Photo (detail) by Amy Handler.
Lawrence F. Bassett
Wild Child


Before it happened, I guess I was pretty much like the character you kept hearing about all the time on the news. You saw all those pictures of me, the pretty girl who took ballet, gymnastics, who rode horses, played the violin.

A lot of the pictures you saw were videos, but some were just pictures, photographs.

In the videos, time keeps moving. I ride my horse away from the camera, and then I ride back.

In the pictures, though, the photographs, time stops. I'm just sitting on the horse, smiling for the camera.


You heard all about it on the news when it happened: the broken bedroom window, the footprints in the bushes outside, what my little brother remembered, what he didn't.


Dick and Sue — my parents, you could call them — have all the videos from before it happened, and from after it happened, too. I'm not in them, though, the ones from after it happened, the ones while I was away.

In the videos from after it happened, you see a lot of Dick and Sue. The crowd scenes around the house. Dick and Sue coming and going. The press conferences. The appeals Dick and Sue made. The interviews they had, Larry King and Nightline.

Dick's stunned at first, then angry.

Sue cries a lot, but she seems very brave.


I'm sleeping in my own bedroom again, the one where the window was broken. It's fixed now, the window.


When we watch the videos — Dick, Sue, and me — we go down in the basement, the family room. We poke a video into the VCR, eject it again.

One of Dick's favorites is from the day I was found.

It was on all the news. The local stations, the networks, cable.

Dick comes down the sidewalk from the front door of the house, straight toward the cameras, and when he's in range he lifts up his arms like gymnasts do when they finish a routine, like people in our church do when they feel the spirit.

"We've found her!" Dick says. "She's alive!"


Alive, you learn, is a relative term.


They said on the news, after I was back —

That Joe and Mary took me as far south as Florida before we came back north, hid out near here.

That they suspected, from some of the places we hid, I could see the lights of our house.

That Joe was a drifter, that Mary was his common-law wife.

They didn't say on the news, after I was back, that in the summer, right after it happened, and later, down south, Joe picked flowers for Mary every morning, that in the winter, back up north, Joe always asked us, Mary and me, if we were warm before we went to sleep.

They said on the news, after I was back, that Joe didn't have any kind of criminal record that they could find.

They didn't say that he was gentle.


Joe drove the van, Mary beside him up front and me in the back.

I was always afraid, when we stopped for gas, to use the bathroom, that they'd go on alone, leave me behind. I always stayed close to Mary so they wouldn't.


Eventually the counselor told Dick and Sue it would be okay if I answered the reporters' questions.


No —

I didn't get carsick, or starve.

I didn't mind my hair getting long or dirty, didn't mind hair growing on my legs, under my arms.

I didn't mind helping Mary clean up after we ate, roll out the sleeping bags before we slept.

I didn't mind not going to school, missing my music lesson, gymnastics, riding my horse.


There was a place where we stayed going south where we slept under pine trees and there were pine cones as big as softballs on the ground. You could smell the ocean and the pine trees, too.

It was a campground, with showers, a little laundromat. We washed our clothes and got cleaned up, went out to eat, a steakhouse just like the one back home.

Did I feel homesick? No.


Down in the family room, Dick and Sue don't like watching my favorite video much, the one from after I was back and Joe and Mary are in handcuffs, orange coveralls, being put in a police car, the policemen's hands on their heads so they won't bump them, getting in.

I like the way Joe's smiling in that video.

Dick always hits "eject" when he sees me smiling, too.


The big question was, for a while, whether I'd have to testify at the trial.

I didn't have to, though. Joe and Mary told them everything, smiling at me sitting down there in court between Dick and Sue.

My counselor told Dick and Sue that my smiling back at them was a symptom.


What's funny is, nobody ever saw where we were camping when we came back up north. It was cold by then, and we always built a fire, but nobody ever saw the flames at night, the smoke when it was daylight.


We had enough to eat. When supplies got low, Joe and Mary'd go into town, stock up.

I'd stay and watch the fire.


Winter made us dirtier, but we washed when we could, water from the springs and creeks we camped beside, heated over our fire. Sometimes we melted snow.


Don't get your hopes up. Nothing like what you're thinking happened ever did.


Joe had a guitar that he played, and Mary sang.

I just listened at first, but then I sang along.


Dick and Sue still take me to my counselor once a week.

I sit in his office and describe what it was like when I was gone.

Sometimes he asks me questions, and if he doesn't like my answers, he asks the questions again. He rephrases them, though, so I won't know they're the same questions again.


No —

I was never tied to a tree.

I was never forced to prostitute myself, never sexually abused.

Never brainwashed, psychologically abused.

Never sleep-deprived or beaten, raped, or starved.

Never made to perform unspeakable acts of any kind.


Describe what it was like down south, he says. The counselor.



Warm and the sun rose over the water when we camped on the beach.

Mary and I went swimming and Joe sat on the beach and watched us in the water, our own private lifeguard.


No —

Of course we weren't naked.

Or maybe we just weren't naked at first, Mary and me, swimming in the ocean.

But then maybe what we were wearing didn't seem to make much sense after a while, swimming in our underwear, and maybe we just swam in our skins then, and ate fruit naked on the beach, and Joe and Mary sang and I sang along.


Describe your daily life since you were found, he says. The counselor again.


I go to school.

I ride my horse.

I go to my dance class, gymnastics, my music lesson.

We look at the videos sometimes, Dick and Sue and me.


I shave my legs, wear lipstick, go to school, ride my horse.

I go to my dance class, my music lesson.

And Dick and Sue and I go down in the family room and look at the videos.


Don't say, though, "Since you were found."

I wasn't found.

They brought me back, Joe and Mary, safe and sound.


And don't say "taken," either, please.

What happened was this:

I woke up and Joe was sitting there.

"Like to come along?" he said.

I went.

He climbed back out the window and I climbed out after him. We walked down to the van, where Mary was.

"Been waiting long?" Mary said when we were all safely in the van.

"All my life," I could have said.


"Just talk to me," Dick is always saying. He's writing a book, as told to someone I haven't met.


"You're a lucky girl," my counselor says.

Lucky, you learn, is another relative term.


Right after it happened, people put all kinds of things in front of the house, teddy bears and flowers and lots of other stuff, balloons and hand-lettered signs that said "We love you, Kira."

But who loves anybody, anyway?


Dick and Sue look at me sometimes, now that I'm back, like I'm a book with words in it that they don't know, like I'm a picture they took on a trip once and now they don't remember where.


Most of the stuff that people left in front of the house was hauled away before I came back, but Dick and Sue saved some of it.

One of the things they saved was this "Footprints" plaque that tells the story of the footprints on the beach and sometimes there are two sets of footprints and sometimes there's just one. "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints are when I carried you," is the moral of the story, God or somebody talking.

It's a pretty plaque. I keep it in my room so I can look at it and think: Joe must have carried me when I crawled out the window after him.


The counselor says it's post-traumatic stress — that's why I think that going to school is stupid, that dance class is dumb, that gymnastics is retarded, that even riding my horse is dumb, too.

He's suggested art therapy, but how can you draw how warm water feels sliding over your bare skin, how fruit tastes eaten naked on a beach, how safe you are when someone tucks you in your sleeping bag when it's cold, or brings you flowers when it's warm?


Dick wears after-shave, or sometimes cologne and Sue smells like soap and perfume all the time.

Joe and Mary always smelled like wild things, water and earth. When I go outside sometimes I can smell them in the air.


Don't say I was taken.

I went, and I haven't come back, so don't say I was found.


Being found, you learn, is a relative thing.

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