A Stolen Life - A Memoir Part 18
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Do you ever think twice before going to your child's football or basketball game? Do you ever have to think, Am I putting my kids' future in jeopardy because I show up at a game? I have to think about that every time I step out of the house. Am I doing something today with my kids to cause them to get their photo taken and jeopardize their privacy? I know this is not a life-or-death situation, but it is hard for me nonetheless. Now that I can, I want to be there for them in all the ways I couldn't before-watch them play ball and help out with school functions-but I can't without risking someone will recognize me and connect me with them. Sometimes I feel like I'm still a prisoner. Yes, I could decide to say screw it and to h.e.l.l with what happens. But I really don't have that choice. It is a free country and as such people have the right to take your picture or your kids' picture and sell it for the highest price. I spent eighteen years hiding and not being seen, and now it almost feels like history is repeating itself. I know that sounds dramatic and maybe it is, but it kills me inside to tell my daughters we can't do something together because I can't risk them being connected with me. I know it's not the end of the world. I will get through this. It will be an exercise of saying no, putting my foot down, and saying it's just too risky-something so simple. People watch their children's games, go to a school fair, host a spaghetti feed, and don't even think twice. Some may grumble and rather be in my shoes and some just take it as a normal duty as a parent.
I feel I have missed out on so many things already that I hate to miss a second more. But I have to keep my girls safe and their lives normal. Sometimes I have trouble untangling my past and my present. My past was spent hiding and feeling nervous when I was out in public. I had been conditioned to blend in and not draw attention-change my hair color, wear a wig, put on gla.s.ses, and wear a hat. Now it is mostly the same. Inside, I fight a war about being the person I want to be and tempering that with who I need to be to keep my kids safe. When will the battle end?
Finding Old Friends
Officer Todd and a friend were able to sneak my youngest daughter's hermit crabs into the hotel room while we were there. Todd contacted a fellow officer that was a.s.signed to the search of the property and told them where to find them. That officer found the hermit crabs and brought the tank back to the station. The next day Todd and his friend smuggled them into the Hilton. They walked it past the front desk using a luggage carrier with towels covering the ten-gallon tank, then up in the elevator they went. When they knocked on the door, the room was already filled with people, from FBI, to police, to victim advocates. The room barely had standing room. People had to make way as Todd and his friend rolled the precious cargo inside the room. G was sitting on the bed and as Todd lifted the towel off the tank, the biggest smile I had seen in a long time spread across her face. G dubbed Officer Todd "Royal Crab Carrier One" and Todd's friend "Royal Crab Carrier Two" right there on the spot.
Officer Beth was able to keep track of our cats and the neighbor's dogs for us, too. The animal shelter the cats were at spayed and neutered them for us and gave them all their shots. There were six cats rescued from the property all together, four of our new kittens and two adult cats, Patches and Lily, who were strays that I fed. Beth asked what I wanted to do about the two dogs, and since I never really felt they were mine, I asked if she could find good homes for them. Which I later found out she did. Patches turned out to have nose cancer and the animal shelter volunteered treatment for him. I was torn at the prospect of never seeing any of them again, but I also knew I had no home, no money, and I had no idea what our future held. The girls were adamant they wanted to at least keep the kittens. I asked Beth if she could find foster families for our cats until we were more settled and she said, "No problem." We were reunited with our kittens January '10. Beth adopted Patches, who has since survived the nose cancer and who has found his family. Lily was adopted by a friend of Beth's and is living a happy carefree life.
My oldest daughter's parakeet was returned to her and she has had him ever since. Beth also told me the ambulance had come for Phillip's mother and she was being cared for.
After my initial shock at being reunited with my mom, sister, and aunt, I began to wonder what happened to my best friends, Jessie and Shawnee. Jessie had been such a constant of my early years that a part of me never forgot about her and I thought of her often. Shawnee was the last friend I had, and I was curious as to how her life was now. I enlisted the help of my new friend Todd.
