Why I’ll Never Be a “Normal” Parent. Ever.Posted by Stacy
The other day while I watched one child play soccer, my other child played at a nearby park. For a moment I lost track of the child at the park and made some comment to another mom, such as “Wonder where she is? I’m sure she’s fine.”
The other mother, who had four kids and a nonchalant attitude, said to me, almost in relief: “Oh, you’re not one of those ‘helicopter moms?’”
“Oh, but I am!” I said emphatically.
What I didn’t say, but thought was: “I am the worst sort of helicopter mom you’ve ever seen. I’m the mother who checks on her children in her own fenced back yard every five minutes.”
I also didn’t say: “But if you were me and had looked into the eyes of parents who had their child snatched out of their yard and then brutally murdered or never heard from again, then you might feel and act the same way.”
Of course, I didn’t say that to this mother who just let her kindergartener and third grader ride their bikes a mile home alone and without bicycle helmets! Oh, how I envied this mother and her nonchalance, her carefree attitude. I could never, ever be like that. Ever.
And not to mention the fact that the daughter I had “lost track of” was in a fenced tiny park about twenty yards from me and I knew she wouldn’t leave the park and couldn’t leave the park without me seeing her, so my “losing track” meant I was the worst sort of helicopter parent because even though I knew she was in the park, I still needed to visually see her every five minutes to relax.
I know I’m not normal, but how can I be after what I know and what I’ve seen? How could I be normal about parenting, after sitting, night after night, for months in a jail visiting room talking to a man that claimed to have kidnapped and killed dozens of girls and women?
The first time I looked into the eyes of a father whose daughter was abducted, I was a brand new newspaper reporter, all of 22. This man’s daughter, an 18-year-old honor student who had just joined the Army, was grabbed off a Texas military base. Her body was found a few weeks later, discarded under a bridge.
The next pair of distraught, grief-stricken eyes I looked into belonged to another man whose child was taken from a decommissioned military base. Christina Williams, 13, was grabbed while walking her dog on the former Fort Ord. Her body was found seven months later on an abandoned part of the base by bicyclists.
Then one day, I met parents who had children taken, some found dead, some missing forever, but who had been dealing with it for years. There was a different look in these parent’s eyes. The worst one yet. Instead of shell shock and despair, their eyes contained a hollow grief, a lackluster dullness, a weariness and pain that had worn them down to a mere shell of a person. And, how could it have not?
Then, Xiana Fairchild disappeared off the streets of Vallejo and the story was mine. All mine. It was a huge story and I was going head-to-head with experienced reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle. My editors basically told me it was scoop the big paper or lose my job, so I became obsessed with my coverage of the case. As I got to know more about Xiana through her aunt and grandmother, thoughts of this child and the horrors she might be experiencing at the hands of a monster consumed me night and day.
Then, I met that monster.
A man was arrested for kidnapping another little girl (who had miraculously escaped!) and I spent my nights visiting him in jail, trying to get him to confess to taking Xiana in the hopes that she might still be alive somewhere. He told me that he had been killing and kidnapping people for 20 years. He played with me for months, stringing me along with promises to reveal all, but never giving me concrete proof of his crimes.
Eventually, they found Xiana’s remains, but it wasn’t until years later that the man confessed to killing her and other children. He later died in jail. I had already left the newspaper, but they called me in Minnesota for a comment.
One day, haunted by the faces of all the abducted children I had written about, I sat down and wrote a novel about an Italian-American crime reporter, Gabriella Giovanni, who was forced to face her own sister’s abduction twenty years ago when she is assigned coverage of a missing little girl.
Although the novel itself is fiction, the conversations with the serial killer in the book are inspired by the months spent talking to Xiana’s killer in jail, on the phone, and through letters. To this day, writing his name still sends a chill through me.
But writing BLESSED ARE THE DEAD was cathartic, it helped purge memories of this monster and gave me a chance to kill him off in a more satisfying way than the way he really died — succumbing to health issues in a prison cell. A much too easy way to die, in my opinion.
One day, when this book hits the bookshelves, I hope to dedicate it to the memories of all the faces that haunt me: Traci McBride, Christina Williams, Polly Klaas, Amber Schwartz, Nikki Campbell, and Xiana Fairchild.
Kristi Belcamino is a crime novelist, photographer, and artist who also bakes a tasty biscotti.
In her former life, as a crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, sat in on an autopsy, and conversed with serial killers.
Now, as an Italian-American mother, she recently finished writing her first novel, inspired by her life as a Bay Area newspaper reporter. BLESSED ARE THE DEAD is the first novel in her mystery series featuring newspaper crime reporter Gabriella Giovanni.
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