back down the hill, toward our houses on the same street, toward the hidden keys that opened the locked doors, toward the parents with deep lines in their faces, toward our younger brothers, who still played with an abandon we knew, for us, was gone.