About ‘In Black & White’
The abduction of their daughter and the resulting fallout from the public, their friends and families force a couple to face some difficult truths about their views on love, marriage, race, and to question whether they ever really knew each other at all.
This is How I Lost You
There is a bird sitting in the tree beneath which the Audi is parked, and just as I am opening the rear passenger door to put Samara inside, it craps on the roof, and then begins to sing, a full-throated melody as if in triumph.
I mutter a curse. I just got the darn thing washed the day before, after a long winter when the effects of snow and salt and mud were all too apparent, making my luxury SUV look more like a work truck. We live in a neighborhood where people judge you for things like that, and one where Samara and I remain somewhat of a curiosity. It is very much a two-parent family community, and most of the children are tweens or teens. Only one couple on our block has kids near Samara’s age, and they are, I think, three- and five-years-old to Samara’s eighteen months.
As I strap her into her car seat, she smiles up at me, and says, “Juice?”
Her tone is mildly inquisitive, and fully expectant that I will be able to supply what she has asked for.
I look at the diaper bag next to her on the seat and my shoulders sag when I realize I’ve left her cup inside.
“When we get to grandma’s,” I say.
“Juice!” Samara insists. Her face crumples the way it does when she is getting worked up to deliver a scream.
“Mama will get you juice,” I promise. “Just as soon as we get to grandma’s.”
She stretches out in the car seat in that way she has, making her body as straight and stiff as a board and I can already picture how this will go. I will get into the driver’s seat and shut the door, she will realize that there is no juice forthcoming, and will have an epic meltdown lasting the entire drive to Noah’s mother’s house. And I will, once again, deliver to my disapproving mother-in-law, a purple-faced, snotty-nosed, hollering child.
“Samara, please,” I say, putting the back of a hand against my forehead. “Not this morning. I …”
“Juice!” she says yet again.
I realize I am trying to reason with someone who is inherently unreasonable and take a deep breath, shutting my eyes momentarily. I reach to unfasten her from the car seat and then exhale again. Instead, I smile at her.
“Just a moment, okay? Momma’s going to get you your juice.”
I make sure I have the fob in hand, shut the door with Samara inside and engage the locks. I have a moment’s pause, but only a moment. I look up and down the tree-lined block, then make a mad dash back toward the house, glancing over my shoulder while I unlock the front door, and again when I pause at the panel that will disarm the home security system.
I run back to the kitchen and spot right away Samara’s juice cup sitting on the center island. Grabbing it, I turn and trip over one of her toys, a little supermarket cart, filled with plastic fruit and vegetables, and little boxes printed with pictures to make them look like the real ones of breakfast cereal, rice, and other dried goods.
“Shit!” I yell as my right knee crashes painfully against the travertine floor, and the top snaps off the cup of juice, sending a puddle of apple juice across the floor along with the mass of fake groceries.
I right myself almost immediately and check my pants and top. Thankfully, the juice is only on the floor and not on me. I take a deep breath, blink back the reflexive tears that rise to my eyes from the sharp pain in my knee and half-walk, half-limp over to the sink. I quickly rinse the cup then go to the fridge and refill it.
Kicking aside some of the toys and stepping over others, I head for the front door then remember my keys. Grabbing them, avoiding the pool of apple juice that will no doubt be a sticky mess when I return home that evening, I finally head out. I consider leaving without rearming the security system, but then decide that I must. These tiny omissions, because of the fear of a minor inconvenience are what lead to later regret, I remind myself. I shut the door, only for as long as it takes to enter the code to arm all the entry points to the house.
Finally, I am walking down the cobblestone path from the front door and back to the Audi. I am only a few feet away when I realize I can’t see the top of Samara’s head with the ash-blonde curls. I move faster. I think only that she has managed to unfasten herself from the car seat. Kids are smart, and at her age, little sponges. Having seen me do it a million times, she has probably figured out how to do it on her own.
All these thoughts go through my mind in the mere seconds it takes me to get to the car. All these thoughts immediately disappear, replaced by other more panicked ones when I get to the car and realize that Samara is not inside.
I drop the juice cup, and grab the door handle, tugging frantically at it and not understanding why it won’t open. It is locked. For a moment, I don’t know what the keys in my hand are for. I look at them, uncomprehending. I hear nothing except for the blood rushing in my ears, feel nothing except for my heart crashing in my chest. I yank the door one last time, then remember … I use the fob to disengage the locks then practically dive into the backseat.
