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. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sometimes you just have to pull the blankets over your head

I know it has been a few months since I have posted anything, and I apologize, especially to you, Michaela, if you are out there reading this. There are just times when the black hole yawns so wide there is no choice but to retreat away from it, pull the blankets over your head, and close your eyes. The thing about depression is that it is not the same as sadness. Part of it is just avoidance. I am also just a little bit angry at those those feelings and everything that has caused me such pain. Ridiculous, I know, but feelings are not rational are they? I learned long ago that anger is most often our pain turned inside out in a effort not to have to feel it, because it is so deeply darkly awful. But also, I find I have a lot of guilt. I have guilt for not having found you, Michaela. I have guilt for not having been a good enough mother, or a good enough daughter. I don't actually sit and go back over the past looking for ways I have failed my children or my mother. They are just kind of there, and there is no way to make up for them, I am angry at myself also.

In years past, I have let that anger flow outside myself, outside of us, and it was pretty awful. There are people who have known me over the years who would tell you that I was an angry person. For the most part that is over. For the most part, the depression and the pain are internalized. I am angry at the feelings, so I avoid them. I withdraw. So that is where I have been for the last few months.

There are still things going on in the investigation, moving ever so slowly, which has also been difficult for me. But you have not been forgotten, Michaela.

Regardless of anything else in the world, regardless of any other feelings I may have ever, or feelings I may bury from sight, there is one thing I know, and you need to know, and that is that I love you forever, baby girl.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Words and feelings

It is 6:30 in the morning on my day off work, and I am here, awake. I have a lot of feelings inside me and I am sitting here with tears in my throat and in my eyes, longing just to be able to write my feelings down and push them off into the world. Like the words from the Anna Nalick song, "2 a.m. and I'm still awake, writing a song. If I get it all down on paper it's no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to." But maybe I just really don't have the courage. One day I swear I am going to write my novel so I can say all the things I cannot say, turn loose all the feelings inside of me.

Half of the feelings I feel are vapors in the wind anyway. As I sat here at my desk, I watched a cloud outside my window. For a moment it was the stunningly clear face of a pitbull terrier. But in seconds it morphed, first into a kitty, and then on to several indistinct stages on its way to becoming the blank cloudbank that it is at this moment. And that happens so often with problems. You have a dagger in the heart, but then it dissolves and is gone, unless you happened to put it into writing or other communication where it becomes immortalized, or kind of. For me, writing and getting things out is cathartic, but the problem is that when you get things outside yourself sometimes they take up residence in others, and become things totally other, and totally beyond your control at all. Things that are minor can come to define you.

The other thing about writing is that often it helps me to figure out just exactly what it is that is hurting. Like right now. The immediate cause of my distress is that my daughter, who is 18 weeks pregnant, was experiencing anxiety this morning at 4-something. I woke up. Presumably she has gone to sleep and I am still awake. This anxiety, this problem, will probably dissolve when the winds shift. But in me it stirs something far deeper. Whether large or small, my child is suffering, and I am powerless to alleviate the suffering. I can, and do, talk my head off in an attempt to fix things, but honestly sometimes I know that just makes it worse. That's the other dangerous thing about words. For some reason the same words can mean completely different things to other people. She is anxious, so in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety, I employ the analytical mode, trying to explain why the problem is not quite as bad as it feels, and/or how to avoid problems in the future. This works well for me, but my daughter is in emotional mode, and she absorbs those words completely differently, internalizes them as criticism, which they are not intended to be.

Emotions. Sometimes you just have to get control of them. I remember in the second year after Michaela was kidnapped, I just felt angry, and it finally dawned on me that my anger was nothing more than sorrow that I had turned inside out and thrown outside myself because that was easier than feeling the sorrow. That was a big thing. But the same thing happens with the little things. We feel pierced by that dagger, which would probably dissolve in a minute, an hour, a day, unless we let that sorrow become anger and let it out into the world where it will inevitably cause more hurt. I personally have counted the cost and decided it is not worth it. That means I end up with a lot of feelings that get bottled up inside. Perhaps I need to find another means to transform and express them, through something more positive than getting angry. There are a lot of things that never ever get resolved, because I don't speak of them. In the end I guess I don't trust that they would get resolved if I did.

This child, the one whose anxiety woke me in the early hours today, was born five years after Michaela was kidnapped. One of my strong memories is from when she was a little baby, and she was crying. I picked her up and held her and said, "It's okay. Mommy is here. Mommy will take care of you." I was reassuring her from my heart with every intention of making everything right, of keeping her safe and protected and not letting anything hurt her. But in that moment I was flooded with the knowledge of the truth, that this was a lie. It was a promise I could not make. I had said the same sort of thing to Michaela, but in the end I had not been able to protect her. She suffered the most brutal fear, grief and pain, and there was not a single goddamned frickin thing I was able to do to prevent that, or to save her from it once she was in its clutches. I completely and totally failed her.

And I have completely and totally failed all my children. It hasn't been as dramatic as it has been with Michaela. The daggers that have pierced them have been the kind that mostly dissolve in time. But they have all suffered grief and sorrow, and there is not anything I can do about it. I have made midnight trips to the grocery store for chocolate, taken them for manicures, sat and listened, hugged and cried. But the only way I could actually have prevented my children from being hurt was if I had taught them not to love. Jobs, money, those things all can cause stress, but only love can pierce the heart, and it can pierce deep and hard and leave shards that don't ever completely go away. I know, because I have them myself.

My daughter and her husband, they are happy and excited about the baby they are having. But they have feelings inside them that perhaps they don't even understand. Do they understand the huge vulnerability they are being drawn into? They are both smart kids, and they are both very self-aware, smart, imaginative and creative, so maybe they do. Or maybe it is just a vague sense of unease. I know that as they have thought about their child, they have been drawn to look back on their own childhoods. In doing so, they have encountered the things that hurt them. They think, they hope, that these things will be different for their child, that their son won't encounter the cruelty of other kids, for example. But somewhere deep inside, as they consider their own hurts, they may be coming to realize that those things are going to hurt even more if they happen to their child than they did when they happened to them. I looked it up this morning, that quote that I just kind of know. I discovered it has a source, author Elizabeth Stone. It is, "Making the decision to have a child -- it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."

Well, I guess I am kind of placing my own thing into other people's minds here. I think it is valid to a point. But really it's my own point. For me, it is magnified, because it triggers that deep sorrow of not being able to save Michaela from suffering. But the fact is, I can't save any of my children. I can't make any of them happy. I can't protect any of them from hurt. I can just hope that they have the emotional wisdom to live well.

To you, Michaela, I just want to say that am so sorry that I was not able to protect you from harm, that I was not able to save you. Wherever you have been, whatever you have been through, I just hope that you have been able to feel always that love that is beyond life and death, there in your heart, forever.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In case you were wondering....

We were finally able to complete the testing for the young lady who thought she might be Michaela, and she is not. I'm sure you figured that if she was you'd have heard it on the news, but I just wanted to let everybody know.