My Name is Caroline 1

It was a lady cop that they sent in to talk to me first, after they had taken me…after they took you away. They had taken me to a little room with a couple of faded couches and a lamp, but nothing else inside it really except a trash can and a box of tissues. I wondered if they expected me to cry when I saw them, but I wasn't going to. They couldn't make me cry, I wasn't going to let them see that. They might use that against you later, if I cried, even though it wouldn't be your fault. The room reminded me of a waiting room or a lobby or something except there wasn't any magazines, and anyway, I knew what it really was. Just because the room didn't look like a police station questioning room didn't mean it wasn't, even if they tried to make it look like something else. I wasn't stupid. I knew where I was. I knew what they were trying to do to us. I knew they didn't understand. 2

The lady cop told me her name was Officer Pendleton but that I could call her Eleanor. I wasn't going to call her anything. I didn't want to talk to her at all, but I knew I couldn't get away with that. She was trying to trick me, just like you had always said. That was why she was taping this, that was why she wasn't wearing a uniform even though I knew she was a cop. Maybe she thought if she didn't wear one that I would forget and talk to her like she was just a nice lady, like she was my mom or something. Or maybe she just thought I'd be more scared of her if she was wearing a uniform, like a little kid that's afraid of people that dress in black or something or who have big muscles. She didn't have to worry about that, she wasn't exactly a bodybuilder even if she was a cop. Besides, I wasn't scared of her…I was scared of what she would do. They had already taken me away from you. Now they could make it for forever, if they wanted. After all our trying and being so careful, it was all for nothing now…they had found us anyway. I don't think I had ever realized how scared I was that they could really find us, really take me away, until it happened…until it was already too late. 3

"I know this must be very difficult for you, Maddie," the lady cop said quietly. She looked at me with this soft, concerned look, like I was a little kid she felt sorry for me. First off, I wasn't a little kid. I was going to be fourteen in a couple of months. Well, six months, but still, obviously not a little kid. And second off, if she felt so sorry for me then she should just let me go, she should have stopped them from starting any of this in the first place. But I knew before I'd even tried to talk to her that she wouldn't. She wasn't going to believe me. She wouldn't believe either of us. 4

I clutched my hands together on my lap, squeezing my fingers tightly. I had to work hard not to yell at her when I answered, and my voice still sounded weird even to me, like I was trying hard not to yell, or maybe like I was choking. 5

"My name is Caroline." 6

"Yes…that's what he called you," the lady cop said. She sounded like she was trying to think of a way to nicely disagree with me, and she looked like it too, the way her mouth kind of dipped down at one corner and her forehead creased, like she was trying to smile but wanted to frown. "But we know who you really are, Maddie. You don't have to pretend anymore, you don't have to go along with anything he said to you or anything he made you do anymore. You're safe now, honey. We've found you, and all of us will make sure that you're kept safe, that he can't hurt you in any way. Do you understand?" 7

"I was safe," I said a little louder than before, and I squeezed my hands together harder, my back teeth grinding together a little. You always told me that it was bad for my teeth to do that, but every time I get really angry or really upset I just do it, I don't even think about it. And her saying that, when she didn't know, she didn't understand, that really made me angry. "He never hurt me. He never would have hurt me. And my name is Caroline." 8

The lady cop kind of sighed, looking away for a minute. I watched her, almost staring at her really, like I was daring her to keep calling me that name that wasn't mine anymore. They could take me away from you, they could tell me all these stories, all these lies about you. But they couldn't take away who I was. They couldn't take away my name. 9

"I'd like for you to talk to me about the night he took you," she said quietly, looking back at me again more determinedly this time, but still with that same look like she was concerned about me. Like she cared. Like she wasn't the one of the ones who had just ruined everything, ripped our lives totally apart. "You can take your time…I know that it was quite some time ago, that it may be difficult for you to remember, difficult for you to talk about. But whatever you remember, any detail at all, no matter how small, would be an enormous help for us. And Maddie…I think it would help you too." 10

I didn't say anything. I gritted my teeth and I looked past her, staring at the wall hard, like I could make it explode with my eyes or something if I looked at it long and hard enough. I kind of wished I could. If I could just explode these walls, it would probably knock her over, knock her out…then I could just leave, exploding walls all the way, knocking anyone out of my path as I went. And then I could get to you, and I could explode you out of your cell, I could get you out and we would just go, we would just leave again, and it would be okay. It would be okay again, back to just us, just- 11

