I was in Cleveland the day they were found, staying half a mile away in Ohio City, stuck in a traffic jam on my way to an interview in Parma, having no idea why half a dozen news trucks were nestled between a fleet of police cars until we heard the news at a bar three hours later. I didn’t plan to write this, because it almost seemed humble-braggy, but two days later I haven’t been able to stop consuming information about Amanda Berry, Michele Knight, Gina DeJesus, Charles Ramsey, and the little six year old girl, Jocelyn. Chances are I would be rapt anyway—in that care-about-feminism-slash-car-crash-can’t-look-away way—yet in the midst of a jam-packed reporting trip where I barely have time to write an email, I’m still googling for updates at road stops and listening to the 911 calls when I should be transcribing interviews.
It’s actually not the traffic jam that got me. It was the silence in the bar after the news report flashed onto the TV normally reserved for basketball. I’d never heard of any of these women, but the people at that bar had been hearing about them for 10 years, and every single one of them were ignoring their beers and staring in disbelief at Fox News (except when Ramsey buoyantly described the scene; then there was a nervous release of titters). Suddenly a national news story was a local one, and it was apparent that my husband and I were outsiders. One woman with ice-blond hair filled us in on the details of the vigils and the perennial “MISSING” posters around the neighborhood. Another woman was drunkenly sniffling and tearing up. All of them seemed to secretly be wondering why they never noticed anything in their own neighborhood. (Or maybe that was just my projection.)
To most people, it’s a salacious news story or an occasion to expound upon broader issues of domestic violence, police neglect, and race. To these people in Ohio City, it’s closure. To me, it’s neither—an odd moment of horror, at least two layers of voyeurism, and an incongruous “I was there” feeling that made me feel guilty.
The whole thing reminded me of what happens when you spend enough time in a place (even the three days we spent in Cleveland) to start to understand it and therefore feel a small sense of ownership over it…and then have that feeling of ownership be smashed to pieces when you’re thrust into an intimate community moment of which you’re ultimately not a part. It’s what out-of-state college freshmen at NYU must have felt on 9/11, or what a tourist in the U.S. may have felt the day Osama bin Laden was killed. You’re there but you’re invisible.