Today’s Untold Story has been anonymously contributed by a man who has been through the experience of losing a friend – literally losing them, without any idea of where they’d gone. I can’t begin to imagine how this must feel, that state of limbo and uncertainty, unable to move on or let go of the hope. Please read and leave a kind comment if you’d like to. If you have a personal story you’d like to share please get in touch.
This story starts in the late 60s – 68 and 69 to be precise.
Growing up I had lots of friends, but I had one special friend. She lived on the same street as me and we were as thick as thieves. But the story starts before just living on the same street.
Our mums worked together at the local school as dinner ladies and were great friends, they both had other children older than me and my friend – let’s call her Claire. Our mums fell pregnant at the same time, so as they were good friends they supported each other through pregnancy just as they did with my older brother and sister.
They would go to antenatal clinic together, shop for baby clothes, support each other through pregnancy, do what expectant mothers do all throughout the country.
So as the pregnancies progressed the due dates appeared to be within days of each other in March. Claire’s due date came and went with no sign of her. Three days after the due date she appeared, a happy and healthy little girl. Next it was my turn to make an appearance. Within three hours of Claire being born, little old me came along.
As you can imagine, living on the same street only six doors apart life was pretty much growing up together. From going to school together, playing together, eating together, even going on holidays with both families together. We were inseparable friends.
I lost my older sister when I was nine to a tragic playground accident and Claire naturally took the role as my sister. Once the tragedy of the accident had faded and was just a memory, Claire was my rock and best friend. Even though we grew into teenagers, our friendship never faded and we didn’t let hormones get in the way.
My life was planned out for me as my father was a military man who would travel the world serving in multiple warzones and so many different countries. So when I turned 17 in 1987 I was shipped off to Catterick garrison up there in Yorkshire. But still Claire and I kept in touch via post and weekly phone calls. She had stayed on in school to do her sixth form years. When Claire left school, she went to work for the local education authority as a trainee playgroup nurse, a job she loved.
Even though our lives had gone in different directions, we still got together whenever I was home on leave. Claire found herself a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend, but we were both happy for each other as I guess you would be happy for your sibling finding love. She was happy with her partner, they had bought small house together and were looking forward to going on holiday.
A few years had passed and we still in weekly contact. Claire had been promoted to nursery manager and I was climbing the ranks to Staff Sergeant when I had a phone call from home asking if I had seen or heard from Claire. She had not been seen for 48hrs. I drove home at higher speeds than are legal.
I arrived home and the police were parked outside. My heart was beating through my chest, my hands were sweaty and I gripped the steering wheel so hard that I turned my knuckles white. I still remember the sick dread I felt. I sprang from the car and pushed past the police officer stood at the doorway trying to find her mum and dad. Her parents were sat at the kitchen table along with my mum and dad and her siblings. Her partner wasn’t there – he was flight crew and was in New York on a layover. He was on the next flight home.
Over the next few days the police had put into place all the things they do with a missing person. Question friends, colleagues and neighbours. Put a article in the local newspaper, local radio… I cannot fault the work the police put in. What you see in films or on the TV we did – posters, asking in the nearest towns, pubs and clubs. We walked streets, woods, we searched along rivers and streams, even the local hills. I took time away from my army service. Her partner took time off work, just to look for her.
But after a few months or so the police stepped back, focusing on other more pressing matters. They still contacted the family every time a body was found locally. This is a brutal part of the people left behind in missing person cases, the having nothing, the not knowing, the dread of the next call being the one that tells you they have a body and it could be them. I had to go out to Germany as part of my rotation but every weekend I could or weeks leave I would come home to look for her, I must have put months of pacing and walking just aimlessly looking for Claire. I wanted to find her.
This all happened in 1990. I didn’t want to give up, but I knew I had to. I still visited her parents whenever I could, but it broke my heart every time I went. I was sent off to Saudi Arabia to prepare to enter Kuwait to push the Iraqi invaders out of the country. I spent a year and a half out in the desert doing what I was paid to do. I never stopped thinking about Claire and vowed to find her.
After a long career in the forces, many different countries and battles, both military and personal, I took early retirement and started a life outside the regimentation of army life. I was still missing her, the letters, the calls, the meet ups, just her not being there. I had got engaged while in the army and when I left, we got married. Helen my wife at the time knew about Claire and the bond we had. At weekends we travelled to London, Manchester, along the south coast, all the places the lost, lonely and troubled seam to congregate.
I just wanted to find her. By 1998 my life had started to unravel – I lost jobs, lost friends, lost touch with reality. I lost my marriage. Not because of my hunt for Claire, but suffering from severe PTSD. I myself was loosing the battle.
I stopped looking for Claire in mid 1999 after her parents passed away within a year of each other. I feIt a guilt that I didn’t find her – I couldn’t even go to their funerals because I felt I had let them down. I got myself and my life back on track as I had to do something. I got help for my post traumatic stress disorder, I got a job, a new wife, a family of three wonderful daughters, and here I am in 2022 still wondering what had happened to Claire. She had all her ducks in a row, far sooner than I ever did. She had no debt, no problems that anyone was aware of, she was happy, healthy and strong.
So where did she go?
They say when you loose someone you know that they are gone. I know I felt it with my mum and dad when they died. I know it with my sister, I know it with mates I served with, and friends since. I know they are gone. But with Claire I know she’s still there somewhere, anywhere. I still look to this day, but now it’s just looking at faces. Day trips to London, a weekend getaway in Paris or Edinburgh. I miss her every day and I still believe that the face I see in a crowd will be her.
My heart tells me I will.