Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A candle for Elisabeth

Leaves raked yesterday: Billions.
Playing on the iPod: Something from season III of "Doctor Who", sounds like maybe space rhinos on the moon

I dunno about you, but my parents never threatened to lock me in the cellar. We didn't have a cellar, for one thing. We had a crawlspace under a pier and beam foundation and it was plenty scary (think "attic" with more spiders) but to my knowledge it didn't lock. It had a low ceiling, probably no more than four feet, hence the term "crawlspace." It was also really, really unpleasant. I think most cellars/crawlspaces inherently are. There's something about humans where we just don't wanna be underground if we can help it. Certainly I spent as little time in there as possible.

So imagine, then, spending twenty four years in a cellar. Consider giving birth to children there, alone and unattended, and trying to raise them in the dark, by yourself. Imagine what it would be like to try to explain what the sun was to kids who'd never seen it. Think about what you'd do if you never knew what would happen when the door opened. Would the guy on the other side, who just incidentally is your own father, bring you food? Would he rape you again? Would he take one of your children to live upstairs, if it didn't cry too much? Suppose the guy went on vacation to Thailand and, I dunno, got killed in a plane crash. He's the only one who knows you're down there. You and your children, which are his children, will starve to death if he doesn't come back. What's more, there's no reason any of this is happening. You didn't do anything wrong, except turn eighteen and try to leave the house.

Look, I imagine stuff for a living (or I'd like to anyway) and I cannot, I mean it, I cannot get my mind around this. I could sort of imagine growing up in a polygamous family when that scandal broke because I served some time in Utah as a kid. No, most people in Utah are not polygamists, but they were around, you knew who they were, usually the kids who were dirt-poor and had a lot of "aunts" at home and dropped out of school in the eighth grade. But this--this is just beyond me. This is cruelty on a level I just can't fathom. My brain keeps going crinkle.

Leaving aside the sick dude who did all this (and apparently had planned it for years, undertaking elaborate construction of the soundproof underground cell with its electronic keyless entry in his spare time and without his wife and other kids finding out about it), what happens now to this poor kid, Elisabeth Fritzl? And her kids? She's 42. Her oldest kid is 23 and the youngest about 5. The Austrian authorities took her straight from the cellar to a "place of psychiatric care," whatever that means, and she and the kids are "all together" and "doing well under the circumstances." I dunno about you, but I don't think a locked cellar vs. a locked psychiatric unit is much of a trade. Well, maybe it's not locked. I hope it's not locked.

I wrote an e-mail to my ex-shrink to ask him his professional opinion but he hasn't gotten back to me yet. You hear these stories of "feral children" who were confined in similar crazy ways and grew up without human contact. Usually they don't do too well "re-integrating with society", whatever that means. Can they be happy, though? Can they have friends? Enjoy new food, walk outside in the wet grass and be pleased at the splendor of the world? I mean, if they can do that, who cares if they ever get a Fortune 500 job or drive a BMW or even learn to talk?

Elisabeth was 18 when she went in there. She had a life before. Her kids may have grown up in the dark, but they had her and they had each other. So does that mean this story will end happily? Again, forget the sick dude who's certainly going to jail for some period of time; a happy ending for Elisabeth and her kids, that's what I'm talking about. See above re: wet grass.

No, I don't know why this has upset me so much. I don't know why it's giving me nightmares. I don't know why I can't just look at the story, shrug my shoulders, say "Oh my God" or something equally useless, and just go on with my day. I don't know why, but I can't. I think about it all the time. I wanna run out there (to Austria, just across the pond from Dallas, you know) and give everybody hugs and make it all better. A friend of mine told me a story about how on 9/11 she was watching TV and crying, and her four-year-old daughter came up and asked her what was wrong. Mom said, "Something terrible has happened. A lot of people have died. It's a very sad day." The four year old said, "I'm a big girl, Mommy. I can fix it." Yep, that's about my level of perspective here.

The people of the town where all this happened held a candlelight vigil for Elisabeth and her kids, one of whom, the 19-year-old, is in the hospital in critical condition. Candlelight vigils in Dallas being kind of rare, I'm going to light a virtual candle for Elisabeth.


David Isaak said...

Yes, this whole thing is literally unimaginable. The harder you think about it, the more peculiar it gets. I think of it one way and then say--but what if it wasn't like that? What if it was like this...?

I was in juvenile incarceration facilities a few times in my youth. The strange thing about human beings is that almost anything can begin to feel normal after a while. Not good, but normal.

To me, the oddest bit is that his wife supposedly never noticed anything. Not even when he insisted on adopting a few of their grandchildren.

I couldn't write this story and make it seem feasible or logical. Yes, it's upsetting--but on top of that, it just seems downright impossible.

Jen Ster said...

Hi David!

I've been reading a lot of stuff about Stockholm syndrome for Spellbinder and what I keep noticing is that there's a time frame. It's like after three or four days the person's brain undergoes some kind of change, maybe even a physical change. So if you're in a situation like this, you have three, four days tops to get out. Twenty-four years? Good God.

I have no doubt it happened. Things like this do happen. People like this exist in the world. It's just -- crinkle. Sorry.