How can I even begin to talk about and express to anyone what this vicious, selfish and cruel crime did to myself and my family? I have become so accustomed to withholding and denying my feelings, emotions and interpretation of experiences, even from myself, that it almost seems unfair to me to have to spit out on such short notice what should have been spoken about and processed throughout my lifetime. To have to limit in the concreteness of words what is unspeakable and incomprehensible is impossible to me.
The pain that we suffered did not have a place in the world, at least not one that we had access to. A death of a parent is always painful, tragic and heartbreaking. However, the way that it is usually brought about, ironically can serve as a source of comfort for the bereaved family. If a parent dies from an illness or an accident, the pain and sense of injustice is great, but the family can comfort themselves in some tiny measure by saying that it was their time to go and eventually they have closure. If a parent is killed intentionally, that pain is beyond description, but eventually with a grave and place of rest, the family can maintain their connection to their loved one and receive comfort in that way. When a parent just disappears off the face of the Earth, with no trace of where they are, when the family is left with no concrete knowledge about what happened to their loved one, just unanswered questions with no prospects of future answers, no body, no grave- that pain is beyond description.
I was existing in a living nightmare. A part of myself was stolen with no explanation, just swiped in one fell swoop and no one was held responsible. I had no consolation, nowhere to find comfort. My grief had no end. To compound the torture, rather than receiving the support that grieving families are entitled to and is such a crucial part of the “healing” process, I was treated as a pariah. The people and community that I took for granted as part of your life virtually disappeared as well. They were dumbfounded and confused. I could not comfort myself even with others who have lost parents for this pain is unique and no one can relate to it. My soul’s scream was met with a resounding silence. My soul was begging for the wound to be healed, for the problem to go away, for everything to go back to normal, yet the reality didn’t change. That is the pain that we were forced to experience.
Imagine being seven. Imagine being in a sheltered world where God is in control and people are trustworthy. Imagine being told that your father is kidnapped, but will soon be found. Imagine the fear of just that.
Imagine the fragile and pure hopes that a seven year old girl would invest in her father being found. Imagine the complete obsession of a child with wanting her father to be found. Imagine the burning question that deserves an answer, which no adult can answer, “Where is my father?” Imagine a seven year old child praying privately and desperately every night for two years that her father will be OK. Imagine the hushed whispers of children when the girl passes them that are just loud enough for her to hear. Just loud enough for her to feel isolated, alienated and know that she is different, that she is marked, that she is a “nebach” –yiddish word for a charity case. Imagine the contrast between the whimsical, light lives of typical seven year olds with the hell of this girl. Imagine the desire to be “normal” like the other kids. Imagine the pain of abandonment that is not allowed to be felt as avoidance becomes the response of choice by all. It was like being told, “We cut off your arm, but don’t worry, just go on with your life starting now!” I carry the effects of this trauma always.
In a short time we went from being a loving, happy, generous Orthodox Jewish family to losing our father, possessions and with that, all stability. Our father was a true loss to everyone, he was extremely generous and charitable to family, friends and neighbors. He was a good and kind father to us and a good provider. All of that was forgotten, as we became viewed as the charity cases and we knew it. Rather than spending our childhood in the hard enough business of growing up, we spent our “childhood” in the impossible business of covering up. We were not allowed to live normally, we were guinea pigs in a glass cage struggling to compensate for our “defect”. I was not able to mourn, grieve or process my loss, I couldn’t feel entitled to grieve, I felt watched and blamed. I was a child and yet I had no joy of childhood. I was not able to develop normal human feelings, to be in touch with myself. My entire functioning centered around being careful to maintain an image of “normalcy”, a concept that eluded my chaotic and damaged inner world.
With the loss of our father came the loss of our mother too. Without the death benefits that we were entitled to, our mother had to struggle to support us. We grew up as “latchkey” children. Coming home to a lonely, cold home that had no light in it, both figuratively and literally. We suffered the loss of dignity as there were many times when we had no electricity, telephone connections or food in the fridge due to financial struggles, although my mother worked long hours. We were robbed of all things necessary to produce a healthy human being: a loving family, basic needs, an innocent, happy and normal childhood.
There was no one to help us to deal with and interpret our experience. There were no tools to help us accept and adjust. Therapy was a luxury which we could not afford. There was no one to talk to as this nightmare traumatized and imprisoned the only adult left, our mother. She could not be present physically or emotionally as she was in survival mode.
My family was a mess. We each were affected differently, we were not united. We were three islands colliding with each other and blaming each other, directing our frustration, anger and hatred at each other as we had no other place to direct it at. Love and support were replaced with hatred, bitterness and anger. Therefore, rather than experiencing and healing from our trauma, we carried it with us, it was and is our burden.
By being thrown into this cruel reality, where “grownups” stole my father from me, where the world is not safe, where abandonment is experienced during the years that security is crucial, I was robbed of not only my father, my mother, my sister, but my childhood. How can you replace that? You can’t. For the rest of my life, I will be struggling with the effects of this trauma, the feelings of deprivation and victimization that were imbued in me from such a young age. Daily life is overwhelming to me as my “back” is hurting and weakened from so many years of carrying this burden.
Even worse, I was robbed of something that should be a given for all people: my human dignity and trust of people. Everything was colored through my destroyed self and world image. Besides not being able to afford therapy, it may have not been effective as I could not trust another adult for fear of betrayal and of judgement. I withdrew from the world, from myself.
I was left to live in my own thoughts and feelings with no objective compass to guide me. When I reached adolescence, I was full of anger, resentment and lack of motivation, school no longer mattered. I went from being an A student to switching high schools three times.
Emotionally, I grew up full of panic, paranoia, anxiety, fear, anger and sadness. To this day, I jump when my husband walks through the door or I hear a loud noise. I worry constantly about the safety and health of myself and my family. I am afraid of being abandoned, like I was as a child.
What other people consider a given, we couldn’t: a grave to cry on, support from others. At every point in our lives that should be joyous, we felt the sharp pain of our unusual tragedy and loss. Rather than approaching our celebrations with simple happiness, it was always tinged with the emptiness of doing it without my father’s participation. I was denied having a father to be proud of me at my Bat Mitzvah, my wedding, my children’s births, my college graduation. He would have wanted to be there and for us not to have to be concerned with how we could pull it off financially.
This crime robbed us of our parents, our family life, our social life, our communal life, our material life, our emotional and psychological stability and health, our childhoods and therefore our adulthoods as well. Nothing in the world can give that back and that is the reality that was created by this greedy, selfish, cruel, heartless crime.