In the book I am writing, one of my characters is based on my youngest daughter. She has always been a very interesting human being. She was born five years after Michaela was kidnapped, and I am convinced she had some sort of a pre-birth imprinting of this grief and loss. There may be any number of wooo wooo causes for this, but the most basic one is that I’d shut down and denied many of my most difficult feelings after Michaela was kidnapped, but when I was pregnant with Johnna my heart exploded open to embrace this new love, and when it did all those feelings I had been burying burst forth as well. And as I experienced those feelings, I think probably Johnna did also. You don’t feel grief in your head. You feel it in your body. You feel it in your heart, and your stomach, and it flows through your limbs like wet cement. Whatever the biochemical processes are that cause these very physical manifestations of grief, how could they not affect an unborn baby?
I’m not going to go into all the details of Johnna’s life here, but the fact is that even in infancy, she behaved as though she was terrified that someone was going to try to take her away from me. In first grade, she had a terrible time, not wanting to go to school, holding onto me and crying when I left her in the mornings. Recently she told me that she was afraid that if I left her in school that she would never see me again.
This was one thing, only one side of the coin, however. The other side of the coin is that my youngest daughter and I fought like crazy. And that’s the thing I am writing about in this blog, because I see other people going through this with their kids. It is usually not something that characterizes their whole lives, although it could be. Usually it is something that comes about at certain key junctures. The idea of teenage rebellion is pretty common, but it’s not always the kids who are responsible for the fighting. Sometimes it’s the parent who finds him or herself feeling angry and defensive and not knowing exactly why.
I don’t remember when or how the light went on for me on this subject, but I finally realized what was going on with this anger and fighting with my youngest. It didn’t happen because we hated each other, or because we couldn’t get along. In fact, it happened because we were so close. Now we may have had special problems with that because of our family experience of grief and loss, but this happens even with perfectly normal families. It is built into our children to separate from us. Sometimes that separation can be painful and scary. Sometimes it is necessary to become contentious, to argue, to believe that the other person is stupid, that we “hate” them, because in reality we love them so much we cannot bear the fact that we have to separate from them, we have to grow up, or let them grow up. We have to let go, on both sides, and sometimes that’s just easier to do when we’ve made it difficult or unpleasant to be around one another.
Not everybody has these dramatic things going on, of course. I’ve had five kids become adults and haven’t had so dramatic an experience with most of them. But it does happen. And I’m writing this blog because if you as a parent have a child who seems to hate you, or if you as a child have a mom who seems to always be picking fights with you, maybe it’s not because you are irritating or irritable … maybe it’s just because you are loved so doggone much.
Understanding these things helps a lot. One advantage of Johnna’s intense and interesting childhood is that she’s really had to sort through her feelings and understand them. We spent a lot of time talking about things (whether she liked it or not), but she also learned a tremendous amount about understanding feelings and motivations as a result of years of training in modified method acting with a compassionate (maybe even psychic) teacher (cvdaa.org, if interested). As a result, she has turned out to be a very self aware young woman. And although we still get on each other’s nerves sometimes, we have come to be able to negotiate the growing up and separating part of our relationship while still loving each other.
So maybe someone out there will get something out of this blog, but actually I have been thinking about this in another light recently. One of my readers commented on my last entry, about looking for missing children in the faces on the street, and I said that recognizing an adult who had been kidnapped as a child would be very difficult, and that because of that I thought that the child or someone who knows what happened would have to come to us rather than us hoping to randomly find them. That made me think back on the “Advocate,” someone I’ve written about before in this blog, who contacted us several years ago, and said that she knew Michaela, but that she didn’t think it would be the best thing for her to come home. (Before we get into any fresh discussion of this lead, the police did try to trace her and could not, and all the details don’t need to be rehashed.) So maybe this was the truth, and maybe it wasn’t. It wouldn’t be the first time someone believed they knew Michaela. We have even had people contact use who believed they could themselves be Michaela but weren’t. So just because this person says that she knows Michaela, and that she thinks it would not be a good idea for Michaela to come home, and that Michaela doesn’t want to come home … well, it doesn’t mean it’s true.
But it doesn’t mean it’s not. And of course, I have to wonder why, how could it possibly be, that my daughter would be out there, would know who she was, and would choose not to come home? Michaela, my Michaela, whose last words to me were, “I love you, mom.” Michaela, who sat and watched the news of the kidnapping of other little girls and agreed with me that it would be the worst thing in the world to not be able to find each other, how could she not want us to find each other? But there are reasons that people have suggested to me over the years. Shawn Hornbeck read and commented on the website his parents kept while he was gone, and what he said was, are you sure you would want your son back? This was because he felt so ashamed of what he’d been put through since he’d been kidnapped that he thought his parents would never want him after that. Then there are the variations of the Stockholm Syndrome, in which the abducted person identifies with and even loves the abductors. Then there are a million and one variations. I’ve thought about them all. I can argue against them all here in this blog, and I have.
But here is one that just occurred to me. Michaela and I had a very close relationship also. If she was taken away and forced to live somewhere else, perhaps just in order to psychologically facilitate living with that separation, she would have had to adopt some deviated version of this thing that parents and kids go through in the normal process of separating, this my-mom-is-so-stupid-I-hate-her thing. Only in a really, really big way, because the separation was really, really big. And it could have been fed in so many ways. Perhaps she was convinced that I gave her away willingly. Long-time blog readers will remember the person who came into my life as a friend who wanted to help find Michaela and left as a suspect, who in the meantime took photographs of me and the kids and then never gave them to me, claiming “they didn’t come out” (in the days before digital). I came to wonder if the purpose of those pictures had been to show them to Michaela, to show her that the people who had her knew me, to prove somehow that whatever was happening to her was happening with my consent. (In fact, this haunts me mightily. He had a fancy camera and offered to take family photographs for me. He even chose a good place to do it, which happened to be Michaela’s school, a place she would recognize.)
Having no idea of what happened to Michaela … well, part of the pain of it is that I am left to deal with the emotional toll of every possibility as it passes through my mind. And this is one of them. And this is a large part of why I keep this blog.
So let me just say, Michaela, if you are reading this … there really are no feelings you could have experienced in the last 23 years that I cannot understand. And as difficult as it may be for me to do so, whether you come home or don’t, I swear to you that I will respect those feelings and allow you to have them, and while I hope for you to be able to work through them, if you never do that if you could at least let me know that you are alive, that you are okay or not okay, could you at least give me one single reality to live with instead of a thousand variations of your suffering to haunt me??? Love me, hate me, but have mercy on me, please.
And one thing we can settle. Michaela, if anyone ever told you that we gave you away, you know yourself that this could not be true. Remember, when the person who kidnapped you moved the scooter that drew you to the side of his car, it was not the scooter that you rode to the market that day. It was the scooter Trina had ridden. So you were not specifically targeted. This guy was just after a little girl, and you are the one who wandered into his trap.
I love you forever, Michaela. I loved you from the moment I first saw you to the moment I last saw you, and every moment in between and after that. I loved you as a little girl, but you know all your brothers and sisters are adults now, and I don’t know if I have said it in this blog or not, but I have often said that I actually enjoy them even more now than I did when they were little children, and the same would be true for you. So if you are out there, please contact me and let me know you are okay. You can leave a comment on this blog, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love you forever, Michaela.
I like you for always.
As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.