Hasty blurs and blue uniforms
Everything after then seems like a memory that isn’t mine. We were taken out of the fortress within minutes. The police was worried that someone might come home to walk in on them, even though we told them that there was no chance. Only John knew where we lived. Only he came by the house. Lauren kept hiding in my arms and my warm embrace as the black, impressive SUVs with darkened windows took us further and further away from where we’ve been kept captured for months – Lauren even for years.
“So …” the detective who introduced himself as Webb before, sighed relieved and proud.
I noticed he had tears in his eyes as he looked over to me and in order to kept it hidden, he held both hands in front of his mouth. I didn’t understand. The car was shaking, since we were driving so fast, sirens blasting through the air that all the rapidity and unfamiliarity shook me up completely. All I knew was that I held a scared, shaking Lauren in my tight embrace. Her fingers were clenched deep in my skin, but it didn’t hurt. All around us were cops, dressed as if they were ready to head to war.
“I finally found you.” the man emphasized while catching a relieved breath.
He kept looking at me as if I were a ghost – some distant memory – but I didn’t recall ever meeting him before that day.
I seemed to ignore him by accident. All those noises, all those people. I hadn’t seen more than two people for over a year. This was too much. Especially for her – this was a first ever. She was scared out of her mind outside the fortress.
My head turned around, suspiciously looking for inconsistencies, to seek the other black SUVs that followed us. But the detective put his hands on mine, which surprised me – and my eyes spit fire at his as if the devil was facing me. He apologized immediately.
I know I should’ve trusted this guy immediately, but John broke me. He made sure that everyone looked potentially dangerous to me.
“You’re Mariana Diaz.” he tried again, distant and careful this time.
His eyes were staring directly at me. It was the first time I heard my last name in months, and I don’t know why, but it made me sob like a little child.
“Nice to meet you, beautiful. I’ve been looking for you since the evening you disappeared.”
His relieved words sounded like angels singing. And they made my heart stop for a full three seconds. They were looking. John was wrong – they never stopped searching for me. After all those months, this guy proved him wrong.
My blood started pumping with excitement. And then, suddenly, it hit me again – like a cruel, relieving slap in the face: I had been found. The nightmare was over.
“I’m sorry, but … what’s your name, sweetie?” Detective Webb asked.
His gentle eyes eased her up. She finally faced him and after looking for my approval, she revealed her name: “Lauren, Sir. My name is Lauren.”
“And your last name?”
She shrugged. She didn’t know. Neither did I.
The guy grabbed a notebook, tucked inside of his back pocket and flared his look over the numerous pages he had scribbled full of words. The worrying behavior confused me.
After a couple of silent, almost inaudible conversations with the officers nearby, I found the courage to address him. By then, Lauren had put her head on my shoulder again. All I kept repeating, was that everything would be okay.
“I’m sorry, Sir. But what is wrong? And please don’t tell me that everything is okay, because I know it isn’t.”
He hesitated for a second, but I cut him off shortly: “You say you’ve been looking for me for months now. Then at least do me the favor of not lying to me.”
He sighed with the weight of the world crawling up on his shoulders and shook his head disappointedly: “We don’t know who she is.”
Lauren looked up to me and squeezed her eyes shut after four seconds. My heart felt worried. This wasn’t good.
After a ten minute drive, we got escorted into the police department I recognized from a long time ago. I didn’t always find my way to the city, but when I did, I constantly crossed the old, impressive building that kept local thieves and murderers behind bars. Lauren hadn’t said a single word after giving her name away.
She asked to go to the bathroom for a second, and a female officer escorted her to a nearby room after friendly introducing herself to my best friend. Lauren, lovely and trustworthy as always, immediately went along with her after I nodded with approval. She had to adjust, that much was clear. And I promised her I’d be there on every step of the way.
“Where’s John?” I asked detective Webb without wasting another second, couching through some of my confusion.
I was afraid to ask as long as she stood by me. But now, as I saw her walking away from me, looking around the place in wonder, I knew it was my only chance to stay one step ahead of her.
Detective Webb pulled off his gloves and licked his lower lip hesitantly. That’s when he closed his eyes for a heartbeat.
“John … wasn’t John. His name was Eric. Eric Madden.”
Something felt wrong, I read it off his face. At the same time, I thanked my instincts. I had always known John lied about his identity. The officer next to me glanced across the office. The four other men remained extremely quiet until they took off.
“You can tell me, Sir. After all the things that happened to me in that house, nothing can scare me anymore.” I told him courageously.
Detective Webb raised his eyes to me and frowned with compassion. The guy had no idea. I mean, I still carried bruises from the last beating John gave me. And that one wasn’t even that bad.
“Mister Madden killed himself this morning. He jumped in front of a train and left a note on how to find two abducted girls. We only got an address. I knew it was you immediately. I prayed for it to be.”
But I was wrong, because this information choked me up entirely.
John was dead?
The sadistic bastard that kidnapped and kept me captured was dead?
He got off this easily?
