The agent sitting across me at my dinner table is very understanding. She tells me everything will be alright, that my husband will probably be found within 24 hours. Most cases are. I listen, but don’t really hear what she says. Her uniform has a bright yellow stripe over the top part, probably to improve visibility. The black jacket seems to be too big for her, but that might be by design. I can’t really tell what it’s made off, probably some sort of synthetic material that’s extra strong and all. It’s clearly meant for heavy use. She writes down what I tell in a small notebook, which to me feels a bit outdated. Hypnotised I follow how her simple, blue ballpen goes over the paper, crossing the t’s, dotting the i’s, putting a line under his name and his phone number. “Ma’am?”
I look up, feeling guilty. She smiles the understanding smile she probably practised a million times in a million similar situations. It’s not a fake smile, but like an over-practiced speech it doesn’t really feel real either. Having my attention again, she emphasizes that the police will do all they can, but if a grown-ass man (my words, not hers) does not want to be found, there is often very little they can do. It would be really helpful if I could give consent to checking our sharing credit card data as well as debit card data. You know, because he may have used them.
Ofcourse I give consent, why wouldn’t I? I already checked our online account, and there are no charges I can’t place. The last few cash withdrawals were done weeks ago, for our cleaning lady and the window washers. Daily write-offs were stores we frequented, his cafeteria at work, the usual. If they could find anything that I didn’t, good for them, but I doubt they would. Since he disappeared a day ago, nothing changed, nothing happened. Life went on as usual, even though my world has come crashing down. His phone is turned off, and his last location was his work. But his location never changed to home afterwards. It feels so unreal, and yet so absolutely logical all. Why would anything change, apart from my life? His presence or absence has no influence on politics, the neighbourhood or anything past our own two lives. But still it feels weird that the world just… continues. A few days ago everything seemed so perfect, our perfect, happy little lives. No kids, but we have two cats and a dog. Few family, but enough friends to be happy if an appointment is cancelled once in a while. The perfect couple, still very much in love and going out to dinner, to the opera, to the city, to music festivals. All that is gone now. There is no perfect couple when the other half does not join in on the fun.
“We will do what we can, and let you know as soon as we learn something.” She smiles apologetically this time. How many smiles would she have? And would she practice? What smile does her partner get? And her friends?
When the agent is gone, I close my front door and lean against it, keeping the world out and staying inside my simple, perfect bubble. My bubble where the world makes sense, where I’m still me and my husband is just gone for a while. Mundane tasks seem important now. I start to do the laundry, a task I hate and haven’t done in forever, in exchange for ironing his shirts, which he hates. I don’t mind ironing, just put a tv-show on, brain set to zero and off we go. While I hang the laundry, I go over the list of tasks still to do in my head. I need to clean the kitchen, clear out the dishwasher, maybe cancel work for a few days. While a nice distraction, it seems weird to work when your husband suddenly disappeared. I’m also quite positive the amount of perfunctory ‘how-are-you’s and ‘if-there-is-anything-I-can-do-for-you’s I will get, will most certainly drive me homicidal within a day.
In one of his shirts I find a receipt for a store a few towns away. A floral store. He would randomly come home with flowers, not as often as I may wished for. Then again, I only bought him flowers once. Maybe I should’ve bought him some more flowers, it’s stupid really that buying flowers is generally a one-way street.
When the laundry is done I decide to clean off my shoes. We went to the forest the last time I saw him, just a walk, and my shoes are full of mud. It was a muddy day, rainy and grey. A day that was just drab in all meanings of the word, with even the birdsong being subdued. But it was the last day we were together, and it will thus always be in my mind. Clean shoes may keep the mud out of my house, they don’t keep the fog out of my head. The last day just seems to both have flown by and crawled with minutes stretching to feel like hours, stretching from one end of eternity to the other, with the longest of them being the conversation with the police woman. The police woman was trying to be kind, I know, but she made me feel like a little kid getting called on in class, groping for the right answers.
I try to calm down with a cup of tea on the couch but I can’t. How will they find him? What if they don’t? Will I forever be in this purgatory then? This state of half-being, with an husband that is not pronounced death, yet also is not where he should be with me? What if he was standing at the front door right now? That would be weird, and still raise a lot of questions. No, the police is involved now; he’s officially a missing person. I should call someone, my mom I think. That’s what you should do, right? When your husband is gone? I don’t know, this is my first time as a distressed-husband-missing-wife.
With my cup of tea in my hand, I make a list of things to check. Finances, email, WhatsApp, whatever else I can find. Anything that may give a clue to where he has been. I’m a very methodical and logical person. Not known for being overly sensitive or emotional, I approach this as the research in my work. One big question: How can they find my husband? And then several small ones: what resources are available, what resources can I access and what hasn’t been checked yet? I feel calm, in the state I reach when I go through the panic and the stress to the point where I need to do something. Bring the world to order, in hope that an ordered world will be easier to live in and hold all the answers on the hard questions. Such as: what now?
