I picked up Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life with real reluctance — I’m a parent, and the thought that something like this happens to children fills me with horror. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear about her experience.
And the book is hard to read. There are details of Dugard’s kidnapping by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. There are chapters on her early imprisonment (“I hear the lock rattle and know he is coming to feed me. I can’t remember the last time I ate….The handcuffs are making my wrists raw and make it hard to use my hands.”) There’s a horrifying passage on the first time Phillip Garrido raped her, as well as descriptions of the rapes she suffered when he was high on crystal meth. She remembers the terror of childbirth (she was only 14 when her first daughter was born). And she describes the constant degradations she suffered over the years, living in either a windowless room or a tent in the backyard, with a bucket for a toilet.
Yet even as I read about her suffering, I was amazed by her resilience, the stubborn streak in her that would simply not give up and give in, no matter how bad things got. She read books. She wrote. She figured out how to homeschool her daughters. She managed to survive without losing her sense of self.
And she dealt with her rescue head-on. You might think that the day she was set free would be the end of her troubles, but you’d be wrong. For one thing, Dugard had been held captive 18 years — more than half her life. She had to rebuild and, in some cases, establish relationships with her family. Her sister, for example: “It has been hard getting to know her,” she writes. “She was a baby when Phillip took me from our family. She never knew me.” Dugard — who worked with a reunification therapist — had to learn the skills she needed to cope with the real world: driving, handling paparazzi, even summoning up the courage to send her kids to public school. She had to visit the dentist for the first time in almost two decades. In one moving scene, she visited — and confronted — Nancy Garrido in jail.
It’s interesting, though. I didn’t finish the book thinking she was damaged. I finished it feeling blown away by her courage.