A few weeks after our recovery, Todd asked me if there were any friends I would like him to find, and I said I would like to find Jessie and Shawnee. He had no trouble finding Shawnee on Facebook and soon told me that she was married with a couple of kids. He said he had contacted her on Facebook and left a number for her to call. I guess she was a little suspicious of that because she had her lawyer call and check him out first, but when she found out that he was indeed a real officer and was calling on my behalf, she accepted. To keep my privacy, Shawnee began sending letters to Officer Todd in care of the police station and he would get the letters to me. The letters eventually turned into emails that he would forward to me. It was wonderful to reconnect with her and hear that she was happy with her two kids and married to a wonderful guy. I learned that she had lost her grandma Millie, who I remember living with in Tahoe, and she had also lost her mom a few years back. But she made a wonderful life for herself and I am so happy for her. I called her on the phone for the first time on November 5th, 2009. I invited her to my daughter's birthday; she couldn't come down at that time because she also had a couple of birthdays to celebrate, and so we made plans for her to come down and visit in December. When I saw her for the first time, she looked so much the same I would have recognized her anywhere. She had a huge surprise for me and my family. Her work had pooled together and brought us things we desperately needed. Christmas came early for us all. Todd and his family were there, too, and he brought us each a brand-new bike. It was the best Christmas ever, but it wasn't the presents that made it special; it was being able to see my mom smile and happy and seeing that my sister turned into a beautiful woman and knowing my aunt never forgot me. Knowing I had a family was the biggest and best gift of all.
Todd also found my childhood friend Jessie. She was a little more difficult to find, but he eventually did. She wrote me letters and sent me homemade chocolate chip cookies through Todd and then we started to email. I called her for the first time on November 5th, too, after I got done talking with Shawnee. Did I mention how nervous I was to call either one of them? Even though they had been sending me letters and seemed to remember me, I was still nervous to call either one of them. Todd a.s.sured me that they both wanted to talk to me, but still, what if I didn't know what to say? I still didn't feel comfortable using a phone without permission. It's taking some time to realize I don't have to ask permission to do the things I want. I was shaking as I dialed each of their numbers. They both turned out to be very easy to talk to. The call to Jessie lasted an hour and a half. She did most of the talking, but I loved to listen to her talk and tell me about her life. I invited her to come up for G's birthday and she started crying and said she would be there.
Jessie drove nine hours to get to us and brought her seven-year-old daughter and her mom, Linda. As she drove up the driveway, she was so excited she barely put the car in park before she jumped out and ran to me and embraced me in the fiercest hug I had ever had. We were both crying and in that moment I felt an old connection reestablish. It's an odd feeling to know that a certain person will always be there for you, no matter what. It's hard to describe. My friend was the old Jessie and the new combined. She was taller than me, which bugged me because growing up I had always been taller than her. She still had the same long dark brown hair and she was skinny just like before. She looked so much like her mom. After we let go of each other, she introduced me to her daughter and I introduced my two daughters. My mom and sister were there, too, and we were all hugging each other. Hugging Linda again was a wonderful feeling, too. Growing up I had spent a lot of time with her. And hugging her was like going back in time and smelling the salty sea air where she used to take us and tasting the sand in our sandwiches as we sat on the warm beach in Southern California. We talked until the wee hours of the night. It felt so natural and easy. The next day she helped decorate for G's birthday party. We had invited all our new friends including Todd and his family and Beth. It was crab themed because my daughter loves her hermit crabs Kevin, Devin, and Cheese.
I nitially I a.s.sumed that I would be going home with my mom once we were released. I didn't know what to think of this prospect. Honestly, I was doing what I had always done and was just going with the flow. I had absolutely nothing but the clothes I was wearing, my girls, and $500 that Todd gave me from one of his family members. So I had a total of $500 to my name. My initial reaction to this money was disbelief that a perfect stranger would give me so much. My thought was, "Why would a perfect stranger want to help me?" Officer Todd replied, "People just want to help you. There will be many more." Officer Beth got us toiletries and pajamas the first night of our release, which I was very grateful for. I was scared of everything, to say the least. But deep inside something that had been dormant for so long was finally getting the chance to grow and I felt it glowing inside me. A light that I thought had been extinguished was slowly coming back to life. Every time things seemed overwhelming, I would look at my mom and that happy feeling came back and the warm light inside grew bigger.
