My story of parental abduction began in the summer of 1976-I was nine, my brother was six. Our parents were in the middle of a bitter divorce and custody battle. We had recently undergone a court-ordered custody evaluation that eventually put my father at the losing end, or so he perceived it. My brother and I were taken during a regular weekend visit just before I was to start fourth grade and my brother was to begin first grade. If I close my eyes, I can still see my mother waving goodbye to us from the parking lot of our apartment building as we watched her from the rear window of our father’s truck.
We said goodbye to the big house and private school earlier as well. Little did we know that it would be close to a year before we would see her again.
It was Saturday before I started asking questions. I wondered why were continuing to drive, why we were sleeping in the truck. My questions were met with anger and frustration. Finally, late Saturday or Sunday night-while the others were sleeping (my father’s girlfriend, her six-year-old son, and my brother), I received my answers. We pulled into a gas station and when dad got out of the truck he turned to me and told me to get out. My heart stopped. I felt a panic rise in me that I had never felt before. Would I be left here? Where was here? Was he mad at me? I got out of the truck and came around to the driver’s side where dad was filling up the truck with gas. He looked down at me and then pulled me to him and held me. I felt so relieved. I wouldn’t be left behind… nothing bad was going to happen. After a few minutes he told me to hop back up in the truck.
If only I hadn’t started my questions again. When dad got back in the truck I began to ask again—where are we? Where are we going? What about school? Is it Sunday…won’t mom worry? He sat quietly for a few minutes taking in my questions until finally he turned to me. I had seen that look before. I knew what was next and hated myself for not being able to keep my mouth shut. He screamed at me…told me exactly what was going on and where we were going.
“Your mother doesn’t want you or your brother anymore! She gave you to me! She doesn’t want you, she doesn’t love you…you’ll just have to learn to deal with it! We are going to Canada!”
With that, my brother woke and began to cry. Dad screamed at me again. It was my fault that David was upset…look what I had done! And so it began…the long weekend.
We spent about eleven months living like fugitives on the run. We lived in Canada, Alaska, Minnesota, New Mexico, and finally we made our way back to Oregon through California. There was very little money and even less love. And it wasn’t even what was done to us physically as much as what was done psychically. We didn’t have much food, we used bar soap for shampoo. I close my eyes and imagine what we must have looked like. I still avoid mirrors. I still have the urge to run. We left in the middle of the night, never saying goodbye to friends we may have made or people we met. I still see those people, in my mind’s eye. I miss them. I’m sorry that I ran into their lives and then, ran out…without saying a word. Mostly, I miss the child I was, the child I lost.
We were finally returned under the threat of grandma Dodes (my paternal grandmother) going to jail if she continued to refuse to disclose our whereabouts. I got to ride in the front seat on the final leg of our journey home. Dad had me pulled close to him while he drove-holding the steering wheel with one hand and me with the other. I still miss those tight squeezes. Although now I have a different perspective, as an adult–it wasn’t me he needed. I still don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t me.
Dad dropped David and I off at the Donald E. Long home, a juvenile home in Portland, Oregon. This was the neutral spot so that mom and dad didn’t have to come into contact with each other. But again, it was at the expense of me and my brother. This was the first time we had been separated since our ordeal began. My brother screamed my name for hours. They kept the boys and the girls in different areas of the building. I could hear him from the bed I was assigned. Alone, listening to my brother scream my name, I was finally able to cry. I can’t hear my brother’s voice anymore, when he died, part of me died with him. It is through writing and telling our story that he has a voice. It is through writing and telling our story that many now have a voice and with each telling, comes healing