The Years Lost

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Beauty News -

fa­ther on the phone, full of plans for hol­i­days and birth­days. Po­lice think she set off for her work as a chef the next morn­ing, but she never ar­rived.

De­spite a ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tion, no one knows what hap­pened to Clau­dia. But in­ves­ti­ga­tors strongly sus­pect she has “come to harm”.

“It’s the not know­ing that is the worst thing,” Peter says. “If some­one dies, at least you know and you’ve buried them. If some­one goes miss­ing, not know­ing feels worse.” I meet Peter at his home. He moved from a vil­lage out­side York to Clau­dia’s neigh­bour­hood af­ter she dis­ap­peared. At 67, Peter is a suc­cess­ful property lawyer, but with a hole wear­ing through his cardi­gan el­bow and her miss­ing per­sons poster on the bare win­dowsill, he seems vul­ner­a­ble. He is di­vorced and his other daugh­ter is liv­ing far­ther away. This in­ter­view he en­dures, de­spite the pain, be­cause it is one more thing he can do for Clau­dia, who would have cel­e­brated her 40th birth­day in Fe­bru­ary.

Does he imag­ine her at 40? He shakes his head. “That’s very dif­fi­cult. I still think of her as 35. And that’s what we’ve missed, this tran­si­tion from care­free young lady, to what­ever she might have been. Would she have got mar­ried? Would she have started a fam­ily? Five years of her life, of be­ing with us, that’s gone miss­ing.” He pauses. “It’s a very long time.” Some­times, to feel closer to her, he goes to a pub nearby, “be­cause there are people there whom she knew – I talk to them, and that’s a sort of close­ness.”

I ask how he copes with the birth­days, Christ­mases and the an­niver­sary of her dis­ap­pear­ance. “I think about her when I’m ly­ing in bed or do­ing any­thing. When I go out, I look around and think, ‘Clau­dia, are you see­ing some­thing like this? Are you still with us? Are you see­ing the same blue sky?’ That’s not some­thing that just comes up on an­niver­saries. That’s all the time.”

When he talks to her in his head like this, he is test­ing his faith in her be­ing alive. When Clau­dia’s friend first raised the alarm about her dis­ap­pear­ance, Peter used his key to en­ter Clau­dia’s house, un­aware that it would be the first of half a decade of vis­its. He was at first re­lieved that the house was tidy, and Clau­dia was not col­lapsed on the floor. But then his mind was tor­tured by hor­ri­ble pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“Now, I don’t keep go­ing over those. There’s no point. Rightly or wrongly, I made my mind up rea­son­ably early on, on what had prob­a­bly hap­pened to Clau­dia: I think she was ab­ducted on her way to work. Prob­a­bly by some­body that she at least recog­nised, as I don’t think she would have will­ingly got into a stranger’s car.”

With­out ev­i­dence to the con­trary, there is a chance Clau­dia has man­aged to keep her­self alive, al­though each year that goes by seems to close this door a lit­tle fur­ther. “It’s a hope. The pre­vi­ous se­nior in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer and my­self reck­oned we were work­ing on par­al­lel lines. He reck­oned she was dead, I reck­oned she wasn’t. We both wanted to find her.”

People of­ten say that the suf­fer­ing gets eas­ier with time af­ter a be­reave­ment, but in this case the pas­sage of time brings its own pain. “It won’t get any eas­ier. There is still a big hole in my life where Clau­dia was,” and at this, his voice breaks and he looks up to stop the tears.

Peter dis­ci­plines him­self not to fall apart; he can’t, for her sake. He has redi­rected some of that emo­tional ef­fort into be­com­ing fierce on be­half of other fam­i­lies of miss­ing people.

Le­gal Limbo

Like most of us, Peter never con­sid­ered the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of cop­ing af­ter some­one van­ishes: when it hap­pened to him, he was ap­palled. In the United King­dom, the miss­ing per­son is nei­ther dead nor present and there­fore, no one has the power to han­dle their af­fairs.

At the mo­ment, even when some­one has been miss­ing for a long pe­riod, it is hard to get them reg­is­tered as pre­sumed dead, to sell the house or wind up their ac­counts.

Peter de­scribes the dif­fi­cul­ties: “Once a mort­gage hasn’t been paid for three months, the mort­gage com­pany is quite likely to sell the property, and that’s a rel­a­tively short time. You can’t do any­thing. The bank, in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, mort­gage lenders, they all say, ‘We can’t ac­cept your in­struc­tions, as you’re not our cus­tomer’.

“You’re at your low­est emo­tional ebb, and you have to fight all these prob­lems. I’ve met so many people in this sit­u­a­tion. It’s ter­ri­bly dis­tress­ing.”

Small Hope

Peter is pleased though that small things are im­prov­ing: when a stu­dent went miss­ing in York in Jan­uary, Miss­ing People, a char­ity, was con­tacted. “The char­ity quickly had people on the streets, talk­ing to people. That didn’t hap­pen five years ago.” And just re­cently, the po­lice said tech­nol­ogy had im­proved enough that it was worth re­peat­ing foren­sic tests on Clau­dia’s house. They stayed for six weeks. That they were in there so long has made his hopes rise, al­though they haven’t re­leased any find­ings.

On the ad­vice of an­other man whose daugh­ter went miss­ing in the 1980s, Peter is striv­ing to keep the case in the pub­lic eye. Now, he gets ap­proached oc­ca­sion­ally by people who recog­nise him, and he doesn’t mind, be­cause “that means it’s work­ing”. Some­where, some­one knows some­thing, and he needs to find them.

The in­ter­view ends, and Peter jumps up in re­lief to find a photo of Clau­dia for me to look at. There she is, in a brides­maid’s dress for her sis­ter’s wed­ding. “Oh, she hated get­ting dressed up, she liked be­ing cov­ered in mud more than any­thing; she had one horse or an­other from when she was tiny,” says Peter, who seems so com­pletely changed. Re­mem­ber­ing her and hold­ing her pic­ture in his arms has made him, just for one brief mo­ment, happy.

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