Samara is gone.
Her car seat is empty.
I look—irrationally—under the seats, and in the front, down at the passenger and driver’s side floorboards. She isn’t here! How could she not be here?
My mind seems to splinter like that of a panicked animal. My hands are shaking uncontrollably. I get out of the car and look under it. I look up and down the street. And then, I begin to scream her name, over and over again. I am still screaming her name when one of my neighbors comes out of her house.
I don’t know her, but she is holding a coffee mug and wearing a summer suit. Her blue eyes are wide in alarm. She can tell from the sound of my screams that I am not just calling to my child in the way that parents often do to get them to come. Her expression, which I register dimly, tells me that she knows right away that something very, very bad has happened.
I am sitting on the sofa in the living room and the house is crawling with uniformed officers when Noah arrives. Next to me is the neighbor lady whose name I should know since she told it to me at some point. But it flitted immediately out of my head, and I would not be able to retrieve it if my life depended on it. She is holding my hand and I am digging my fingernails into her palms though she doesn’t complain.
I have stopped making any sound, at least outwardly, but inside my soul is screaming like a banshee. Standing over me, is Detective Lewis. I retained his name, because he is important. He is the man who I need to believe will find my baby.
Noah’s suit-jacket is still on, but his tie looks askew, like he’s tugged at it. His tan face is drawn into a worried and horrified scowl. His sandy hair—always rakishly long in front—is disheveled.
“Dana!” he says again, shoving past the detective. “What … what … where’s Samara? Where’s …”
The detective steps between us. He looks Noah over.
I see his eyes taking it all in—Noah’s thirtysomething all-American blonde and athletic good looks, and his frantic, frightened blue eyes. If he is at all surprised that we are an interracial couple, it is not apparent in Detective Lewis’ eyes. He probably guessed as much when he looked at the picture of my blonde-haired girl with a complexion that is light desert-sand, in contrast to my much tawnier brown.
“Yes.” Noah looks at the detective impatiently, then back at me. “Dana …”
The neighbor lady releases my hand, and though I am not looking at her, I can sense her watchfulness. I can almost feel her holding her breath, waiting for what comes next.
“Noah,” I say, reaching for him. “She’s … she’s gone.”
My face begins to crumple just as his does. But instead of crying, he raises his voice.
“What do you mean?” he demands, grabbing me by the shoulders. “What do you mean?”
“I went … She was in the car, and …”
“Mr. Farris …”
Detective Lewis tries to interject, but Noah is shaking me now, and I am flopping backward and forward as he does, unresisting. Someone pulls us apart, and I don’t see Noah because I am sobbing and looking down.
“Mr. Farris.” The detective is speaking again. “It appears … Your daughter is missing, and at least right now it appears as though she may have been abducted.”
“How could that have happened?” Noah’s voice is lower now, but not by much. “Dana! How the fuck …?”
“Your ex-wife was inside when …”
I look up, and Noah is staring at me in horror.
“How could you have been … Where was Samara when you were inside, Dana?”
“Your daughter was in the car,” Detective Lewis answers for me.
“In the car?” Noah repeats the words as though he’ll need someone to translate them for him.
“Mr. Farris.” There is stony emphasis in the detective’s tone. “If we’re to find your daughter, I’m going to need both you and your wife to answer some questions for me.”
Noah finally tears his accusing gaze from me. His face is almost blood-orange. I hear him breathing, labored and uneven breaths.
“What … what do you need to know?” he manages.
“You and your ex-wife have been …”
“My wife,” Noah says. “We’re just … we’re separated, not divorced.”
“Your wife. Yes. You’ve been living apart for how long now?”
“What the fuck does that have to do with anything?” Noah asks, looking pained. He glances at me again.
“I told him six months,” I offer.
“Six months, yes. Six months,” Noah says.
He glances up as a uniformed officer walks by, his radio squawking.
“What’re they looking for? Why are they even here, when Samara …?”
His voice cracks, and my heart does as well. He looks at me. His eyes are brimming with a look of betrayal.
“Dana,” he says, his face crumpling again. “You
lost her? How could you do … how could you lose her?”