He read it off my face. That’s when he made another attempt to put his warm hand on top of mine. I heard inaudible noises coming from the radios around the place, but I didn’t even try to listen to it anymore.
I heaved a breath to think about what this would do to Lauren. He was the only dad she’s remembered. This news would destroy her. And out of all the people in this place, I was the only one who owed her the courage to tell her.
As soon as she saw me after walking out of the bathroom, she dove into my embrace. I started smiling like crazy; I was that happy to see her again. It was only a silly bathroom break. Her body was shaking, though. She has no memories about the outside world, so this whole new experience startled her.
“I got you.” I promised her. “It’s okay.”
“Where’s John?” she asked me with a terrified stutter.
Of course she was wondering. My face went pale just by the thought of telling her he was dead. They had this weird kind of relationship that even surprised me after all those months. I was afraid to break her heart right there, right that second. But I had to.
“Something happened to John.” I told her bravely, without catching a breath. “He – uhm …”
“He’s dead?” she asked me.
I was surprised by the rapidity of which she understood the situation. A few heartbeats passed and suddenly, I dared to nod.
She nodded understandably and I didn’t understand any of it.
“I’m so sorry, Lauren.” I told her while lovingly cupping her face with my warm hands.
I meant it. Even after all he did to me, I understood how much he meant to her.
“Don’t be.” she snorted her tears away. “He once told me that me getting out of there would mean the end of his life. He’d never let me leave. So … I knew this would come.”
Detective Webb seemed surprised by her sober reaction. So was I.
Funny how she was this strong, even though every single, meaningly noise in the room seemed to shake her up. God, this girl didn’t even have movies to grow up with. Just my stories – and the lack of imagination or empathy to guide her through a self-shaped vision of the outside world during midnight talks. Of course this place was pure horror.
I told her a million times that the police were the good guys and that one day, they’d come and get us. I convinced her of the magical boredom of the outside world, when I talked about my memories and adventures as a free girl. Slowly, she had started to believe that there were better people in this world than John. She just never met them. Until now.
Dozens of police officers were staring at us in wonder as we got guided to a quiet, empty room across the hallway. Detective Webb sat us down to talk for a minute. I didn’t knew what was happening, but I guess there’d be a lot more moments like that in the near future. The room smelled like coffee and chocolate milk, I remember that. It had three sofas and a counter. The windows were blinded with curtains. It was just the three of us.
“Mariana, Lauren, listen.” he started off by offering us some hot chocolate.
I felt the warm cup in my hands and sighed relieved. It couldn’t possibly get worse from now on. This could only end well, I felt it in my bones.
“In a minute, there will be officers that are going to take the both of you to the hospital. Doctors will examine you to make sure you’re okay. Now, I need to ask you both, because I’m really concerned about the two of you: are you girls okay?”
Lauren looked at me, not sure if she was allowed to speak. I told her it was fine to say whatever it is she had to say from now on and softly smiled.
“I’m okay.” she whispered shyly, squeezing my hand.
Even the wound on her arm didn’t bother her anymore. Detective Webb nodded compassionately, but couldn’t stop staring at her injury.
“It’s a burn.” I explained. “From cooking last night. And these-”
I pointed at my arms and neck.
“- it are bruises from getting hit. But I’m fine now.”
The guy softly nodded. He was surprised by my courage, my determination to not cry.
A soft knock on the door startled my best friend and me. Every single sound around us was new. Detective Webb got on his feet and walked over to the door. That’s when he turned around to find us staring at him.
It’s funny how few of it I remember now, but detective Webb cleared the news about my parents being in the building. Every single motion of my body stopped that instant. I remember him opening the door. I remember seeing them in the hallway. I remember how my mother looked skinnier than before and my father balder. They looked exhausted and relieved. They stared at me with eyes of a treasure hunter who just discovered a new, precious diamond. And for a minute, neither of us could move.
I rose from my chair, that much I know, and started crying with the first heartbeat that came along.
“Mamá! Papá!” I shouted.
Lauren didn’t know what happened.
For the first time since long, I cried for the good reasons. It felt like a dream. A hasty blur that brought me back to them.
My parents came rushing through the door and I dove into their warm embrace. We all cried for a solid five minutes, while we whispered Spanish words of love and missing. I felt the fingers of my parents dig deep into my skin, making sure it wasn’t a dream.
They petted my greasy hair, they memorized my skinny face. And the glorious feeling went as quickly as it came. My memory deserts me every time I think about it now. Simply because there are no words to describe how deliberating and great it felt to finally see them again. I had hoped for it for months, but a sober, realistic bit of me slowly had adjusted to the idea that knowing them may have been a thing from the past that would never return.
My dad promised me he had never stopped searching. Mom told me she didn’t change a single thing in my room. I believed them.
And then, their eyes found Lauren, sitting quietly and confused in the corner of the couch.
I wiped away the tears running down my face and cupped her hands to get her on her feet. I caught a deep breath and sniffed up all the other tears inside of me. My hands were fast to seek my parents’ contact again. I could feel them. It was unreal.
“This is Lauren. She’s been taking really good care of me all the time while I was gone.”
