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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.


On the day I was kidnapped, as my abductor drove us down the Garden State Parkway, I pressed my toes against his car window so someone would see. Because this was 1982, his sedan boasted front-row bench seating; by his command, my 7-year-old frame was splayed across it, my head wedged at his hip, my feet skimming the passenger-side door. When he’d yanked me neck-first into his car less than an hour prior, he’d jammed my body against the floorboards (too young to know that word, I thought of it as the pit) and kept me there a while, steering with his left hand while his right pressed on my head.

He didn’t want me visible. I knew that, even as I knew that making myself visible — somehow, even in a teeny way, like a set of child’s toes peeking over the lip of a car door — was something I had to do. I also knew that this man who had just kidnapped me on my walk to school was in charge, and that he had the brawn, the choice and, let’s face it, the desire to hurt me.

I was sure of these three things in that moment; two of them should have compelled me to keep my feet tucked away. Even now, as an adult practically the same age as he was then, I’ve got a gut feeling to chastise my childhood self for not knowing better. Why try something so risky, so stupid?

Many kidnapping stories, like the remarkable situation that’s still breaking in Cleveland this week, hinge upon such gambles. They remind me of the thin line between bravery and folly. You don’t get to know, I guess, on which side your particular, desperate action falls until you see what happens next. Amanda Berry, pleading and pounding and climbing her way through a barricaded door while her captor reportedly went out for food. Elizabeth Shoaf, a South Carolinian taken in 2006 at age 14 and held in an underground bunker, texting for help from her kidnapper’s cellphone. Just as often, though, the abducted seem to survive by laying low and playing along, not making a move even when an opportunity begs for one to be made. Elizabeth Smart sat in a public library alongside her two captors saying not a word while a detective questioned them. Jaycee Dugard, in the safe confines of a parole office, sequestered from her abductor, wildly claimed to be a battered wife from Minnesota before finally admitting her true identity.

When my own kidnapping came to an end, it wasn’t because of what I tried to get away with in that car window. It was because after a mere nine hours (a span of time so comparatively short, I know, as to be all but inconsequential), I was lucky enough that my kidnapper started sobbing, leaning his head into the hollow of my naked shoulder for comfort and saying that he never meant to do this. I told him it was all right. We wound up riding a bus together (once we boarded, I considered jumping up and screaming but didn’t) to a shopping plaza, where he called my mother from a pay phone to let her know where I was. Then he warned me never to tell anyone anything about him or he’d come back and get my Mom. Then he went into a liquor store. After I’d watched him walk out of view, I went into the A&P and browsed the makeup aisle until some cops came and found me.

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