On May 25th, 2005 at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I walked into my Mom’s house only to find out the news that would shape my life forever.
I moved to Birmingham, Alabama when I was starting high school and became friends with a wonderful group of girls. We all had so much fun together and shared countless memories, just as high school kids do. It was our senior year and we were planning the trip of a lifetime to celebrate graduation. The place was chosen: Aruba, here we go!
As I was leaving my Moms for the senior trip meeting, she stopped me on the way out to ask where the destination was going to be. I told her our decision and she told me to have fun. I came home a couple hours later and my Mom had suddenly decided not to support me in going to Aruba. I thought my life was over. I knew I was going to be missing out on so much and to an 18-year-old, girl that was pretty awful.
I asked my Mom to give me one good reason why I couldn’t go. She told me she was afraid that I wouldn’t make it back home safely. My friends and I would laugh about her reasoning. They even tried to put together a fund to support my trip, but I lost the battle and was not able to go to Aruba.
The afternoon of May 25th, I walked through the door and my Mom said she had some news to share. She told me to sit down. She explained that Natalee was not on the flight home from Aruba. My first reaction was, “I can’t believe she missed her flight, that is so unlike Natalee.” My Mom then expressed that it was a little more serious than that. She told me they actually had no idea where she was.
From that point on, everything was a blur to me. That entire summer, while everyone spent so much time searching for her, I remember thinking to myself: “Well, they found Elizabeth Smart after two years, so we still have time.” Today, as I write this, it has been almost eight years since I last hugged my dear friend.
In the beginning, it never felt like Natalee was no longer with us. I found myself worrying that she didn’t have the things all girls need – the little things: a hair tie or clean underwear to change into. I see now that my heart was in tremendous pain and I was just so confused. I honestly couldn’t comprehend the fact that someone would want to hurt her or keep her from family and friends.
That summer, I occupied my time by helping to raise awareness for Natalee’s disappearance. It turned out she didn’t need much help in that area because her Mother was so unbelievable in getting Natalee’s beautiful photographs all over national television. Still, to this day, it seems crazy to me that I can write about her and almost everyone who reads this will have heard about the person I am talking about. For a while I was very angry about that. I thought, “Random people shouldn’t know who MY friend is.” I would hear people talk so casually about Natalee, a person I knew so well, and I just wanted to slap them in the face. They would never understand that this girl wasn’t just my co-worker, neighbor, or even schoolmate. She was my friend.
We shared so much together: days on the lake, sleepovers, and a mutual passion for dance. We would tell each other juicy gossip about who we were crushing on and so much more. To me, she was “Hootie,” not the girl that went missing in Aruba.
So as I said before, my life changed forever. I became consumed by fear, realizing anything could happen at any moment. I was in constant fear that something terrible was going to happen to the people around me. I would get out of my car and run to my destination, so terrified that someone was following me and might get me. I had night terrors about death. I would check to make sure my doors were always locked. I constantly had a feeling in my stomach that just wasn’t normal. My body was full of anxiety and grief and in my head the only way to cure it was by numbing my body. So I turned to drugs and alcohol, which of course worked for a while, until it didn’t. Three years later, after putting my body through hell, I was so broken down that I finally had to ask for help – and I received it.
During this time of healing, I wrote a very personal letter to Natalee. I stood at the shore of the Pacific Ocean and read her my goodbye. I then burned the letter. That was my funeral for Natalee. I finally allowed myself to let her go and was able to truly start the healing that I so desperately needed. I wish I could say that my life changed rapidly for the better, but I have to admit I’m still grieving and working on my issues with death. The difference is, today I can get up, get dressed and make it to work everyday. It has been a long 4 1/2 years since I decided to face my grief and trauma, but I am so grateful to be healthy and sober.
I am grateful for my story and my experiences. I still miss Natalee very much, but honestly – for me – the anniversaries and birthdays aren’t the hardest. It’s times when I hear Lynrd Skynrd or watch the Wizard of Oz that make me miss her the most; the things that remind me of the memories we shared.
I wish I could offer some advice on how I get through those tough moments, but all I can tell you is this: I breathe, put one foot in front of the other and try to imagine Natalee in a better place, one that is free of pain.
Mallie, 26, is currently living in Utah. She has 4.5 years sober and works as a client care coordinator for Ascend Recovery in American Fork, Utah. She was born and raised in Alabama.To find out more about Natalee’s story and how you can help bring awareness to the search for those who have gone missing, visit: The Natalee Holloway Resource Center and Help The Missing on Facebook.