"Maddie?" 12

The lady cop called me that name again. I will not answer to it. She frowned a little, leaning closer, like she thought I was sick or something, or maybe like I'd cry. If she had handed me a tissue, I would have thrown it back at her. 13

"I want to see my father," I said tightly, shifting my eyes over to look at her, trying to tone down the wall-exploding look a little so maybe she'd listen to me instead of just giving me concerned looks. Like I figured though, she didn't get it. 14

"You will, honey. Your mother too. Both of them are very worried about you, and very happy that we've finally found you after all this time. They-" 15

"Not them," I said quickly, shaking my head. My nails are pretty short, but they were still starting to cut into my skin a little from squeezing my hands together so tightly. "My father. My real father. Lewis." 16

The lady cop stared at me, her eyebrows drawing together, like she didn't understand at all. Of course, she didn't, so I guess that wasn't much of a surprise. You had always said they wouldn't…you had always said that they wouldn't believe us, wouldn't see the truth. I turned my head away from her, not wanting to see her looking at me like that anymore, like I was something to pity or maybe something bad, something to be afraid of. 17

Maybe this was just a dream…maybe in a few minutes you would be shaking me awake, saying "Time to get up, Caroline of mine," like you always did. I always thought it was so corny when you did that stupid rhyme, but I wanted to hear that now…I really, really wanted to hear that. 18

I'm not going to talk to her about it, but of course I remember when you came to get me. How could I ever forget the first night my whole life changed? 19


I don't remember much about what happened before the night you came for me, usually. There isn't much point to remembering. All of it was a lie anyway, my whole life, before you. 21

I still don't know how you got into my room. I just remember waking up suddenly one night when I was eight years old, and there you were, standing over me as I lay in bed, holding a knife in your hand as you knelt beside me. 22

I remember being so shocked at first that I was sure that it was just a dream, that if I closed my eyes again I would wake up and you would be gone. But I couldn't make myself close my eyes. I just stared at you, and it felt like I couldn't even move. 23

"Come with me," you said, your voice soft, and you looked really serious, not mean, just like you could maybe use the knife if I didn't listen. "I don't want to hurt you, or anyone else in the house either. So come with me. Come with me, and don't make a sound." 24

You wouldn't have hurt me even if I'd screamed bloody murder, punched you in the nose, and ran. I know that now. But I didn't know that then. I didn't know who you were, didn't know the truth- all I knew was there was a man I'd never seen before in my room, a man holding a knife, and that I was scared, really, really scared, of what you might do to me, to my parents. So I stood up. I didn't scream. And I followed you. 25

You took my hand as you lead me out the back door, first stopping and gesturing for me to pull on my flip flops that were laying there by the welcome mat. Your hand was large and callused, and sweating just a little bit, like maybe you were nervous too, maybe you were as scared as I was. You were still holding your knife in the other hand, and I remember looking at it, swallowing, feeling like I couldn't breathe. I remember hoping that my parents, or who I thought of then as my parents, would hear you walking with me, would come running and take me back, stop you from leaving with me. When they didn't come I thought that maybe you had already hurt them. I didn't notice that the knife wasn't bloody or even very sharp, and I didn't think that because their room was on the second floor of the house and mine was on the first, they probably wouldn't have heard anything even if we hadn't been moving so quietly. I was only eight years old, like I said, and I just didn't get it. I didn't understand. 26

It must have been really late, because not one car passed us as you took me outside, as you walked me down the street. Of course, I lived in a cul de sac then, so it wasn't like a lot of traffic usually goes by there unless someone's coming home. I don't know how far you walked with me. It probably wasn't too long. It was hard for me to keep up with you, to keep walking at all. I was only in a nightgown, a green one with Kermit the Frog on it, and I was cold. My legs didn't seem to move normally, and my heart was beating so hard I thought it might just break. I'd heard people talk about broken hearts before, and I thought that maybe it could really happen, that it could happen to me. I kept looking around, hoping really hard for someone to see us, someone to stop us. But they didn't. We just kept walking, and neither of us said anything. You just kept pulling me along, still holding the knife, and I followed, pretty sure that wherever you were taking me, you were going to kill me or something. 27

