For abuse survivor Rob Brown, the recent confession in the 1979 case of Etan Patz elicits a strong sense of brotherhood between one man who was allowed to grow up, and the boy who was not.
We were all talking about you. We were getting ready and dealing with the excitement and anxieties surrounding High School graduation. We were getting ready for a waiting life. You were unique to us Etan. We had never been fed such desperate and dire information before…never dealt with a “missing child;” certainly not the way your disappearance was managed. The contrast between us and you was glaringly obvious.
It seemed that everyone in the Northeast was involved in a bit of hand-wringing for your safe return that had to come soon. It just had to! After all, you can’t just “disappear.” You can’t just vanish so darned close to your home! How could it happen so very close? You were barely out the door Etan. Your mother ensured the right direction was begun, assurances were traded and proudly you marched straight to the bus for the first time on your own. With a dollar clutched in your little hand, it seems perhaps you diverted slightly to buy yourself a soda.
My mother said that you’d be returned soon, while she showed disgust in the TV News and their sensationalism. “How can they bother his family like this?” We discussed the possibilities: wrong bus was boarded, you panicked and ran-off, bullies, and then the scariest of theories; kidnapped.
I was naive enough to not even know what anyone would want with you. I did not know a child would be just snatched-up off the street for “that.” I certainly knew first-hand what “that” was, but never thought about it happening to another child, and certainly not through a random grab off the street.
With this horrid realization, Etan, we became brothers of sort. I was fully befuddled that such a thing could happen to a little guy like you, by a likely stranger who would just take what he wanted. I knew first-hand the world was tough and evil, but not to a little guy like you. It was all too unimaginable a possibility.
This past weekend, I came to know what 33-years truly feels like. You became a time capsule in my life and in many others’. I do not like being transported back to my young years, and I certainly did not expect you would do that to me. But if anyone is worthy of me taking a truly painful trek, it’s you, buddy.
You returned into our lives in recent days crushed my heart. Seeing your picture combined with perfect recount of “those days” was more than I could handle. The therapists and trauma-savvy call it “triggering” of historic, stored emotions and memories. I prefer to call the resurrection of your story “devastating.”
Whatever healing, separating, and denial I had built-up between us was shattered. I was transported straight back to horrid memories of my abuse. Vivid images of your frantic days replayed in my head over and over again. Everything replayed. Every emotion came back for blood; the cruelest being our brotherhood in pain.
There are very powerful and special connections between abuse survivors and victims in this world. When we become aware of another like ourselves emotional barriers turn to dust. We may not be able to cry for ourselves or feel our own tragic days any longer, but when we learn of another child in similar peril, our hearts lay open for the raven’s peck.
Yes, I am in unbearable pain over you, over the arrest, over the (supposedly) true story of what really happened so very close to your home. Yes, your picture has my tears flowing like rain again. But I am seeing hard evidence that life actually goes on. That’s a realization I’ve previously not fully embraced.
33-years to the day of your disappearance the monster placed himself in police custody. He divulged the details of the day that we don’t want to hear, but you had to live through. If that is not clear evidence to the level of horror you experienced, nothing is. That always brought me dark confusion; when people refuse to listen to details that a child had to experience.
And, on the very same day, your sister (whom you never met) graduated from Harvard University in Boston. So much life went on without you. Its incomprehensible until a time-capsule like you is revisited.
So much life went on, Etan. We still have a brotherhood in pain. I am sadly witness again to the pain one monster can inflict, but they are pains that would never be realized without a world of love radiating from more places than you’ll ever count.
I’ll never understand why and how the world does not stop in its tracks when dealing with a hurt or missing child, but be assured, you were so very much loved and worth all the resources any city could muster.
Editor’s Note: If you are in need of a resource in dealing with the trauma of revelations about Etan Patz or your own abuse, please reach out for help with a professional or with an online resource like MaleSurvivor.org or RAINN.