Friday, May 17, 2013

The Present

For the past week I have been horrified and fascinated with the story of the three Ohio women who escaped from over a decade of captivity.  It seems so recently that Jaycee Dugard also escaped from her imprisonment of 18 years, and who can forget Elizabeth Smart, who after 9 months of captivity, also escaped.  And the Austrian woman Elisabeth Fritzl who was enslaved by her own father and bore several children. The fact that there are men out there sick enough to do this, and that it seems to happen... well...frequently and with such a common storyline strikes me deeply.

I was awestruck at the seeming immediate normalness of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, their positivity and will to live that shone so brightly in the press after their return to civilization.  How can you go through that and come out the other end?  And seem to be better adjusted than most people I know to what life is all about?

I am terrifically fascinated by the mythical elements of these stories.  A young girl is kidnapped, taken captive and enslaved by an older man and raped and children are produced.  And in the case of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, both had opportunities to interact with the public, to try to escape, or alert someone to the fact they were being held against their will... and they didn't.  The psychology of this is incomprehensible to the general public I think, and fascinating.  It is all the more moving that Amanda Berry had it within her to scream through that window to the outside world for her freedom.

As a parent, it is absolutely your worst nightmare.  I just read a play by Tracy Letts called Bug, and the main character in this play lost her son a decade ago in a grocery store and never found him.  I imagine what that reality could be- and recall a passage in Gavin deBecker's Protecting the Gift about a woman who watched helplessly as her son was kidnapped through the back door of a store they were shopping in.  Is death the worst fate that could befall these children?  It seems roughly half of all abducted children are ultimately killed.  But what about the gruesome torture endured for years?  As a parent would you rather know your child didn't suffer as horrifically as it is suggested the Ohio women have suffered?  These are questions I can think about asking, but when I actually think about answering its just too horrific to seriously imagine.

These stories are sort of.. well.. the worst thing ever.

And yet, as I said before there is something mythical, something archetypal that draws us towards these news stories.  Perhaps it is that ultimate triumph over evil that is so gripping.  Perhaps there is also some sort of echo of how women were normally treated historically. The Ohio women's captivity and barbaric torture is an exaggerated version of stories that at one time were actually acceptable.  In England the 1800's it was commonly accepted that a man is legally allowed to beat his wife. In many parts of the world today is absolutely the norm.  And marriage to many women, has historically been seen as a form of enslavement itself.  When I worked on Big Love, so much of my research entailed reading stories of how within the polygamous FLDS very old men were given brides as young as 13 and 14.  As absolutely sick and atrocious as the story of the three Ohio women, its surprising how many societies have made lesser but similar versions of this legal.

So I'm drawn to the new details that emerge, the little stories that pop up with updates on these women, and Matt and I discuss what to say to our kids so they never ever get in a car with a stranger, that they scream bloody murder in a store if they are ever grabbed, so they will windmill their arms to make it difficult for someone to hold them, or grab onto something nearby- a clothes rack, a bicycle, another person- anything- to keep from being taken by force away from us.  How an adult never needs a child's help for anything.  That they will be told ahead of time if anyone other than us will pick them up from school, and to fight as fast and as furiously as they can if someone ever succeeds in getting them into a car- open the doors, jump out.  Politeness is for certain situations only, and it is not universal.

I hope you also have open and informed talks with your children about how they can save themselves from being abducted.  DeBecker's book is one I have read and greatly recommend.

There is illness in this world to the extent that these stories are reality- recurring reality.  As human beings, this is a part of who we are, of what we are capable of.  Its hard to justify why, why we have these flaws, these weaknesses in our species that allow something so abhorrent to occur, so nonsensical.  But I truly feel love combats this, the love we have for others, and how we act with this love.  So hold your friends, family close and remember how lucky we are.