53 pages 1 hour read

Cylin Busby

The Year We Disappeared

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2008

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Summary and Study Guide


Cylin and John Busby’s The Year We Disappeared is a true crime memoir originally published in 2008. An expanded, 10th-anniversary edition was published in 2018. The book falls into both the memoir and true crime genres and is told from the perspective of the victims rather than a third party, such as a reporter. The Busby’s story was also featured on CBS’s newsmagazine, 48 Hours. It originally aired in 2010.

Plot Summary

In the summer of 1979, Falmouth, MA police officer John Busby is ambushed and shot in the face through the window of his car. He narrowly escapes with his life and is transported to the hospital where he fights for survival. The police inform his wife, Polly, and, over the next few days, information on his prognosis swings wildly between life and death. Attempts to shelter John’s children, Cylin, Shawn, and Eric, from the truth only create fear and confusion. In the end, however, John survives his injuries although the road to recovery will be long and arduous.

While John undergoes life-saving surgery and painful treatment, police are stationed outside his hospital room. His jaw wired shut and being fed through a tube in his stomach, John cannot communicate except by writing messages. He suspects the man responsible for his shooting is Falmouth crime boss Raymond Meyer, and he fears Meyer might make another attempt on his life (or his family’s). Meyer is suspected in other unsolved crimes (arson and murder), and he has a reputation for threatening anyone who crosses his path.

Meanwhile, Polly and the kids move in with her brother Joe and his wife in Boston while John is in the hospital. No one knows how to talk to the kids about their father’s situation, and their cousins further complicate the situation by repeating rumors and innuendo. When the kids are finally allowed to visit their father in the hospital, they are completely unprepared for John’s bloody and disfigured appearance.

As John slowly recovers, he seeks information about the investigation, only to be dismayed by its sluggish progress. Ever since his rookie year on the force, John has been aware of corruption within the department, and he suspects the detectives in charge are dragging their feet out of fear or allegiance to Meyer. His suspicions are confirmed when, weeks after the shooting, no one has bothered to question Meyer (even though John was set to testify against Meyer’s brother, James). John’s injuries, his painful recovery process, and the seeming lack of justice fill John with an anger that threatens to consume him.

Once John returns home, Cylin hopes for a return to normalcy, but her father’s weakened condition coupled with the constant presence of police officers render that hope bleak. Their new situation manifests itself in myriad ways: The boys become “problem students,” fighting and falling behind in school; Cylin’s friends abandon her out of their parents’ fears for their safety; and Polly, a nursing student, begins carrying a gun and exhibiting bouts of rage herself. This suffocating routine is punctuated by occasional moments of terror—an anonymous phone call, an intruder on their property—as the threat of physical danger becomes all too real.

It eventually becomes clear that their living situation is untenable—the town of Falmouth cannot afford the round-the-clock police presence; the house is surrounded by an eight-foot-tall fence; the children are miserable; and John’s anger has morphed into plans for revenge (plans that will surely put him behind bars). They decide that, once Polly graduates from nursing school, they will discreetly move out of state (they choose Tennessee for its distance from relatives and friends). It turns out that moving to a farm in Cookeville, TN, far away from prying eyes, is exactly the tonic John needs to begin healing. He finally realizes that his family supersedes his need for vengeance, and, years after the shooting, he and his family finally find a semblance of a normal life.