Monday Mourning: A Missing Girl

Carla Taylor produces Ripple Puddle podcast, a weaving of true stories that connect us in the human experience. Our next episode, Memoirization, out in a few weeks, is about how we remember and how we choose to remember.

DW: Who was the person that died?

CT:  Rosie Gordon, a neighborhood girl that used to hang out with us at the swimming pool in Burke, Virginia.

DW: How old were you at the time? 
CT:  I was a few weeks from turning 15. There was still a child operating the body of a young woman. I know I secretly played Barbies.

DW: How old was Rosie? 
CT:  She was 10 years old.

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
CT:  Her death was sudden. The impact of what was left behind vibrates through our community to this day, 26 years later. 

The fear that I felt back then still has the same physical manifestation, like a strange gut tingle. I used to go to the pool with my two younger cousins. We would ride our bikes through the woods that went around Lake Braddock. Since it was a small community of families, everyone took care of each other. After a long day of swimming, we’d ride home, often with all of their friends, making drop off stops along the way.

Rosie was often in the group with us, on her purple glitter bicycle. I remember little things about her, like her ticklish laugh and cartoon-like hair, like a Strawberry Shortcake character. She was polite and had over-protective parents who she had to check-in with periodically.

It was 1989, and Adam Walsh seemed like a very specific, distant horror story. A cautionary tale for parents to remember somewhere in the back of their heads, the kind that leads to learned helplessness and knee-jerk overprotectiveness.

The week that Rosie disappeared, the week they found her sparkly purple bike under a Dogwood tree in Lake Braddock, I had stayed home from the pool. She had gone riding with a friend and disappeared a few blocks from home. Sometime that early evening, her father went walking the lake in hopes of finding her. It was possible that she could’ve lost track of time. It was during that walk that he found her bike, ran home and called the police.

DW: Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
CT:  The way I found out was strange. I was watching tv in the kitchen and saw her face on the screen. Missing.

I can still see that image, clearer than I can see the image of my own face back then. The phone rang and my mom pulled the long chord around the corner into the hallway, which she only did when shit was going down. She came back to the room and said nothing.

The next day, my younger cousin confirmed that it was Rosie. We all discussed what could’ve happened to her. Maybe she got lost? Maybe she fell off her bike and hurt herself?

Two days later, they found her body.

No one talked to us about Rosie, but quite abruptly and behind closed doors, the family made the decision to no longer allow us to go outside unsupervised.

DW: Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person? 
CT:  I wish so much that I could’ve been there to ride beside her all the way back home.

DW: Was she buried or cremated?
CT:  She was buried. 

DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share? 
CT: I learned that death spares no one. Not the sweet, Strawberry Shortcake girls. Not the young ones. Not the ones with looming parents.

It could’ve been any one of us.

But also, I remember feeling that the adults around me weren’t honoring her by keeping us tied to their sides. The gravity of the situation seemed to be lightened by this sudden protection. Really, I wish we could’ve just let it in, to feel the specific loss of Rosie. Not the “It won’t happen to my kid” reaction. But now as a parent, I guess I can understand the rationale.

DW: Last but not least, were any songs played at the memorial that were important to the person?

I wasn’t allowed to go to her memorial service, but, to this day, I play Rosie’s Lullaby by Norah Jones on my guitar just for her. I sing it like a prayer (and I don’t really pray). But it makes me feel better imagining that she can hear it.