40. The Promise

WHEN ROBERT WENT MISSING, I was 23. A young 23. We had been together eight years. We had been married for the last five of those years. At first I thought he might have just gone somewhere for the weekend, and left his phone behind. On the third day I called the police and filed a missing person report. As the days went on, we - his parents and I - tried contacting those of his friends we could find, but none of them knew where he was. By the middle of the second week I was starting to panic, but I tried to keep my composure in front of Robert's parents. We posted photos of Robert all over the city, bought ads in newspapers and on the radio offering rewards. We followed every lead, and each lead was a dead end. I would rather not talk about the next few months, other than to say I don't know how I survived. All I want to say is that at some point I made myself a promise. Simply, I promised myself I would never stop looking. I think the promise is what got me through. As far as the police were concerned, Robert's name was on a register. There was no suspicion of crime, so that's as far as it went for them. They advised me to retain a private detective, and recommended Pico Rodriguez. So the next phase of my life began, and it has lasted seven years. His parents paid all Pico's expenses. He and I crisscrossed the country following leads. If there were no promising leads, we would simply choose a city to fly to and post photos of Robert in shopping centres, take out ads in local newspapers and on the radio. Initially, the ads said things like, 'Have you seen Robert?' At some point we changed emphasis, and instead they said, 'Robert, we're worried about you' or 'Robert, please get in touch'. Some cities we visited several times. Pico and I became close. We spent many nights sharing hotel rooms to cut costs. He was always a perfect gentleman. Sometimes, a hotel would only have a double room available, rather than a twin share. We fell into the habit of sharing a bed. We spent so much time together we began to second guess each others' thoughts. We began to miss each other in between expeditions. We began to seek each other out when we were at home. We began to seek each other out during the night. As for Robert, we had strong leads on three separate occasions. On each occasion, they lead nowhere. On the third occasion, Pico and I were drinking a coffee in a roadhouse called The Minotaur. I asked Pico if it had ever occurred to him that Robert was quite deliberately giving us the slip. I asked Pico if it was possible that Robert was more than just a missing person, that Robert might well be a fugitive, in which case, what did it make us, other than his hunters? Pico chose this moment to confess his love for me. He asked me what would it change if this were indeed the case (a possibility that, he admitted, had crossed his mind many times). I replied that in fact it would change nothing. I told him about the promise that I had made, that the promise had saved me and that therefore betraying the promise was out of the question for me. Pico then asked me, what about after we find Robert, what then? I replied that once I had kept my promise to myself I intended to begin my life again. With or without Robert? I thought about this for a time, although exactly how long I can not say. Perhaps it was just a few seconds. But it felt more like a few minutes. Without, I finally replied. Pico told me about new clues he had recently uncovered suggesting Robert was in fact no longer living in the country, but had gone abroad. Pico told me this looking down at his hands. I know him well enough now to know that he wanted to betray no emotion, as he did not want to influence my next decision one way or another. And so a new phase began. Early the following morning, a taxi picked us up from our hotel room and drove us to the airport's international terminal.