I watched the day dawn on November 20th, 29 years ago. I had spent the night pacing. I had spent it kneeling in front of my couch, praying, begging. I had spent it standing in my front door, gazing down the street in the direction I had seen Michaela disappear the day before, straining to catch sight of her little blonde head bobbing towards home. After all, if the kidnapper was going to answer our pleas and drop her off near home, he would surely feel safer doing that in the nighttime hours, under cover of the dark, when most people were sleeping peacefully and not caring about a child being left on a corner. I spent the night fighting off visions of what my little girl could be enduring at that very moment. I thought of her seeking comfort from her fears in the night in my bed the night before, and thought about her sleeping and waking not from a nightmare this time, but to one. I could see it, like a wall in my mind, that separated me from the knowledge of where Michaela was, that prevented me from going to her and offering her comfort.
Finally light began to fill the sky, and it helped, filled me with renewed determination, and I hoped gave Michaela hope as well. A young boy, Michaela’s age or a little younger, walked down the street, alone with his dog. I couldn’t believe it. How could his parents allow him to do that?
My other children woke up, and I gave them breakfast. It felt so strange, so unnatural, to put out only two bowls of cereal instead of three. Pat Chavez from Missing Children’s Project arrived and took up her station at our kitchen table, a place where she would sit for weeks to come, answering calls on the second line that had been installed the day before, to leave the home phone number open for Michaela. She set out legal pads where all visitors would be asked to sign in with their names, contact information, and purpose of their visit. Everything was logged, not necessarily neatly, but logged: every visitor, every caller, every conversation. Boxes of flyers were dropped off on our front porch. Across town, in front of the police department, the Kevin Collins Foundation for Missing Children had set up tables where they distributed flyers. Hundreds of people turned out, and each of them picked up an envelope full of flyers with a map showing them the neighborhood where they should hang them, in order to assure even coverage. It was weeks before I could leave the house, because I was waiting for Michaela to come home, but when I did my breath was taken away when I saw Michaela’s face smiling down from every telephone poll, tree, and store front. I thought that when Michaela came home, that seeing this display of love and caring by the community would surely help to heal whatever damage had been done to her heart.
The rains came that day, not gentle showers but torrential storms. I thought the angels were weeping for my daughter. They tore down the flyers, but no sooner had they fallen than someone was there to hang them again.
I continued on in a state of shock, so thankful to have so much to do, to be caught up in so much activity, as people came and went to the house, community members, helpers, those who had leads or dreams and visions, as well as media and police. Every time a police car pulled up in front of our house I ran do the window to see if Michaela was in the back seat. “Have they found her?” was my constant refrain. “Not yet” was the constant answer.
My mother, who had gone home the night before to her own home and her own sleeplessness, arrived that second day with clothes and supplies, and she stayed for weeks, sleeping on my couch with the broken springs, waiting for news of Michaela. She had double the grief I know, for Michaela, and then for her own child on top of that.
The day passed and darkness fell again. It was Day Two of what would become an eternity of waiting, of hoping, praying, wishing, striving. I fell into a disorganized mess of existence. I am still there.