Dec22 Essayist

As I tuck my daughter in for a nap, a question gnaws at me. I Google my name. A news story from 12 years ago pops up first when I type in my name with “Madison, Wisconsin.” Missing Woman. “A 22-year-old town of Westport woman who had been reported missing Friday morning …” and “Deputies and police officers are searching in the Middleton area just north of Lake Mendota for Melanie Meyer, 22, who is suffering from a brain injury.” In the photo, no glint of mental illness appears in my eyes. I remember feeling glorious, glowing, as though my life was finally coming together. The months that followed my disappearance linger like a dream — some of the sensory details are still close, yet the entire constellation of the memory remains weightless, disembodied.

Around midnight on Jan. 29, 2010, I ventured into the below-zero wind chill darkness, immune to the freezing temperature. I walked 3 miles from my childhood home to a Perkins on University Avenue. I had no phone, no money and no ID. A server gave me a free muffin as I waited to hitch a ride to Helen C. White College Library, open 24 hours. I was trying to get on a computer to communicate with the man I thought was my boyfriend and soulmate — J, a 45-year-old convicted sex offender I had met at a New Year’s Eve party. At that moment, I felt I needed to go out into the freezing cold in order to reach him.