FROZEN IN TIME
Part I: Horror in the Poplars
"I'll be back later, 'Ma!"-ten year old Dominik Ventura waved good-bye to his mother as he opened the front door to his house. Thirty year old Elsie Ventura stared at her son from the couch, where she sat alongside her five-year old daughter Magnolia. Elsie gazed at her son's navy blue vest (which had three colorful stripes across the chest) and called out-
"Dominik, be sure to come back for dinner!" She paused then added "Be back before the sun sets!"
Her son smiled as he was used to his mother's ultra-protective ways. He nodded as he shoved in his jeans pocket the money he had been saving in his piggy-bank for over a year. He heard his little sister call out.
"Win me a little teddy-bear, Dominik!"
Dominik nodded as he waved one last time to his mother. "Alright, I'll win you a great big giant teddy bear! Now 'Ma, I gotta go! I'll be back before sundown!"
Elsie Ventura and her daughter watched as Dominik closed the door behind him. He never opened it again.
Dominik would vanish that day-June 29, 1982.
I was five years old the year that my brother vanished in June 29. My name is Magnolia Ventura and I am now nine-teen years old. My brother's disappearance changed many lives that day-my family's and mine's mainly. I became obsessed with finding him-and finding out what had happened to him-and who took him. The obsession consumed me as it consumed my parents. I didn't have a clue as to what would occur once I undertook that dark path. I didn't realize how it would change me. It would be a journey filled with angst and pain-but I was willing to do anything to find my brother-anything, even die.
Here is my story.
I was born in a small town called Menomee in western Wyoming. The town was pretty and surrounded by lush grasses and with the mountains in the distance it was poetry itself. My parents were Diego Ventura and Elsie Sandoval, who had moved to Wyoming from Texas. We lived in a comfortable pale-green house at the corner of Magnolia Street (for which I was named for when I was born in 1977). We had a small garden in the front-where mom planted her roses every year; and a bigger yard in the back where dad planted his veggies in a patch close to the side fence-far from the large elm tree that stood in the center of the yard.
As I stand outside the house now in 2010 I see the house has fallen into disrepair and the gardens are dead-as is the lone elm, which is now only a dead husk. Once there was happiness in that house-once two happy children played in the grasses...[Memories of Dominik and Magnolia are seen as they laugh and play in the garden around the elm tree].
After Dominik disappeared in 1982 my family stayed in Magnolia Street only until 1990-when father died. He had refused to leave the house in Magnolia, fearing that one day his son would return and not find anyone home. Father believed deep in his heart that one day the door-bell would ring and there Dominik would be. No matter what anyone said and no matter how helpless things looked, father believed. He would say, often with tears in his eyes-
"I'll wait forever."
But father's health deteriorated as everything (including eating) became unimportant. He searched high and low for his only son-and I would go with him on his tireless search. Mother and he argued about what should have been, and about whether she should have allowed Dominik to go to the carnival that day. They also analyzed whether her having gone with him would have saved him. They most horrible thing was when they argued about Dominik's fate. Father believed his son was alive somewhere. Mother did not.
"How can I be married to a woman who would rather believe her own son is dead?"-father yelled one terrible night three years after Dominik disappeared.
"Because!"-mother shrieked as she slammed the dinner-plates on the sink. "I don't want to fathom the idea...the thought that my son is out there somewhere being tortured all of these damn years!" She let out a loud sob as she ran to the bed-room. Father followed her and together they held each other, sobbing. I hid behind a wall and wiped away tears from my own eyes.
Father died of a heart attack in 1990 still believing that Dominik was alive. Not too long before he died, we had a talk where he told me his deepest fears.
"I am so afraid...of my own family losing hope. I cannot believe that anyone who loves Dominik would ever believe he is dead,"-he said, his eyes tearing up. He took my hand in his and asked-"Can you promise me something, Magnolia?"
"Promise me that you'll never stop looking for him. Promise me that you'll never stop believing that Dominik is out there and alive." Tears streamed down his cheeks as I promised him that I would never stop searching for my brother. He smiled weakly and I don't think I can ever forget that moment when we looked at each other as if for the last time.
But it would be years until I gained the strength I needed to pursue the search.
My life was a blur after Dominik disappeared. I couldn't comprehend what had occurred and why my only brother couldn't return home. All I recalled about those first years without him was the crying and the cops coming and going and the family and friends always visiting us. I recall their sad faces and how they tried to comfort mother and father while I hid in the background, confused by all that was happening.
I remember that July of 1982 should have been exciting, with the fireworks and the town festival. But after Dominik disappeared no one in the family found any joy in pyrotechnics. When August arrived so did Dominik's eleventh birthday; but after 1982 our family didn't celebrate a single birthday. We had no Thanksgivings, no Christmases-nothing. Celebrations were about happiness-how could we celebrate anything if we were dying on the inside?
As I grew up I understood what had happened to my brother that June 29 of 1982. But like my father I did not believe Dominik was dead. In my mind Dominik was away somewhere-waiting for us to find him. He would then come home to a giant celebration and all would return to normal. Why else did my parents keep his room exactly the way he had left it in 1982?
I imagined Dominik open the front door and say to me-"Hey Peanut!" and walk into the kitchen to look for a snack as he usually did after school. "Peanut" had been his nick-name for me. My parents sometimes catch me gazing longingly at the door. They always knew what I was imagining, for they imagined it too. I made it a habit to go to bed by saying "Good-night Dominik" and touching his picture (one I'd stolen from a family album). It just seemed right. It was as if maybe, just maybe, Dominik could hear me-wherever he was.
Because I was only five when Dominik disappeared, I was affected differently from my parents, who were older and more mature. Perhaps I didn't fully understand what had happened then, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when I entered high school. One day after leaving school I saw some boys riding bikes along the path and I swear that one of them looked exactly like Dominik. I stared at him with my mouth open, and that's when it hit me.
I ran home and to my bedroom and collapsed on my bed. Tears flowed down my eyes. It was as if I had actually seen my brother! Sensations pulsed through me as memories came into my brain. My brother-my only brother-where on Earth was he? I cried for at least an hour, unable to stop myself.
As I have said before, so much happened before I could search for Dominik. Mother and I moved away from Magnolia Street after father's death and went to live with Beatriz, my mom's sister over on Orleans Street. The house was too small for Beatriz's family of husband and two children-Becky 12 and Tommy 10. With mother and me there, we were uncomfortable and there was never any privacy. I felt very out of place there and often sat outside on the porch swing alone. Often I could sense Becky and Tommy peeping at me through the house window.
One evening I finally said-"He was your age, you know."
Tommy came out from inside the house, wearing a hoodie and jeans. His brown eyes looked at me.
"He was my age?"-he asked. I turned to him and nodded. Tommy had been a baby when Dominik disappeared.
"Yes-Dominik was ten...but that was in 1982,"-I answered.
Tommy sat down next to me on the porch swing and we began to talk a bit. He suddenly asked-"Magnolia, how old would Dominik be now?"
It was then that reality hit me-and hard.
All this time I had imagined Dominik still alive as a ten year old. But the truth was that it was now 1992-which meant that if he was still alive (which I honestly believed he was) then he'd be "Twenty years old,"-I murmured in shock.
Tommy looked at me and seemed to realize the significance of his question. I trembled as I put a hand to my lips.
"He is twenty years old...oh God..."-I moaned softly.
I stood up and shook my head-"I'm not searching for a child...I'm searching for a 20 year old adult!"-I realized.