Sunday, January 24, 2016

Happy Birthday, Michaela

At this moment 37 years ago, Michaela, you were an hour old. All of the years of infertility, the difficulties in pregnancy and in labor, had melted away in that hour, as I was finally able to hold you in my arms. There has never been a child born on this earth who was more wanted, and more loved, than you. I had no idea of what the future would hold. I was young then, and there was so much I didn't know. I had never lost anybody I had really loved. Loss and death were shadows that haunted the dark edges of my conscious. Had I understood their absolute reality, would I have had the courage to enter a love like this?

I am not sure I even understood how deep my love would be for you, Michaela. But I learned fast. When I was pregnant I'd paid lip service to the notion of going back to work after you were born, but once I held you in my arms, I knew I could not do that. No paycheck, no money, no things, could ever be worth it. To leave you and go to work would be like ripping out a piece of my heart and leaving it behind every day. And you were so innocent, and so completely vulnerable. It was my job to take care of you. Nobody else could give you what I could give you: just plain love.

I sometimes drive by the house we lived in when you were born, Michaela. I am not blessed with an excellent memory, but I remember your infancy and toddlerhood very well. When these memories pass through my mind, they are often followed by an involuntary shake of the head. All that sweetness, innocence, all the good times, all the promise.... It feels like we were cheated, like a bad joke was played on us ... haha, fooled you. You thought you had happiness and love in the palm of your hand, but look! It is an illusion, something that can be snatched away in a moment by some stranger with long greasy hair and a pock marked face, who for some reason believed he had the right to take you. He didn't! He did not have that right! You were not some wild flower to be picked. You were mine to love and care for.

But he took you anyway, away to somewhere I could not see, I could not find, to somewhere where I could not hear your cries, I could not come to your side. When you were a baby, there was not ever once a time when I let you cry yourself to sleep. When you cried, I always held you and comforted you. Always. So how could this man come along and take you away where I could not comfort you?

Now ... so much time has passed. Where are you now? Did you ever just stop seeking comfort because you knew it wouldn't come? Or did comfort come from somewhere else? This morning when I was praying, I prayed for God to heal my broken heart ... broken in ways beyond sadness and grief, in ways even I can't grasp. They tell me to have hope, but for what am I to hope? Am I to hope that you spent the last 27 years suffering, in order that I might perhaps be able to see you again in this life? When people tell me that, to have hope, to believe that you will come home again, do they really understand what they are expecting me to believe? They think that it is somehow not hope to think it would be better for you to have spent the last 27 years in peace, in paradise. Is it not the best I can hope for, that when I was not able to help you, that our God stepped in and put his arms around you and carried you to a safe, happy place where there were no tears or suffering? I do not have to hope that I will see you again. I know that I will see you again.

But I don't know where you are. And for that reason I have to keep searching, reaching out to you. For that reason my mind and heart can never, ever just rest peacefully. As long as I don't know where you are, always in the back of my mind you will be crying out for help, for comfort, that I cannot give you. If that is true, Michaela. If you are alive somewhere, please let me know. Please let me know if you are okay, if you have made a life for yourself, or if you are not. If you are crying out for comfort, let me hear your cries! Let me comfort you. I want only to hold you in my arms and rock you until you are at peace.

And if you are not alive in this world, Michaela, I just pray that someone who knows what happened to you will tell us, and tell us where to find you. I think maybe I am ready to hear that now, if it is the truth. The not knowing, the endless imagining, has become more than I can take.

Wherever you are, Michaela, I celebrate your birth. You were one of the best gifts I have ever received in this life, and nothing that happened to you could ever change that. Not all the grief in the world could make a dent in the strength of my love for you, or the joy that you brought to me.

Love you forever, baby girl.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas

Dear Michaela,

This is our Christmas tree this year. The round dark spot you see is your "Baby's First Christmas" ornament, which has been on our tree every year since you were born.

I'm feeling sad this season.

I miss you.

I miss Christmas as it used to be.

I love you forever, baby girl. Wherever you are, Merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New Life: A Respite

Last Thursday my youngest daughter gave birth to a baby boy. And for a few days now I have not been anything but a grandmother in love with her new grandson. I will get back to other things in awhile, but for the moment, they bounce off me as I am enveloped in the happiness of new love. People want to engage me about things going on with the search for you, Michaela, and I want to shrug them off. Leave me alone. Let me have my island of pure joy please. I don't want to hear about searches or digs. I don't want to hear about death. I only want to embrace life. Just for a moment. Please.

