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More than a 'pillow' was lost along the Rogue River

My neighbor called Saturday morning to tell me about a "girl in pink pants." The young woman had seemed really out of it as she wandered across our properties — and down along the river.

She'd picked up a "pillow" and had carried it off, Jan said. I hoped it wasn't one of my lawn chair seats. No, she said, it was small, square and grey.

Ack! The seat to my niece's kayak. The danged thing had gone over the seawall months ago and had been awaiting rescue by a certain male who shall remain nameless. For yours truly does not rappel down slippery slopes. Not even for family.

This wandering gal likely took it for a bit of finders-keepers river flotsam. I certainly didn't blame her. But I hoped to find her and get it back. I looked up and down the riverbanks. She was gone.

Jan said she'd mumbled she was staying in one of the trailer parks. So I went to several. Anyone seen a young woman in pink sweat pants carrying a gray pillow? No harm. No foul. Just need it back."

Nobody knew anything. So I went about my day and forgot about it. But the phone was ringing when I got home late that afternoon. "Pink Pants" was heading toward the town of Rogue River clutching the missing pillow, the caller said.

I grabbed my keys and raced down the highway. This will be easy, I thought. But when I pulled off just ahead of the young woman, she darted into the bushes.

I guessed her to be in her early 20s when she emerged clutching a burlap sack around her body like a too-small poncho.

"Hi. I need that pillow back," I said. Not much by way of a greeting. But I was still trying to process her bolt into the shrubs. And her behavior. She was fidgeting, anxious and intense. She pressed up close to me.

She didn't have it, she said, carefully pulling up her white camisole to show me two inches of her plastic-wrapped tummy.

She was cold. She needed a ride. She didn't have any money. Her boyfriend was chasing her. She'd fallen in the river. She'd been walking all day. She wanted to get back to her "brand new Forester truck."

The disoriented list came fast and furious. Clearly things were not OK with this young woman. I felt bad for her. But I didn't offer her a ride. She was a stranger. And I was too confused. Plus a bit afraid. So I defaulted to emotional and physical distance.

She'd picked up the "pillow" — people up and down the highway had seen her with it. I just needed it back, I said impatiently, stepping away from her.

Oh, that pillow. She'd left it a mile or so back down the highway, near where she'd found it. She'd taken one of the "stretchy cords" from it for her hair. She was sorry.

I drove more than a mile back down the highway to where she said she'd left it. No pillow. No surprise. I headed back upriver. She'd crossed the highway and was now holding the burlap sack over her head like a cape. Swaying like a 6-year-old playing Batman, she raced up a little lane behind a motel when she saw my car.

I returned to the trailer park just a few hundred feet away to talk with the woman who'd called. Perhaps the burlap sack was the pillow? No way, she said. "It was square and gray and had black piping and laces." She was holding it in front of her body, waving her hand around, talking to herself.

Oh, dear. I went back to the motel. A lady there said she'd run back down to the highway. And disappeared.

By my calculations, she'd been wandering along the river and up and down the highway for at least 10 hours, and clearly not in her right mind. She could end up dead at this rate.

I wanted to help my niece. I wanted to help this young woman. But apparently I wasn't going to do either. As the sun began to set, I drove into Rogue River looking for an officer. Did they know this girl? What was her story? Would they keep an eye out for her? But the office was closed and there was no patrol car in the usual haunts.

As the media continues its 24-hour coverage of Charlie Sheen, I can't stop thinking about this young woman. Every human being deserves compassion. And I showed her very little. Why didn't I help? Why was I so unsettled by this lost soul? Why wasn't I at least more kind?

I've looked for her each day as I drive to and from work. But all I've found is an empty burlap sack.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.