It's the day before Christmas, and I find myself with good things to look forward to: my lovely daughter comes tomorrow, and we'll spend the day in Portland with my parents at my younger brother's house. Sweet Milly comes home from her travels and I'll be seeing her soon. All good stuff. But I'm not going to lie to you: I have heavy thoughts on my mind these days.
By now anyone who has watched or read or listened to any news reports in the last several days knows a little girl from these parts went missing a week ago. It's a story that swirls with low-end melodrama. The little girl's mother went to rehab, and the Department of Health and Human Services placed the girl with her father. I don't know any of these people, but from what I've seen of the mother (in multiple television interviews), she is no prize pig. Add to that the comments of that woman's mother, the little girl's grandmother, who claimed DHHS took the girl away because for some reason that agency has a personal bias against the elder woman's family. The depth of ignorance betrayed by a statement like that can't be quantified. It also adds a particularly insidious ripple to the investigation: if a person is so irrational (and immature) as to pointedly express such a bizarre persecution complex, how do you measure your expectations of either that person's credibility or her potential culpability? In other words, if someone is both stupid and batshit crazy, what can you reasonably put past her? More than one person has openly speculated that somehow the grandmother sent someone to kidnap the girl, to take her away from her father. On the one hand, given what we know about her limited intellect and obviously dubious judgment, I don't think you can put that past her. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine this woman knowing anyone with sufficient smarts to pull it off and then elude investigators for even a day, let alone a solid week. The conundrum of dealing with dumbasses.
I admit, I judge stupid people harshly. I also admit, again, I don't know any of these people, I only know them through the lens of what they've said to the press. The father has been mostly quiet, and so I have almost no opinion about him, except that, well, if you have a child in your care, and that child happens to have a broken arm, and you don't look in on that kid even once in twelve hours, you fucked up. If the father did nothing else, if he is in no way involved in whatever has happened to his daughter, I won't say anything more than that: he fucked up, and he's going to have to live with that the rest of his life. But the mother and the grandmother have been quite vocal, and each time either has opened her mouth, she has proven herself to be the quintessential scumbag. They are small-minded, simple-minded, self-absorbed people, neither of whom should have ever had a child. They are shitty, shitty human beings, and if this little girl is found safe and sound, I hope she never has to suffer another day in the presence of her mother's family.
Now to the observable particulars of the last few days. There has been a massive police presence here in Waterville, presumably every cop on the force, as well as State Troopers, game wardens, the FBI. There have been scores of volunteers out searching. It's an operation being undertaken in just the way it should be: all hands on deck. Local businesses have contributed staff to assist in the search, restaurants have been providing food to keep the volunteers going. This is all good and sadly necessary. Then there are the ancillary cohorts of events such as these: at least one erroneous report, broadcast on Facebook, that the girl's body had been found; the overheard conversations in bars and restaurants and coffee shops, endless speculation about what really happened; and, of course, the vigils.
I take no comfort in vigils or in impromptu memorials, piles of teddy bears and flowers and handwritten notes left in the victim's yard. To me such things feel contrived, but that's my temperament: I don't sport yellow-ribbon bumper stickers, don't drape myself in the flag. Confucius said that when the wise man points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger. In real life I resist embracing symbols and symbolic gestures because, it seems to me, too often people get caught up in the symbol and lose sight of what the symbol represents. It's the moon, not the finger, that moves me.
At the same time, as a parent I recognize something in all of this that perhaps some without kids might fail to see: if you have a child you adore, you can't watch any of what's going on and not ask yourself, "What if that was my daughter?" It is almost certainly the most obvious truism of parenthood: any threat of harm coming to your child is something you desperately hope to never have to bear. The sense of helplessness that accompanies any mystery is pervasive -- we feel it collectively. Something as incomprehensible as the mysterious disappearance of a child ratchets up that sense of paralyzed impotence. It gnaws at an empty place in your belly. It makes you want to do something, anything that might offer the vague promise of even the slightest comfort. It is as though, as a community, we are holding our collective breath. It's important, though, to remember that while it feels like we're holding our breath, for the family of that little girl, it is much more like someone is holding their heads under water: they don't have the choice of taking a breath. Keep that in mind while you're lighting candles and sporting ribbons and wristbands and whatever else people choose to engage in, regardless of their motives. Don't ever assume that either sympathy or empathy makes somebody else's pain your own.
On this Christmas Eve, I hope for everyone's sake, but mostly for the sake of the little girl, that she is found and she is unharmed. I am not a praying person, I don't believe in gods or their associated mythology. I don't believe things happen for a reason. I do believe in my gut, and I'm sad to say my gut is telling me nothing good is going to come of this. Too much time has passed, too many of the stones under which she was most likely to be discovered in one healthy piece have been overturned to no avail. That being said, though, my wish this Christmas is to learn, and soon, that my gut is completely and utterly wrong. I don't like being wrong any more than most people, but this is one of those times when I'd be overjoyed to find out I'm mistaken. Here's hoping.