Andrea's Voice... Silenced by Bulimia

Her Story and Her Mother's Journey Through Grief Toward Understanding

by Doris Smeltzer with Andrea Lynn Smeltzer

This Lightness of Being

Excerpt from Andrea's Voice... Silenced by Bulimia

The joy is in the journey.³
– Anonymous

"You must give me five minutes, Officer, to tell my wife what you have just told me." My husband's measured words continued, "I will then call you back to answer your questions." My right hand tightened on Tom's strong shoulder. I stood to the left of his high-backed desk chair. I could not see his face, but my heart knew what he was about to tell me. He replaced the receiver in its cradle and swiveled the chair gently toward me. The room was filled with my husband's broad six-foot frame as he rose to face me, tears streaming into his closely cropped salt-and-pepper beard. His voice cracked with emotion as he relayed the message that I knew was coming and yet, for the previous tortured eight hours had prayed would not be true.

"They've found the dead body of a young girl in the home where Andrea was house sitting."

My knees gave out, and a wail that sounded eerily familiar to my ears escaped my throat. Tom's swift arms caught me before I hit the floor. I continued downward with purpose. I had to be on the ground; I had to make my body small. In doing so, maybe I could disappear and this reality would not be able to find me. I wanted to evaporate into the ether. I sobbed in a small bundle on the floor of the study.

My senses came crashing back into the room when I heard Tom's voice, like a thunderbolt, yelling, "NO! God, please, NO!" The room shuddered as his bent body fell hard into the chair and his fist came down with shocking force on the desktop. I was amazed its glass surface did not splinter into broken shards, and disappointed, in an obscure, detached sort of way, that it had not. It would have been such a fittingly-tangible representation of that moment.

With effort, Tom straightened his body. "Doris, we must call back." Through his tears he continued, "The police officers and coroner need to question us. Until proven otherwise, they are treating this as a murder investigation."

I felt frozen in an alternate universe. How could they think that we could speak at that moment? Too numb, too frightened to argue, I acquiesced. Tom returned the call.

Andrea, 13, journal entry, October 25, 1993:

I'll be 14 on Friday and I have a wonderful life ahead of me. Sometimes, like now, I just want to stop time and preserve the wonderful feelings. Someday, when I'm an adult, I'll be busy and stressed and I know I'll be able to look back and when I do I want to remember all the wonderful days when at some moment I just felt wonderful and happy and that no matter what disaster tomorrow has there's that wonderful feeling I can't explain that I can hold onto and remember. I have a wonderful life and an even better one ahead of me.

"Goals do far more for our world and for our character than gifts have ever done. So, go for your dreams, dear reader and let me know what happens." That was in a newspaper. It was the advice the writer had for the person. I love that and I believe it with all my heart. My dreams are slowly starting to come true. I love taking that clipping out and reading it—so go for your dreams, dear reader, and let me know what happens...

I pulled myself off the floor and onto the nearby footstool. While Tom punched in the numbers, I wrapped my arms around my chest in a futile attempt to ward off the chill in the room. It was 3:30 in the morning and the summer shirt and shorts I had worn all day provided no protection from the cold. My teeth began to chatter and I realized that the chill was actually emanating from within me. I wanted desperately to run to the bathroom and vomit—my body responding naturally to the shock—but I could not allow myself to engage in the very act that may have helped kill my daughter. The thought was more gut wrenching than the nausea...I felt that to give in to this automatic response would somehow dishonor her. I could not allow that to happen. My head pounded as I braced myself for what was to come.

Tom was speaking to an officer. I heard his voice resonate as if through a thick curtain and surmised the questions from his careful responses. "Yes, sir. We were at our friends Jim and Karen's celebrating Father's Day. We last spoke to Andrea on Tuesday, five days ago. She said she'd call again the next day on my birthday, and if she missed us, then for sure on Father's Day. When we didn't hear, we knew something was wrong." Tom inhaled deep breaths while he listened. I could see the effort it took for him to respond, and yet his voice remained remarkably even. "Yes, that's right, she was there house sitting for Jana's parents, the Milhons. Andrea is a Resident Assistant at college and Jana is her Dorm Advisor." There was another long pause, and then Tom's steady voice. "Yes. We called the police earlier today, but when they would not enter the house we called and insisted that Jana go over and check on Andrea." In my body I felt a resurgence of the panicked frustrations I had endured during the previous five days.

