In just a few months now, it will be the 30th anniversary of Michaela’s kidnapping. Two months after that, it will be Michaela’s 40th birthday. I am still kind of lost as to what to do about this. The normal, regular thing, tying yellow ribbons on the tree at the market? I don’t know. I have to be honest as well, and tell you that I’m afraid to even try to put together the kind of thing I would like to do to honor Michaela, because I’m afraid nobody will come. I have not promoted the last couple of anniversaries, but even before that, the number of people who showed up for the anniversary was small, and I never felt prepared to give them an occasion worth showing up for.
After thirty years, you just start to run out of things to say. Michaela is still missing, and I still miss her terribly. My memories of that beautiful little blonde haired girl play in my mind every day, and my thoughts run the length of the years and wonder if she is a woman entering middle age, and where she has been and what she has been through. The guilt I feel because I was not able to take care of her and protect her has nothing to do with thinking that I actually did anything wrong, because I don’t. But the fact is, she suffered, and there was nothing I could do about it. I have a two-year old grandson who lives with me (along with his parents), and he is so young and so innocent. I am filled with a desire for him to always be protected from life’s hurts, praying that nobody would ever be unkind to him, that everybody in the world would love him like I do. And that’s exactly how I felt about Michaela. If you have read my blogs for long, you’ve heard me say many times that I always told Michaela, “If ever you are sad and I am not there, just touch your heart and you will find me there, with you always.” I’d had in mind those times when someone might be mean to her at school, of course. My wildest imagination had never gone to the sorrow and fear she actually had to experience. Would my frail promises have helped her, I asked. But I was helpless to do anything. You want to experience hell on earth? Spend that first night after your child has been kidnapped, thinking about where she could be, what she could be going through, and yet be unable to do any damn thing about it. Then add thirty years of those nights on top of it.
So yes, I have been doing this for three decades, and let me just tell you, it is a hell that you really cannot spend your entire life in, not if you are going to survive yourself, not if you are going to take care of the rest of your family. You have to set it to the side sometimes, and this is not because you don’t care. It’s because you do care, too much.
A few years ago there was a bone that was found, which investigators believed might have been Michaela’s. On that occasion, they managed to take three loooooong looooooong months to complete the DNA testing and let me know that it was not Michaela. In the meantime, I had spent all those days in a truly tortured state. I kept going, did what I had to do, went to work, came home, but in the back of my mind I was constantly wondering if I should be planning a memorial service. No, I was planning a memorial service, thinking about songs, about where I would want to hold it, who I would want to speak. I was wondering how I would be able to keep on doing what I had to do if they confirmed it was Michaela. Would all the grief that I had held at arm’s length come tumbling down and bury me alive? For how long?
Before that, of course, there was the time after Jaycee was found when I was for some reason positive that it would lead to our finding Michaela alive as well. That was the opposite, with weeks spent clawing my way up a mountain of hope, one which dissolved beneath me, ever so slowly, over a period of months when our investigators were not even allowed to talk to Jaycee’s abductors because of a judicial order. I reached a point during that whole thing when I almost couldn’t keep putting one foot in front of the other. I was dragging myself along, literally.
People have always told me to hold onto hope, and I know they mean only the best when they say this, but I have to give the Bible the final word on that: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Oh yes, yes it does. Sick, sick, sick.
Then there are those people who have contacted me and told me that they thought they were Michaela. I have finally come up with the best way to deal with this situation. I ask them to have to fingerprint card rolled at their local police department, and to send it to our investigator. I only came up with this solution after one woman tortured me mercilessly while waiting for someone to figure out whether she was Michaela or not. I was pretty sure she wasn’t. There was a difference in age of several years, different eye color, and she had memories of a childhood before age nine, which did not include any of Michaela’s memories. But she was insistent, kept trying to get me to let her come to visit before we could confirm or deny her identity. Why? I really don’t know. But for me, it was just another little bit of the hell of having a missing child until I came up with the idea of her getting a fingerprint card and it worked. Now I tell people to do that up front. Mind you, there has not ever been a time when I have actually thought it possible that any of the people who have contacted me could be Michaela, but it of course always needs confirmation, and now I know that confirmation is so easy to come by, because we have a fingerprint card for Michaela.
