I have to preface this with a warning. I’m not sure I want to write this post. I’m not sure I’ll leave it up if I do (in fact, I seriously doubt it). But I’m going to try. Someone recently recommended I do it, because this is just too much to leave in one’s own head. At the same time, it’s too much to give to someone else. So we’ll see.
I mentioned in my author’s note in the back of I Stop Somewhere that I wrote the book because I was angry. I admitted some of that anger came from my own trauma, but I tried to hold onto hope while I was writing. I still hold onto that hope, but it’s really hard. Every day, it feels like it’s harder. Things are dark right now. It’s scary, and maybe some of the reason I’m writing this is because I need to admit that I’m scared. Maybe I just don’t want to feel like this all alone.
There’s something I didn’t go into great detail with in the author’s note, and I’m not going to go much deeper right now, either. But I wrote the novel before Brock Turner and #MeToo and all the sudden interest in something that’s been writhing below the surface my entire life. I carried a lot of this for decades. And then, right before I started writing, yet another girl in a neighboring town went missing.
When I wrote the book, it was intended to be fiction – but pulling from truth and reality. As I wrote, though, it was harder and harder not to include pieces of reality, until eventually the story became way more personal than I’d intended. The missing girl was still missing – months later – and no one was looking anymore. She disappeared suddenly and it was out of character, I guess. From what was reported, she was with people right before she disappeared. Yet somehow no one knew anything and, outside of her family and a few friends, it seemed like the story faded from the news after a couple weeks.
At one point in I Stop Somewhere, there’s an article posted about Ellie’s disappearance. The comments on the post are vile, but sadly, they weren’t entirely made up. Before the story faded from the news cycle, there were comments – and the things people said made me so sick I needed to paraphrase and include them in the book. I needed someone else to know what people were like, because I couldn’t bear the weight of it. I couldn’t make it make sense.
I wish there was something more I could have done for this girl. Writing a book isn’t the same as helping. But I didn’t know her or her family. I couldn’t just appear and suddenly try to help, so I did what I knew how to do. I gathered the courage to speak up about something I’d spent a lifetime keeping quiet. I wrote it all down – everything I was afraid to say, everything that raged inside of me every second of every day, everything I thought when I read stories about girls going missing or being hurt.
If I’m being fully transparent, I regret it immensely. I put all this pain out there, but I don’t have a foundation below me to make that okay. I’ve had to remove myself from the story. I struggle to speak about it, to have any kind of conversation, because I’m not sure it was needed. I’m not sure I accomplished anything. I live daily with this new pain – that I should have just kept my mouth shut. I try to think that I ‘m wrong, but what’s even worse is that the reality behind the fiction has only continued. It still fills the world.
The missing girl was found shortly after I signed my book deal. She was found dead and they said it was an accident and that was the end of that. There was no closure for her parents, her friends, anyone she cared for. Since that time, there’s been a global movement trying to tackle these topics, but certain kinds of girls – the ones in places long forgotten and buried under all their own pain – seem to be left out of the conversation.
That was two years ago. I tell myself maybe things are changing. They seem to be changing outside this area, but recently, it happened again here. It happened to another girl connected to the first. She was missing for months – and no one seemed to notice. They know what happened to the second girl, though, and most likely, there will be some kind of justice. Or at least I want to hope so. But here were are, in the midst of all this talk about women and abuse of women and the hurt women live with every day, and I live in an area where it feels like nothing has changed at all.
I don’t really know how to carry the pain of it. I want to scream so loudly for these girls. They weren’t perfect, I’m sure. We may not have liked each other at all if we’d gotten to know one another. But they existed. Girls continue to exist – and then they are taken from existence without even the slightest fluctuation on the radar. I don’t know what to do with that. I’m honestly just at a loss and I know it’s not my burden, but it still feels a little like it is.
I’ve lived a lifetime with nothing but words, and I’m starting to feel like words don’t matter a whole lot. But then I tell myself that maybe – just maybe – words are the best way to make someone look closer. That speaking up is what it might take to make someone out there pause for a moment and remember. Maybe we can remember these girls and create a world where this isn’t in the news every single day. Maybe we can make it impossible for months to pass when a girl disappears because we pay attention to the girls around us and don’t let them fade away in front of us.
My voice is just one in a sea of millions and after all this time, I don’t feel like it’s capable of much. I don’t know that anyone’s even listening. But silence accomplishes even less, and as comfortable as it is to be in the silence, I need people to know that these things happened.