I have been thinking about grief this past week. Can’t remember what started it. I was thinking about what life was like in the days and weeks after you were kidnapped, winding down through the months and years, right up until the last couple of years. Over all that time, I’ve learned a lot about how I work, things I never would have guessed about myself. I think this started because of something I read or heard about crying, something about the surprising fact that most women believe that it doesn’t help things so you should just “man up.” This is true, of course. No amount of tears has ever healed a single person of a broken heart. As Libby would tell you, it just gives you a stuffy nose. Even Jaycee mentioned that she didn’t cry because her hands were behind her back and she couldn’t blow her nose.
What surprised me, Michaela,was that in the days after you were kidnapped, I was so much more dry-eyed than I ever would have guessed … more than I am now. You know, all these TV cameras assaulted me, asked me questions … things like “what is your daughter like?” Like they thought I could sum that up in a sound byte? She is beautiful … but they could see that, couldn’t they? She is amazingly intelligent, writes the most incredible poetry, draws rainbows. She’s nice, and friendly, and popular. Did I mention what a strong spirit you have? I don’t remember. What do I want to say to the kidnapper? Just to bring Michaela home, drop her off at a phone booth, drop her off on the street. We don’t care about you, we just want Michaela back. But mostly dry-eyed as I recall. I was just thinking this past week about that, wondering if you had seen it, and wondering if you thought it meant that I didn’t care…. Well, just writing that makes me tear up now.
You know, or at least you knew, that there had never been another child born on the face of the earth who was loved more than you. It had taken me five years to get pregnant with you, a complicated pregnancy, a delivery induced almost four weeks early. As a newborn you had jaundice and a strep infection where they’d attached a fetal monitor to your scalp which required you to be hospitalized for a week. You were so dearly wanted, so hard won. You know, sometimes I’ve wondered if what happened to you, being kidnapped, was part of your destiny, and if the difficulties of bringing you into this life were either because of your reluctance to step into this fate, or God’s way of saying, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
But we did it, you and I. We stepped into each other’s lives. You grasped my fingers in your tiny hands, and my heart, to hold it forever and ever, no matter what. (Tears again here.) I know I’ve said it before … in fact I’m probably fairly repetitive in what I write, just because it’s all so important … but my heart and life were devoted to you from the start. I didn’t go back to work after you were born, because dropping you off somewhere in the morning and going to work would have felt like ripping out a piece of my heart and leaving it behind every morning, and I couldn’t do that. I held you, and I rocked you.
I kept waiting for that day to come, which everyone said must, when I would have to leave you to cry yourself to sleep … but it never did. Never once in your entire life did I leave you to “cry it out.” Always when you cried, I picked you up and held you, heart to heart. I wanted you to feel secure in the knowledge that you were loved, that you were not alone. In such a small thing, I just could not bear the thought of you feeling abandoned, even for a minute.You know, that is part of what makes it all so just plain UNFAIR, that those nine years later some stranger could come along and rip you away and force that abandonment on you, because I couldn’t find you! The only thing I can hope is that by then it had been so deeply ingrained in you that it could not be destroyed.
This is one of the reasons why, after a certain point, I started having a hard time believing, Michaela, that you could still be alive. I just could not believe that you would not have found some way to try to contact me. I could not believe that anybody would ever be able to convince you that I didn’t love you, that I didn’t long for you, that I wasn’t waiting with my arms open wide for you to come home.
But I understand now that there are so many possibilities, dozens of them. I know you could have been taken to another country, where you could not figure out how to work the phones until it had been so long, so much time, so much distance, so much brainwashing, that you could have come to doubt all you’d ever known as true. I know this, and many other things. And so I write to you, wherever you are … so you will remember … so you will feel a part of the family … so if you ever think about the possibility of coming home, it will not be some great unknown that you would have to embrace. It will be as familiar to you as home should be.