This is not to say, Michaela, that you have been forgotten in any of this. You were even there in the labor and delivery room, as I suffered along with my daughter through an unmedicated birth, as I wondered if you had given birth in the time you have been gone, and I grieved that if you had, I had not been able to be there to hold your hand or rub your back, as I was doing with your youngest sister, the one you have never met.

But for now, for this moment, I hope you don't mind if I take a few days off from the grief, from the scratching and clawing my way through the frustration of trying to find you. I hope you don't mind that for awhile I will cast off the blanket of sadness and I will fully embrace the joy of this season of new life. I will get back to the business of finding you, but this is like finding a small garden with a padded bench on which to rest in the middle of a decades long climb up a mountain.

I love you, Michaela. I love you forever. Wherever you are, rejoice with us, and with little baby Theo. Life affirms life.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Never letting go

Yesterday, a young woman I knew only a little passed away. She was approximately the age of my daughter, Libby, went to the high school when I worked there, had been in theater with my son in college. She'd had lymphoma for three years, and I had watched her battle through Facebook, had talked to her occasionally but not about the battle itself. She'd had her days numbered at one time, but had outlived that number. I personally had begun to believe maybe she would win the battle. But she didn't. I'd seen recent test results posted. I'd seen that she had been admitted to the hospital, was in the ICU, but that had happened before. Then posts started appearing on her Facebook from people telling her how much they loved her, and my heart literally grew heavy within in chest. Her mother posted the simple words, "I love you daughter," and my own heart broke. In those words, I could hear the goodbye, and I could hear the "don't go."

I am not Cherise's mom. Her mom has her own broken heart, her own feelings, which she expresses so beautifully in so few words. "I am broken. I will never be whole again." I feel almost as though I should apologize for even having these feelings in what is not my life, and yet I couldn't help it. It is experienced a million different ways, but once grief has made its home in you, it is there, always ready to make you feel. And this is what my heart, soggy and heavy with grief in my chest, felt, a mother's cry. "No, don't go! I cannot let you go!"

If my daughter has died, I was not permitted to be there, not permitted to offer her comfort, or love, or to try to hang onto her. Had it happened differently, I would have railed and cried and howled against letting her go. I would have lain down with her, would have held her heart to heart, and my heart would have reached out to wrap around hers and give her my own life, the beating of my own heart, to keep hers beating. I don't know how I could possibly have ever let go. Perhaps this is why I never had that chance.

But even now, even now I want to hold onto her. Recently I was talking to someone about the subject of digs in search of my daughter's body, and I told her that if there was a dig I would want to be there. I just have this feeling that if my daughter were to be touched by sunlight for the first time in 27 years, I would want to be there for that moment. But I also had to admit it was not unlikely that I would want to throw myself into the grave and wrap my arms around the little bones, to hold her and never let go, even though I would know her spirit had not been there for a very long time.

This morning I was talking to my very dear friend and soul sister, who lost her daughter at age 17 in a car accident, and the question arose of why God didn't heal her and bring her back to life. I brought up the idea that perhaps she got the better deal. If heaven is as great as they say it is, perhaps she was just saved having to go through the heartaches that this life inevitably brings, and went right to the good stuff. And maybe this is true. But even if I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was true, I would nevertheless claw and fight against it. I would hold on, with my heart, with my arms, with the last shred of my will. Even for my child who I love more than life itself, whose happiness means more to me than my own, I could not let go although it was a 100 percent certain guarantee that they would be walking down streets paved with gold under skies filled with diamonds. As Dylan Thomas says, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light!" ... even when you know that it leads only to a brighter light.

Cherise, the young woman who passed yesterday, was a beautiful singer. I have heard people say heaven sounds boring, hanging around and worshipping God, but I'm guessing those people have never attended a good worship service. Lifting my voice in songs of praise to God is one of life's truly exhilarating experiences, and I can't even sing! I can't imagine how much someone like Cherise would revel heavenly worship. So maybe we shouldn't grieve, but we do, for the warmth of holding the ones we love, for the light in the eyes, for the sound of a voice, for the purpose in the movement of their hands, for all the things small and large, we grieve. And grieve. And grieve.

I will, at some point, write about the anniversary, but my heart is too heavy right now.

