A lot of tragic death at the Oregon Coast in the news these recent months. When I hear stories of waves sweeping away teenagers on a fun excursion or couples celebrating their anniversary, they always brings me back to one of the most mysterious tales of death from this area that I've ever heard. In this particular case, I actually became obsessed with it. Here it is.
From a press release:
On January 22, 2009, the Lincoln County 911 Dispatch Center received a call about a missing person in the Surfland area of South Beach, Oregon. Lincoln County Sheriff's Deputies were called to the area and obtained a description of the missing person. The missing female, 90-year-old Vivian Gertrude Vickers of South Beach, had left her home sometime between 5:00 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. that morning according to family members who were staying with her. Deputies were unsuccessful in locating her during a search of the immediate area around her residence....Search and Rescue K-9s were also deployed and several indications from the dogs led searchers to the beach area, however, no sign of Vickers was found....
I walked the beach in the Surfland area that Thursday morning two years ago at the same time Vivian Vickers disappeared. Later that afternoon, after teaching a half day at Newport High School, I relaxed on the front deck of my home in the Pacific Shores neighborhood just south of Surfland, when about a dozen uniformed men and women appeared on the street.
The day was clear and dry and I walked over to greet them. They introduced themselves as a search and rescue team looking for Vickers, who was described as
5' 2" tall, weighing 100 pounds, blonde- or tan-colored curly hair, and (having) a glass left eye...wearing a blue flannel or fleece pajama top and pants bottom and light colored shoes....suffering from dementia.
I told the team I had visited the beach that morning and hadn't seen anyone. The official search ended on January 24 with no trace of Vickers.
The next week at school I told my creative-writing students about Vickers. We read about her in the local newspaper, discussed the incident, and then wrote short nonfiction or fictional pieces exploring her disappearance.
I chose the nonfiction route and propounded the theory that Vivian Vickers disappeared into the ocean after a brief but overpowering fit of sanity blasted through her dementia. Look at the facts! Look where her trail went cold! She wanted a return journey to her place of origin and did exactly that. "Nature assisted suicide," I called it, and I expressed my desire to die in precisely the same way when the proper time came.
The literary exercise went well and I thought little of the mystery until almost a year later. While preparing my senior English students to write essays about their connection to the ocean, Vickers popped into my mind, and I told the story again. One girl said her family knew Vickers and that she had told people ? in her lucid moments ? that if anyone tried to remove her from her home, she would walk right into the ocean.
The moment I heard this incredible hearsay I became obsessed with Vivian Vickers's final journey. I talked to the police and emergency response personnel. I talked to Vickers's neighbors. I interviewed Vickers's nephew and his wife, the family members staying with her that fateful morning. He told me Vickers had lived in Surfland for nearly 30 years and that, because of her worsening dementia, he felt it necessary to move her to Nevada where he lived. She never had children.
This January 22 at approximately 6:00 a.m., for the second year in a row, I followed the trail Vickers may have taken from Surfland to the ocean. What I hoped to find or feel I didn't really know. I ended up finding and feeling nothing except for confirming my desire to go out the same way I think Vickers did.
Nevertheless, I can't get something that one of the searchers said to me out of my mind. I asked why Vickers's body never washed ashore if she indeed had walked into the ocean. He provided a litany of technical reasons but then added, almost as an afterthought, "The ocean only keeps who it wants."
My nonfiction investigation of Vivian Vickers has concluded. Writers of fiction, it's your turn now.