17

In a few hours, it’ll be the seventeenth anniversary of the last time someone saw Brianna Maitland.

At least as far as we know.

Brianna Maitland

Brianna hasn’t been seen since leaving The Black Lantern Inn – her place of employment – in Montgomery, VT, after her shift ended on March 19, 2004.

The next day, her car was found at the abandoned Dutchburn residence on Route 118 in Montgomery, backed into the north side of the old house once lived in by Harry and Mike Dutchburn. 

Whether someone forced her off the road and took her against her will, or she willingly left with someone, or she trekked off on her own, anyone who’s seen her since then, for however long they were together, hasn’t said so. 

I’ve written about Brianna’s disappearance here on the blog before (right here), so I’ll try not to rehash what I wrote then.

Every year that goes by, March 19 hits me in a slightly different way. I was the editor of the local weekly newspaper, The County Courier, when she disappeared, and even more than a decade after leaving that role, the story stays with me, as do memories of a young woman I’ve never met.

This year is particularly poignant to me.

Later tonight, Brianna will have been gone a lifetime. Her lifetime. Seventeen years.

She’d be 34 now. Is 34 now. Maybe.

On that chilly night right at the tail end of winter 2004, I was home with my then-wife, our third child and second son about three-and-a-half months away from being born. This coming July, he turns 17. 

Over the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and I haven’t seen much of each other. He was able to be here for a few weeks over the summer, but once things got bad again in the fall, he’s been safely at his mother’s house.

Even with phone calls and FaceTime, this sort of against-our-wills separation has been heart-breaking. I can’t begin to comprehend the idea of waking up to discover that what we’ve had up this point in our parent/child relationship is all that we might ever have.

One day you have a kid. The next you have Schrödinger’s kid. Alive and dead at the same time. Simultaneously a victim of foul play and a runaway. Within arm’s reach and a thousand miles away. 

I think a lot about liminal spaces. Those areas of transition from one place or state to another.

A doorway on an old, abandoned house. The transition from winter to spring. Purgatory.

For those who know and love her – as well as those like me who came to know her through her parents and friends – Brianna has existed in a liminal space for 17 years. And part of us is there with her. Her existence is in a coma, and we long for her to come out of it, hopefully returning full of life. But even if that’s not the case, at the very least there would be closure.

Closure for her parents. For her friends. For Franklin County. For law enforcement. For countless others. 

I read a lot of comic books, and there’s a panel from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that I’ve thought about a lot the past few days as Brianna has been on my mind. 

Photo credit: DC Comics

In this panel, the personification of Death – a cute Goth girl in this case – is talking with a recently deceased person. This individual is bemoaning their new state of being, and Death tells them, “You lived what anybody gets … You got a lifetime.”

What about Brianna?

Was 17 years her lifetime? Is it still going at 34? Somewhere in between? Or many more years to come?

We wonder. And we hope. And we wait for the future to unfold.

While we do, the eyes of a 17-year-old look back at us, filled with wonder and hope, waiting for her future to unfold.

The Vermont State Police suspect foul play in the disappearance of Brianna Maitland. There is a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person(s) responsible. The St. Albans Barracks of the Vermont State Police can be reached at (802) 524-5993. The VSP’s dedicated Missing Persons page for Brianna is located here.

Brianna’s family has a Facebook page dedicated to her disappearance. It can be found here. A second Facebook page for Brianna is available here.

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