I was told there was a reunification specialist located a couple of hours away from the hotel we were staying at who was willing to work with me and my family. I wasn't sure what to say about this offer. Traditional therapy did not appeal to me. The therapy I kept envisioning consisted of me and a small room and someone I didn't know, which was the last thing I wanted. I felt I had worked through what had happened to me and I had always kept my own counsel and thought I was my own best therapist. I didn't want to meet another stranger. In the day and a half, I had met so many new people that I was really overwhelmed.
Ultimately, what convinced me to seek the help of this person was the mention of horses. The impression I got of this person was that of an older lady with a ranch and horses and plenty of room for us to come and get our feet on the ground for a few days. She was one of a few professionals specializing in the field of reunification in abduction cases. I have to confess that part of me wanted to do something for my oldest daughter that Phillip had always promised her he would do and never followed through on, and that was arranging horseback riding lessons. I figured if this person had horses, then chances are I could probably arrange some lessons. I have loved horses since that summer at Lake Tahoe with Shawnee and that summer that we planned to work on the dude ranch together.
I had another reason for wanting to talk to a psychologist, too. That being I wanted to tell her all about Phillip and ask her professional opinion. Everything I had been through with Phillip was so confusing, and I had always wanted a professional's opinion because in my opinion the psychiatrist he was seeing was doing nothing to really help him, and day-by-day he was increasingly paranoid. Even when Phillip told his psychiatrist that he was hearing voices, nothing changed. Therapy did nothing to help him and certainly did nothing to help us who had to live with his continued delusion. So many things confused me about Phillip and the things he would say. I could never believe Phillip was anything but sane and thought about each and every thing he did before he did it; I felt that something about him was just not right. For example, I had always had my doubts about his special "ability" (i.e.: using his black box to let others hear him speaking with his mind). He always made everything sound totally logical and explained himself in all respects, but I still had my doubts. And all his preaching about how the angels control our thoughts and how they use Satan as a tool to control our minds.
I've learned that Phillip has never taken responsibility for his actions, so he invented a way to explain everything away. That being, his "angel theory." Over time this theory evolved into him thinking that since he could hear the angels in his mind, he figured that others should be able to hear his voice in the same manner, too. After that the creation of the black box started. The black box was a black case with a ca.s.sette recorder inside that contained recordings of such sounds as football game cheering, random static from the radio, and other various sounds from the television that he would mix down into one ca.s.sette tape that he would play and amplify through speakers in the box. He would also use plastic cups from fast-food restaurants and glue them in the box to make the sound different. Then he would hook up the headphones to the box and take it with him to let others hear his "ability." He used to make me sit in front of the air conditioner with headphones and one of those sound amplifiers called Bionic Ears and just sit there and listen to that sound for hours. He called it "tuning in." He would leave me sitting in front of the air conditioner for hours trying to condition me to hear his voice coming out of it when he returned. He said since he could hear his voice and the angels' voices in his head, that by using an outside device like the sound coming out of the air unit or the big overhead lights in warehouses like Costco and Sam's Club emitting a humming buzzing sound, that allowed him to hear the voices coming from those things as well. I didn't know what to make of all he said. On the one hand, I couldn't just come out and say, hey, you're crazy, I don't hear a thing. I had enough sense to know this would not go well for me. So I tried to hear what he wanted me to hear. I really did try. I sat there, and when he came back and sat in front of me and moved his lips to the words "Can you hear me?" I really did try to hear it. I asked him, "If the sound comes from your mind, why do I need to look at your lips?" He said that my mind needed something to visually interpret into words. For some reason, I accepted this explanation and sat there until my legs fell asleep, trying to hear anything remotely like his voice.