First his financial records: maybe there is an account I don’t know about. I used his phone regularly, to put on netflix, to take a picture of the cat, to put in a grocery list… we never separated our phones that way, and both phones are unlockable with both our finger prints, so if there was any weird bankapp on his phone I would’ve found it. I have no access to his work computer, so that may hold clues I can’t find myself, but the police might. However, I do have access to his gaming pc. He always used chrome, but I start every browser I can find. Microsoft Edge, Opera, Mozilla Firefox… None of his browsers recognises a bank website, and after spitting through the histories of his browser I could not find any websites I did not know. Frustratingly enough, I never got the details to his Paypal. I know his paypal is linked to his personal creditcard, and his creditcard is the one item I can’t check without using his phone. It’s not that I never had access to that particular part of his phone, I just never checked because I trusted him. Damn.
While on his pc, I check the most used sites for each browser. Unsurprisingly, gmail pops up on chrome, but more surprisingly, also on mozilla firefox. I honestly at first thought he installed that one by accident, because it’s not even on his desktop. I first check his gmail on google chrome: this is his ‘normal’ one, the one he uses for everything as far as he told me. His email reads nothing special, all as expected. The most exciting thing in there is a list of job offers he didn’t tell me about. But being an expert in a small yet important field, I knew he got offers on a weekly basis. He would share the funniest ones and the more interesting ones. He once got a job offer from a gaming company in Dublin. The timing was incredibly bad though: it was literally a week after I accepted a new job in the middle of the country.
After a really boring five minutes, I decide to dive into the deep end. On Firefox, his gmail is automatically logged in. I doubt he would even know most of his passwords if I’m completely honest. Almost emotionless, I scroll through the trove of information on his secondary life. Some of it innocent enough: an account for all those annoying newsletters you would never want to use or see, but get subscribed to for a stupid discount after which it is almost impossible to unsubscribe. But the real reason for this account is clearly visible, screaming in my face from the sidebar: different folders for different dating-sites I only know by name. I never went on any of them, but I knew he had accounts when he worked for one of them. To test the changes they made to the system, and to see how users actually used the site. It was a joke we shared: we have a great marriage, and my husband has five accounts on relationplanet.com. Apparently he never stopped after he quit that job, but just got… addicted?
As if it’s a wound I can’t leave alone to heal but must poke and pick at to see how much it hurts, I start opening folders. Organised as he was, there is one folder named ‘conversations’. I click it. These seem to be the resulting conversations from the datingsite contacts. With both men and women, he was clearly not picky. A lot of them about his life. “My wife is amazing, but she is not a warm person”, “I would never say this to her, but sometimes I wish she was irrational, just for once”, “How are you? Work was boring as hell today, but then again, when isn’t it.” The replies I hardly read: why would I care what generic reply comes to that? It’s all very hallmark-card-y: “I totally understand what you mean”, “O I’m so sorry for you”. I feel a pang of guilt. No, I am not a warm person and I never saw any need or use for irrationality, and I don’t do the whole ‘poor you’ theatre. But I have always tried to give him what he needs without compromising myself. The nagging feeling I’ve had for years, that small voice in my head saying “Are you sure you are a good couple, or have you been faking this so long that it feels real even to you?” comes up again. I’ve always been slightly uncertain whether I even should have a husband, and on bad days when we fought he would tell me I was not caring and compassionate enough. He always, always would try to take that back, but I never forgot. Clearly, he was more serious about that than he tried to show.
I should just close it all and call the police now, why torture myself more? Me looking through this won’t change anything. And yet… I must. I open the next folder, “Continued”. Apparently “Continued” stands for continued conversations. These go to deeper emotional levels, and the amount of different names is clearly reduced: “I tried to talk to her today, but I couldn’t”, “Sometimes I wish I had the guts to just kill myself”, and more realistic: “Maybe I should just get a divorce, or run away.” Well, I bet the police would love to read that. These put some more salt in my wounds, as if they reaffirm that I am a bad wife and should not have a husband. I also find some conversations which imply that the cheating was not only on an emotional level: “I’m so glad we met, you’ve shown me a whole new world.”, “If only the sex with my wife was half as good as what we do during lunch break and ‘football practice’, I would never have been an unhappy husband.” Right, so now I suck at being a wife on both an emotional and a sexual level? Apart from sadness, I feel a familiar anger starting to rise. The feeling that I just don’t fit in and all my hard work and effort to be the perfect wife, woman, person is being totally ignored. Why do I even try? Without ceremony, I press the off-button on the pc for ten seconds, slowly suffocating his gaming pc and his second life with that push. On my own pc it always feels a betrayal to do this, now I feel a certain kind of satisfaction, as if I can hurt him by hurting his pc.
