To My Daughters: Life is the ultimate gift each of us is given and we should cherish every moment of it. That I am alive today – approaching my seventieth birthday – is a gift I never expected to receive and at times doubted I deserved. The following is my attempt – in a rather unconventional form – to express what I have learned – after years of therapy with mental health practitioners, a few close friends and my participation in ‘Take Root’ – about my abduction and how it has affected me.
Life is an adventure of our own design intersected by fate and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents…
– Patti Smith
I am a survivor of parental abduction. . .
When I was three and a half years old, two men in black coats and hats lifted me up by the arms off the front lawn of our home on Long Island, New York. My legs kicked wildly into the air between us – I was thrown into a waiting car and driven away. . . My big sister, Joan, who had always watched over me and protected me, ran into the house screaming to our mother in the kitchen, “come quick some men are putting Gene into a car.” A small dog ran about – barking. The woman – who until that moment had been my mother – stood frozen in the kitchen with her back to the front door . . . and said nothing to her daughter!
• • •
Try to imagine that one moment you are living with a mother, a father and a big sister whom you loved and trusted – who had loved and nurtured you since your mother’s death the day after you were born – and the next moment you were forcibly torn from this family – then trapped and encaged like a wild animal, in a speeding car with two strange men who many hours later delivered you to another stranger who called himself “dad.” How do you imagine you would have reacted to these events?
Overnight, I had lost not just all the people I had ever loved or known – but my home, my room, my bed, my blanket, my dog, my toys and stuffed animals – my dreams, my future – overnight, they were gone forever! To survive, I would have to sacrifice every memory I ever had of this former life and family – even being abducted!
Today, I still don’t remember being abducted – but I’ve discovered the lost child I was. . .
• • •
During the early years after my abduction I lived in a dream world of darkness, a nightmare I could not wake from, with demons I could not escape. I remember feeling sad and alone – at times terrified. I spent time with people – in places – I did not know. Some of these people I learned to love, others I did not. I ate rocks, wet my bed, sucked my thumb, stuttered and threw myself down the stairs. I remember nights crying and being held by women who did the best they could to comfort me – but they did not tell me “the secret” I needed to know. I remember feeling lonely, scared and confused because deep inside me I knew something wasn’t right. I missed my mother and my sister, and when I asked for them, I was told they did not exist and that . . . “big boys don’t cry!”
• • •
I remember Christian Science practitioners praying with and for me – telling me that “God is Love” and that “The Truth Shall Set You Free” – however, they did not tell me I had been abducted by my biological father . . . a man incapable of “parenting” me – a father who never mentioned my mother – or told me, “I love you.”
– II –
Years later, while my marriage was ending, I relived the terror and loss of my abduction – without the memory of being abducted. I panicked, knowing deep within me, I was loosing my family for a second time. Once again my legs kicked wildly into the space surrounding me – but my mind was frozen in fear and anxiety. I was incapable of doing anything about it and without a family to support me, I was again trapped and alone . . . but this time in a cage of my own design.
• • •
From within the cocoon that confines me: My fear of abandonment affected my relationship with family and friends. I had great difficulty trusting people and developing intimate relationships and preferred to live a somewhat solitary life – rarely leaving the comfort zone of my home. I lived through days of dark dependency and self-destructive behavior.
Although I missed them and loved them, for many years I stopped reaching out to my daughters – they became mere memories of who they once were . . . and I was no longer the “father” they had briefly known and trusted.
• • •
My early childhood abduction left me with emotional scars that I will always have – including tearful sadness and irrational fears. However, they do not excuse my behavior as an adult, just as they do not excuse those who have used my Melancholia for their own purposes. Maybe they explain why I have made the choices I’ve made . . . maybe not.
• • •
Today I am letting go of the rage, the anger and the bitterness – only the sadness remains. I am more accepting of who I am and the person I am becoming. Because of the people who took me into their hearts – and who, with difficulty, I’ve allowed into mine – I know I am capable of loving and being loved . . . I’m learning to embrace and nurture the frightened child within me.
• • •
During those first three and a half years of life on Long Island, my mother’s sister, Aunt Jo – her husband Edward,and their daughter Joan – helped me form the emotional core of my being. I am grateful to them for that and hope I’ve become something of the “broadminded” person Aunt Jo wanted me to be. I am thankful to my cousin Joan for reaching out to me, and for giving me the opportunity to reunite with Aunt Jo so I could thank her and tell her I loved her – shortly before her death.
– III –
To my daughters: I hope that someday you will understand that I did the best I could – even though I was not the “father” I should have been or the “parent” you needed and I so desperately wanted to be for you.
Please forgive me.
• • •
Someday, I hope we will meet – not as the people we once were, but as the individuals we are becoming. . .
I Love You.
Remember me, and look on me, punish me not for my sins and ignorances, nor for those of my forefathers , who have sinned before thee…
– Tobit 3:3