One night, I was so tired I thought I did hear something. He had switched from the words "Can you hear me?" to counting "One, two, and three" and I thought I heard the vague sound of him counting. He told me to hold on to the fact that I had heard him because in the days to come, the angels would make me doubt myself. That was the one and only time I heard him, and now I think I was just so tired and I thought if I told him I heard him, that it would end his obsession. So I convinced myself I heard something that wasn't there. It was the same thing with all our Printing for Less clients, too-they heard what they thought they should hear. It was a "shared delusion," I've come to learn. But my hearing him didn't end his obsession. It only seemed to make him more determined for others to hear his "ability." He started to think G.o.d had given him this ability to help others, specifically those individuals that also hear voices but do bad things, such as the woman who threw her three children into the bay. He cited this case frequently as why we needed to "get going" and help these people. So that became our focus and I did try to help him with his cause. I typed flyers and sent emails to mind-control victims as well as others he thought would champion his cause. I did all this while maintaining the printing business. When I would question Phillip about why he didn't go to pastors in the area and tell them his new knowledge that he was gaining from the Bible, it always ended with some excuse as to why things had to be done in a certain order and that it wasn't time. Phillip's "mission" continued right up until the day he brought us to his parole office appointment. Then everything changed.
Meeting with Nancy
I wanted to see her for many different reasons, the biggest being closure. Telling her that what she and Phillip did was not okay in any way. Sitting across from her in that little white room for the first time in over a year felt very familiar. I guess the feeling came from knowing her longer than I had known my own mother. But I was nervous and excited and overjoyed and thankful to see my mom for the first time; seeing Nancy did not feel in any way like that. Seeing Nancy felt almost like nothing. I think that I felt like that because there was really nothing solid between us. Our whole time together was a lie-a make-believe world that her husband created to satisfy his needs. Our relations.h.i.+p was built on a house of cards. One good blow and you find the pieces scatter in the wind quite easily. Those are my feelings toward Nancy: there was really nothing solid and there is nothing for me to hold on to now. At first when we were separated at the Concord police station, I was consumed with guilt and my feelings were unsure of themselves. At the meeting she kept calling me Allissa and I would say, "No, my name is Jaycee," and she looked at me and said she was sorry and said it was hard for her to remember, and then she did it again and I corrected her again. I think in total she called me Allissa three times and in each instance I would correct her. She said she knew in her heart that something was going to happen at the parole office that day. I said that it was time, that we couldn't have continued like we were for much longer for the girls' sake. She asked if the girls ever think of or mention her, and at first I didn't know what to say, I looked down and then back up at her, and she said, "They don't, do they?" with these really sad eyes. I looked back down in my lap and told her the truth. I didn't try to sugarcoat it. I said that it's not really an issue right now, but if when they get older and wish to contact her, then that is their choice, but right now it hasn't been an issue. I said what she and Phillip did to me confuses them and they really need her to come clean with anything else she knows about Phillip. I told her Phillip is not the man he portrayed himself to be. He never was. He used his con game for his first victim and then again on Katie Calloway, the victim he was in prison for before he kidnapped me. It's always been about what's best for him. All those times he would say the angels protected him that day that he took me from the hill never once did he even think that I was the one in need of protection that day. I also asked her what was the thing that Phillip would say ... something about how if I knew about something he did, I would never feel the same about him again ... She looked at me at first and said, What thing? I repeated my question again and she thought for a minute and then looked up at me and asked if I really wanted to know what that was and I said, Yes I do, I want to know. And she said she had caught him once torturing an animal, and I said was it one of my cats, and she nodded her head a few times in the affirmative and then said, "No, no it was a mouse I caught him torturing," and I said, "A mouse?" She said, "Yes, it was a mouse." I didn't expect that answer. But all I said was, Doesn't that make you wonder what else he did? How about all the times we didn't know where he was? If he could hurt a helpless animal, doesn't that make you wonder what else he was capable of? And she said yes, it did make her wonder. I'd like to believe she felt badly for me all those years, but in a way it was always a selfish act on her part. Yes, she didn't want me to go through all that, but to turn a blind eye to what she knew he was doing to an eleven-year-old girl. How could she entertain little girls in the van and videotape them doing the splits and other things, all for her husband? I guess she just convinced herself that she was doing it for love. To me that is not love. You do not follow someone blindly as they lead you over a cliff. She said that she was scared when I walked in because she thought that I would hate her. I told her although I do not hate her because I do not want to pollute my body with hate, what she and Phillip did to me and my family was unforgivable. That my mom suffered more than any person should have to suffer and my sister and aunt, too, and the other members of my family. She said she hoped one day that my mom could forgive her, and I said I wouldn't hold out for that. She told me that call her crazy, but she still loves Phillip. I told her she needed to stop thinking of what's best for Phillip because he is going to be in jail for the rest of his life and to start thinking about what was best for her, and if she wanted to see her brothers again and have a relations.h.i.+p with her family that Phillip tried to separate her from. I told her to take care of herself. And I told her good-bye for the last time; I told her I would not be back. That although we didn't get to say good-bye to each other at the parole office, that this is good-bye forever. And then I stood up and walked out.