Lauren seemed pleased about the positive description.
“Lauren?” my mom repeated in wonder.
“John took her as well.” I explained.
My mom frowned deeply and sighed away her abomination about the situation.
“Took her? How long … how long has she been there with that man?”
God, hearing her voice seemed like a dream. I never knew I had missed it so much until I heard it again. Lauren kneaded the inside of my upper arm. I told her they were okay. After all, they were my parents, which I talked about for nights and days. She asked me a lot about how it felt to have parents. At first I didn’t get what she meant by that. But after a few weeks had passed, that realization came quickly
“Nice to meet you. I’m Lauren. I’ve lived with John ever since I was eight years old.”
She talked politely, like she had read in books. My parents put both hands in front of their mouths and sighed deeply. They dared to count, quietly. I knew exactly what they were thinking: this girl must have been there for years. Ten years, to be correct.
Exactly six days later, the police figured out who Lauren was. Her real name appeared to be Mia King. John wisely addressed her with her middle name from the second she got kidnapped. Her family moved away from the area a couple of years after the police stopped searching. Everybody thought she was dead, taken by some evil maniacs, murdered – maybe worse – and dumped in some place no one would ever find her. There were no leads, no indications she was still alive. The police couldn’t do anything, because they had no clues. Over the years, the case got forgotten. And no description pointed towards the girl they found together with Mariana Diaz.
Lauren’s parents flew over on the seventh day and got reunited with their disoriented daughter that same afternoon at the police station.
I wasn’t there. Our psychologist thought it was a bad idea. Lauren needed to process the reunion on her own, without me as a silent observer, he said. Lauren had the tendency to clench on to me, both physically and mentally since we got out. Somewhere deep inside, I understood.
I heard she cried a lot, mostly because she didn’t remember any of them. Her parents were normal, working class people. The dad, Richard King, worked at a factory. Her mom, Callie, cleaned houses. It turned out Lauren had a sister, Leslie. The woman, twenty three years old, was the one who walked beside her on the sidewalk, when a man – John – pushed her aside and pulled a young, unsuspecting Mia into a red truck. The sister grew up to be a lawyer. To fight injustice.
I met them the day after. All of them were extremely shocked, but nice. Leslie was charmingly pretty, just like Lauren. There was no denying they were related. But my best friend was scared and confused. She had a mom she didn’t remember. Sure, she was eight when she got abducted. Memories start to form long before that age. But John helped her to get rid of them. He helped her forget. And ten years were a pretty convenient length to be persuasive about forgetting what was once there.
And all of a sudden, a normal life routine kicked back in. We didn’t even notice, but it did.
I finally got that long-anticipated haircut and my hairs now shine brighter than they’ve ever before. I keep it at shoulder length and stylish and great. The sound of scissors, cutting the majority of it off made me cry with joy. It was the moment I realized I was truly free again.
But it wasn’t all fun and paradise, though. The therapy and the police interrogations were bad. They never stopped. We spend hours at the police station, digging up memories.
It wasn’t as bad as the press, still. Journalists naturally heard about our story and started writing long, detailed articles about our captivity. Newspapers got hold on legal documents and statements that came from long hours of questioning. We were on the front page for days. With John gone, nobody but us could explain what happened in that house, so strangers showed up on our doorstep non stop, asking for interviews. My dad got really angry at them, which turned up in the newspapers as well. It all got crazy for a while, so the police took drastic measurements. Our families were taken to safe houses, where we got offered the opportunity to start our lives together again. We needed to stay there until the storm flew by. Just a few weeks, they said.
But it was weird.
It was the weirdest thing ever.
My mom woke me up with a smile every morning, instead of John yelling at us to get dressed.
My dad cooked me breakfast – blueberry pancakes to be exact – instead of having to push the last of John’s toasts down my throat.
Abuela stopped by every single day to brings me cupcakes. I didn’t even like cup cakes, but ate them anyway, because they were made with love. And that is the best taste in the world. Thewoma. Had aged, but she still looked the same.
Most importantly: there was no John. No yelling or commanding or assault. And I had a hard time to adjust.
It was a dream come true, when you think about it, but I missed Lauren with every new rediscovery of how beautifully simple and pure life could be. Because she was with her family now, instead of me.
Every evening when I went to bed, she wasn’t there. And she had been there for twenty months. How did anyone expect me to fall asleep without her just like that?
We both were given a cellphone, so we used them extensively to literally breathe each other to sleep at night. Yes, that’s right, breathe. She’d call me up around ten P.M. and whisper my name, so no one else could hear it. And I’d smile and wish her good night, just like we had done a millions times before. After that, there was the sound of our breathing and that calmed us both down. And just when I dozed off to a dream world where we slept in a same bed again, I ended the phone call – only after being one hundred precent sure that she wasn’t awake anymore.
I knew she was scared. She was afraid of this new, big world. John kept her weirdly safe from surprises and discoveries. That was a nice certainty. It also made her asocial. And very codependent of me. But I didn’t mind. I was there for her whenever she needed me. Just like she had always been for me in the fortress.