I hope the major networks pick it up. I hope she is watching. Wherever she is.
I’m dressed by eleven. I hear Dad talking, leading them all inside. They set up in the living room while I am in the bathroom, fingering my hair to look halfway decent but not too neat.
I meet the makeup person in the kitchen and he puts some stuff on my cheeks and lips. It feels gross. And then I go to the living room and sit down on the couch, next to the TV newsperson. She says her name is Alexandra Richards. It sounds like a fake name to me, but I don’t mention that.
Alexandra tells me not to look at the cameras, but to act natural and look mostly at her, like we are having a private conversation. She explains what kinds of questions she’s going to ask, and I nod, listening. They are all the things I expected—it’s just like anybody on TV. And I am ready, I think. So far so good.
Mama comes and sits down next to me, wearing a nice dress, and then Dad comes, straightening his tie nervously. She and Dad will sit there with me and do a segment, too.
But now it’s my time. I’m about to be famous, and I think I want that. I do. I get a chill and pinch my fingers together in my lap. Close my eyes when they turn the lights on me and recall everything I’ve rehearsed in my head. I want to tell the story, but I can’t get too detailed. I just can’t go there. I open my eyes and take a deep breath, and then we’re rolling. Mama puts her hand on my back for support, and I’m glad I have to focus on Alexandra so I don’t have to see my parents’ faces.
Alexandra to the camera: If you haven’t heard the breaking news in Belleville today, you don’t know what you’re missing—or what’s been found. I’m here in the home of Paul and Maria De Wilde, whose son Ethan, as many of you will remember, was abducted nine years ago from the sidewalk right in front of their house. There was a tremendous search effort, but Ethan disappeared without a trace. Today, however, we have a new story. Ethan De Wilde is alive and well and sitting here with me in his own home once again. Ethan, I’m thrilled to be among the first to welcome you home.
Alexandra: Is it good to be back with your family?
Me: Yeah, it’s great. A little overwhelming. I just got here last night.
Alexandra: Ethan, it’s our understanding here at KNTV News that you were abducted. Your little brother, Blake, who was only four at the time, told your parents that you got into a car with two strangers. Is that true? Is that what happened to you?
Me: That’s what they tell me.
Alexandra: What do you mean? Don’t you remember?
Me: No, I actually don’t. I don’t remember much of anything about my life before the abduction.
Alexandra: So you were brainwashed by your abductors? Where were you all this time?
Me: I’m . . . not really sure. For a long time I was somewhere warmer than this. Not as much snow. She—I mean, I ended up in a youth home in Omaha a couple of years ago, and then when things got bad there, I ran away. I was in St. Louis for a while, living at the zoo and in parks and stuff. There was this one librarian guy. He let me hang out at the library and use the computer as long as I didn’t disrupt anybody. And I started searching for missing kids. I went through pages and pages of boys who were reported missing over the last twelve years—I wasn’t sure how long I’d been living with . . . living with the person who abducted me. And I found me.
Alexandra: What do you mean, you started searching? If you don’t really remember your family, how would you know to search?
Me: Once I ended up at the youth home, I started realizing, or remembering or whatever, that I came from somewhere else. It was just cloudy, you know? So I looked on this one website for missing children, to see if anybody reported me missing.
Alexandra: So you’re saying that you somehow hung on to that one memory that you came from somewhere else, but you forgot everything else?
Me: Yes . . . that’s about right.
Alexandra: Ethan, you seem so poised, so together, so . . . so healthy after all you have been through. I have to ask the question all of Belleville is wondering: Were you harmed? Abused?
Me: Wow, uh . . . ha-ha. You really went there, didn’t you. Um . . . jeez. I guess you could say not physically harmed by my abductor, not really. But I don’t want to discuss that.
Alexandra: Not physically? What do you mean?
Me: Not . . . not harmed.
Alexandra: Who abducted you, Ethan? Who did this horrible thing to you?
Me: I . . .
. . . These are the questions I dread, but I thought I could answer them. I thought I could give her up.
I picture her. Ellen. She called me David, until she abandoned me.
She said she loved me. But she never came back.
I look up at Mama. Her face has gone pale in spite of her makeup, and she grips my shoulder now, whispering, “Oh, Ethan . . .” And I feel so cold and twisted up inside. This mother sitting next to me is the one I should love, but I don’t. And the mother I do love is the one I should hate. But I can’t.
I fall apart.
Me: I don’t know. I don’t know.
I feel the mess inside me start to quiver. Mama grabs my hand now, her other arm still around my shoulders, protecting me, and Dad is on the edge of his seat.
Alexandra looks at me for a long moment as I pull away from Mama and sink back into the couch, covering my face. Feeling the panic rise in my gut. Alexandra raises her hand to the camera team. “Cut. Shut it down,” she says to them, and they do it. To me, she asks, “Are you okay?”