So much has happened since that meeting. For the most part I've been able to focus on my daily life, but in the back of my mind I know that I might eventually have to face Nancy again. Walking away that day confirmed my right to make my own decisions. The fate of Phillip and Nancy was truly out of my hands. I realized in that moment how much I have grown when Nancy's attorney felt it necessary to challenge me to call him. The El Dorado County Sheriff's Office supported me to make my own decisions. I know I owe the Garridos nothing and can't understand why Nancy's attorney felt it necessary to ask me to support the very people who abducted me.
Therapeutic Healing with a Twist
The days following our recovery were a time of limbo for all of us. I really didn't want a therapist. I felt I had come to terms with what happened to me and I just didn't want to relive it. Boy, was I wrong. Once I sat down and talked to the therapist they brought in, I realized I did want someone to talk to. I responded to her authentic and down-to-earth personality. Neither she nor her colleague treated me like I was special or damaged in some way. I wasn't the main focus of the group or singled out in an odd way.
Reunification was unique in the fact that it focused on getting my feet on the ground, and during the reunification work we focused on reconnecting me to different facets of my family and dealt with the everyday practical things that I had not been accustomed to such as getting the kids their shots and overall checkups, which we never had the opportunity to do before. The girls had never been to a doctor before. We also went to see a dentist and got our teeth checked out. All of our teeth were in pretty good shape. The only potential problems the girls had were some pits where cavities could possibly develop, but other than that they had good strong teeth. I think one of the main reasons for that is, Phillip instilled the good habit of chewing sugar-free gum from a very early age in them. He was very proud of himself for reading that in a magazine about health and knew that he wasn't going to be taking them to the dentist, so he thought of a way to make it work for himself. My teeth are in pretty good shape, too. I had a lot of dentist chair time when I was little and I still have my original fillings. They have lasted a really long time, and it really surprised me to find that out because I thought fillings only lasted a few years, but these have lasted me more than eighteen! I have never been very fond of the dentist-I can't say it's something I ever missed-but the dentist that they took us to was very nice, and her office was open and not closed in like I remember my old dentist's office being. The girls had no trouble either. So their first trip to the dentist was a success.
I really wanted stability. Not just for the girls but me, too. It took me a while to figure out that the choice to stay in the area that we had been relocated to or go back down south, where my mom, sister, and aunt currently lived, was mine to make. I had never really had that choice before and the concept was new to me. My aunt went back to where she and my mom lived to make preparations for my return. During the time she was away, I made up my mind that I did not want to return to the Los Angeles area. I had come to love the beautiful place in which I was temporarily living. Even with the generous donations we had been receiving in the mail, we still did not have enough money to buy a home or even rent one. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) stepped in, and a house was found in a secluded part of the town in which I wanted to stay. It was a beautiful old white farmhouse. It was private and there was plenty of room to play or walk outside without the neighbors getting curious, unlike the first house they housed us in when the FBI and El Dorado County first brought us to the area. The only rental they could get was right in the middle of town and not very private. Rentals were hard to come by because it was Labor Day weekend. The house was also full to the brim with FBI and victim advocates. When we moved into the new farmhouse, it was much quieter. Only one FBI agent came with us. We had come to really enjoy her company and now that she has been rea.s.signed, we all miss her very much. She made us feel safe and protected. Living together in the farmhouse, we started to learn how to be a family. We had to get used to each other's different habits and ways of doing things. It took time and work with the reunification team. During that time I was presented with the opportunity to sell a photo to People magazine. I was leery at first. I was still unsure about how I felt about anything. The only things that were clear to me were that my mom loved me and the girls and that I really wanted to stay where we were. I wanted to find some permanence. The media was a constant threat. I was told that if I didn't give them a picture, then they would find a way to just take it. I was free yet not free. For the time being, n.o.body except for the girls and other people with whom we had come into contact knew what I looked like. It felt like I had a ticking time bomb on my head just waiting to go off. I wanted to do things with the girls, but I couldn't. The authorities were worried I would be recognized somehow. I was told I needed a lawyer to be a go-between with the media. They were hounding for a photo and would not give up. After many sleepless nights I decided to sign with People magazine. I would give them one photo and a statement.
