The name Karen comes from the Greeks. It means purity. Some interpret it to mean “maiden” or “virgin” when taken in the context of being used to name a human female. Karen also happens to be the term for a language used on the borderlands of Thailand and Burma to this day. Although, like many languages that aren’t Romantic or Germanic in origin, it is in threat of extinction. Perhaps in a few generations, there will no longer be a single living soul on the face of the Earth that speaks Karen. Perhaps there will.
“All things die,” someone smart once told me. “Not everything lives.”
“I don’t want to argue with you,” I said, perhaps a little too sardonically. “Because at the moment I respect you. However, Not all things live.”
“Okay I’ll bite,” she was beaming. She had a little pulp in her teeth. “like what?”
“Well. Bricks. They just sit there.”
We were just sitting there one morning over grapefruit, drinking orange juice. The sun was just barely visible out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the tarmac. Men in orange maintenance uniforms were scrambling about filling luggage cars or leaving one vehicle to climb aboard another. Clouds were in the sun’s way like a child stirring awake in a bed full of blankets and stuffed toys and pillows all scattered about. Reds and purples and oranges and colors I couldn’t describe easily were dancing with one another in a lovely spectacle, but I was more interested in how they reflected peripherally through her spectacles and into her eyes. She was leaving soon, and I was never going to see her again. I didn’t know that yet.
She had told me when we met she was twenty, but she looked twelve. She still looked twelve though it was ten years later. Across the table from me was a beaming young child woman who lived a life of simultaneous adventure and tedium. She loved both. She drew up architectural schematics for office buildings that required, shall we say, special attention. Anything from panic rooms to secret passageways, to hiding what she liked to call “thirteenth floors” anywhere but the thirteenth floor. Her job was special and she was one of perhaps a half dozen people on the planet who were on a short list for those who required discretion and competence. What we did wasn’t exactly illegal, but it wasn’t exactly something one could advertise on television during the Superbowl. At times she made me feel like I was Q to her 007, or Alfred to her Batman. It wasn’t quite that dramatic, but there were days.. She had to be there to present the plans, and whenever she was there, we got paid. She could sell humps to camels. If something went wrong, we didn’t. So my job was to get her there with time to spare, so she could seal the deal. Okay, that was one of my jobs.
Because her job also required personal attention, we spent a lot of time saying goodbye in airports.
She seemed thoughtful for a second or two, then she did what I thought impossible. She smiled even bigger, and was even more beautiful in the morning light. “Put enough bricks together, they become a building, and let me tell you some buildings have really lived!”
Well. You would know. Doing what you do.
“I sit corrected,” was all that managed to come out.
“You got the designs?”
“I took care of that already, don’t worry.”
“Where are they?”
“Probably on the plane by now.”
Her smile evaporated, “I told you I wanted to carry them with me!”
“And I already told you they wouldn’t allow that and I was right. Security checks to Thailand have increased. It might be different tomorrow but today its only one piece per person and yours is your ..purse.” I motioned haphazardly below the table where I knew without looking her purse was resting under her feet.
“It’s not a purse. It’s a backpack – and don’t change the subject.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Curiously she didn’t stand up at this point, “well let’s go get it.”
“Not going to happen and you know it. It’s safe on the plane by now.”
“You forget Dubai? You forget Burbank?”
“I forget nothing. A digital copy is on your laptop in your purse-”
“-Backpack and I can email you another if you lose that one. Plus I had a copy fedexed there five days ago; should be waiting for you at the hotel. Under the name Blaine Anderson.”
“You. Credentials are in your purse.”
“Backpack. Wait, you went through my backpack?”
“See? Told you it was a purse. I had to take out your old credentials to replace them with your new ones. I promise you I didn’t look for your stash of weed.”
“I don’t have any weed and you know it.”
“Well if you want some, I know a guy.”
“No you don’t.”
“If you really want some, I’ll go find a weed guy for you.”
“You wouldn’t know how–”
I just looked at her with my most convincing i-know-more-than-you look.
She decided not to call my bluff. “Blaine is a boy’s name,” she countered.
“Remind me to subject you to Johnny Cash’s ‘Boy Named Sue’ when you get back.”
“So. You’ve thought of everything.”
“Don’t I always?”
“No. No you don’t.” Her smile had come back but I can’t recall exactly when, “but thank you.” It was there now. That’s what mattered. And that’s what I remember.
I paused. Perhaps for too long. “You’re welcome.”
“No I mean it. For everything. I don’t know how you put up with me.”
“I could ask the same of you.”
We both paused. Perhaps for too long. Perhaps with both of us smiling a bit too much. We finished our grapefruit and orange juice. We stood up. She collected her purse.. backpack. Then she did something she’d never done before. She reached up to the back of my neck, pulled me down to her level, and she kissed me on the cheek. “See you soon,” she whispered. Then before I could respond or even think to hug her back, she was off. I watched her dash around the other tables and then into the crowd, filled with energy and life and a vibrant soul that was…
That was two weeks ago. She didn’t make it. The plans she drew up did make it. However, since she wasn’t there to present them, the company went with someone else. I asked the airport to check and her ticket was scanned. She made it on the plane. However, the limo driver I had commandeered to pick her up at the airport said she never greeted him. So far as I know, she got on the plane but never got off.
For the past two weeks, I’ve replayed our last few moments together over and over in my head. Most haunting are these words: “So. You thought of everything.”
Obviously, I hadn’t.
Worse case scenario is foul play. Given what she does, it’s plausible she has some detractors. Competitors who would have wanted her out of the picture. Maybe an unsatisfied customer somewhere in the past.. Best case scenario, she got side-tracked. Jumped out of the plane on a whim with a parachute, and is on some uncharted island drinking out of coconuts and having not a care in the world. She’s done crazier things. However, I’ve checked all her friends and associates. Well, the ones I knew about, and over the past ten years if there were any secrets she kept from me.. There are probably secrets she kept from me. There probably isn’t a best case scenario.
Then. This morning. Fedex arrived with a package. A box just a little larger than her purse. ..Backpack. Inside it was filled with an orange maintenance uniform, like the ones worn by the men on the tarmac. The laptop was gone. All her personal belongings were gone. Attached to the purse was a note that was not in her handwriting. It said, “I found someone else. Don’t come looking for me. Will miss you.” and it was signed, “Blaine Anderson.”
I didn’t think of everything. I couldn’t have possibly predicted this.
I just hope the police will be able to succeed where I failed her.