You had parked your car in the parking area to a little duck pond park area a ways away from my house, and you unlocked the passenger side, letting go of my hand, but standing close as you told me to get inside. I did, shaking pretty bad by then, thinking that you were going to drive me off to wherever you were going to kill me. I'm really not sure why I didn't run or scream or try to get away, thinking back on it. Maybe I was afraid you would come back and kill the people I thought were my parents, if you hadn't already, if I didn't do what you said. Maybe I just couldn't think. Or maybe, somehow, I knew that it was okay with you…maybe a part of me really knew that this was a good thing, that this was what should be happening to me. That this is where I should be. 28

You got in on your side of the car and looked over at me, and you smiled. I remember that, how you smiled, because it looked so real…like you really were happy to see me, happy to have me with you. 29

"Buckle your seatbelt," you said, "I don't want you to get hurt." 30

I did what you said, my hands shaking so much I could barely do the clasp. We started to drive without talking, without turning on the radio or anything, and all the time I was terrified. You didn't tell me where we were going, not yet. You waited until we had been driving for a while, until I didn't know where we were and had stopped trying to figure it out, until I had stopped looking at every car, every building, hoping that someone would see me, someone would realize that I wasn't supposed to be there with you. We drove long enough that I must have fallen asleep, even as freaked out as I was, because when I woke up and started paying attention to where we were going again, you had stopped in a field in what looked like the middle of nowhere to me. You turned to me then, giving me a gentle smile, and I shrank back against the door, my breathing kind of staggered out. 31

"Did you sleep okay? I know it's been a long drive…it'll be morning in just a couple of hours, and we'll have to move on again. But I thought we would stop for a little bit." 32

I didn't say anything. I don't think I could have. I was still waiting for you to kill me, even though you had put the knife on the floorboard and not made a move for it since you had gotten in the car. Looking at me, you frowned, looking really worried and upset, and kind of like you were mad, but not at me, at yourself. 33

"You're afraid of me, aren't you? I'm sorry…I know you don't understand right now. I know you must be scared, and I'm so sorry for that. But this is how I had to do it, Caroline. I wish it could have been different, but this is the only way I could get you back." 34

I thought maybe that this was all a mistake, maybe you had taken the wrong girl, and that if you would just realize that I wasn't this other girl, that I wasn't Caroline, that you would take me back home. But I didn't tell you that. Instead I just asked in this really small voice, "Are you gonna hurt me?" 35

You shook your head, looking horrified at the thought. I know now that you were, that it hurt you to think I would think that. But back then I was just confused. 36

"Oh no, never, I would never hurt you, Caroline. I'm sorry about the knife, I know that scared you, didn't it? But I had to make sure you would come with me. I didn't have time to explain it then, in the house. But no, I would never, ever hurt you- look." 37

You opened the car door and threw the knife outside, as far as you could while still sitting in the car. I watched you, still pressing my back against the door. That didn't make me feel much better- just more confused. You looked back at me and smiled again, your voice still soft…loving. 38

"See? It's gone now, Caroline. I'll never do anything to hurt you, I want you to understand that. I couldn't do that. Not after all this time trying to find you." 39

I watched you, still thinking that you were calling me the wrong name, that you had to be mistaken, that this person you wanted, that you were willing to scare with a knife to get, wasn't me. But I didn't say that, yet. I was afraid that if I told you that you were wrong, that you might get mad. I still didn't trust you enough to want to risk making you mad. 40

"Why did you make me come?" I asked you, so soft you probably could hardly hear me. "Why did you want me to come with you so bad?" 41

You smiled a little wider then, and you reached out, cupping my face in your hand. I swallowed hard, but I didn't pull away. 42

"Because you're mine, Caroline," you said, looking straight at me, still holding your hand against my cheek. "Because I love you. And because I wanted you back." 43


You told me the truth then for the first time…you told me the same thing over and over, for the next few weeks. Really, for the next few months. It took me that long to understand, that long before I believed. And even then, it was hard at first. I mean, how easy could it be for any kid to learn that there life has been fake, that all of it was a lie? 45

