For most of the past year I’ve been reconstructing the search for Catherine Winters day by day on Facebook and Twitter.
Every day I scroll down the giant timeline I spent five years making and find today’s date a hundred years ago. Sometimes something exciting happened—a big lead, an arrest, a juicy quote in one of the papers. More often, though, it’s mundane.
That’s the worst part. The most terrible things became mundane in Catherine’s case. Searches of Gypsy camps, unsettling letters from anonymous members of the public, farm fields dug up in search of skeletons. These things eventually earned only passing comment in the press, they happened so often and always with the same, disappointing conclusion. No Catherine.
At the same time I’ve been following developments in real time, and appreciating in a much more visceral way the horrible, maddening suspense of the search, I’ve been doing another kind of waiting. I’m a writer, with a writer’s dream of having my words on real paper on a bookshelf somewhere. But the search for a publisher in this economic climate who wants to take a risk on a little-known case and a less-known writer drags on.
Of course the stakes are nothing like the same, but still, to me, after all those hours at a microfiche machine—they’re not without their toll. I wonder, when is it time to give up? How do you know? And what would life look like afterward? But maybe this too serves my understanding of my story.
The waiting, the monotony, the glimmers of terrible hope—they push me further in that imaginative leap. They bring me a little closer to how it felt to search and search and search, and not just for a professional prize. For a precious daughter.