Monday, July 11, 2011

Jaycee: I don't know where to start

This morning, for some reason, lines from Leonard Bernstein's Mass rise up unbidden in my mind:

I don't know where to start
There are scars I could show
If I opened my heart
But how far, Lord, but how far can I go?
I don't know.

What I say I don't feel
What I feel I don't show
What I show isn't real
What is real, Lord - I don't know
No, no, no - I don't know

Except for an intrusive migraine, I had a wonderful weekend, spending time with all four of my delightful, beloved grandkids. When I am with them, time stands still and all my life's griefs are postponed.

Why then do I feel so sick right now? I can't explain it. Maybe it's this: so often I wonder what sort of world I'll be leaving them.

This feeling goes beyond the usual frightening predictions about the environment and our feeble, too-little-too-late attempts to fix it. It's not even about the seething political standoff between the Middle East and the rest of the world. We seem to have conveniently forgotten that nuclear weapons still exist and will eventually - inevitably - be used.

Maybe I can only focus on one atrocity at a time.

Does this explain the migraine, I wonder? I overloaded myself with atrocity in the past week, first with the sickening, frightening Casey Anthony verdict - the dead-eyed, posturing sociopath exonerated from all wrong except lying to the police - followed too quickly by a TV program I both anticipated and dreaded.

It was Diane Sawyer's interview with Jaycee Dugard, imprisoned in stinking tents for eighteen years by a monster whose main pleasure and meaning in life came from the capture and rape of children.

I don't know if I can write about this at all, except that not writing about it might cost me even more.

In last night's special on ABC, Diane Sawyer towers over the eerily petite Jaycee, whose doll-like face makes her look closer to fifteen than thirty. For some reason that is never explained, she has an odd, awkward gait. Her immature face doesn't express very much when she speaks of the rapes, the terror, the giving birth alone in the back yard (not once, but twice).

I wonder if Jaycee survived by surrendering her will. I wonder if that was her strength. Perhaps it was the only way she could endure the non-stop torture of the crazed, stinking Phillip Garrido, a man who should have been in prison but was let out for "good behaviour". A man who could obviously manipulate the system (and human beings) any way he wanted.

And let's not get into the SIXTY times parole officers visited his house without seeing anything wrong. We watched a video of one such visit, and it was a cursory walk-through that only took a couple of minutes. No one ever looked in the back yard with its squalid squatter's village of tents, Jaycee's "home" for 18 years. Even after an alarmed neighbor called 9-1-1 and insisted that there were children living in the Garrido back yard, no one did anything. Perhaps the possibility was just too far-fetched.

I was still trying to absorb the jaw-dropping Casey Anthony verdict, the way in which that greasy, superficial bastard Jose Baez somehow utilized his client's inherent slipperiness and utter lack of a moral compass to score a victory that made many people feel physically ill. This was not to mention the defense team's champagne celebration minutes after the verdict: who cares about a murdered two-year-old girl when you've scored such a major legal triumph?

Hard on the heels of all this indigestible poison came the Sawyer interview, followed by an intense, passionate investigation of the story by Chris Cuomo. His hard-hitting, angry expose of Garrido's unimagineable crimes should win him an Emmy, but it will likely go to his cohort Sawyer for her  seniority and celebrity status.

I don't think I need to go over every detail of this case. By spending so long on this I may already have ruined a sublime summer day, and as they say, that would be letting the bad guys win.  There was at least some justice in Jaycee's case, even if it took an agonizingly long time.

Unlike the slippery Casey Anthony, the slimy Garrido got 431 years(and I hope they don't allow this demonic piece of shit to commit suicide: hold him to boring, punishing prison rituals for 30 more years!), which should I suppose be of some comfort to the family, if not the world.

But look at it this way. He got 431 years. And he didn't even kill any kids!

And yet, he did something to Jaycee that's so bizarre, I don't really know if I can describe it.

