In 1977, I was Missy Sokolsky, the daughter of affluent parents on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I was loved and supported by an extended network of family and friends. I had been in the same bedroom in the same apartment in the same building since the day I came home from the hospital. By fourth grade, I had been with many of the same classmates since nursery school. After school, I had riding lessons, and ballet, and piano, and tumbling, and a tight pack of kids from the building that I had played with virtually every day of my entire life. Mom and dad were divorced, and I saw dad often throughout the week and on weekends. Grandma Adeline, dad’s mom, lived in Brooklyn, and was another much-loved fixture in my life.
My Grandpa Tom and Grandma Dot – mom’s parents – lived in Florida and we visited them and my Aunt Susie and Uncle Buddy at least once a year. There were cousins and pets and best friends and and an entire nine year old’s universe. A lot of love, and a lot to love.
By 1979, I was Melissa Hart, daughter of a single mother in San Diego, California. Mom worked full time and I was on my own. I had no other family, and few friends. Mom and I shared a bunk bed in a rented room in a stranger’s house. We survived on charity food baskets, and got our clothes at the Goodwill. I had certain secrets that I had to keep in order to protect my mom, and other secrets that I chose to keep because I knew my mom and my new peers would never understand. I changed schools 6 times between 4th and 8th grade, and moved 7 times. I learned to lie. I learned to bury Missy Sokolsky so that I could become Melissa Hart.
Mom snatched me just after I turned 9 and fled to her parent’s house in Florida. 6 months later Dad snatched me back. 6 months after that Mom snatched me again, this time, with fake identity papers and a plan to go permanently underground. I was 10. Venetia and Missy Sokolsky disappeared off the face of the planet. Sharon and Melissa Hart emerged out of thin air on the other side of the country.
Today, in my thirties, I am fighting to put the two identities back together. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight and the knowledge of the trauma that the identity rupture and life as a fugitive induced, my mother acknowledges that she was naive about the profound trauma created by her actions. Her choices ultimately tore our relationship apart. I moved out just days after my 16th birthday. My father did find us eventually, but he passed away before he and I reached the healing stage.
My mother continues to claim that she thought at the time that she was acting in my best interests. I used to believe that. Then, when I grew up and gained adult logic and reasoning capabilities and realized that was not true, I believed instead that she genuinely believed it had been in my best interests. But as more evidence about my mother has come to light, I can no longer believe either of those things. It has been a hard and painful realization. I do think she loves me, in her own way. It’s all she has to work with. She had her own rough road as a child and it left her deeply damaged. I thank God that I was able to escape and gain a different perspective on life than the one she might have instilled. Today, I continue to search for the missing Missy Sokolsky. I have not been her since I was 10 years old. I hope I can one day feel whole again. The journey continues.