Taken by Mom, Sought by Dad, Left in a Life of Uncertainty
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Thinking back on it now, Carl Dodd realizes he expected too much, but who could blame him? He had waited 13 years to see his daughter again. He wanted to hug her and take her home with him.
But the teenager who greeted him at the police department in April was distant, doubtful. She asked him pointed questions: Why had her mother been arrested? Why were so many reporters around? Sunglasses partially hid her eyes, and when Dodd asked her to take them off so he could really see her, she refused. She made it clear she intended to stay with her grandmother in Wilmington, Del.
The reunion may have ended Dodd's determined search for his daughter, Marilyn Byrd, who disappeared with her mother from Southeast Washington when she was 4. But it was just the beginning of the long road back to a relationship with his only child, now a young woman of 17.
For people who spent their childhoods hiding out with a distraught parent, taking on new identities, the hardest part comes when the child is recovered and so-called normal life resumes. That is when they finally can afford to get angry about being used as a pawn in a nasty battle between the two people they loved the most.
Few understand Marilyn Byrd's conflicting emotions better than three people who spoke recently about their lingering bitterness over childhoods on the lam:
· Rebekah Ford, 28, a Wisconsin resident, still shudders as she recalls the most shocking moment of her childhood. It was the day the FBI came to her elementary school and showed her a flattened milk carton with her picture on it. Until then, she did not know that she was a missing child and that her name was not Heather Ann Brown.
· Sam Potash of Philadelphia, who just turned 19, can finally speak publicly about the 8 1/2 months he spent on the run with his father when he was 10. He got used to pretending his name was Ben Davis and repeating the lie that his mother -- who was desperately searching for him -- was dead.
· One of Liss Hart-Haviv's most vivid memories is trying to comfort her sobbing mother in a phone booth outside a California women's shelter after they had fled from her father. She was 10 and felt so old and alone. She even had a different name. "They called roll call at school, [and] the first thing I did every morning was lie," said Hart-Haviv, now 38 and living in Kalama, Wash.
Three years ago, Hart-Haviv started Take Root, the first national organization for adults who went through such experiences as children. The cases continue to grow: More than 200,000 children are taken each year by a parent or other family member, according to the Justice Department.
Often, the outcome for families is tragic, with feelings damaged beyond repair. "Many of our members end up losing both parents," Hart-Haviv said.
Even their memories feel like mockery.
"We spend a portion of our lives on the run from a parent, then we spend the rest of our lives on the run from our childhood," she said.