Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A mother's disappearance leaves behind an unrelenting emptiness

by Malcolm Garcia, Kansas City Star

In some of her dreams Brandy Shipp bumps into her mother on a Kansas City street clear out of the blue. Summer Shipp laughs about the big deal Brandy has made looking for her.

“Mom!” Brandy, 33, shouts, “I'm going to be on the Montel Williams show talking about you.”

“That's so silly,” Summer Shipp says. “But I'm so proud of you.”

In other dreams, her mother seems confused.

“Brandy, I don't know if I'm a ghost or if I'm here. What's going on?”

“Did you go through any pain?” Brandy will ask.

“Oh, no.”

Then Brandy wakes up in her mother's house where everything still appears as it did the December day Summer disappeared. She was last seen headed to her door-to-door market research job. Days later her car was found in Independence.

Brandy spends her days thinking up new ways to keep her mother's disappearance in the news. A map of Independence hangs on the wall near photos of Brandy and her mother laughing silently, mouths wide open, eyes sparkling, at something hysterical that only they know.

Her mother, she says, loves to joke. Last November, for a bachelorette party, she hung inflated condoms around the house.

Just before she disappeared, Summer and Brandy were studying Italian. Summer would get all the words wrong. She really wasn't very good, Brandy says and smiles. It lingers before she turns her attention back to a letter she has been writing and hopes to publish in area newspapers and magazines.

“To the person or persons involved in the disappearance of my mother,” she reads. “Would it be easier for you if I wrote words of hate? I cannot do that because I don't feel hate. I feel deep sorrow.”

She pauses, brushes her bright red hair away from her face. Brandy still feels the urge to just pick up the phone and call her mother. In those moments, for the briefest of seconds, Summer Shipp is within reach, a phone call away.

Then of course it hits her. No. No, she's not.

She feels better living in her mother's house and seeing her things. The movie posters of Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and the Wizard of Oz. The shined hardwood floors. The family photos beneath the sign, “We Want Summer.”

Brandy really thought in the beginning that her mother would escape by doing something clever. Trick her way out of whatever happened. If she tried, it didn't work. took a light from my life December 8 and left me with many days of darkness and Grief. Have you thought of your own family if one was missing?

Brandy has crying spells. Oh, God, does she have crying spells. One Saturday, she must have cried for five hours. Her therapist tells her to let it out a little bit at a time, but she doesn't know how to do that. An only child, she feels it is her responsibility to lead the search.

A level of numbness runs through her days. She tries not to dwell too long on things. She insists she has no reason not to think her mother is alive. She's going to continue thinking that way. She knows the odds, but it's her mother.

The last time they spoke, Brandy had called her mother to tell her she had gotten her father good with a practical joke.

They both laughed and then Summer had another call, said goodbye and hung up.

That was it. Three days later when Brandy called again, her mother was already missing.

......if you don't come forward you will not be forgiven. You will face the fire and fury of Hell.

Brandy used to work 50 hours a week as an office manager. She took several leaves, eventually quitting to devote all her time to the search for her mother. She bartends to make ends meet but it's not enough.

Everything costs money. The billboard posters of her mother with the phone number of the TIPS Hotline. The countless fliers. The enlarged photos of Summer's missing poster on the roof of taxis.

At some point, it will hit Brandy financially. She has her own bills on top of maintaining her mother's house. Yes, it will hit her. She wonders how hard and what she will do.

The reality of bills could cut through the numbness, leaving her exposed to the unrelenting emptiness of her mother's disappearance and the bleak message carried by each passing day.

She would like to start an organization that focuses on missing persons. Sometimes she feels that her search for her mother has evolved into looking for all missing persons. So that none of them will be forgotten and in that way her mother won't either.

......I feel very sorry for your family as they will also hold the burden of your guilt all their lives. Let's set this to rest.

Her eyes tear. Oh, God, she doesn't want to cry. She doesn't want to think about that. Not unless she has reason. She understands that most people think her mother has died.

Brandy won't go there. Her mother comes to her in her dreams. That's not enough but it's all that she has. For now.