One mother has been waiting 17 months. The other, 25 years.
Sunday, they will mark another Mother's Day without their daughters; this time, with emotions intensified by the discovery a few days earlier of three women who vanished a decade ago in Cleveland.
For Goldia Coldon and Sharon Murch, the case has reignited a thousand fantasies of their own daughters' homecomings and buoyed their hopes.
Coldon's daughter, Phoenix, disappeared on December 18, 2011, in St. Louis. But Goldia Coldon has never stopped believing she will return. Her home became a testament to that optimism: The Christmas tree that Phoenix helped her mom put up is still standing; gifts await her arrival.
Murch's daughter, Michaela Joy Garecht, was kidnapped on the morning of November 19, 1988, in Hayward, California, a suburb of Oakland. Witnesses, including a friend, saw a man grab her from behind and pull her, screaming, into his car.
"Hope is a very difficult thing," says Murch, her face serene and her words matter of fact, as she recounts an unimaginable horror. "It's a difficult thing to hold on to. But when things happen like these girls being found, it picks you up and carries you along for a while so you can regain your strength."
Murch has had a series of daunting realizations over the years. At first, she was convinced Michaela was alive. Then, that conviction grew wobbly. Now, she thinks of the possibility that Michaela may be a mother herself -- just like Amanda Berry, one of the three women who escaped captivity in Cleveland.
"If Michaela is still alive and out there, I'd be surprised if she wasn't a mother herself," Murch says. "It's quite possible, being a mother might prevent her from breaking free and coming home. It's the one thing I've thought of and can understand."
Berry broke free with her 6-year-old daughter in tow. But if a child had to be left behind or put at risk, Murch says, she wouldn't escape either.
Murch lost her own mother a few years ago. She was 72, and Murch thought she would be able to cope with the loss. But it has been more difficult than she expected. And that makes Mother's Day even more painful: Without a daughter, without a mother.
In St. Louis, Coldon will miss Phoenix's regular Mother's Day card and hearing her say: "Mom, I want to take you out to dinner." Coldon always laughed aloud, knowing her husband, Lawrence, would be paying the bill.
"Mom, I love you," Phoenix told her every day. Without fail.
"I love you more, Phoenix," Coldon always responded.
"Every day is Mother's Day for me," she says.
Coldon and Murch have long-imagined the day they will be reunited with their daughters: Will a stranger call to say he knows where Phoenix is? Will Michaela somehow escape captivity as Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight did in Cleveland?
Coldon watched the news this week with one thought in her mind: I bet Phoenix is right under our nose. After all, the women in Cleveland were held in captivity in a house just blocks from the places where they were last seen.
Murch feels no envy watching the end of another mother's nightmare. She feeds off the hope. "It became obvious that people who've been missing a long time could still be out there. I don't know that she is, but as far as I'm concerned, there's as good a possibility that she's out there as she isn't."
On any given day, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children handles between 3,400 and 4,000 unresolved cases. The center's Robert Lowery said his message to families is this: Never give up hope.
"We have to remain vigilant and very aggressive in our search for our kids," he says.
No one has to say that to Coldon.
"We're going to find her," she says. "It's not going to be 10 years."
Phoenix was 23 when she vanished. Michaela was 9. But the girls' ages do not matter. Their mothers' heartbreak is the same.
Waiting almost 25 years
It was a sunny Saturday morning on November 19, 1988, the first day of Thanksgiving vacation. Michaela wanted to ride her scooter to the corner market with her best friend. Murch resisted the girls' pleas to go without an adult or one of the neighborhood teenagers. But Michaela, Murch's oldest child, begged and begged, and she eventually gave in. After all, the store was just two blocks away.
As Murch watched her daughter head out, Michaela turned around and spoke to her.
"I love you, Mom," she said.
"I love you, too," Murch told Michaela.
Those were their last words. The mother watched until her daughter got to the end of the street and out of sight.
At the store, the girls bought sodas, candy and beef jerky. When they came out, one of the scooters had been moved, three parking spaces down from the door, next to a car. Michaela went to get it when a man grabbed her from behind and shoved her, screaming, into his car.
People at the store, including Michaela's friend, witnessed the kidnapping and immediately called 911.
The community response was swift and overwhelming. Fliers with the blond, blue-eyed child's picture plastered the East Bay. Her mother pleaded on national television for the kidnapper to release her. When Jaycee Dugard, a California girl missing for 18 years, was found, Murch went on television again, talking to any reporter who would give her a few seconds of airtime.
But nearly 25 years and 15,000 tips later, Michaela remains missing.
The Hayward Police Department calls Michaela's kidnapping a priority and an active case, far from cold. An entire room is dedicated to the case. Michaela's yellowing flier is still pinned to a wall, facing file cabinets packed with the tips called in by the public. Officers chased leads when possible, but each path ran cold.
Murch has run down tips of her own, following a lead through Russia into the United Arab Emirates. On her blog, www.dearmichaela.com, she's written messages in Arabic and Russian, just in case her child was spirited to either country long ago.
She has good days and bad days. Her daughter's absence never leaves her. "It's always there. It's a big hole in the center of my life. It's impossible to get away from it. If Michaela is out there, if she is alive, she needs me to look for her."
Murch says that her heart has been shredded so many times in the past 25 years, she doesn't know if her child is alive or not. She doesn't know if Michaela is unwilling to return, long brainwashed by a captor. But it's better for her, she says, to believe that she will hold Michaela again someday.
Murch had taken fertility pills to get pregnant with Michaela. She wondered if God had been trying to tell her something.
"I often wonder if God wasn't saying, 'Wait. Are you sure you want to do this? 'Cause it's gonna hurt like hell.' But I couldn't have not done it.' ''
Last year on Mother's Day, Murch wrote about how becoming a mother is an act of courage, because it's agreeing to subject yourself to heartbreak.
"I confirm life and love and all it entails, from the very sweetest, to the most bitter and sorrowful. And even though being a mother has caused me the most tremendous sorrow and heartache, even though it has been like a huge vise in my chest squeezing my heart, it has also been the sun that lights my days."