Everyone knew everyone else’s story, yet we still kept meeting each and every Wednesday night at 7:45 in the multi-purpose room at the River Road United Methodist church so each one of us could re-live the tragic horror which had touched our lives.
For instance, I knew Natalie Basket was just about to go into the wrinkle of her son Jackson’s murder where she blamed herself for allowing him to stay at his grandma’s house even though she knew his grandmother lived in a neighborhood with a number of child molesters. No matter how many times I heard Natalie explain her regret, shoulder her guilt, and sob her eyes out about that detail, I still never silently retracted my blame.
Some of us deserved to be in the Justice For The Murdered Children of Southern Missouri group, and some of us didn’t.
I was one of those who didn’t.
Josh left me on a blazing hot day in the summer of 1994, two days before his ninth birthday and 342 days after my 26th birthday. Little Josh disappeared from our little town of Forsyth on his way home from karate class. The local paper said the town would never be the same.
I felt I held up my end of that bargain, but have to say the town let me down. The place is still the same little, sleepy, half horse of a town it was when my neighbor Louise Fox thought she was supposed to pick up Josh from karate class at 6:30 instead of 5:30 and Josh grew impatient and decided to walk home down the highway.
The only thing they ever found of Josh was that little orange belt from his karate uniform he wore so proudly. They never found his body. They never found a single blonde hair from his soft little head. Worse yet, they never found a single legitimate suspect other than eventually me after they had hollowly questioned every single man over the age of 25 in the town who owned a van.
I still think about Sheriff Andersen sitting in my kitchen, drinking my coffee and asking me veiled questions about what may have happened to Josh. Thankfully the guy who went hunting with my dad every year was so meek, he never flat out asked me if I had anything to do with Josh’s disappearance. Because if he did, I may have actually murdered the whole town.
Instead of harming anyone in Forsyth, I just kept doing a piss poor job of driving the school bus Monday thru Friday. I think they just kept letting me drive the thing for fear of causing me to actually snap if they fired me and out of guilt for never finding who took Josh.
Other than driving that bus and coming home, coping with countless hours of television and Orange Crush mixed with vodka, the only thing I ever did was hit the road for an hour each way to make it to Branson to attend my weekly Justice For The Murdered Children of Southern Missouri meeting. Sometimes I wondered if it was the only thing that kept me alive.