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Equator, Equator, You Said You Would Be There
By Cassandra Wiseman

I seem to have misplaced one of my best friends. We have, it's true, misplaced each other before. When you have been best friends for thirty-five years, that's probably to be expected, but in all these years she has never once, before now, even when we weren't speaking to each other, never ever taken me off her Christmas card list. This is the second year that there was nothing from her. The cards I sent to her came back stamped returned to sender.

The Christmas of 2004 she sent me what was, I thought, quite a cheerful letter. Her second marriage hadn't worked out but she was happy and making money as a costumier in what was, she wrote, a thriving motion picture industry down in the bayous of Louisiana.

Enclosed in the envelope were three photographs. The first, a languid, beautiful candid, was of her smiling with two of her cats. The second pictured an array of the costumes she had made for the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou. In the third photograph she is posing in an ornately embroidered black kimono in the lush, sunny garden of the house she had just bought in New Orleans. Her blond hair is swept up in a French twist and adorned with two glossy black chopsticks, her long slender arms indicating where to look, like a model on The Price is Right; here are her string beans climbing up a trellis, strung along a fence, behind which, in the distance you can see water.

That was the last time I heard from her.

For two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I left messages on her cell phone; her home phone was a busy signal for a while and then, it rang and rang until I gave up calling. Eventually even her cell phone wouldn't take my messages. One miserable day, I found both numbers disconnected.

I must admit feeling overwhelmed by a dazzling number of lists to help find where Hurricane refugees might be relocated, but none were cohesive and several seemed to be phishing for personal info. Still I put her name and address on every "Search for Hurricane Katrina Survivors List" that I was able to Google and when these became missing person's lists, I did that too, to no avail.

I went to my friend who was press officer for North America for Doctors without Borders for advice. Weary from trying to find missing doctors in Chechnya and lost humanitarian workers in Iraq and Afghanistan, exhausted by the Tsunami and Darfur, she didn't have anything promising to say other than the International Red Cross site was probably my best bet and there, while scrolling down a list of what was literally millions of lost souls from all over the world, I got the picture, but refused to give up hope.

Despite putting her name on every list I could, no one has responded to a single message I've left from any of the Katrina survivor sites. My boyfriend who works with satellites was pessimistic from the moment I gave him her New Orleans' address. When I didn't get a Christmas card, he was consoling. She would have contacted you by now, he tells me. She's gone. Let her go. You may never know.

The thing is all I want is to know what happened to her. Both her parents have passed away and I don't know where she could possibly be. And I want answers. How can a grown accomplished woman just disappear in a major city in the United States of America in 2005? A tall and willowy blonde, forty-five years old, who signs her Christmas cards with her middle school nickname which I happen to know is Sarsaparilla Mongo.

Why can't I find her?

It has all come down to this. I don't know her social security or any of her credit card numbers. And what I have been told is that without my knowing this vital information, nothing more can be done to track her down.

The thing is I know her real name. I know her parents' names and I know the place, date and time of her birth. I know her middle name. I know her rising sign.

I know, because I noted it in my diary, the day she first arrived at sixth grade at Martin Luther King School in Sausalito. I also note, with an exclamation mark, the day she first got her period. I know when and where she first saw snow, which was with my family up at our cabin on Donner Lake. I know the first thing she did. She lay down with me in the deep fresh powder and we made angel wings with our arms.

She slept in my pink canopy bed and I slept in her waterbed, and I know she secretly coveted my Peter Max psychedelic wallpaper. She slept in my tree house and we both slept at our band teacher's house, and I know that she didn't sleep with anyone at all during high school despite what certain people said.

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