Reading and Remembering

I am currently reading Stolen Life by Jaycee Lee Dugard.  A friend had mentioned Jaycee’s story a while back and for reasons I could not explain I found myself wanting to know more about her tragic abduction.  In the event you have been hiding under a rock the past few years, Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped in 1991 at the age of 11.  She was abducted from her street while walking to school. Eighteen years later, her abductor Phillip Garrido visits the campus of UC Berkeley and his strange behavior, coupled with the behavior of the two young girls with him (Jaycee’s daughters) brought about an investigation that lead to finding Jaycee Lee and confirming her identity.

It is an odd, painful, sad, amazing read. I have found I have had to pick the book up and then put it down. It makes me feel sick.  I realized today, why, besides the obvious crimes perpetrated against Jaycee and her daughters, it made me feel a bit queasy.

Throughout most of the book we are forced to see the world through Jaycees eyes – first as a young girl, then a young mother, then a woman in her twenties.  Through the 18 years of her imprisonment, she becomes attached to Garrido.  Despite the horrible things he does to her, she is utterly dependent on him for food, clothing, housing and the care of her children.

And yeah, here is where I gasp.

I have been reminded at various times in the story of my own attachment and dependence on Colleen Rogers, my case worker from Easter House.  While I do not for one moment consider my own trauma to be anything like Jaycees, I could relate strongly, too strongly, to the fondness one can feel for ones captor. Jaycee is left alone in a makeshift domicile and looks forward to her captors visiting. I was sent away to a maternity home located in a large city, one thousand miles from my family, and I counted the hours until my captor caseworker would come back to see me. I smiled broadly when she arrived with gifts in hand and felt incredibly special when she took me out somewhere to eat.

I realize I am still, almost 26 years later, entangled with my caseworker and I don’t like it one bit. I disliked that I want her to talk to me. I want her to respond to my emails and my snail mails. She doesn’t and it upsets me. Like my daughter, Colleen ignores me and my requests for contact. I am a non person, I don’t exist. I want to talk with her, ask her to fill in gaps for me, answer to the things she did and said to me.  I want her to say she is sorry, she was wrong. I want her to say that I was a good person and I could have, and should have, been a good mother.  I want to read and see those letters of mine she said she kept (at least I think I do?).  I want validation from her that I exist today and I existed back then. I want her to see me as more than just an incubator for the child her employer later sold to a family from New Jersey.

The conflict inside me is intense. It is confusing. I sway between contempt for her and a desire to connect with her. I want to go out to drinks with her and reflect on my maternity home days and I want to back hand bitch slap her. Several times. I get angry at myself for thinking anything kind about her. I feel dirty for trying to justify her actions.

It makes me feel ill that the only person that I believed cared about me during my maternity home confinement was the same person that told me to abandon my child to strangers, and I did.  It makes me sick to think that there is still part of me that feels something soft and kind towards her. Intellectually I realize this behavior  is  a common survival strategy for victims of interpersonal abuse. It has been observed in battered spouses, abused children, prisoners of war, and concentration camp survivors. Unfortunately, knowing that intellectually does not seem to lessen the conflict inside me.

I am only half way through Jaycee’s story.  For all the reasons mentioned above and more, I have been reading very slowly and very deliberately.

I am not sure I will have the intestinal fortitude to complete it. Jaycees story — and my own —  may make it too difficult to do so.

8 Thoughts.

  1. Wow you really made me think with this post. I too had an SW who was my hero!!! But was she? I’m not sure, she never gave me gifts, but she always took me out to lunch. Briefly I surrendered to coersed adoption in January 1969 in the UK. Becase we are Jewish my mother contacted the Jewish Agency because they had been good to her. I was in contact with the SW until 20 years ago. I lost contact with her when she moved, she may have even died, but I don’t know. In any event she would almost certainly be dead by now. Thank you so much for your post. Sharon

    • Sharon – In my opinion, social workers, adoption professionals, possess great power and they yield it accordingly. When every single person known to you (parents, boyfriend, teachers, church) abandons you due to your pregnancy and then one smily person pops up and wants to take care of you, tells you that you are good and wanted, you can easily give yourself over to them. Maslows hierachy of needs. They are promising you food and shelter and love and validation. No surprise we then become putty in their hands when it comes to surrendering our child. Shame on those social workers, I say. Shame.

  2. Suz – I have started several blogs about Jaycee but from another perspective. As a child mother she is an example of how uncomplicated being a mother can be. Most of society would have had her lose her children to adoption if they had their way. And look what a fabulous mother she was. Dirt poor and uneducated, she took care of her children and they are thriving.
    I received my relinquishment papers in the mail yesterday. In them I was reported saying how great my social worker was. Yes, we were putty in their hands. And they should be very ashamed of themselves!
    Great post.

  3. We were in the Bay Area at the time and I remember the Jaycee story, and later when she and her kids were recovered. Creepy. It reminds me of Patty Hearst, her abduction and then working with her captors. I understand the phenomenon, a means of survival.

    My son’s adoption was handled by a private adoption attorney. No social worker. Your post got me thinking about the relationships surrounding my relinquishment. I didn’t have a lot of contact with the attorney, just occasional check-ins. He placed me (as in someone to live with during my pregnancy) with a woman he knew he could trust, who bought into the whole adoption thing. She didn’t work me like a SW, but supported that plan, never opened the door to what I wanted, told me I was doing the right thing. She wasn’t really my friend, like I thought. She might as well have been a SW. Between her and my parents, I never thought I had an alternative. I didn’t dare buck the system.

    What toxic and manipulative relationships those were. It’s so obvious now. Back then, it was all we had. And so we trusted.

    I recently ended my 40+ year relationship with the woman who housed me during my pregnancy. It had nothing to do with that, more about her negativity and demands upon me (perhaps I felt like I owed her). But I’ve felt so much lighter since.

  4. Suz, wondering if you’ve read ROOM by Emma Donohue.

    I read it first, then read ‘ A Stolen Life’.

    they are v. similar in story and ROOM is told from the child’s perspective so it has that hook.
    I thought Jaycee’s book was outstanding, she is one amazing woman. I also saw her interview with Diane Sawyer, it was just painful and astonishing. In the book ROOM, the young woman is adopted, I thought it gave it an ‘interesting’ perspective– the adoptive mother’s take on her abduction. i do recommend highly. it falls down toward the end, but still……….

    • Was she adopted? I did start reading it and got half way through. It was really hard for me to read. I did not get to the end. Not sure if I can pick it up again. I sitll have it on my eReader.

      Jaycees story is amazing and even though critics trashed the quality of the writing, I found it perfect. It was not intended to be a great work of literary art. But it is a powerful book.

      • Suz, so interesting, your take, I never read in the middle of the night, etc., I could not put ROOM down. Every time I turned over I’d reach for that book.
        I also thought Jaycee’s book was just amazing. cuz it’s real.
        I can’t imagine her life, she’s just an impressive woman, i wish her so much peace, and peace of mind, if that’s possible.
        ROOM- yes at some point you find out that the young woman was adopted. and that her adoptive mother ‘looked for her for awhile, but after a time, she -the mom- decided she’d just ‘run off’.
        happy new year !!

        • your info may have just sent me back to the book! I had no idea. It was just so painful to read about the mom and the child and such. it really made my heart ache. did not know till now there was an adoption angle. putting together my 2013 list of adoption books to read so I guess I will start by finishing this one.

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