Michaela, wherever you are, I love you forever.
However far apart we may be, one day we will be together.
One day I will hold you again in my arms.
Until then, I will hold you in my heart.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Another dead end

For months now I have been walking around, looking and acting normal. But behind that normal was a knowledge and an anticipation that I couldn't share. Some months ago a site was was discovered where it was thought Michaela might have been buried. I'm not going to go into all the details, but a few things converged to make this likely. At any rate, the wheels of justice moved slowly on, interrupted by some drastic current events within the investigating department, and I waited.

Today I received the call from our detective, letting me know that the site was finally investigated yesterday, and nothing was found there.

What do I say to that? What I wanted to say is, how deep did you dig? How wide? Are you positive it was the exact right spot? In the end, however, I was left mute. There are some things in life there is no point in questioning, I have learned. The FBI, which conducted the dig, is one of them. So I just said, "Thank you for letting me know."

It has been less than an hour since I heard that news, so it is still settling in with me. It is just at this very second that the tears are starting to fill my eyes. This is a first for me. There have been a number of times when it seemed possible Michaela's remains might be found, and every single time I received the news that this hadn't happened, I had been overcome by relief and elation. But that is not the case this time. It will probably take me awhile to sort out how I am really feeling, but honestly I had been hoping for an answer, for some resolution, for some relief from this exquisite torture.

Awhile back I found a meme on Facebook that gave me an aha moment. It depicts the stages of grief in a horseshoe, the stages leading down to the bottom and then the ones on the climb back up. I looked at it and saw myself stuck, like a marble rolling back and forth in the bottom of the curve, between searchings, guilt, loneliness, isolation and depression. I posted the meme with this statement and as one of my friends said, this is pretty obviously due to the fact that I have been robbed of the opportunity to process my grief, because Michaela is still missing. I cannot go through the stages and move on. Sometimes the marble bounces higher. Sometimes I move back up to numbness, anger, fear. I try to claw my way up to helping others, and occasionally an upswing will lift me there. But always that marble settles somewhere near the lowest point.

I cannot think of Michaela dying. Those thoughts are just too awful. I cannot think of Michaela living. There are too many awful thoughts there as well. I can think of Michaela as the little girl I knew and held in my arms, but accompanying that is a sensation that is difficult to describe. It is a sense of the injustice, although that word doesn't begin to encompass the magnitude of it all. I was given the gift of this beautiful child to care for. Michaela was given the gift of life. But it was all a lie in the end. It was all something that could be stolen away in a moment. The other day I saw a lightbulb fall against a wall, and when it hit it exploded, shattered, the light instantly extinguished. That is kind of like what this was like, the moment of impact on November 19, 1988. Well, for me anyway. The awful truth is that moment on November 19th might have been the least of it for Michaela.

And again, the torture of those thoughts. Even hope is not really hope. Hope exists only in the midst of a huge bundle of fear.

So I don't know what to think right now. I don't know how to feel. I'm just going to let these tears rise for awhile until they turn into that wet cement feeling I am so familiar with. The only thing I can really say is to you, Michaela, if you are out there somewhere. I am the mother. You are the child. It is my place to save you from suffering, even when it causes suffering for me. I have acknowledged that it could be possible that you might be alive out there somewhere and be unable or unwilling to come home for any number of perfectly valid reasons. But my heart is in a vise, Michaela. If you are there, if you are reading this, if you could please please please just let me know. You can post a comment here, and nobody will ever see it except for me, because I have to approve all comments before they are published. If you can identify yourself by our family code word or by something that nobody else would have a way of knowing, and let me know you are alive, I would be so grateful. If you are in another country and unable to leave because you don't want to leave your children perhaps, tell me. I just need to know that you are okay. Please. Please. Please. When you were kidnapped, along with your own fear and terror, I know you thought about me, and how it would hurt me, because that is just the kind of person you were. Please, Michaela. I am hurting. Please.

Love you forever, baby girl.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Not looking for look-alikes

Today I received some photos in the mail of girls from an escort service in South America, who the sender said looked like Michaela. All of the photos were suggestive, and some were downright pornographic. The sender said she had sent them to law enforcement in June, so why on earth she would think she would need to send them to be in November is beyond my understanding. Let me just inform you now, if you send me pornographic pictures and tell me they look like Michaela, I am NOT going to receive them well. If you must do this, send them to the police.

But more to the point, none of these pictures bore even the slightest resemblance to what Michaela looked like then, what I would imagine she would look like now, or anybody in Michaela's family. None. At all.