The day before the shoot, I had second thoughts and decided I did not want to do the photo shoot or give a photo. I was scared. I talked to my lawyer, and he said I could not back out now, that my name would be mud in the media's eyes, and I needed to do the photo shoot. He said that everything would be fine. I said I have not signed a contract, and he said one was being drawn up and I'd have it soon. I realize now that I could have just not shown up. However, in a way, I wanted to be seen finally. I wanted everyone to know how happy I was and grateful for their support. The day of the shoot, everything seemed to go by in a flash. Security was hired and also used to take the photos of my mom, sister, and me together. My therapist has a little dog that goes to work with her frequently. When the security men showed up with my lawyer to do the shoot, they walked into the backyard and Stella promptly walked over to the one with the camera, lifted her leg, and peed on his shoe. I don't even think he noticed. But Rebecca and I did. The sweet little therapy dog had never or has never done that to another person. That should have been the clue to us to pack up and go. We stuck it out, though, and the cameraman did his best to make me and my mom smile. So many things were happening and in reality, I was happy; I just wasn't happy about the way the whole People magazine thing was going. At one point we were down in the corral with the two horses, Velcro and Freesia. Freesia, the brown Hanoverian, kept getting in front of me and the cameraman. She kept pus.h.i.+ng me back with her body. One shot shows me ducking underneath her just so I can see the cameraman. Then, out of the blue, I was asked if I wanted to take a photo with the girls. I replied that wasn't part of the deal. But then I didn't want rumors to start about how I am trying to hide the girls, so we posed for one together with our backs to the camera. The whole day was strange, and I was glad when it was over. When the magazine came out I was so happy with all the genuine support from everyone and in the end I was glad I did it. After that, I hired a public relations person and tried to stay out of the media's prying eyes. That has not been easy for me because I love being able to do things with the girls and that is not always possible.
The reunification specialist ended up becoming my personal therapist. And my recovery is an ongoing process that we take one day at a time. The day I came to Rebecca's office to meet her horses, I was hooked.
One of the first things she had us do was brush Velcro and Freesia. But it didn't turn out to be that easy because there was a catch; we had to catch them first. Rebecca loaded us up with their halters and sent us into the pen to go halter them. My daughters were naturals and soon had Velcro haltered and were on their way back before I could even catch up to Freesia, who had it in her mind that she didn't particularly feel like being led around by a bunch of humans that day. The faster I went, the faster she went. So I had to change my thinking. I decided to ignore her and pretend I wasn't really interested. Well, that got her attention, and soon enough she was actually walking up to me. I felt a real victory. My tummy made a flip when I felt her nudge my hand. I thought to myself, Now's my chance. I turned to her and scratched her long sleek nose, and with the halter in my other hand, I slowly brought it up to where I thought it was supposed to be. I had never haltered a horse before and being a tad short I found it a bit difficult to say the least. With me on my tiptoes and Freesia just about done with me, I tried and tried but couldn't figure out how to put the halter on correctly. Rebecca came over to me and asked what was going on. At first, I didn't want to give up. I wanted to do it myself and have that sense of accomplishment. I knew my window of opportunity was running out, so I asked myself, Do I give in and ask for help or let the horse get away? I learned that day that I can be a very stubborn person. Freesia had pulled away from me and was on her merry way before I had made up my mind to ask for help. I turned to Rebecca and she, in turn, suggested I ask one of my family members for help. Since my daughters did so well with haltering their horse, I asked if they would help me with Freesia. This time, Freesia was grazing on some gra.s.s and was not paying us humans any mind. Even when I walked over with the girls, she didn't seem to mind the interruption. She just calmly stood there and let the girls pull the halter over her and then they handed me the lead rope and off we went together into the arena to begin something that had already begun.
A Stolen Life - A Memoir Part 18
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A Stolen Life - A Memoir Part 18 summary
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