You told me how you really hadn't taken me at all…you had just taken me back. You told me that you that the people I had thought all my life were my parents weren't really my parents at all…they had stolen me, had lied to me all my life about who I was. You told me that you were my real father, that I had been taken from you when I was only two years old, that my real mother had died just before that. Over and over you explained how I was yours, how you never would have given me up, how you had never stopped looking for all those years. You told me that you loved me…and when you looked me in the eyes, when you smiled at me or lightly touched my hair, I knew that you weren't lying. 46

It took me a long time to believe you, even though I could tell looking at you that you believed what you were saying, so it had to be true. I just couldn't let go of the people who had taken me from you so easily after all that time with them, after all that time I had believed the lies they fed to me. I couldn't think of myself as Caroline Danson instead of Maddie Brinkerman. I couldn't think of you as my dad. I bet it made you really sad that I couldn't at first, after you had spent all that time looking for me and tried so hard…I bet it really hurt that I couldn't remember you. It would have hurt me, if it were the other way around. 47

You told me I didn't have to call you my dad, that you understood it would be hard for me at first. You said I could call you by your first name, Lewis. So I did for a while. I still do sometimes, out of habit…but now, I call you Dad just as much as Lewis. I remember the first time I said it, how your eyes lit up and you smiled at me like I had just made your whole life. 48

"Caroline of mine," you said, "I've waited so long to hear you say that." You looked like you were going to cry, and when you kissed my forehead, you hugged me for a couple of seconds longer than you had ever tried to before. I think you knew that this would be the first time I would hug you back. 49


After that first night, we started a kind of pattern of non-pattern life, if you know what I mean. We moved all around, we never stayed put in one place for long. Not the same city, state, not even in the same area of the country. And we stayed in all kinds of places. Hotel rooms and apartments, mostly, but sometimes we slept in the car, if you found a good place to park where people probably wouldn't even come around. Sometimes we even slept in the woods. You had sleeping bags and fishing poles, and you even took me hiking or fishing sometimes, if the weather was good and we had time. You bought me books and toys and games, and you read to me a lot, and had me read to you. I didn't go to school, but I didn't mind that. 51

We had a procedure worked out where people wouldn't see me very much, for the first couple of years, when I was still little. You would keep me in the car when you set up an apartment to rent or a hotel room to stay in, and I would wear a jacket with a hood when I went inside with you or anywhere out in public. Well, after you trusted me more not to try to leave you, anyway. At first, we stayed in the car a lot. I didn't go out much even after you trusted me more though, not until I was probably eleven or twelve or so, and it was less likely that someone might recognize me. You told me that the people who had pretended to be my parents would be looking for me, trying to take me back, and that the cops would believe them because they were richer than you were. I used to get really hopeful at first every time I saw a cop car, like maybe they would see me and take me back. But then, when I knew better, I just got nervous. I even tried to turn my face, or duck down in the car, anything to make it harder for them to see me. 53

I used to watch the news when I could, at first, or look around for missing child signs, wondering if I would see my own face on a pole or billboard or bulletin board somewhere, if a reporter would say my name on TV. I never did. Maybe the people who had taken me had decided it was too much hassle to have me after all, so they didn't bother looking…or maybe they just didn't want to tip us off that they were. Whatever the reason, I never saw them, and after a while, I stopped looking. 54

I used to think about running away, back before I believed you, before I began to love you too. I would think of jumping out of the car, of pulling away from you, of breaking out of wherever we were staying for the night and just running, screaming for help, screaming that I wasn't yours, I wasn't Caroline, that I wanted to go home, a home that I had no idea how to get back to anymore. But I couldn't have. At first I was still too afraid to try. Then I just didn't know how to do it, where to go, what would happen if no one believed me, or if I couldn't get away. And then…as the time passed…I just didn't want to anymore. 55

Even before I really believed you, even before I really wanted to stay, I was afraid that if I left I would hurt you. Even though I didn't believe you, I was starting to like you, to feel sorry for you, to think that maybe you had just made a mistake. You never hurt me, never tried to do anything bad to me at all. In fact, you were really nice to me. You bought me whatever food I asked for when we would stop at drive-through places, and you were always asking me if I was okay, really listening to what I said, like you were really interested in what I thought. I wasn't used to that. You were always smiling, always seeming so happy to be with me, so glad just to be able to look at me or touch me. Not in a bad way, of course, but, like, my shoulder, or my head or cheek. You told me you loved me, that you were glad to have me back, glad that I was yours. And after a while, I was glad too. After a while, I didn't want to do anything to make you change your mind. 56

