My wife and I try to get out to the shore every summer. We’re East Coasters originally. We still have old friends there. It’s a good respite from all the nonsense that goes on here at the University, the small town politics. People there don’t know much about our life here, and we like it that way. But this summer, this past August, we were sitting on the porch one night after a party, with the sounds of the ocean and the old fog horn, the smell of salt and beer and the cigar someone happened to have. And out of the clear black sky my friend Siblitz says, “Hey, you two live in Wilting, right?” Laurie rolls her eyes yes and I nod and his eyes glaze over for a moment, just a moment. “Sara Foster’s my niece,” he says. “My sister’s kid.”
Sara Foster——in case we’re unclear——Sara Foster the sorority girl who disappeared one Friday night in June, twenty years old, at the bars one night. Much has been made of the fact that she was underage. Ostensibly her friends lost track of her. Two days later she was a missing person. Then she was on every telephone pole in town: “Seen Sara?” There were search parties. Police everywhere. Her parents, wealthy people, flew in for press conferences, appeared on the national news, on a daytime talk show. You couldn’t listen to the radio an hour but her name would come up. Sara Foster: still gone. No one would admit she was most likely dead.
“It happens all the time,” Laurie said one morning. We were in the car, listening to yet another Sara Foster news brief——or no-news brief, more like. “Every other year another little blond co-ed ‘goes missing.’ It’s good for the community.” As if on cue, the announcer explained there would soon be a half-marathon: Run for Sara. “A half-marathon!” Laurie laughed. “To what? Raise awareness? I wish we knew less. I wish I didn’t know anything about that poor girl at all.”
“We’ll be escaping soon,” I told her. “We’ll sit and smoke by the ocean. We’ll be a thousand miles away.”
But even the coast was tainted. Siblitz, her uncle. That changed things. At a faculty party in September, Laurie cracked some off-color joke about Sara—something about Foster kids—and I guess I embarrassed her by making a face. I wasn’t offended, just unamused. We fought about that. She said I’d made her look bad. I said Sara Foster was a tragedy. She said when did I get to be such a bleeding heart. Said she couldn’t be expected to keep up with my capricious morality.