I was reported as missing when I was eighteen. I received a letter from a charity, stating so. Their aim was to reunite families, they said. I was rather startled, as I knew I wasn’t missing. I knew where I was! The people I wanted to know knew where I was too. I certainly didn’t feel as though I was missing.
These people at the charity had been spun a tale as to how I was mentally and emotionally fragile, and under the spell of unscrupulous people. I was not capable of making my own decisions, and certainly not capable of deciding who I wanted in my life. The charity had included a letter from my father. It urged them to talk about my grandmother “who she loves, when you approach her.” In other words, manipulate me.
I got in touch with these people and traumatized myself further by going into the painful details of why I wasn’t in my parent’s lives. Why I needed peace. I felt like I had to defend myself. My father didn’t stop, locating me whenever I moved, turning up at the door. It was soul-destroying to be in my twenties, hiding in my bathroom. It took quite a while before I was able to respond to a phone call or a knock on the door. In desperation and under the advice of a police officer, I changed my name. For over a decade I had no identity, flying under the radar. If I had an article published, I would worry about them seeing it. I felt like a ghost, hiding in the shadows, unable to proclaim that I was here.
When my daughter was four, I was home one day preparing to pick her up from preschool. I looked out the window and saw several men- some in uniform and the others in suits- approaching my door. I had a sinking fear that somebody had been in an accident. I was asked to look at a folder of photos, and then asked what my prior name had been. My father had found me. He had demanded that the missing persons unit come around and talk to me. Apparently, I had been listed as officially missing for over fifteen years! “I was never missing!” I cried. The Missing Persons Unit listened to my story; my painful retelling of the horror I had suffered. I relayed that after a lifetime of pain, I had to make the break, so I could continue this life in a healthy manner. They were extremely compassionate, leaving me a card with several direct numbers and names, should I have any trouble.
I immediately drove to get my daughter early. Scooping her up in my arms, I held her close, breathing in the vanilla scent from her shampoo. “We aren’t missing!” I seethed. The unit rang me that evening, assuring me that they had been to see my father, and warned him to stay out of my town, away from me. I was grateful as to how they handled it. Of course, the old wounds were opened, and I was hyper- vigilant.
I feel angered that stalkers and toxic family members abuse the important work of the Missing Persons Unit. They chew up resources that are desperately needed. It is a menacing message to a survivor, to have a charity that aims to reunite families send you a letter, and it is certainly so to have the police at your door. They are saying that despite your change of name and your battle for a new life, they haven’t given in. Just as your place in the world appears settled, here they are again.
My book came out and I started a blog three years after this event. I was tired of hiding; after all, I had nothing to be ashamed of! It has come to my attention that they read my blog, the thought of which churns me up inside. What am I to do? Shut down again? Pretend I don’t exist? In many ways, I feel that being on social media has given me a greater level of protection, and the people in my life a greater level of awareness. If anything happened to make me feel threatened, I would only need post it, and people who live close by would be by my side. I can proclaim that I have had a message, for instance. The more people know of me and know of my story, the better. My father affected me much more when I didn’t have a computer or mobile, and was silenced. A solitary writer, with an antique typewriter, a pocket brimming with dreams and no voice.
On the flip-side, social media can be a huge burden to somebody escaping domestic violence. Recently, a blogger asked others to republish a piece about his estranged sister. He had put up an old photo of her, what her name may be, and where in the world she resided. Many did republish and it concerned me. I knew nothing of this man, nor his motivation, and neither did they.
I am very wary of sharing others details on social media for this reason. I am here, a writer in Oz, and I refuse to be in hiding ever again. Please be vigilant, not only of yourself on social media, but of others. I love the feeling of being connected to the whole world. The internet has made the world more accessible and I believe, friendlier. To have connections around this planet is a beautiful thing. Just tread warily when people are searching for individuals who are no longer in their lives.
For information about domestic violence in Australia visit WhiteRibbon.org.au