The clock across the room reads just past nine a.m., but I’m not sure how that could be. It seems like mere minutes ago, I was getting Samara ready to take her to her grandmother’s house. I was singing to her as I pulled on her pink-and-white romper, the one that has snaps along the inside seams of the legs, making it easier to change her. Noah’s mother bought that romper. I picked it out this morning because she bought it, and I was trying to curry favor with her by bringing over her grandchild dressed in one of her gifts. Currying favor with Noah’s mother, Suzanne has become a mission of mine lately, ever since the separation.
I look up, numbly. Detective Lewis is staring at me. He has asked me something. I can’t remember what it might be.
“What Samara was wearing …” he prompts.
“Oh.” My voice sounds wooden. “Pink. A pink-and-white romper. A white t-shirt underneath.”
I think he has asked me this before, but I can’t be certain. He must have asked it. Because hours have passed since …
My eyes fill with tears again, but I blink them away, knowing that if I give in to crying, I will be useless. And I can’t be useless. I need to focus so I can help them find her.
“Are you sure?” Detective Lewis says. “That that’s what she was wearing?”
“Why are you sure?”
At that, I study his face. He is about eight or ten years older than I am, I think. Maybe forty or so. He has lines bracketing his full mouth, the lips a little dark, like someone who smokes or used to. He has the solid body of a man who plays a sport on weekends or works out. I notice things like this about people, I remember details.
“I remember details,” I say aloud.
“Pardon me?” The detective leans in.
I didn’t intend to say it aloud.
He is sitting on the ottoman, directly across from me, his knees up high, because the ottoman is almost comically low to the ground for a man his height, which I estimate at six-three.
“I said … I’m the kind of person who remembers details,” I say, and clear my throat.
“Good. That’s good,” he says. “Because we’re going to need that. For instance, locking the car. You said you’re sure you locked the car?”
This I do remember him asking me before. At least twice. He spread it around, asking other questions in between. But he keeps returning to that.
“I’m sure,” I say. “I wouldn’t have left her there without locking …” My voice breaks. “I’m sure.”
Detective Lewis nods as though this has settled the matter, but I know it has not. He will ask this question again. Or maybe his partner will. I assume she’s his partner, the woman in the boxy suit who arrived about an hour after he did, and who has hung back almost the entire time she’s been here.
She’s Black, about fifty or so. Slender, with a narrow, mean face, short-cut hair. I feel like she’s judging me. Judging, and assessing. The assessing, I don’t mind because it’s her job, to see whether I might be hiding something, or am acting suspiciously, whatever that might mean in circumstances like this. But the judging makes me uncomfortable.
I imagine she has taken in my luxury SUV, my luxury home, my nice clothes, my handsome husband, and made judgments about my entire life, lived in the comfort of this leafy suburb. I imagine she is inwardly curling her lip with disgust at a woman who has so much, and would risk the most precious thing of all—her child—by leaving her outside in the car while she went inside to dawdle over God-knows-what.
“Well, given that,” Detective Lewis says. “Given your attention to detail, I mean. It’s surprising that you forgot the juice inside, isn’t it?”
I sit up a little straighter, sensing that I may later remember this moment, perhaps as the moment things took a subtle turn.
“It … today was different,” I say, swallowing hard.
Even as I speak, it enters my mind that somewhere out there, Samara will be crying. Looking around and not knowing where she is, or who the person, or people are who she is with. She will be screaming and crying, and her little face will go purple with distress, or with … terror. Is she in a car? Being carried even farther away, even as I sit here? I try to tamp down the panic I begin to feel, the resurgence of the hysteria with which I first greeted the sight of my empty car.
“Why was today different?”
This he hasn’t asked me before.
“I was trying to get to an appointment,” I say.
“What appointment?” He glances at the mean-faced woman, and she takes out a notepad, and begins to write.
“With … I was going to see my lawyer.”
Detective Lewis lets the words hang there for a moment.
“Why were you going to see your lawyer, Dana? Can I call you Dana?” His voice is lower now, sympathetic. I’ve seen enough detective shows to know that he is cultivating rapport, trying to get me to open up further.
Jesus Christ! I want to yell. You don’t have to do that. I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Just find my baby!
“Is … are other officers out looki…”
“Of course, they are,” the detective says with a kind smile. “About a dozen other things are happening while we sit here, Dana. And all of them focused on the same goal—getting Samara home to you.”