Tom and I sat on the small, comfortably-cushioned sofa in Jim and Karen's living room after a late Father's Day dinner. Tom argued quietly with me about making a call to the police. Karen walked into the room as Tom again suggested that I was overreacting.

"Overreacting to what?" Karen tilted her head. One of her raised eyebrows touched the shock of short silver hair brushed to one side of her forehead.

Jim returned from the kitchen as I explained the situation. Placing his cardigan sweater across the back of the nearly identically colored brown sofa, he smoothed his receding hairline and agreed, "There's no way, buddy, that Andrea would miss your birthday and then Father's Day." Jim stood in front of us, his round lenses reflecting the light from the nearby hanging lamp. "Doris is right. You gotta check it out."

This support was exactly what I needed to persuade Tom to do as I had begged over the last few days. "See, Tom. I am not imagining things...there's something wrong. Now will you call the police?"

"We promised to give her space," Tom reminded. "She'll call when she's ready. If you're so sure there's something wrong, you call the police."

Leaning forward, I persisted doggedly, "If I call I'll just be seen as a hysterical mother and they'll do nothing. I know they'll listen to a man, especially a father, and take immediate action." I pleaded, "Please, Tom, if I thought I'd be effective I'd call, but I know they'll just blow me off. Please make the call."

Jim and Karen's concerned agreement with me convinced Tom to contact the police. They recorded the address and promised to get right back to us after they visited the place where Andrea was house sitting. We waited for nearly two hours until I could take it no longer and demanded that Tom call again.

When he hung up he reported, "They apologized for not calling back, but everything's fine."

I remember the relief I felt and how I shouted gleefully, "They saw her? They talked to Andrea?"

Tom acknowledged, "Not exactly, but they went out to the house. Things looked fine. Andrea's car is parked in the around back. She didn't answer their knocks, but they left a note on the door asking that she call her parents immediately."

I had difficulty containing myself. "They didn't go in the house?" I exclaimed, incredulous. "No. Tom, this is not okay. Somebody has to go into that house to see if she's there."

Tom repeated the explanation the police had given him. "They said that because there is no indication of foul play, it is not possible for them to enter the home, Doris. She's okay. She'll call."

I was no longer in denial. I finally allowed the fear that hovered just beneath my mind's radar to surface. I would not be deterred. "Somebody has to go into that house, Tom. There's no way Andrea would not have called on your birthday, and then to miss Father's Day..." My head shook with determination. "That's just not something Andrea would do. We have to get someone into that house. We must call Jana. She would have a key."

At that point, it was after midnight. We were still at Jim and Karen's place, an hour away from our home in Napa, California, and we could not remember Jana's last name. I insisted that Tom continue to do the calling. I knew that I would burst into tears if someone dared to resist my requests. Tom called the college's twenty-four-hour information line and miraculously got a human being. He summarized our situation. Fortunately, Jana and her husband lived on campus and the young man transferred the call.

Groggy with sleep, Jana declared, "She's gonna be sooo pissed when I wake her up."

"I know. I've told her mother the same thing."

I shouted from the background, "She'll get over it!" Jana later confirmed that the fact that Andrea's father called rather than me had immediately convinced her she needed to drag her husband out of bed and drive to her parents' home at that early hour of the morning.

Jana swore that she would take her cell phone and call us as soon as she entered the home. She told us that it was about a fifteen-minute drive, and that we could expect a return call in twenty minutes.

The call never came.

3. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter come from Andrea's journal of favorite quotations, which she began collecting, illustrating and recording at the age of thirteen.