Connie Sacco sits in the room with the TV playing soft, comforting music. An orange cat climbs on her lap and purrs. A laptop glows by her side, and the phone sits at her feet.
She wanted to talk in here, in the living room of her Greeley home, because she wanted to get out of the other room, where she's spent most of her time since her daughter, Aubrey, went missing in Nepal after April 29. It's nice to hear a little music. The house has been too quiet — like a morgue, she says. Then she laughs a bit. She's only half-kidding.
It's still pretty quiet through the music and the purring, until the phone rings, and Amanda Allen, Connie's future daughter-in-law, explodes like a sprinter out of the blocks to find it. Connie can't find the phone until she looks down at her bare feet. She sheepishly apologizes to Amanda.
As the conversation about her daughter goes on, she knows she can't stay there. She sighs and asks you if you want to see the other room. She gets up before you answer. She and a bevy of friends, family and neighbors call it Ground Zero. A piece of paper on the door — a sign, of sorts — says so in black marker, and underneath, it says “Glitterville.”
A map of Nepal and the line of trekking trails, including the one where Aubrey vanished, is marked with pins, neon sticky notes and scrawled notations. Connie stands before the map and starts talking. She talks about this trail, and how Aubrey was seen two days after she signed in at Langtang National Park. A hotel clerk thinks she had pizza and a Coke. Connie is doubtful. Aubrey does not drink Coke.
She points out other trails and areas where Aubrey could be, where others may have seen her, where she could have gone astray. She could have gone down here, or maybe she went to see some chanting monks down this way, only if she did, it's hard to find your way back. Connie talks nonstop about all of it. If she were a TV show, she would be well past a commercial break.
The map is marked from hours, days and weeks of phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages from a seemingly endless corps of people wanting to help search for her. Her husband, Paul, and her son, Crofton, both guided by family friend and Nepal native Dinesh Raj Shakya, are over there now, looking for her, and though this makes her think her work here is done, she knows that's not true. She won't let herself be done. Most of this work, because of the 12-hour difference, is done during graveyard hours. Her face shows it. She's exhausted. But she'll sleep when Aubrey's home. Aubrey, then, will clean the house, she says. Then she laughs. She's not kidding.
She is asked if, maybe, she's a little obsessed with the search. She gives you a wry smile.
“I think we obsess about our children since the day they are born,” Connie said. “I'm a mother. This is my job now. It's my job to be obsessed.”
And since Aubrey's disappearance, she's been working overtime.
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Connie will admit she's a bit of a worrier, and that worrying nature — a common trait among mothers — doesn't exactly mesh with Aubrey's free spirit.
Aubrey teaches yoga. She is an artist. She loves and creates and paints bright and colorful things — Aubrey called it glitter — and that's why Connie's asking friends to attach sparkly, flashy ribbons — glitter, if you will — to their trees and mailboxes. But nature's flashiest, most colorful creatures are birds, and many birds migrate, flying thousands of miles across the world, and so, even though she was only 23 and tiny, she was a traveler. This, of course, made Connie nervous.
Connie once called the police because she didn't hear from Aubrey the whole night, and her daughter was furious. She was in college by then. But Connie called it holding her daughter accountable. She simply needed to know where she was.
This is what worries Connie the most. She believes Aubrey is alive. She calls Aubrey “her little girl” when she says this. Connie believes if Aubrey was dead, she would know it. She would feel dread, and though the stress and worry is compounded daily, she doesn't feel that black, hopeless gnawing in the gut that something is really wrong. But Aubrey understands her, Connie said, and she finds it hard to believe that her daughter would string her along like this. She never has before.
Still, there are many plausible theories for this, including a Maoist strike that stranded travelers the day after Aubrey's expected return, the loss of any communication, even the Internet, as a result of that strike, or the trails that braid off from the safe trek through Langtang. One of those trails strands many trekkers because it's hard to climb out of the area once they head down to the bottom. Though Aubrey is tiny, she's tough. Amanda, who is also one of Aubrey's best friends as well as her brother's fiancé, remembers playing soccer against her when they were both young and being afraid of her speed and ferocity.
That's why Connie stays in the house, afraid to even go to the mailbox, because the phone might ring, and it might be her. She stays up all night, almost every night, sifting through hundreds of e-mails, praying one of them will be from Aubrey. She hasn't worked in weeks, though she jokes she has an understanding boss: She works in her husband's law office.
Her youngest, Morgan, doesn't know what to do, and Connie keeps telling him to seek out the support of his friends. Connie has that support, she says, and she thanks God for it. Neighbors pop by, bringing meals or, more importantly, their company, and Amanda has slept there every night. Without that support, Connie said, the crushing quiet of the house, especially now that her husband and son are gone, would probably drive her insane.
She needs help monitoring the phone, the e-mails and the possible sightings. It is all-consuming.
Ah, those sightings. In most missing person cases, there are hours of worry, but those are coupled with moments of hope, even elation, and all of the ups and downs are wearing her down.
The last time was the worst. This was the day before Saturday, when Aubrey was due back on the flight home, and Connie heard through their extensive contacts that a small, foreign woman who did yoga was needing to get home to catch her plane. It HAD to be her. Connie already had plans for her. Like cleaning the house after they celebrated her return.
It was 2 a.m., but Connie was so excited she got everybody up, and they gathered together in Ground Zero, by the map, in their exhaustion, and waited anxiously as the hotel owner brought the phone to the woman. And the woman answered with a French accent. That was crushing.
“It was hard to go to bed that night,” Connie said.
Still, even if that disappointment led to another sleepless night, it also showed just how much help they really have. The U.S. Embassy in Nepal, soldiers, the police, volunteer searchers, even the Maoists who shut the city down are all out looking for her. Strangers are now friends, including Scott MacLennan, founder of The Mountain Fund, which works to eliminate poverty in mountain communities. MacLennan has devoted a ton of his time and energy to help the Saccos find her. There are many other examples, too many to mention, but another stands out: A helicopter pilot said he would devote his time to searching for her if they only paid for his gas.
A Facebook post Thursday from a hiker on the Langtang trek said he was thinking of Aubrey and that there were posters with her photo everywhere and that locals, including volunteers, were engaged in trying to find her.
Representatives from the embassy told Connie just a couple days ago that they've never seen such an organized search in their lives. Connie said her family and friends are “winging it,” but they have a weapon.
“When you're obsessed to find your daughter,” Connie said, “you can put together some pretty amazing searches.”
All of this continues to give Connie hope, and that hope is what allows her to sleep at times, even if it's only for a few hours. There is hope everywhere. She sees it every time she passes another house with those glittery ribbons on their tree trunks. It means others are thinking of Aubrey. Maybe not as much as her. But even if they keep her in their thoughts for a little time every day, it increases the chances that she'll be found.
Connie presses a glitter ribbon pin in your hand. She reaches down into a box by the door and cuts a long swath of sky blue and yellow ribbons. That is for your tree or house.
“Spread the word,” she said. “Until Aubrey comes home.”