Bad hings happen to people. Sometimes these things are so bad that all you can do is just stare blankly into space while your mind does a little skip, while you think, "How the fuck could someone survive something so utterly horrible?"
Michelle Knight is one of those people.
A lot of these kidnapping/abuse memoirs tend to have an idyllic "before" to contrast against the "after." I know Elizabeth Smart's memoir was like that, and so was Jaycee Dugard's. Not so with Michelle Knight. Her "before" was also miserable -- it just happened that the "after" was, in some ways, worse.
She grew up poor in an ambivalent family. They were semi-homeless when she was a little girl and then moved into a bigger house, which was then filled with transient relatives. One of these relatives decided to first molest, and then rape and abuse Michelle for years. Eventually, she decided to run away from home. She lived under a bridge for several weeks until a church member found her and took her to a homeless shelter. Shortly after that, she got recruited to be a runner for a man who sold weed. For a while, she lived with the dealer, and his other, male runner, but then her family found her and brought her back and the rapes continued.
The kidnapper, Ariel Castro, was actually the father of one of Michelle's friends. Police say that when bad things happen to women, the perpetrator is often someone the victim knows. There's a lot of victim-blaming when things like these happen to women. "Oh, well she shouldn't have stopped to talk to him," or, "oh, she shouldn't have gotten into the car." But Ariel Castro was someone Michelle knew -- or thought she knew. And we don't usually assume our acquaintances are psychopaths.
In an attempt to dissociate -- or maybe to dehumanize -- or both -- Michelle refers to Castro as "the dude" in her narrative. The dude kidnapped her and tied her up to a pole in the basement, putting on a heavy motorcycle helmet to muffle her screams. He raped her so badly that she was injured, and then wouldn't let her bathe for eight months. Michelle got pregnant five times while in captivity, and each time, the dude would beat her until she miscarried. By the end of the fifth, her body was so damaged that she would never be able to bear a child the natural way again. At one point, the dude starves her until she is so hungry, she consumes a mustard-covered hot dog -- and she's allergic to mustard. Even when she went into anaphylactic shock, the dude refused to take her to the hospital, instead giving her some over-the-counter medicine, and leaving his other two victims to take care of her.
That's right -- the dude kidnapped two other women, as well: Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. They were raped and abused, as well, and Amanda eventually got pregnant and bore a child named Jocelyn. The dude never beat them as often as he did Michelle. He kept them separate, so Michelle points out that it is difficult to know what, exactly, happened to the other women, but the dude did seem to disproportionately beat and mistreat Michelle. He called her ugly, and mocked her because unlike Amanda and Gina, nobody was looking for her. Not even the cops. He said that this was because nobody loved or cared about her, and that this was why he hated her the most.
Michelle says in the memoir that the only thing that got her through her ordeal was the desire to see her son again. When in high school, she slept with a boy she liked. The boy turned out to be using her, but Michelle kept the child. He was taken away from her because her mother's boyfriend broke the little boy's leg, and CPS decided that Michelle's home was an unsafe environment. On the day that she was kidnapped, Michelle was desperately trying to get an appointment to visit her son in order to regain custody.
After she was kidnapped, her son, Joey, was adopted out to a foster family. Because of what happened to Michelle, she may never see her child again because what happened to her would be so traumatic and unsettling for a child to understand. She did receive a photograph album of her boy from the family, which was kind of them -- they didn't have to write back -- but I can't imagine what it must be like, to lose your child, surmount this incredible obstacle, and then lose your child again.
FINDING ME was an interesting memoir. Captor/captive romances are vogue these days, but I think it's important to remember the gritty reality of the situation, too. Chiefly that people who do such things in real life are sick fucks. A lot of fiction doesn't really capture (ha -- capture) that. One thing I found interesting was how childlike Michelle Knight's narrative voice was. In a way, it made the situation that much more horrific, because it sounded like it was being written by a small scared child. Which, when you think about it, kind of makes sense. Regression can be a survival tactic.
I found this an interesting read. It was imperfect, but authentic -- and that's important.
4 out of 5 stars.