Personal feelings aside, this will give the police ample opportunity to start a search. I decide that playing open card is the smartest here, and I don’t try to erase my traces. They will find out anyway that this email was accessed from this address on this date, so I’d better be open about the fact that it was me who did it.
The second time around, the police agent is less certain that they will find him, but she tries to tell me that he may be having an affair without actually using the word affair or ‘other woman’. Well, that seems pretty obvious to me, yes, even though the other woman could in this case apparently also be another man. However, that does not bring my husband back, does it? It does not tell me anything I can call his work with or tell his parents or even the insurance company. With my current insurance, it takes a year of being a lost person before they will give me the life-insurance policy money I need to pay the mortgage. That only adds insult to injury, but very little I can do about that. I feel horrible for being so rational about it, so I don’t verbalize my concerns. I’ve learned to keep it all in, and smile and look sad, as is expected. Again, she goes over my story. How I went to pick him up, but when he didn’t show and his office was dark, I took a long walk in the woods as I was prone to, hoping he’d just call me and tell that an external meeting went way over time. I called the police when I got home and he still wasn’t there, but lost adults have a 24-hour wait if there is no prior condition: they would only look into it if he didn’t show up during the night, or the next day at work.
When she leaves, she is convinced he was having an affair and left me. I feel somewhat insulted by that: why would he leave me just like that, if he could divorce me and get half a house? For me, that doesn’t add up. But according to the police lady, logic is seldom a part of these decisions people make. She should know this, as she is an expert on missing person cases and I am just a desperate wife. I decide that the discussion is not worth the hassle and I just want her out again. She is in my space and I don’t like that.
For now, I have one more task to do before I can call it a night. I finish my umpteenth cup of tea of the day, go to the toilet and then walk into the garage. When I pop my trunk I find some leaves and mud from the forest clinging to my axe. He was kind of surprised when we went to the forest. As always, he was the last to leave from work. It’s a small office and as a manager he was generally the one to lock up. I picked him up a street away from his work. He always liked to walk a few minutes alone, to separate work and private time. I never questioned it, as I understand the need for quiet, but now the pieces fell into place. His workplace did not know about me: they thought his numerous lunch dates were just a divorced guy hitting it off. Funny how they knew his wife was single before she knew.
On the drive to the forest we didn’t speak. In the forest we spoke at length, and he confessed all. His affairs, both emotionally and physically he cheated on me numerous times. Too much of a coward to get a divorce, too much of a selfish prick not to cheat. I knew it as soon as I logged in on his pc to forward a copy from his id from his email to mine, and opened the wrong browser without noticing. I knew it as soon as I found an email address I did not know. In a marriage where everything is open, even one secret is suspicious and a big red flag. I’m not prone to act without thinking, so I acted a few days later, having thought of all my options and figuring out what was in my life insurance, without looking it up online. Must not leave traces. I needed to buy an axe and a poison readily available, yet quickly deadly, that took a day or two to get. The poison needed to be injected: the fastest method by far, though it leaves traces. But, let’s be honest, one pinprick somewhere in a hacked up corpse is not going to be the dead give-away. Pun intended. And it’s scary how easy one can order injection needles on-line. After that, all that was left was some manual labour.
I couldn’t leave the axe it in the forest, all bloody and muddy. I rinsed it in a stream, but as it would sink right away I took it home. The flesh floated away, piece by piece, like little red and white boats on the stream and would be hard to put together as I was rather thorough and left few pieces recognisable or larger then a big fish. Tough going, slashing through a body, but I have always been rather stronger then people expect and the forest is quiet here: it’s been said to be frequented by wolves, which I hope is true because they would probably like a nice piece of meat. Or do they get sick from that? The ‘poison’ is only poisonous when injected not when digested, but is human meat healthy for canines? I am tempted to google it, but it seems bad timing to do that right after your husband disappears. What won’t get eaten, will end up in sea within a day or so anyway. It pays to know your local geography.
But the axe would not float or be eaten by wolves. So I took it home. Next to it, his cellphone, which I will throw in a garbage disposal near the student dorm: they flatten the garbage every few days to make it compact. That should get rid of that. I turned his location tracking off as soon as I picked him up from work. As I said, we use each other’s phone unquestionably.
Right, the axe. I think that is best put in the maintenance space below our floor until I find a better spot for it. Next to my bloody clothes from that day soaked in bleach to counter the smell, and the one thing from him I kept. His wedding ring, still on his finger in clear Vodka to preserve. The one sign he actually still was mine after all, even if I was a bad wife.