A Stolen Life: A Memoir: a reflection.
“I can hear my captor’s hollow footsteps coming from the room beyond. He enters the door and has a milkshake in his hand. At first I smile at him and want him to think I am doing well. For some reason I think it is important for me to be happy around him. He comes in and crouches down and he says today will be a little different. He says I can have the milkshake and something to eat after we are done. Done with what? All of a sudden I am not hungry anymore. I have this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I want him to go away. I want to go away. I tell him I am not hungry. I just want to go home. He puts the milkshake on a shelf and bends down. He says to take off my towel and lay back on the pallet. He takes off the cuffs and relocks them in front of me instead of behind my back. He then sits down next to me and explains what he is going to do. He stands back up and takes off all his clothes. I do not want him to do that. I start to cry. He takes my handcuffed hands and holds them over my head. I feel so helpless and vulnerable. I feel so alone. He lies on top of me. He is so heavy. I can’t stop crying. He said he’d be quick and it would be better if I didn’t struggle because then he wouldn’t have to get aggressive. I don’t understand any of this. He forces my legs open and inserts the hard thing between his legs in me. It feels like I am being stretched apart. I feel like it’s going to come out of my belly. I am so small and he is so big. Why is he doing this? Is this normal? I try to scoot away. I try to close my legs. He just takes hold of my legs and shoves them further apart. He is too heavy and strong for me. He keeps my hands above my head. I try to think of anything but what is happening to me. Look anywhere except his face. I can feel the tears on my cheeks. He is making strange noises and grunting and sweating all over me. I can’t breathe he is so heavy. All of a sudden he makes a giant grunt and puts even more of his weight on me as he collapses. I cannot do anything. I cannot move. He finally moves and asks if I’m okay. He says it would be easier on me if I didn’t resist or struggle so much next time. He says it wouldn’t hurt as much. I think to myself, ‘If you didn’t do it in the first place then it wouldn’t hurt at all.’ But I am too frightened by his act to say a thing in objection to him. In my mind I am screaming ‘NO I AM NOT OKAY…. GET OFF OF ME!’ Why are you doing this? What does it mean? He said it was all over now and he gets up and says he’s going to go get something to clean me up. I am bleeding “down there.” I am so scared. Am I dying? Why am I bleeding? He says it’s okay– he just “popped my cherry.” I don’t know what he meant. He leaves and comes back with a bucket of warm water and a washcloth. He takes the cuffs off and says he will go into the next room and give me some privacy to bathe. I wash up and wrap myself in the clean towel and then sit back down on the pallet on the floor. Milkshake all but forgotten.
I had to stay in the same place I’d just been raped in. I didn’t know at the time that is what it was called; the word “rape” was not in my vocabulary. Today that makes me feel terrible for that little naïve girl. She is still a part of me and at times she comes out and makes me feel small and helpless once again. At times I feel like I’m still eleven years old. But something inside that frightened little girl made her a survivor and she has made me the person I am today. That rape turned out to be the first of many frequent encounters. I don’t remember if he came in every day to have sex with me; all I know is it happened more times than I can count. Each time it happened I learned to “go away” in my mind until he was finished. I would make up stories in my head to pass the time. It was easy for me in those early days to escape into my dreamworld because I had always been a dreamer and had my head in the clouds a lot. I used to lose all track of time and it helped to keep me from going crazy.”
– Jaycee Lee Dugard, A Stolen Life: A Memoir
She was eleven years old, and this is not fiction but an autobiography.
When I first picked up A Stolen Life: A Memoir at a booksale years ago, I honestly had no idea what it was even about. The blurb at the back was vague at most and it never even crossed my mind that it wasn’t a fiction. To be honest, I just picked it up because I felt like it called to me– over there in the shelf with its dirty pages and pathetically torn cover. I wasn’t even planning to buy anything at the time since I barely had enough money, but I was so racked up with this unexplainable and possibly irrational guilt that if I didn’t take this book home with me right now, I would never be able to find it again and would regret it all my life…. So I took it. And with the book in my hands, holding it tight and trying not to tear the cover even further, I (honestly) thought to myself, ‘If a book called out to me with this much intensity, maybe there’s something in here that I had to read to learn something about myself.’
Well…. it turned out to be a story about captivity and sexual abuse.
I went home and taped the cover as best as I could. It was a strange narrative. The sentences were all over the place, and the paragraphs were choppy and flowed like something you’d read in a child’s poetry book. It, 100%, felt like something a kid had written. At this point, I still had no idea about its identity as an autobiography — even if it was littered with too-personal quips and childhood pictures at, like, every other page. (Maybe I was just an idiot.) But it wasn’t unpleasant to read, and was actually pretty refreshing in its blunt uniqueness, so I continued.
I reached the part where the man had her get him off in the bathroom right after he kidnapped her from the streets, but it was told in such an offhanded manner, and given my state of sleepiness and the overall decline in comprehension that state brought, I somehow still haven’t registered the abduction as sexually motivated by that point?
But then this chapter came, titled, aptly, “The First Time.” And that’s when it hit me that, ‘Oh, she was being kept as a sex slave.’
And then, ‘This doesn’t read like fiction at all.’
Or rather, if this was fiction — if I was the one writing this fiction — this is the scene that I would have written with the most haunting, most emphasizing words in my arsenal.
But instead, it was written with this confused, blunt tone that was void of all care for prettifying or ghastlifying its sentences — even condensed in a single, suffocating paragraph that, as an editor under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have approved — almost like she just wanted to get them all out in one go. And this shook me, because only then did it occur to me that the purpose behind the reflection segments after every chapter was for Jaycee’s actual reflections as a free woman, on the stories she’s trying to revisit from her days as a captive.
And with that knowledge, coupled by a few hours of research after, the book suddenly felt a lot heavier in my hands.
Years later, it still haunts me — how I took in this book in a whim, even half-jokingly going on about self-enlightenment, only to be hit by something so heavy and painfully real. All, funnily enough, by surprise.
Right now, Jaycee is 36 years old. She was abducted in 1991 at age 11, and was rescued in 2009. She was held captive and raped in a backyard for 18 years. She has two daughters, Angel and Starlit, mothered at 14 and 17 years old.
Her captors were Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy Garrido, and whatever sentence they’re serving right now, they deserve it.
With a fifth-grade education, Jaycee Lee Dugard wrote her own memoir.
I hope she’s happy now.