"Lahat ay magiging maayos."
All will be well.
That saying was tattooed on the inner left arm of my friend Marizela Perez. It is in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. It is also the saying that currently holds the collective hopes and prayers of everyone who ever met Marizela.
I met Marizela during a Key Club trip to Six Flags Great Adventure in 2008. It was almost time to board the buses to return to Egg Harbor Township High School and my group decided to have a quick ride on the carousel. There, in front of us in line, was a girl as thin as the jumbo PixyStix she had in her hand. I would come to learn she was just as sweet, too.
Over the next year, I slowly began to talk to her. My crush only grew as time passed. Eventually, I mustered the courage to ask her out over the phone. We were both on the school newspaper, and I had devised a plan to use a dual movie review column as an excuse for a date. "Great idea," she said with her signature enthusiasm. "I'm sure Kenny would love to help you."
I hung up.For the next 30 minutes I gazed intently at my phone. Do I call her again? Call her. Are you crazy, don't call her! Call her. I picked up my phone and dialed again. I told her everything.
She said she thought it was cute, but she wasn't interested in starting a serious relationship. I respected her honesty. But she still found me to be funny and wanted to get to know me more. We agreed we would call each other when we were bored.
We would spend hours talking over the phone exploring the inner machinations of our minds. The most trivial facts about us evolved into multi-night introspections. Her most prized possessions were her 48 pairs of Converse sneakers. She favored John Green novels, existentialism and the Rubik's cube. She thought ninjas were cool.
She also had an overt fascination with Ferris wheels. However, because our Six Flags trip occurred around Halloween, the Ferris wheel was always closed. I promised her that we would ride that Ferris wheel together one day.
These late-night calls happened regularly for more than a year. The more we talked, the more personal we got. I confided in her all of my problems and fears. We shared our deepest insecurities over a cellular signal.
Marizela had been diagnosed with depression after her grandfather passed away. It was a lingering depression hidden beneath her cheery disposition. Together, we got through life's everyday struggles.
Marizela left for Seattle in the fall of 2010 to study at the University of Washington. She had always wanted to live in the city with her cousin. It was her chance to find out who she truly was in this world.
The calls had become far less frequent as we both entered into our own relationships. When it came time for winter break, I got the chance to see her once because we were both always busy.
As she boarded the plane to return to Seattle for her spring semester, she took the time to call me. Unfortunately, I did not have my phone with me, so she left a goodbye voice mail. "Sorry we didn't get to see each other. I miss you. See you soon," she said amid the white noise of rowdy children and scuffling passengers. This was the last time I heard her voice.
March 6, 2011, was just another lazy Sunday morning. Half asleep, I reached for my phone and went on Facebook. With one eye opened, I casually scrolled through mundane status updates. I soon came across a photo of Marizela and smiled. That smile didn't last. Below the photo, in all caps,was the phrase "Missing person."
She was last seen leaving a Safeway store on March 5. She has not been seen since.
The months following her disappearance were still filled with hope of her return. Coffeehouse fundraisers and candlelight vigils were held. I never attended any of them. I was in denial.
Four days before her disappearance, she posted a Facebook status: "The product of wanderlust." She's just out on an adventure, I thought. I just hope she comes home soon. We still need to ride that Ferris Wheel.
Anyone with information about Perez's disappearance is asked to call the Seattle Police Department Missing Person's Unit at 206 684-5582.
Kevin Del Cid of Egg Harbor Township is a communication major at Atlantic Cape Community College.
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