At a truck stop Mark misplaces his keys. He retraces his steps but no luck, the keys are nowhere to be found. Just when he thinks that losing his keys is the worst thing that could happen to him, he sees a Child Find poster and realizes there are always worse things in life…
Mark stared at the Child Find poster affixed to the side of the trailer, read the large banner that read ‘MISSING,’ then looked at the photos of what the girl used to look like and what she might look like now.
Her name was Darlene and she was last seen in Oakville, Ont. in 1983, more than 25 years ago. She was born in 1966 which would make her… 46 years old. Mark considered that, and his only thought was, ‘Wow, these guys don’t give up on missing children.’ It also made him wonder how long he might look for his keys before he gave up and called in a tow truck or installed a new ignition system.
As Mark continued to stare at the poster, the driver of the rig, a white-haired ball cap-wearing man in his late 50s or early 60s, stepped down from his cab and locked the door behind him.
His ball cap was new, but the man’s look -that of a grizzled veteran driver who’d crossed the country more times than any prime minister – probably hadn’t changed in the last 15 years. As the man turned toward the restaurant, he must have noticed Mark staring at the picture of the lost child because he stopped and said, “Missing since Summer, 1983.”
“Yeah,” Mark said, gesturing to the sign. “That’s what it says there.” He didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now about anything, let alone missing children. He’d much rather be alone so he could be miserable over his lost keys.
“That sign’s been on the side of my rig for five years now.”
“What, and they haven’t found her?”
The man shook his head, obviously not put off by Mark’s tone. “Not yet… and maybe they never will, but that picture’ll be there as long as she’s missing.”
“Probably doesn’t look like that anymore.” Mark was annoyed. The last thing he’d wanted was to get into a conversation about Child Find, but he’d made the mistake of saying things that sounded like he was interested and that had opened the door for this guy to tell him everything he never wanted to know about missing children.
“They do some aging of photos to show how the person might look now, but you’re right, she probably doesn’t look much like that these days.”
“Then why keep it on your truck?”
The man stepped over to where Mark was sitting and took the seat next to him.
Great, Mark cringed. Serves me right for asking a question and acting like I cared.
“It’s not so much for that girl there as it is for children who have yet to go missing.”
Mark didn’t understand and the look on his face must have said as much.
“Child Find is about reducing the incidences of missing and exploited children. Sure it’s great when they can assist in locating missing children and reuniting them with their families, but it’s more about educating the public to prevent children from going missing in the future.”
Mark thought about that and wished there was a ‘Key Find’ program that could have prevented his keys from going missing.
He patted his pockets again hoping that his keys might have magically reappeared while he’d been sitting on the bench.
They were still not in any of his pockets and he was getting both angry about having lost the keys and confounded over where they might have gone. To top it all off, this guy just kept talking and talking…
“It’s all about getting the message out there,” the man said.
Mark laughed a little under his breath. “On the side of your truck?”
“You’d be surprised. They get calls from across Canada and the US, even Mexico. And they just don’t do trucks, they’ve put the pictures on the envelopes companies use to send out bills…”
Mark had seen those envelopes before, but hadn’t given them a second thought until now.
“…they’re on TV sometimes too, local cable channels mostly, and in gas stations on those screens they have at the pumps.”
“And still children go missing?” Mark said sarcastically, shaking his head in disbelief. He hated himself for the way he was acting since this guy seemed to be a nice enough fellow, but Mark just wanted to be alone in his misery and the man didn’t know when to quit.
“It happens all the time. In a province like Ontario there are just over 20,000 children reported missing each year.”
That seemed a little high to Mark. “Just 20,000?”
“That’s the number reported missing. A lot of those are runaways that come back in a few hours, or children who run from their foster or group homes. If you’re thinking about kids who actually go missing it’s somewhere between 20 and 40 every year.”
That seemed about right, Mark thought. And for the first time, he was genuinely interested in what the man had to say. So he asked, “How do you know all this stuff?”
The man sighed. “My daughter divorced her husband some 12 years ago,” he said. “Ten years ago her ex picked up my grandson from the babysitter and we haven’t seen the boy since.”
‘Geez,’ Mark thought. ‘So much for a lost set of keys.’
“But we’re hopeful,” he said. “Just last year a girl was reunited with her parent after spending 15 years with the other parent.”
“I hope that happens for you,” Mark said, all the anger, annoyance and frustration he’d been feeling gone now, replaced by a sense of compassion for this man and his family. “Can I get one of those posters for my truck?”
“Sure, anybody can join up, only your trucking company has to pay for the posters.” He looked at Mark closely. “If you’re really interested, you can visit their Web site for details.”
“Thanks,” Mark nodded. It wouldn’t work for him because he didn’t have his own trailer to attach a sign to. Still, he’d be more aware of the program in the future and he’d pay more attention when he was hauling a trailer with a Child Find poster on it.
“You a driver?” the man asked. “Normally,” Mark said. He gestured to Mother Load parked nearby. “That’s my rig, but I seem to have lost my keys, so unless I find them soon, I won’t be driving anything.”
“You check in your truck?”
“Uh, I don’t have my keys,” Mark said flatly. He’d tried to not sound condescending, but the guy had asked a stupid question.
“One time I thought I’d lost my keys, even convinced myself that I’d locked myself out of my rig, but when I went to check the door of the truck, it was unlocked and the keys were still inside.”
Mark smiled politely, got up off the bench and walked over to Mother Load. He knew it would be locked, but just to placate the guy he reached up and tried the driver’s side door.
To Mark’s surprise the door opened. Not only that, but his keys were still in the ignition.
Mark looked back at the man still on the bench and laughed awkwardly. “Huh, huh.”
The man nodded.
“Don’t worry. Brain farts happen to the best of us.” •
-Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Lost keys, found hope.
Did you know that there are two full-length novels featuring Mark Dalton?: Mark Dalton “SmartDriver” and Mark Dalton “Troubleload.” For your free copy register with ecoENERGY for Fleets (Fleet Smart) at fleetsmart.gc.ca