At the sound of her name, my face crumples and I make a sound in my throat, and feel something like a hand gripping it, and squeezing, and squeezing as though it will steal my ability to take another breath.
“We’re working very hard on that,” Detective Lewis says, touching my knee briefly. “And I just need you to fill in some things. So, you were saying that you had an appointment with your lawyer. What was that about, that appointment?”
“Noah and I are separated,” I say.
The detective nods.
“I was going to see, to hear what my options … I was going to have some questions answered about maybe filing for divorce.”
Detective Lewis’ partner doesn’t quite move when I say that, but her stillness is different. It alters in some hard to pinpoint way.
“What’s your name?” I ask her.
My voice sounds like that of a child. Shy, but inquisitive.
She looks at me evenly.
“Nelson,” she says. Her voice is unexpectedly soft, and feminine, despite the mean face. “Detective Nelson.”
“Dana?” Detective Lewis is calling my attention back to him. “You said you went to your lawyer to see about filing for divorce …”
“No.” I shake my head. “To see what my options are. In case I need … in case I want to.”
“Why would you need to file for divorce?”
It seems the handsome detective also pays attention to detail. My choice of words and the quick correction did not go unnoticed.
“I don’t,” I say quickly. “I meant in case I wanted to.”
“In the other room.” Detective Lewis leans in. “Someone else is talking to your husband. If you’re more comfortable talking about this elsewhere …”
“We could go down to the district, and …”
“No,” I say quickly.
If I leave, and especially if I leave to go to a police station, it will mean that this is a … case, something that could go on longer than the length of this day. Something serious.
Ridiculously, there is part of me that doesn’t want to accept that it is. Samara is gone, and deep inside, I am still hoping there has been some kind of misunderstanding, though I cannot fathom what that might be. All benign alternatives disappeared the moment I opened the door to the SUV and saw that she was not in it.
“Is there a reason you would need a divorce?” the detective asks again.
He leans in closer, and I get a whiff of a cologne that is pleasant, earthy. Noah only likes colognes that don’t smell like cologne. I am unaccustomed to this scent and it makes my nostrils flare, as though reaching for more of it.
None of that pretty-boy crap, I remember Noah saying once about scents, though he is very much a pretty-boy himself.
“Not … no, not need,” I say.
“Then what did you mean when you …?”
“I don’t understand why you’re asking me this,” I say. “What does it have to do with …?”
“If perhaps there’s a reason you need to get out of your marriage, then that might suggest that …”
“We’ve answered enough questions about our marriage.” Noah comes striding into the room. His hair is even more disheveled, his shirt a little crumpled.
“Isn’t it time,” he demands, “you get the fuck out there and find our daughter?”
Detective Lewis and Nelson turn at the same time, and I see what they see. I see what Noah cannot, and would not, even if I explained it to him.
They see a tall, blonde man who is accustomed to being in charge of things, or having people do what he tells them to do, because he is tall, because he is blonde, because he is the handsome, American ideal. They see arrogance.
I know that this is not arrogance. It is Noah, terrified. But I also know they see not just that—or not that at all—but entitlement. That is what they see in his steely blue eyes–the firm belief that it is his right to order around the lowly civil servants, and they must jump when he tells them to.
Detective Lewis looks unfazed by this outburst. He’s likely heard much worse.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, Mr. Farris,” he says. He stands. He is slightly taller than Noah. I feel him exerting dominance over the room. “But we need to cover all bases, and …”
“Let me save you some time,” Noah says, gritting his teeth. “Dana and I are not in a custody fight over Samara. Nor would we ever be. I didn’t kidnap her because my wife is divorcing me. And my wife didn’t stage a kidnapping to keep Samara away from me. This separation is temporary, and we are not getting a divorce.”
I freeze at that last sentence. Not because it was said, but because it is so patently untrue.
I didn’t tell the detective so, because I am only just beginning to face it myself and cannot say it aloud, but Noah and I are absolutely getting a divorce.
He cheated on me in the last few months of my pregnancy, and during the first few months after our daughter’s birth. He cheated and continued cheating even after watching me labor to push our child out of my body. So, as far as I’m concerned, our separation is not temporary, and we absolutely are getting a divorce.