I love you. I love going everywhere with you, not having roots, just being able to go wherever and whenever we want…I love to be free. I love having all of your attention, all of your love, being your entire world, and having you be mine. I wanted that to go on forever, just us, with nothing to hold us down…I still want that. 57

But they found us. Every time I think about it I feel cold all over…my arms cross over my stomach like I need to hold myself together keep myself from falling apart, and I kind of let my head sink down with my chin against my chest because it makes me hurt, makes me feel panicky and stressed, like I might pass out or throw up or something. We were just in our hotel room, sleeping in our twin beds, and all of a sudden the cops were just bursting in there, they had guns and they were turning on lights and yelling, they were saying you were under arrest, they were grabbing you up, they were putting you in handcuffs, they were coming to me and taking hold of me too, and I couldn't understand, I knew, but I just couldn't make myself understand. And all this time they were calling me Maddie, Maddie, they kept saying that name that wasn't mine, and they were telling me that it was okay, that I would be okay now, I would be safe, and they were lying. I wouldn't be safe, I wouldn't be okay…nothing could be okay now. Nothing would ever be okay again. 58

I still don't know how they found us, I still don't know how they knew…I don't want to know. Maybe they knew where we were the first day you took me, maybe all this time they were just torturing us, drawing it out, trying to make sure I loved you, that I felt right, before they would take me back, take me away from you. It wouldn't surprise me at all. Or maybe they really just don't get it, like you kept telling me, maybe they really just don't understand. Maybe they really do believe the people who took me, the people who pretended to be my parents…maybe they're almost as much victims here as you and me. It almost would make me feel sorry for them…almost. 59

But I feel a lot more sorry for me…and way, way more sorry for you. 60


"Maddie?" 62

Every time the lady cop said that name my nails dug deeper into my knuckles until I pried my hands apart from each other and clinched them at the sides of my thighs into fists. I try again, my voice even more uptight than when she first started in on me. You'd think she'd get the hint by now, but no, she's as clueless as cops on TV usually are. 63

"Caroline," I reminded her, "my name is Caroline." 64

"If you're not comfortable talking to me, Maddie," she said, totally ignoring me and making me press my fists hard into the couch, practically punching it, "if perhaps you'd rather talk to someone else…or if you feel afraid, if you don't think that you'll be safe if you-" 65

"I've been talking to you," I interrupted her. "You just haven't been listening. 66

What if no one listens…what if they keep you away, what if I really never get to see you again? What if they really never believe me, what if…oh god…what if they really make me go back to the people who had pretended to be my parents? What if I had to live with them again, for the rest of my life….the people who had lied to me, the people who had stolen me, the people who had tried to ruin your life? 67

I wouldn't let it happen. I would run away, I would hide, I would do anything, but I wouldn't let that happen. I couldn't. How could I even look at them after what they had done to you then, what they were doing to us now? How could I touch them, how could I sleep in their house? 68

"Maddie," the lady cop began, leaning towards me a little, but I was blocking her out now. I was thinking of you, trying not to see you standing there in the motel room in your t-shirt and flannel pants, your eyes bleary and resigned, with the cops cuffing you, dragging you away from me…I tried not to think of you sitting in some dreary jail cell with only a bench and a toilet, with some hulking tattooed guy for company. I tried not to think of you thinking of me, calling my name, worrying about me, tried not to see your face lined with concern for me, your mouth turned down at the corners as you think about how you've let me down. 69

Instead, I think of us standing in the woods by a quiet stream, your hands over mine briefly as you show me how to cast. I think of you showing me tracks on the ground and telling me that they were made by wild pigs. I think of how you looked when you smiled at me, how your eyes would crinkle up at the corners, of how your voice would sound just a little softer when you said my name. I think of us driving at night, when people probably wouldn't see us, our window rolled down, the wind whipping my hair over my face, and I tell myself that soon they won't be memories. Somehow I have to go back to that…somehow, I have to get you back. You came for me, after all those years, you never gave up. It's just my turn now, is all…I've just got to be strong enough to do the same for you. 70