Well, I’ve strayed from my original topic here … which is really such a huge topic in itself. Grief, broken hearts. There was a time that I went to see a therapist, a few years after you were kidnapped, and I told her, “I feel dead, like I can’t feel anything.” And of course she explained that after you feel bad enough for long enough you just stop feeling. I don’t know if I’ve said this or just thought it, but when I read Jaycee’s book, or saw her interview on TV, it didn’t make me cry much, and I think that is because there is a kind of flatness to her expression. She says the most horrific things in such a matter of fact way. Well, you know that Jaycee has spent the major portion of her life having to deny so many of her feelings … in my own experience, I’d guess that it will take more than a couple of years to get over that. The ages and stages I’ve been through in this journey follow a deep and winding road, I know.
I’ve found one thing about myself that is really odd … when my heart is at its most broken, instead of collapsing in a heap on the floor, I can’t stop moving. Right after I was told you had been “snatched at the market,” I started pacing in figure eights, around and around and around, and I continued doing that literally for years. In fact, I still do when something comes up. I also used to drum my fingers all the time. In the early days, weeks, months after you were kidnapped, I wanted to be doing things all the time … there were always people around the house, always things going on. And as that slowed down, I actually started running! I know you will find that hard to believe, but I was quite addicted to it. I used to run every single day, at 4:30 in the morning no less, while it was still dark and quiet in the world. I ran when it was cold, when it was pouring rain, and when I was sick. I could not stop.
After Jaycee was found was another particularly bad time for me, and oddly enough I found myself doing the same thing. I’d go to the gym to work off my emotional pain. I’d walk and walk. I was suddenly really into cleaning the house, anything to be doing something. I could not sit, could not be still. You know I’m a person who tends to eat when I’m depressed, but I know now that is part of trying to bury my feelings. When they are real and raw and present, I don’t eat. I run.
When my feelings were most raw, I invariably drifted into distracting myself. I think I mentioned Jaycee focusing on the pain of losing her kitties. Believe me, I’m an animal lover, and I know this is a real pain in itself. But the real pain was so much deeper, so much more severe, too horrible to really allow herself to fully feel … well, that is something I’ve experienced. I’ve found things to be distressed over, found feelings to have that were not terribly well founded, just because it was so much easier than the real feelings.
I wonder, Michaela, what you have done with your grief. Have you buried it? Distracted yourself from it? Expressed it in some easier way in order to avoid its most devastating impact?
The thing that I have come to know for certain is that it is really difficult to cut yourself off from your grief without also cutting yourself off from love.
I spent the entire night after you were kidnapped sobbing. That night was absolutely the worst, most terrible night of my existence. The thoughts of what you might be going through tortured me. Just not being able to get to you, not being able to help you … it was the most absolutely unimaginable pain. I literally beat my head on the wall. In the course of the night I ended up in just about every position possible, including on my knees … much of it on my knees. After that first night, Nana came to stay. She’d been there the first day, but had gone home at night. The next day she returned and didn’t leave. She slept on our couch with the broken springs for over a month. It was only having her there that kept every night of my life from being a repeat performance of that first night … but I feel so terrible even saying that, even admitting that I received comfort from my own mother’s presence when you yourself were denied any comfort from anywhere! Many, many, many people came to help. People would arrive at 7:00 in the morning and not leave until 11:00 at night — friends, relatives, missing children’s organization workers, police, reporters, tons of them. They helped me to survive with the busy-ness. But what helped you to survive?
That’s been true of the last 22 years, Michaela. I’ve had your brothers and sisters, friends, hundreds of people who never knew you and yet reached out with love to you, and that love passed through me on its way to you and helped me to survive. Did it reach you? Did it help you?
I apologize. This has not been a cheery blog, maybe even depressing. And rambling. I promise next time to go back to the part about making you feel at home in your family as it is now. You, and your own family if you have one. But the darkness is there, spread out over the countryside of the past 22 years of our lives. And sometimes you just have to pass through it to get to the light. And that is surely where we want to go.
I love you forever, baby girl. I miss you.