My last drunk October happened on a visit to my once upon a time home. My born-and raised-island-city-home.
I say last drunk October, not my last drunk night in Juneau, because it wasn’t.
I had just missed my friend’s birthday.
My renegade-badass-from-childhood-and-beyond-best friend.
But that didn’t matter.
She had disappeared from our town with no road out, on Valentine’s, months before. I had been in Fairbanks when I had seen the posts on Facebook. I was eating a Greek crepe and sipping on a latte at the Crepery as I stared out the window and exchanged messages with her mom, followed by a long phone call.
I was sitting near the window facing a quiet street. The slight reflection showed the tears on my cheek as the anguish and fear from her mom’s voice caught me up on what was and wasn’t known. The latte grew cold but I didn’t care.
She could feel it. She wasn’t coming home.
I stared out the window.
One of the strongest women I had ever known – I had no one in my life to come kick sense into me when I was 21 and ruining my life but she showed up and put me a little straighter- was telling me what I didn’t want to hear, again.
The next day I drove home to Anchorage, and I thanked the open road before me.
I had lived a different life before, yet here I was, on a six hour drive through deep mountains and a hazy blue sky.
All I ever wanted in life was freedom.
Freedom from my mom choosing alcohol over me.
Freedom from States custody.
Freedom from probation officers.
Freedom from feeling unwanted and running. Always running. To anywhere else but “here”.
Tracy wanted freedom too so we ran from the Miller House group home on the regular.
Me, Tracy and Marion, sneaking onto a ferry to Haines, a young confused firefighter, and the Alcan Highway. It was a spectacular gorgeous flight back even if we sat in handcuffs, escorted to detention back in Juneau via a small chartered plane.
And that one time when we picked the lock to the little ticketing office at the ferry terminal when we were cold, about six runaways, stuffed in the tiny little building. I smiled at how resourceful we were.
Or when all the pots and pans got thrown out from our room at the Bergman because we couldn’t pay the rent.
The times under the dock or up the hill off the stairs as we drank 40’s with the boys.
Marion and her IV mishap from chemo and how the three of us went survival mode.
Tracy staying with me in Anchorage and our walk as it snowed for the first time that year.
The world was different and would never be the same.
How could Tracy just vanish?
But now it’s October, months have passed, so much she would not have missed.
My renegade-badass-from-childhood-and-beyond-best friend. Tracy Day. My last drunk October night had me out with Tracy’s twin, after spending most of the day with her older sister and her ex-boyfriend, a sort of reunion.
Three months later, in January, we would still be at a stand still – Tracy’s sign held between us and sometimes just one of us – held above our heads, as her older sister talked with people that shared stories of Tracy and how kind she is and giving, always so giving, some gave ideas on who to contact for help.
On our faces, thick red hand prints. “TRACY” written in the same bright red tempera paint.
A picture of her dark blonde hair and light blue eyes, dimples deep in the faint smile, glued beside her name. MISSING MMIW.
Why was she not found?
Because she had police problems.
Because she would disappear, sometimes for a few days.
Because she was gradually becoming more and more lost in between what was real and what was paranoia.
Because she would give away her last pair of gloves to someone in need.
Because she always wanted to do her best and not let her family down.
Because she tried her hardest to look for the same freedom we were always running after.
Because she had been my friend since we were so young, days of running from group homes and giggling about boys.
Because she had been by my side and I hers, for so many years.
Even if she had struggles with drugs and homelessness, bad men and crying children, it didn’t make her less of someone to search for.
Because of that I will always be searching for Tracy.
But this October night I went out with her twin. We left the older sister at home and the ex-boyfriend behind, and we made our way down Bar Row. Some bars had Tracy’s flyer up. Some didn’t. I would order my drink and ask why the flyer wasn’t up. Most of the time the bartender knew her and knew she had been missing and didn’t know why the flyer wasn’t up. I understood that and didn’t take offense but it still dug in me. In the hollow place she was missing.