It's often said that people in prison don't age. It's ascribed to lack of sunlight, but some believe it comes from the isolated, unvarying life of prison routines. Someone pushes the pause button, and it stays there.

I couldn't figure out how to feel about Jaycee. I cried a bit, but then I'd get confused by her rather sweet, bland recalling of the horrendous evil forced on her child's body and on her victimized children.

Sawyer is good at what she does, to say the least, but I think she decided in advance to be gentle with Jaycee. Yet there was a constant sense of probing, of "how did you manage to. . ." Jaycee dutifully said things like, "I wouldn't let evil win", which to my mind are things her therapist has probably said to her a million times.  

I also had the eerie feeling that someone had coached her not to smile too much. The serious face looked unnatural for her, almost practiced. Still and all, she smiled a lot for someone who had been in a sort of death camp for most of her life.

Sweet-smiling, smooth-faced, doll-like Jaycee had shut herself down so completely over those eighteen years that it amounted to something like brain damage. Have you ever known someone in that situation, a stroke victim maybe, or someone who has been through a bad car accident? I don't mean brain stem injury, where the person stumbles and slurs. I mean something more subtle, but still pervasive and permanent.

Perhaps she was always this way. Sweetness may just be the natural cast of her personality. But there is another, even more disturbing element to this story: Jaycee's mother.

When you see her, it's a shock: she seems to have absorbed all the darkness and rage and grief and even taken on the deep lines and shrivelled mouth that Jaycee was somehow spared. This is an angry, angry woman, even with her daughter safely home.

In the interview they looked like conjoined twins, constantly glued together. Even when she's smiling, Jaycee's mom looks old and used-up, dessicated. Meanwhile Jaycee is permanently serene, her skin like porcelain, her eyes deep and undisturbed like the eerie eyes of old-fashioned blinking dolls.

This man did a kind of damage that no one has a name for or even comprehends. The inevitable best-selling ghost-written memoir and pine cone necklaces (which both feel to me like grafts from therapists and other hangers-on) won't ever make up for it. When asked if she would consider a relationship with a man, the 30-year-old woman sweetly says she's just happy to stay here with her Mom. I wonder if a sexual relationship with a man will ever possible for her.

She's disabled. I can't blame her, and I am not a bit surprised. But I don't think too much will be said about it. Who will even notice? We only see what we want to see: a heroine, a brave girl who looked evil in the face and stared it down. When those parole officers walked through Garrido's squalid dwelling SIXTY times and saw nothing (or, for that matter, when a jury looked at a tiny girl's skull covered with duct tape and saw a swimming pool accident), they were looking directly at monstrous evil and not seeing it.  

"But we didn't know what was going on," survivors of the Second World War insisted. It couldn't have been that bad: millions of bodies casually thrown into the furnace for no crime other than being who they were. Such things just didn't happen on that scale. Yet Miep Gies, the woman who protected Anne Frank and her family and kept them safe from the Nazis for three years, insisted that people did know. They knew, and kept silent, because it was easier for them to look the other away.

Is it plain disbelief? An inability to absorb the fact that some people are utterly without conscience and seem to take pleasure in destroying their fellow human beings (particularly defenseless children)? If our fundamental sense of human decency slips away, then we begin to die. But some have the grotesque talent of diverting this death onto other people.

Jaycee's mother has died into her grief, and though she finally recovered her treasure in a blazing miracle that still defies all explanation, her face is set in a hard, cracked mask of tragedy. She looks a hundred years old. Jaycee is almost expressionless, a wax figurine, tiny and preserved.

Thank Phillip Garrido for such bizarre manipulations of time. No, thank the parole board who "monitored" his movements with an ankle bracelet and then ignored his constant sojourns into the back yard.

For a week now I've been hearing people praise the Casey Anthony verdict as proof that "the system works". Even people who believe she's guilty say it. I suppose it works as well as our other pathetic, ineffectual attempts to bring evil sociopaths to justice.

This hideous mess was preventable, and no one moved. No one acted.

No one wanted to know.