I hope you don’t mind me calling you that. I saw your Dad use that nickname, and I’ve always loved that name for a girl.
I don’t envy what you’re going through right now, but believe me, I understand it more than most people. I’ll admit – my memoir was just published, and I didn’t even mention this in it. I focused on the struggles after my brain injuries, but this experience was just too personal, too embarrassing, and too emotional for me. I wasn’t ready to share that moment of my younger years with people. Then, I heard about you. I’ve been so busy dealing with book-related things and stressors that I hadn’t had a chance to read the articles about your disappearance…until now.
I also wasn’t ready to share this until now, but remembering the fear, pain, and uncertainty I was going through when I was in your position, I feel I must try to reach you in some way. I don’t want you to go through this alone. I know right now you’re with someone who you think loves you, who you think you can trust, but there’s still a lonely, empty feeling – because you know it isn’t right.
When I was 15 and a freshman in high school, I ran off with a man who was 20-years-old, about to turn 21. 16 years later I still – and always will, I believe – blame myself. I willingly skipped school that day to hang out with him, even took an overnight bag with clothes and movies to school, so everything that followed was my fault, right? My mother and I’m sure countless rape counselors would say WRONG, but that’s an emotional hurdle that time has yet to help me overcome.
What I do know now, 16 years after that fact, is that HE was wrong to put me in that position. He “groomed” me with the things he told me: he exacerbated all my problems at that time to make me believe I was unhappier at home than I really was, and he led me to believe he and I could have a happy, perfect little life together. He, as a grown man, knew it was wrong to be hanging around teenage girls – that’s how I met him, through a couple of my friends. He especially should have known it was wrong considering he had gotten in trouble with authorities for hanging around younger girls in his teens – apparently, they had made some accusations.
My brother and his friends were/are 9 years older than me, and I was used to hanging around with them, so that made it seem less creepy that he wanted to be around younger girls, and wanted a relationship with me. At least he was younger than my brother, I thought. I’m now married to a man who is older than my brother (they were friends when they were kids), and when I told him what transpired when I was 15 he knew exactly what that guy was – a predator and a pervert. It was because he didn’t want anyone getting wrong ideas that my husband purposely steered clear of younger girls his whole life – especially in his teens! My brother’s friends were so concerned when I disappeared because they could see the danger, they could see what my husband sees now – that it wasn’t right, even though I believed nothing was wrong.
The man you’re with has had even more time (3 more decades) than the guy I ran off with to realize that this is wrong. He knows he’s the adult in this situation, and no matter what’s going through his head at this time, he should know it’s WRONG. He’s left his wife and taken someone’s daughter. But, Elizabeth, I’m less concerned with him realizing that what he’s done is wrong, than with what you’re going through right now.
I was only gone for three days, and I know what I live with now. The pain, the fear, the heart wrenching regret for what I did to the people who loved me, the strain I put on our relationships that took so long to get over. What he said and did to me in those three days can haunt me if I linger on the memories. One thing I’ve gotten very good at in 16 years is blocking everything out. I don’t let myself remember what he looks like – it makes me sick if I do. And this is someone who I thought I loved for a time! Someone who had me convinced that if we ran away from everything and everyone, we’d have a life together.
Whatever this man has told you, it’s not going to happen. Don’t shake your head like I would’ve either…it can’t and it won’t. It terrifies me to hear this man is believed to be armed. The man I was with wasn’t armed to my knowledge, and I was still afraid. I know the family friend who eventually rescued me was armed, but that’s a different part of the story.
The fear that gripped me then wasn’t just what he might do. It wasn’t just from hearing his father come into his shanty house and scream at him while I sat trembling and terrified in his closet. The fear I had was what my parents were going to think now, not to mention all the kids at school. Isn’t this your first year at public school, after being homeschooled? Oh, it must be even more terrifying. I thought I really couldn’t go home: my parents would never love or trust me again; the kids at school would all know and call me a slut; my brother and his friends would look at me differently, and think I was an idiot.
I laid in his bed at night fearing what my parents were going through (my dad, who’d already had 2 heart attacks, had just recently suffered a heart scare before this), but I feared even more so what a reunion would be like. I knew I wasn’t really happy there in that hovel with him like he told me I was, but I was so scared of the repercussions of going home.
What finally made me call to say I wanted to go home? My brother raced cars at that point, and when I spoke to his roommate and friend, Robert, by payphone he told me they wouldn’t be going to the track that weekend if I didn’t come home. That had been my first idea. I told Rob I would have this guy drop me outside the gates at Texas World Speedway before that weekend’s race, and he told me they wouldn’t even be going unless I came home. That prompted me to have this guy drop me at a busy shopping center, where Rob would pick me up. On the way there, the guy told me he might kill himself once I was gone. Like everything else he ever told me, it was bullshit.
I stayed with my brother, his girlfriend, and their friends until it was time to go to the track. None of them hated me, none of them looked at me funny, and none of them thought I was any dumber than they had before I left (c’mon, I’m everybody’s little sister, so I was already an idiot to them). They hated the guy I ran off with, but they loved me more than ever and were happy to know I was safe and home again. They were sorry I had gone through something no teenager should go through, but they loved me.
When I finally did see my parents at the racetrack, I was so nervous. I was in pain (physically and emotionally) when my mom ecstatically grabbed me and hugged me through tears. We would get through what was to come, she was just glad to have her baby home. They made me go to a counselor a few times, but only time healed what damage was done to our relationship.
I will never forget being in my parents’ room when I saw my Daddy cry for the first – and only, until recent years – time. He was overcome with emotion over what had happened. He sobbed, hugged me and told me just wanted me to be his Baby for a little while longer.
I was heartbroken. I wanted to scream that I was still, and always would be his baby. I felt so awful for making him feel otherwise that I just sobbed with him. My parents still loved me, they were just so scared, and I was so remorseful for what I had put them through. This is another reason I never talk about this – I break down every time I think about that, and I’m in tears now. It certainly isn’t any easier to cope with after a brain injury or two.
What I want you to know, Elizabeth, is that you’re not alone. You don’t have to go through this alone, and you don’t have to go through the end of this alone. I know the man you’re with will seem even scarier when it comes to thinking about going home – he’s older, bigger, stronger, and more armed than the guy I was with. But, if you’re in public with him, there’s less he can do, unless he wants to get tackled and arrested there on the spot. Scream, make eye contact with someone, mouth “help,” or do something…but do something before it gets any worse.
There’s a lot of healing that will need to be done, and I know it looks daunting and terrifying, but I think all involved will be better off for it. I don’t claim to know what your home life is like, but perhaps in overcoming this together, your relationships with your family will get better.
I had 2 friends meet me and walk into school with me my first day back. The rumors had spread while I was gone, but my friends gave me strength. I also knew the principal, teachers, and counselor only wanted to help me – they had been so sad and scared for my parents when I left. There will be nasty people who say awful things, as there always are, especially with kids, but turn to those you can trust, who will be your supporters. I’m one of them, if you want me to be.
They aren’t the only ones, either. You and I weren’t the first teenagers who ran off with someone because they groomed us to think it was a good idea – that’s what predators and pedophiles do. There are more out there than just me who have been in your shoes. We all want you to come home, and safely, because we know the longer this goes on the worse, and more dangerous, it becomes.
Please find a way to get help and come home, so you can begin the healing process with the ones who truly love you and are pained by your absence. You don’t have to go through any of this alone, and if you want someone to talk to who has been there, I’ll talk and cry with you. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re not alone, Izzy – please come home safe.
With all the love of one survivor to another,
Jessica “JP” MacFarland