There is much on my mind and heart that I want to share, and yet I will admit that I have been putting it off. But now the dishes are done, and the coffee pot is set for the morning. I'm sitting on the couch with my laptop, watching Bones out of the corner of my eye and wishing investigations could be tied up as neatly as they are on television ... at least maybe I wish that.
Well, I have to tell you that investigation has worked like it's supposed to this week. The girl in the photograph I posted a little while ago has been found. She has been found by our investigator, and she was also identified by some really nice people who grew up in the town of Antioch and put their heads together. I have to tell you, I am amazed at how well both the police and civilian investigations worked. But the fact is, the girl in the photo is not Michaela. She and her friends and her family all verified that, and yet you will all be happy to know that our investigator took that extra step to be thorough and took fingerprints just to make sure. She and her family have been very cooperative, and in fact she and her sister have both posted comments on Michaela's facebook and on this blog.
I guess I might just as well confess that in the last couple of weeks I went overboard about something else as well. A week ago I got an e-mail from someone whose name I didn't recognize, with the subject line "Headed Home." I get a lot of e-mails from political parties with subject lines like that, sent as though they are from individuals. So I figured I'd open the e-mail and it would say, "we are headed into the home stretch in this election or on this cause, and all we need to make it all the way is some money from you." But instead, the e-mail had no text at all ... just a photograph taken from the inside of a car of a rural highway with a numbered exit sign. I am not sure how long it took me, but it wasn't long before I leaped headlong into the conclusion that it must be from someone who was driving Michaela home. (The name on it was a man's name.)
All of you sleuthers out there will be happy to know that I did run a search on the IP address, but its location could not be identified. I'm guessing this means that it came from a cell phone? The sender's information on the e-mail indicated it came from somewhere in the eastern standard time zone. I did actually run a google search of the highway exit number and looked at photographs and google maps of those exits all around the country and couldn't find one that matched ... not that it would necessarily give me much to work on if it did. I have personally passed a whole lot of numbered highway exit signs in the last couple of months, but I don't think knowing that would really help anybody to find me, or to identify me.
After a day or two, though, I had calmed myself down, and I had decided that it was likely a wrong e-mail address. I'm not the only Sharon Murch in the world. Probably somebody sent it to my gmail address when they really meant to send it to a Sharon Murch with a yahoo or hotmail or comcast or aol or yada yada address. I did send a couple of messages and didn't get an answer ... if I sent something to a wrong email address I'd probably say oops sorry, but I suffer from a compulsion to answer when people speak to me. I know just from sending text messages to my kids that not everybody feels this way!
In the aftermath of these things, people started asking me if I was okay. And I always answered that I was. I feel compelled to say this for some reason. Well, it is true that there are people over the years who have thought that they were protecting me by keeping me from getting my hopes up. I don't really want people trying to protect me when it comes to Michaela's case. First, that always involves hiding things from me, and I want to know everything I can about my daughter. And second ... well, any chance of protecting me disappeared when my daughter was grabbed by a stranger and thrown into his car. That is the cause of all the heartache and grief I suffer.
I've said it many times, but unfulfilled hope is a really heavy burden to carry, and "getting my hopes up" sometimes just feels so good. It's like a little balloon comes along and attaches itself to my heart and holds it up for a little while. It's not just emotional, either. I mean, one morning I woke up and turned on my computer and found that someone had sent me a photograph that could have been Michaela. If that proves nothing else, it does prove that things can change in an instant, that at any moment a piece of information may be provided that will open up the case and lead to Michaela, that just because I don't know it now and haven't known it for the last 22 years, it doesn't mean that I won't learn it tomorrow.
Hope just brings hope.
But still, when hope comes crashing down ... again ... it hurts. My daughter Libby worries about me probably more than anybody else does. After she found out about it, she called to see if I was okay. I found myself again having that reaction, just automatically wanting to say I was okay, to deny that it hurt. Why am I doing this, I asked myself? Is it that I don't want to look weak? She asked me, "Did you cry?" And I wanted to say "No, I'm fine." But instead I just said, "yes."
I was at work when I found out. I tried to ignore it, tried to be the strong person I wanted people to believe I was. But a heaviness settled in my chest, and tears filled my eyes. Driving home from work, those tears came again. I really wanted nothing more than to find a place to be alone and to sob and let all those bottled up feelings out. But there is no place like that in my world.
It's okay, though. It's okay to be sad. I read a book recently, in which there were so many people who were missing, or had been missing, so many mysteries to be solved, sprinkled with philosophical discussions about whether or not we should keep looking for the lost and what it means about us... But there was one little boy whose mother had died, and he always wore her red hat, because he missed her and it was his connection with her. But life went on, he made new connections, he healed. Then one day he took his mother's red hat and put it away neatly in the drawer of his new dresser. His mother's death hadn't made me cry. Him missing her so much he had to keep her hat with him hadn't made me cry. But him putting it away did ... it was like opening his hand and letting her go. I know it's a good thing. I know that those of us who are left behind need to do that. And I know that those who loved us would want us to do that ... they wouldn't want us to live in protracted grief and sorrow. But still....
There have been times when my sorrow has been so deep I have had to turn my back on it. I've had to close my eyes so I wouldn't get dizzy and fall into its bottomless depths. But I cannot, I will not, open my hand and let go of Michaela. She is my daughter, my baby girl, the love of my heart. If it hurts, then it hurts. It's not Michaela's fault, or the fault of people who send in leads, or anybody else's fault. It is the fault of the man who took her away from me, and nobody else's.
I got this news yesterday. Last night I spent the evening stuffing bumper stickers into envelopes to mail out. It reminded me of those early days, of all those hundreds and thousands of flyers stuffed into envelopes and mailed all over the place. I took each bumper sticker before I put it into the envelope, and kissed Michaela's picture. I send them out with love, continuing still and always to hope.
Thank you all, for trying to help.