Terry Elvis has made a promise to his daughter.
“No matter what, no matter where, no matter the cost. No matter the penalty, no matter the ramifications, whatever it takes, I will find you and fix it.”
Elvis’ daughter Heather has been missing since Dec. 18. On Dec. 17, the 20-year-old had a date, and when she got home, her car was in her parking lot. The next day, Dec. 19, her car was found in Socastee at the Peachtree boat landing.
Neither her parents Terry and Debbi, nor her younger sister Morgan, nor her older brother Chris, have heard from her since then.
Friday marked 30 days since her family members last heard from her.
Speaking from his sign business at The Market Common, Terry Elvis didn’t take his sunglasses off until about an hour after he went inside the building, then fought back tears more than once talking about Heather. He cries easily these days, something he says he was never prone to do before.
“I can’t watch TV, I can’t watch a movie. Anytime I see someone with a missing loved one, I’m moved to tears,” he says. “I would never have done that before, never.”
“Before” means when her father knew where Heather was, and he generally did. The whole family is close, but the bond between father and daughter is something special, he says.
He doesn’t call this “the new normal,” and says nothing will ever be normal again, not even when Heather is home again.
“We’ll go back to being a completed family, but we’ll never go back to being normal,” he says.
Behind Elvis, pictures of Heather and 16-year-old Morgan fill the wall at his business.
Under Morgan’s, it says, “My daughter, my baby, my sunshine.”
Under Heather’s, it says, “My daughter, my baby, my heartbeat.”
One particular picture Elvis took of Heather captures her essence perfectly, her father says.
“If I never take another picture of her or if I take 1,000, this one is pure Heather,” he says about the one of her holding her dog, Maci.
These days, Maci, on medication since the fifth day after Heather disappeared, sleeps on the pillow in Heather’s old bedroom.
And like the others in the house, Maci cries at night.
Terry Elvis makes an effort to be hospitable, social even at his workplace, chatting about his unusual last name, remembering when he actually met Elvis Presley.
It was in Memphis, Tenn. in a small diner when the superstar came in, and Terry Elvis chatted with him, telling him his own last name.
“Elvis laughed and said that there were two Elvises in the building,” he says, popping a Milk Dud in his mouth.
But even that incident puts him in mind of his daughters, saying in reference to the family surname, “None of us ever had first names.”
He talks about his own resemblance to a young Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy” fame, and a passing likeness to a younger Michael J. Fox.
But everything, facial features included, brings him back to his daughter.
Elvis talks about how much Heather loves ice cream, and how the flavor doesn’t matter.
“Anything I buy, as long as it’s ‘Daddy’s ice cream,’ ” he says.
Heather has her cosmetology license, “loves to dabble with hair and make-up” and is looking forward to being a make-up and fashion runway designer.
Heather loves to cuddle up with a good book or watch a movie, her Dad says about her.
“An old movie, a new movie, anything on Netflix.”
She loves to draw, paint and sketch, and Elvis describes Heather as artistic and creative with a sense of humor and a stubborn streak.
Each Fourth of July, she reminds her father that the date, on which she was due to be born, is not her birthday.
“Being stubborn, she decided to be born June 30th and not give me my July 4th baby,” Elvis says. Every year on July 4, Heather goes out of her way to remind her Dad, ‘This is not my birthday.’
Elvis says he tries to put in an eight-hour workday, but more times than not, manages maybe an hour of business as usual. Sleep comes in spurts of an hour or two at a time, and nights are much worse than days.
He says his wife, Debbi, “is a wreck during the day” and at night, holds him together.
“I cry myself to sleep and [Morgan] crawls into bed and holds my hand. She’s 16 and stronger than I am,” he says.
There are times when Elvis expresses his thoughts and feelings articulately. Other times, he forms half-sentences and doesn’t clarify.
He admits he has more questions than answers, and that guilt mixes with his grief.
“She depended on me to correct any situation that was wrong in her life,” he says. “She always depended on me for that, and I’ve always done exactly that. It was just a matter of her asking, and it would be done.”
Elvis says it’s hard for parents not to blame themselves when things go wrong in a child’s life.
“Maybe I should have said I loved her one more time before she went missing,” he says.
Where does Terry Elvis think his daughter Heather is? “I know what I hope and pray for, but I can’t answer that,” he says, adding that he “doesn’t have enough information to make a reasonable speculation.”
What he does know for sure is this: He says, “I will move Heaven and Earth. I will move mountains. I will find answers. I care how long it takes, but I don’t care what method it takes.
“I haven’t lost my daughter,” Terry Elvis says.
“I just don’t know where she is.”