My day started way too early this morning, with a series of phone calls starting at 5 a.m. The first call hung up before I could answer. The second one I answered, and it was a woman saying that she thinks she is Michaela; she hopes she is Michaela. Then she hung up.
Do you think you would recognize your daughter’s voice if she had been missing for 29 years? How about if she had siblings, including a full sister, that she had left behind? Well I must have felt fairly confident in my ability, because this is what I did. I put my phone on Do Not Disturb.
I did think to myself, Sharon, you ask all the time for Michaela to contact you if she is still out there, and someone calls and says she thinks she is Michaela, and you put the phone on Do Not Disturb and go back to sleep? Well, try to anyway, as the calls continued. It turns out that I put an override into the Do Not Disturb so that if the same number calls multiple times in a row it will ring through. And that’s what they did. Six calls from two numbers in fact.
They left a long voicemail, which I listened to. Finally they sent a text message that I read and responded to. I am far more comfortable dealing with these things in writing than over the phone, especially at 5 in the morning with very little sleep because I babysat my night owl grandson the night before, hours before the anniversary remembrance.
I was right. It wasn’t Michaela. They were off on every comparison they tried to make. She is 32. Michaela is 38. They wanted to know if Michaela was short for her age, and I told them no, she was tall. The woman had a memory of the ocean and a bedroom that was upstairs and triangular shaped, and neither of those memories belonged to Michaela’s childhood. But I told her an easy way to make certain, and that is to go to the local PD and get a fingerprint card done, and mail it to Inspector Robert Purnell at Hayward Police Department.
This is not the first time this has happened. The occasion on which I figured out the ease with which these claims can be dispatched was a horrendous one, with a young woman who harassed me for weeks. “But what if I AM your daughter?” she would ask accusingly as I refused her requests to come visit. I was already pretty certain she wasn’t, and fingerprints bore that out, but she continued to assault me emotionally. She was not without childhood memories, and they were of a childhood somewhere else with someone else.
At one point someone I had known for awhile on Facebook got a bug up their nether regions and started telling me about these “mysterious” things that were obviously pointing to her being Michaela, including a claim that the police department had told her that they “know who her mother is,” but when she asked if she could meet her, they said, “not yet because she has been sick.” This was right after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The astounding thing is that her eyes were not blue, as Michaela’s are, and yet she insisted still she was Michaela, getting pretty nasty with my older daughter who questioned her on it.
And those were just from the last two years, so long after the kidnapping. These people generally seem to have had childhoods that they recall. They just don’t like them. They were not even necessarily abused. Sometimes their mothers were just not warm and cozy enough for them. I can understand that particularly in cases of parental abuse or neglect, there is something that cuts deep into the psyche; you can’t believe that your parent, who is supposed to love you and cherish you, would do these things to you, or allow them to be done. What a relief to know that your parent did not actually take part in those things, that you actual parent was somewhere else, looking for you, longing to take care of you.
But wanting it to be so doesn’t make it so. Telling me you think you are Michaela does not make you Michaela. It makes you a stranger trying to supplant my daughter in my heart, and that is not going to happen. I feel sad, to be faced with someone with such an obvious emotional need, even if they are not my daughter, and to turn them away. But in spite of the compulsion I feel to fix everything for everyone, I can’t. My inability to have cared for and protected my daughter leaves me with a residual guilt that makes me easy prey for this stuff, which may be real or may quite honestly be feigned, and I am not going to allow myself to get wound up in it. I can’t. It’s not my place.
From this rocky start, I was quite late to the anniversary, grateful for a small group of people who were waiting patiently. As I had imagined, the tree was still covered in the ribbons from many years now, tattered, dirty, bedraggled. The photo at the top of this post is one of those old ribbons surrounded by fresh, new ribbons.
I was so happy to see the faces of friends who have come faithfully, year after year, to remember Michaela, and the handful of people I hadn’t met before.
Afterwards, I went out for lunch with family. I named it my Thanksgiving dinner with my son Robbie and his wife, because I won’t see them again for the holiday. Then I came home exhausted, and took a nap. I can feel my body fighting off an illness now. Go, body, go! You can do it! I’m exhausted enough without being sick, and have such a busy week ahead! I learned long ago that this happens with the anniversary. Once I tried to ignore it altogether. I got up, went to work, treated the day like any other day, and I ended up getting so sick I missed a week of work.
So for now I’m here, back in my bed, watching escapist television on Netflix. I want to thank everybody for the outpouring of support today. I want to tell you, Michaela, that you have not been forgotten. We love you, forever. Wherever you are, whatever may have happened to you, nothing will ever change that. I think, Michaela, that I know what you would sound like if you called. I think I know even what you would say. I will not let you slip past.
For those out there who might think they might be Michaela, who might, as this woman this morning said, hope that they are Michaela, the path is easy. Get a fingerprint card done. We have one for Michaela, so comparison is as easy as can be, and the answer is definitive. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will tell you where to send it and tell them to be on the lookout for it.