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I Was Kidnapped As a Child -- Here's What Happened

I was 7 when it happened, but it haunts me still.

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As a kidnappee, your job is to get out alive. Get yourself un-kidnapped. Save yourself, regardless if that takes nine hours, nine months or nine years. Within that job description, intuiting what’s expected of you is not difficult: You do what the boss tells you to do. The problem is, your objective and his are at odds. The problem is, while half of your brain thrashes inside your skull, trying to understand and plan and figure out, the other half thinks it better to shut down, go on autopilot, and treat this whole thing like a clock-punching kind of gig. Both sides are trying to get you through safely, except their definitions of “safe” don’t match.

That’s why I answered his first-ever question to me, asked while I was still in the pit — “What’s your name?” — with a defiant, “Where are you taking me?” And then repeated the exchange who’s-on-first-style twice more until I spat back, “I’ll tell you my name when you tell me where you’re taking me.” That’s also why I only started to cry once, sometime in the middle of the afternoon when it occurred to me that I might never see my mother again, but stopped immediately when he told me to shut up. While a part of me made sure to remember the serial number on the bus we took, another part made sure to eat my Twinkies first when I was finally allowed food from my lunchbox while Vic (that was his name) called for information about the bus’ schedule and route. (What kid wouldn’t eat her Twinkies first on a day when norms have clearly been forsaken?)

I was back in my bed that night and Vic was arrested about 48 hours later, but the part that comes next lasted decades longer than my captivity. Once you do get yourself un-kidnapped, you have to figure out your way back into the world. There’s no knowing where or what your place is now and there’s no telling how Vic, who absolutely lives on in some shape-shifting, insinuating way inside that asunder brain of yours, will screw with you next. That has often felt like the most unfair part of all this. Ask me to outwit a 200-pound monster who’s making things up as he goes along and I’ll eventually do so. But afterward, plop me back into my life and tell me it’s all back to normal and while I will believe you and largely act normal myself, I’ll still be fighting the monster internally, on my own, with no end in sight.

When I think about being kidnapped, what makes my stomach flop is not what my abductor made me do with him in his apartment for nine hours, but all of the lamentable, emotionally precipitative, histrionic — the term I’m circling around here is “drama queen” — behaviors I exhibited in the months and years that followed as a girl, teenager, young woman, and then, quite frankly, a no-longer-that-young woman who, like the 7-year-old in the car, should’ve known better. Most of these episodes center around my telling of the story of my kidnapping, which I did innumerable times over so many years. The cool kids in the back of the bus on the way home from summer swim meets were held in rapt attention (the back was where the cool kids always sat, and my story was my ticket back there). With pretty much any guy I had a crush on and wanted to impress, I would bring it up; I shake my head now, to think that I used to consider the story a tool for winning boyfriends (which never worked anyway). For several years in my 20s and early 30s, to “Rose” was a term coined by my social circle that meant leaving a party without telling anyone: to make a theatrical disappearance.

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