I finally told investigators that I didn’t want to know about the leads they were working on. I didn’t want to pick them apart, analyze them. I didn’t want to hope for a positive resolution, or any resolution, or to fear what I might have to hear. I had to come to some sort of a peace with just not knowing, or I would not survive.
And I have done that. I have made peace with not knowing. I know it is not impossible that Michaela is still alive and out there somewhere, and that idea does torture me. The whole sex trafficking scenario is a constant nightmare. But I have reached out to Michaela. She is there, on the internet, in news stories, in the blogs that I have kept for years and years. It is a permanent record and if she ever looks for herself, she will see it. I keep thinking I should add to it, but while I know our investigator has not given up working on the case, because he contacts me occasionally with a question, I don’t know anything about details. And I don’t want to know. And if I did know, it would generally not be anything I could share with the general public on my blog. And me? I have poured out my feelings into my blogs for many years now. I have repeated them over and over again, in fact, just because I kept feeling them.
So all that there is to say has already been said, many times over. When people do show up for the anniversaries, they are by and large the same people who come year after year. And all I have to say is the same thing I have said before. Thank you for remembering Michaela. Your love and your caring are a gift, to Michaela wherever she is, and to her family. Then I feel as though I am cheating people because I have not given them enough.
I hope when you read this, you can see my heart. I’ve had people say so often that I am brave or strong, but really people, I am fragile. Occasionally I hear from people who suggest that someone who was arrested for another crime might have been responsible for Michaela’s kidnapping. They are all murder cases, of course, so if that person had been responsible for taking Michaela, that would mean that she was dead — which would mean that she had spent the last few decades in a place far better than the one I have been inhabiting — which would mean that she was happy, she was at peace, that she didn’t need me. In the meantime, I’d read the news stories about these people, and the trials that were held in these cases, and I’d be aghast with horror at the thought of having to endure something like that at this point, of it becoming once again an everyday, protracted nightmare filled with images from nightmares.
Someone commented recently on my Dear Michaela blog that they didn’t like my new blog, because it seemed all I did was complain about my own problems. Well, I hope that is not what I am doing here. Honestly, I talk about breast cancer and fear and suffering and love because I hope my words just might “become a page in someone else’s survival guide,” as the quote on my home page says. I do what I can do to reach out to the world, and help give courage to other people. But on the other hand, I am just this month finishing treatment for Stage 3 Breast Cancer. It has brought me nose to nose with mortality, and with the cost of love for not only me, but for those who love me and depend on me — for all who love or are loved. There is so much to figure out here. I want to figure it out, I want to share, I want to inspire, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it has been easy.
So anyway, here I am, a person just like everybody else, with more wisdom and courage than some, and far less than others. If I am a disappointment to my blog readers because I don’t write about Michaela every day, every week, every month, I am sorry. Or more accurately, I don’t really care. There is only one person who has ever walked the earth that I care about disappointing in this regard and that is Michaela. And to Michaela I say, the reason I don’t talk about you every day is not because I have forgotten you. It is not because I don’t love you. It’s because I love you so damn much.
Excuse me for venting here. It’s been on my mind for awhile, and I received some messages today that made me feel perhaps I just need to address it. I hope you will excuse me my frailties, and still remember Michaela, still keep her alive in your heart, even if you don’t talk about her every day. That’s all any of us can do, really. It’s been thirty years. Our words are apparently not going to solve her case. But she is here, people. She is at the center of my heart, and is the central reason for every little thing that I write. She made me into a brand new person the day she was born, and remade me the day she left. If I have any light to shine, I got it from my brave, beautiful daughter. And if you actually take the time to read the things I write, you will see her there, always. Meanwhile, I simply hope that my words may be of help to someone, somewhere. If that is true, it means that my suffering, and Michaela’s suffering, is not without some meaning and purpose.
Thanks for listening. Thanks for caring. Remember, you are loved. (And especially you, Michaela!)
And for those reading this today or tomorrow, happy Mother’s Day!