After Michaela was kidnapped, Unsolved Mysteries did a show on her, and I remember they were so excited about having found a girl who looked exactly like Michaela! The girls mother even called me, telling me that people everywhere were always mistaking her for Michaela. So she shows up, and she looks nothing at all like Michaela. For one thing, she was a little tiny short thing, and Michaela was very tall. Particularly since they cast a taller girl to play Michaela's friend, Trina, she came off looking very, very unlike Michaela.

My point is that if you didn't know Michaela, you probably can't really envision what Michaela looked like however many photos you have seen. And now, 27 years later, there is nobody who can envision what she looks like. I might have some guesses, because I knew her as a child and because I know her brothers and sisters and what they have grown to look like. I get photographs sent to me all the time of beautiful blondes from people who say they think it looks like Michaela, but the one photograph I have received in all these years to which I said yes, that could be Michaela, was not a gorgeous, posed blonde. It wasn't Michaela, either, but my point is that while Michaela was a beautiful child, and while I'm sure she is a beautiful adult, I don't think she it is likely she looks like the Barbie dolls that get sent to me. And she is not a teen or a young adult anymore, folks. In January she will be 37 years old. Funny, but it just crossed my mind ... she could be a grandmother by now.

What I am saying is, we are not seeking lookalikes to Michaela. Nobody knows what she looks like, including the people who do age progressions. If she is alive, she will be identified by her situation, by her own word, but not likely by her appearance. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It's November once again.

Happy November 1st everybody. As months go, November could actually be one of my favorites, as the weather (finally) chills into autumn, a time for snuggling under blankets, warm drinks, soups and stews simmering on the stove. I love Thanksgiving. I have memories of watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV as a child, waiting for Santa to arrive at the end of it. I don't know how I managed to be so much more enthralled with the parade on a black and white tube television than my own kids ever have been on their large color sets. Maybe because I didn't have computers and video games in the next room? And I'm not a great cook, but I love the day of long, slow cooking times and the wonderful smells. Holidays are honestly not quite what they used to be when the kids were younger. Now they have husbands, wives, and other families to run off to for holidays, not to mention the fact that a couple are living in other cities and states! 

This November there is some small chance that we will be welcoming a new member of the family. My youngest daughter is due to have a baby on December 4th, and is hoping against all advice that he will come a little early. And even if he doesn't actually arrive in November, there is so much excitement and preparation for his arrival. 

But for the last 27 years, November has been cast with a shadow it will never shake in our family, because it is the month when Michaela was kidnapped. So the big thing is not turkeys. It is yellow ribbons, hung at the time and place where she was taken so many years ago, the place where she spent her last moment of innocence and her first moment of terror, the place on the earth where the universe split and changed eternally, on November 19, 1988, at 10:15 a.m.

Most likely we will be there again this year, unless my grandson decides to arrive two weeks early. Or unless Michaela comes home before then. We will be there with our yellow ribbons, and our insufficient words, but with gratitude for all those who have continued to remember Michaela for all these many years, who have continued to hope and pray for her, and for us. We will be there with our grief, which would prefer to be wordless and sightless, prostrate on the floor somewhere, but which gets up and steps out just to let Michaela know that our love for her is unending, that it is more powerful than our grief. 

And it is, Michaela. Sometimes it seems as though the grief and darkness overpower the love and light. I can go through months at a time with those shadows blocking out all the good. But you just have to know, wherever you are, that you are a gift to me, as you were on the day you were born, as you were when you were that sweet toddler, that beautiful, kind child. I love you forever, Michaela, and there is not a single thing in the big wide world that could ever make me love you any less. I love you for always. And I like you forever, no matter what, just like the book says. If you are out there and alive, you are safe coming home, or contacting me. And if you are not alive, I think I am ready to hear that, to embrace the fact that you are safe, that you are happy and loved, and that I will see you again. Please. It's time.

I did an internet interview a couple of days ago, Michaela. Here is a link to it, just in case you have forgotten the sound of my voice. 

I love you forever, baby girl.

For anybody interested in attending and tying a ribbon for Michaela, we meet at 10:00 a.m. on November 19th, at what was once Rainbow Market but is now Mexico Super, 32575 Mission Boulevard, Hayward, CA 94544. You may bring your own ribbons or remembrances if you wish, but we do provide the ribbons.