If you live outside Quebec, you may or may not have heard of Cédrika Provencher, the 9-year-old Trois-Rivières girl who disappeared in 2007 only to turn up as a pile of bones in the forest ten days ago. But for people in her home province, Cédrika’s name stirs up a dismal and all-too familiar sense of tragedy. The media firestorm around her abduction was pervasive in Quebec, and as the Cédrika affair captivated the province, it gave people a stake in seeing her emerge from the woods alive and well — but still, there she laid for eight years.
I’ve thought about Cédrika a lot since they found her remains; I thought about her a lot when her disappearance was all over the local news; and I’ve thought about her on and off in the interim. Right now, she’s on my mind partly because I’m the daddy of a little girl of my own, but it’s mostly because I’m a thinking, feeling human being. After all, her last moments were probably spent in pain, in fear and in tears, and if that doesn’t stop you cold, then we’ve got to talk. Cédrika was nine years old. She hadn’t even had the chance to make any major life mistakes yet, no time to fall in with a bad element that people could point to and say “It’s so sad, but hey…” No: a stranger asked Cédrika to help him find a lost dog, and then she was gone. On one hand, it’s infuriating to think that someone dared to affect someone else’s safety and comfort in any way, let alone the nightmare scenario that I’m talking about here. On the other hand, the sheer randomness of this thing is terrifying.
I have a pretty good idea of what I would do if I saw someone trying to abscond with my daughter, and I like to think that I’d gladly face the music if it meant not waking up in a world without her in it. What really gets me is all the stuff that could happen when she’s out biking by herself in a few years’ time. Or coming home from a late shift or a party a few years after that.
So, how do you prepare for a future you can’t even see? Do you become a smothering, all-pervading presence in your child’s life? Put her in a self-defence class at the age of five? Go all heavy-handed when it’s time for the big talk? Or work your butt off to find a non-threatening way to teach her about the stuff you don’t even want her worrying about yet? I don’t know, but I want to have the conversation, because even though this kind of thing is rare, Cédrika Provencher wasn’t an isolated case. The Missing Children Society of Canada’s website has six pages of open cases, and that’s just one organization.
During the initial search for Cédrika, one of the volunteers was quoted as saying that he was helping out because she was “everyone’s little baby.” That rings true to me, and as the Provenchers finally begin to mourn, I look at my own girl and wonder how the hell I’m going to help her avoid becoming another Cédrika — or another Rehtaeh Parsons, for that matter — without weighing down her open, inquisitive spirit.