The night went on, booze took over, blurry empty punches were thrown at to those who said “she was in treatment” or “I heard she left, and she doesn’t want to come back.”
I wanted to fight everyone, luckily Tracys twin saved me from everything, except a few bruises I got from falling and punching the wrong things.
When I came to the next morning with no purse, no jacket, I was at a home on the hill. Calling my phone from a relic – a landline in the kitchen on the wall- there was no answer.
The bar. My purse and jacket hadn’t left with me at closing.
The bar from my old days. The one I had snuck into before I was legally allowed, celebrating a friend’s twenty-first birthday. I had walked into that bar at age nineteen like I had done it before. The friend had rented a limo and the night had ended with most of us puking out the window.
Now I waited for the same bar to open, hoping my green peacoat and purse – with my phone and money – were in there.
It was a crisp cold morning and the guy with the house on the hill had given me a new flannel to wear over my marigold sweater. The flannel was stiff, but the inside was soft and it warmed me from the cold morning air as I headed down the few blocks to Bar Row.
The bar didn’t open up for another hour so I walked slowly down the street, glassy-eyed and hung over, others watching me, I imagined people I saw snickering at my demise. Near the park I turned around from my exhausting walk and headed back to the bar. Two men passing by asked if I was okay as I was leaning on a jutted window opening.
Yes, I answered and asked the time.
Twenty-five more minutes till opening.
The two men were friendly and it was good to talk to someone, the watchers and the snickers lost their hold on my hung-over mind with them by my side.
One man had a blanket around him.
He had lost his jacket too. His friend left, he had work to get to. A bus to catch.
The man with the blanket asked if he could wait with me.
“Would it be okay if I sit here while you wait?”
I said of course, yes.
Earlier, before I made the little walk to the park, I came to the bar and found it closed. I had seen a man working in the side kitchen area and he had come to the window after I tapped on it.
“Was a jacket in there? It’s green. Is there a purse around?”
“No, ask Tina when she gets in. She’d be in soon. Wait and ask Tina.” He had answered me through the crack of the door.
My new friend asked me if I had any cigarettes.
“I don’t smoke.” I shrugged.
He had a rollie he would share.
“No thank you.” I smiled.
“You have any food or any money?”
“No, I was waiting for my purse. For my jacket. Remember I just told you?” I asked, laughing at how crazy this was. I am 45 and on Front Street waiting for a bar to open.
“Oh yeah.” He looked near tears. He pulled his blanket closer. The ends were frayed and wet, grey from the dirt and rain.
I couldn’t tell if he was hungry or wanted money for something else. It didn’t matter to me. Sometimes people just needed a win.
“Tell you what, if my purse is in there, I will give you twenty bucks so you can get something to eat, or whatever.” I smiled.
“Deal,” he smiled and we bumped fists to cinch the deal.
“Why was I in Juneau?” He asked when we grew quiet again.
“Visiting family. And my missing friend. Seeing her family.” I explained the short version, still raw from the night before.
He knew her, and I was relieved he didn’t offer any scenario that answered why she was missing. I had heard it all the night before.
He thanked me.
“For what?” I asked.
“Most people don’t even bother to look me in the eye.”
It stung my temples as my jaw clenched when I heard him say this.
I looked at him.
He had stopped shivering.
We sat on the ledge, he was one of the homies from my days running the streets drinking 40’s in the narrow side alleys, under stairs smoking bowls from soda cans.
“Most ignore me,” he said. I listened and watched as he told me how he had lost his family, because he went out fishing and got paid and just never made it back home.
But not yet.
His eyes were heavy.
He was handsome, I thought. Tall, strong bones, either Haida or Tlingit. He was all the boyfriends from my youth, all from Southeast. His face was clearly lined, recent sadness had taken his genuine smile. People walking by stepped a little more to the edge of the sidewalk. The ones in heavy jackets and hats crisp, the people who wore tan khakis, had no time for him.
For us. We sat waiting on the ledge in front of the bar.
