Finding Terrilynn Monette

ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION

I happened to be standing in front of the family of Terrilynn Monette when her car was pulled out of Bayou St. John Sat., June 8. Since the popular grade school teacher disappeared last March after a night of celebrating a teacher of the year recognition, her absence had become a cause. Search parties had combed City Park, her last known path home, and divers had searched Bayou St. John and nearby lagoons.

On this Saturday afternoon as word spread about a vehicle being located in the bayou, people began gathering on the Wisner Avenue side of the waterway near where Harrison Avenue crosses the water. The activity, barricaded by police, was on the opposite side but easy to see as the wench on a tow truck began to turn slowly, pulling the vehicle whose whereabouts had been a mystery since last March.

Among the family and onlookers there was the sort of emotional overcharge that I’ve experienced from those standing in the back room at a wake. Occasional nervous laughs are mixed with sobs as the mind circles for a place to land.

For the family and friends there had always been hope – not much, but enough to make them keep their T-shirts with Monette’s picture nearby. As the wench turned though, hope was being gutted. No one said much at the dramatic instant when the first glimpse of the hood cleared the waterline. After all these months … Slowly came the rest of the vehicle – the roof, the trunk – green with algae. Still there was stunned silence. Then came the moment when the entire vehicle was dragged onto the shore. Its license plate, with numbers that confirmed the tragic truth, faced the onlookers on the other side of the water. Here was the moment. In unison Monette’s beloveds began to cry. They huddled into a group hug.

Hope was over.

Yet from nearby there was applause from another group of bystanders. Despite their grief they were cheering the effort of those who raised the car. Sadness and appreciation often ride the same brainwave.

At that point, many of the group drifted into different arms along the shore. Over on the other side of the bayou the car once so widely searched for merely sat there. No one opened a door. There was just a quiet protocol. After a while a deputy coroner came. Following some discussion, a tarpaulin, as though to symbolize privacy, was draped over the car as it was again pulled, this time to the back of a flatbed truck. That move seemed totally decent; sparing the family of what would have been a grim sight.

In such situations people inevitably speak of “closure,” though that’s a concept I have difficulty grasping. Subsequent investigations would rule that she died of drowning, not murder. Still ahead would be toxicology analysis. No coroner’s report, however, closes memories of a person.

At 3:45 p.m., Sat., June 8, the truck carrying Monette’s vehicle and remains pulled away. There were scar marks along the bayou where the car was pulled out. I wondered why such marks were never found where the vehicle went in. There are so many questions, but those would be for trained minds to answer. The moment, though, belonged to the heart.

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