The afternoon of February 3rd, 2017, my cousin John Vincent Sciaba went for a winter hike on his own land, an eleven-acre expanse of dense Maine forest. He told his longtime girlfriend and soulmate Jen that he needed to clear his head. He packed a bag with some provisions, threw on a few light layers and sturdy boots, and headed out.

That was the last time anyone has seen him.

John Vincent, thirty-four years old, has long preferred the woods to the town; animals to people; the outdoors to indoors, weather be damned. Even as a kid, he would camp out in my aunt and uncle’s backyard in the snow. Long and difficult hikes and epic winter adventures were normal. Cold didn’t bother him. He had skills and experience. He knew what he was doing, and he’d done it before.

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Jen was not alarmed when he left. This was why they lived where they lived, after all. The land was a long-sought refuge from the pain and difficulty that he’d experienced as a young adult. He’d been an unusually creative child, mechanically gifted, incredibly resourceful. He was famous for resurrecting broken appliances. He would build toys: from an old CD player, an automatic spinning top. His brightness and energy were noticed and commented; everyone wanted to see what new and amazing contraption he’d invented.

As a schoolchild, he made his own go-cart, a real one that ran on gas, using a repurposed old lawn mower engine. He took it out for a spin on a main road, and was pulled over by a friendly local cop who was more impressed than anything else.

And music, he’s always loved to make music, using a combination of his drums and synthesizer and sampling to make elegant electronica- inspired songs. He sent a song of his own composition to my husband and I as a wedding present. He has always been so sweet and considerate of family, and especially our grandmother.

As he went through high school, we had no doubts that John Vincent would end up at MIT or another top engineering school. It was clear that the intelligence, curiosity, creativity, and even genius were all there.

But then the hallucinations started. There was a psychotic break, followed by more intense psychosis, and then this promising young man’s twenties were consumed by great instability, on and off meds, in and out of hospitals.

The past few years have been John’s best, since he found a stabilizing force in Jen, who somehow could connect and communicate and calm him, even when he wasn’t fully in reality. Their small, wood-stove-heated home set on the raw forested expanse was a safe zone. They shared a strong love of the wilderness and wildlife. On one visit, the kids and I found a baby squirrel that had fallen out of its nest. It was John and Jen who gently fed it sugar water, and drove over an hour to drop the creature at a wild animal veterinarian and sanctuary.

There have been summer days when John Vincent joined us on family trips to Maine beaches, especially bonding with Babyboy. They would dig in the sand for hours, examining shells and sea creatures.

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But he hated the medications that kept him grounded, because they also made him sedated, numb, clouded, slow; everything that was NOT him. So he would sometimes just sort of drift off of the meds. He would gain back some of the old spark, creativity, awareness… and then also hear things, get confused, and frustrated.

It was in that state of mind he left the house, to clear his head. Yes, he had great skills, experience, and comfort with the wilderness. But it got colder. And then there was an ice storm.  He’d been wearing fleece.

We’ve been in close touch with my aunt and uncle, such good, loving people who have looked upon our kids as their grandkids, and spoiled them as such. We visit and vacation together. We know what they’ve been through over the years, but can’t even imagine what there going through now, and it breaks our hearts.

The Newfield sheriff’s team and everyone have been wonderful. They held a massive search with K-9 units, even a heat-seeking drone. But as the days have gone on, and with several more storms, they have gently, kindly, moved from rescue to recovery mode.

My aunt offered the best hope when she explained how at times, many times, she has had a deep, real sense that John Vincent is near, trying to tell them that he’s OK, he didn’t suffer, and he’s happy. Once, early on, she felt that he was sitting right next to her on the living room couch. So intensely natural was the feeling that she had to turn her head and look, speak, say Hi, honey. She was a little shy to share that story, because she was worried what some people might think, but truly, her experience has also been comforting to us. Those times, she has believed he is at peace, which gives us all peace, as well.

Maybe he is nearby, a light and loving soul reaching out to comfort the living. Maybe it’s true that he was always meant to be in the spirit realm, not earth-tied-and-bound, and he’s finally free.

But I’ve delayed this post for days and days, because I was waiting, hoping, thinking maybe, maybe he’ll still turn up, walk in saying he’d hiked out to a different area, found a cabin in the woods… Who knows. You wonder.

They’re still out looking: my uncle and others, the sheriff’s men in their spare time, volunteer snowmobile teams, friends and colleagues, because, of course. You keep looking. As my aunt described, it would be fantastic if he walked through the front door. It would be awesome. It’s all been unreal, too much. To have him back, just like that, of course.

But she knew when the sheriff and team came in, hats in hands, that that wasn’t as likely an outcome, and she is, at times, accepting of that.

And when she feels John Vincent is nearby, in spirit but also warm and safe, she is at peace.