A blue Toyota stopped in the street in front of us. A woman got out and walked into the bar, the jangling of her keys drowned out by the loud truck as it pulled away.
“Stay off the window ledge and don’t loiter in front of the bar!” She spat out over her shoulder as she went inside.
What a snotty bitch, my eyes narrowed as I stood to head inside.
I’ll be right back, I tell my friend, as he stands to move, his face, bright only moments before, now lined with sadness.
The bar smelled like stale beer and maraschino cherries.
“Hey, I was waiting because my jacket and purse were left here last night.” I revel at the words out of my mouth; complete lack of responsibility.
In truth, I was shitfaced last night and I left my purse somewhere. And I left my jacket. And I have no clue, because I was blacked out and an idiot.
The guy in the blanket was able to lay out the truth and could handle saying it out loud, but I couldn’t.
I wasn’t as brave as him.
Tina is behind the bar, draining spigots and getting ready to open.
She looked at me and drew her mouth to a smirk.
“What’s it look like?”
“Purse is yellow and my jacket is green.” I am all about facts now.
She rummaged behind the bar, ducking down to a lower shelf, and came up with my purse.
“Great.” I smile. I check it. My phone, my money, everything is there.
“You can check around for a jacket.” She motioned to the back of the bar, where the pool tables were.
It wasn’t there.
With my purse, hotel room key, phone, and money all accounted for, I call it a win and head out.
It could have been a lot worse.
I could have my jacket and not my purse.
I had promised my waiting friend twenty bucks. I made an agreement with the Universe with our fist bump, and I was happy to see the smile on his face when I handed him a bill from in my purse.
“Oh wow, I didn’t think…” He was sheepish and took it.
“Of course. See you around, take care.” I knew I couldn’t rescue him. In that sense, he was like all the boyfriends I had as an adult.
Once back at my hotel I ran a bath. I took stock of my bruises; on my elbows, a purplish one on my thigh; one on the side of my left hand. Licking my alcoholic wounds, I ordered room service, and slept.
The next day, my last full day before I was to head back home to Anchorage, I picked up my missing friend’s ex-boyfriend to drive and visit with before I left. I had already told him about the night before and losing my jacket.
We drove the day away in my rental car, the gas gauge spectacularly remaining near full. We drove out the road and around Auke Bay, circling towards the glacier and the Valley. Then we headed to Douglas. Later as we drove over the bridge, heading downtown after Sandy Beach and the harbor, I told him I wanted to get rid of the flannel, folded nicely in the seat behind me, and who I wanted to give it to.
The man in the blanket.
It had been a clear blue sky day. Now it was getting dark out.
“Let’s do it!” He shook his head in agreement.
As we drove by the Glory Hole, the local shelter, I saw him and pulled to the side of the one way street. My friend unrolled his window and said hello to a few standing nearby.
I got out.
“Hey there, remember me?” I smiled.
I surprised him and he stepped out from his friends a bit and said hi timidly.
He was huddled in a recessed doorway, a small gathering of friends, all looking at me suspiciously.
I may have fit in here years ago, and the morning before, but I knew I looked like one of those heavy-jacket, khaki-wearing snobs now.
“So, I had this flannel the other morning and I don’t really want it. You want it?” I asked.
“Sure,” he was happy to take it from my hands, “hey, you got any money you can spare?”
“No. Sorry.” I lied as I headed back to my rental car. My friend rolled up his window and we drove off.
As I pulled away I had a feeling that no matter what I did, my heart would never be as big as Tracy’s was. And it angered me that Juneau could take away someone so good.
And that was my last drunk October in Juneau.
I have left some names out of this, as I did not have permission to share their names and didn’t want to give them “fake” names. This is a story about Tracy, missing her, what grief and unresolved loss can do, and having some sense of humanity for those around us still struggling, and at times feeling invisible.
If you know any facts about Tracy’s disappearance, contact JPD at 907-586-0600.
Tracy is loved. I am just one of the many that won’t give up until we have answers.