Doors Opened, Records Revealed

In friendly conversation the other day, someone asked me: “So how do you like your Charles Ramsey now?”

I was like “huh?”

Then he told me one of the Seymour St. heroes has a drug and domestic abuse record.  He had served time, repeated offenses, gradually got back to “okay” terms with his ex-wife, and helped save four people from a domestic abuser/abductor whose depravity is another category of torture that prosecutors, media, moms all struggle to label. Anyway, the details of those earlier years are not Hallmark Hall-of-Fame film material. At all.

I mumbled something about, how, well, you know, nothing he did before devalues the five to ten minutes of neighborliness he and Angel Cordero displayed on Seymour Street Monday night. My convo partner couldn’t disagree, but I nonetheless felt caught in this “gotcha” game where people who rush in to praise – especially to praise the heroes who don’t look like the heroes we think we’ve been waiting for – are punished as the dust settles and background checks come back. Messy.

I still think the guy is a hero, just as I still think the police work left boulder-sized stones unturned, no matter how badly many law-enforcement officials wanted to find Gina De Jesus and Amanda Berry. No matter how hard they worked, no matter how hard police work is. Allegations that neighbors called – cops say they didn’t – will be fully reviewed, I hope.  One story noted that someone close to the abductor’s battered ex-wife, now deceased, encouraged police to investigate Ariel Castro in the girls’ disappearance. It’s another chapter in this tangled and sad and stunning case that begs the question “how?” I really hope that’s not true. And if it is…

…none of it undoes the nice things that anyone writes this week about Mr. Charles Ramsey. I am a mom with a blog, and my credentials begin and end here.

I, for one, will soon get back to writing more about Indian food. And I will test (aka background check) all my recipes. But when I don’t write about cooking, I won’t make it a standard practice to background check someone who clearly did something good before I praise them for doing that good thing. Folks who want to read from the experts, maintain some emotional distance, think more deeply and more critically than me — they have lots of other reading outlets to choose from.

We Don’t Need Another (guy) Hero?

Yet some things about my writing of this last week have troubled me.  Among them, why am I so into this male-hero angle? What about the three women in that house? Delivering and reviving a baby in the dead of night, seeing no sun for years, having the courage to continue to test their captor and his aluminum front door at great, gruesome risk to their lives?

I write less about them, I think, because I want to know as little of their ordeal as possible. After telling her family members not to ask about her captivity, Gina De Jesus must see some of the darkest details of her life splashed on every front page. We still have not seen a photo of Michele Knight, whose physical and emotional losses sound the most devastating, and that’s fine with me. Not being an expert, I nonetheless speculate that healing is easier when people are on a need-to-know basis about your medical, psychological, reproductive trauma.

The mayor of Cleveland has asked the media not to “leak info.” Agreed.

Let’s keep some things between the women and girl who are finding their way home, and their families and counselors. Let’s agree they are heroes, and contribute to the Cleveland Courage Fund if we want to and if we can.

Thanks, Mom


Life happens at the corner mailbox.

Those who can’t send money, or choose not to, well keeping your eyes and ears open is free and it can really work. Here I think of mom, who stopped a domestic abduction at the mailbox on my sleepy suburban corner decades ago. She heard it, she saw it, she asked me to watch the car from the safety of our yard while she dialed 911. The authorities came, the child was separated from the parent, another relative was called in.

Until Tuesday, I had forgotten all about that. Happy Mother’s Day, mom, and thanks.

Open the Door

Monday night I read about Elizabeth Smart’s latest talk at Johns Hopkins University. Just a few hours later news reports were filed from a west Cleveland neighborhood about three girls. They had been missing for 9+ years and found Monday night just miles from their homes and their mint-condition childhood bedrooms. How?

I think “how” is a better question than “why.” But I’m asking optimists and realists and fellow feminists to disagree. Whether it’s a sleepy southside suburb with German, Irish, Polish names or a rundown urban neighborhood where last names rarely start with “Mc” or end in “ski,” girlhood is a risky business. As long as there are girls they will be looked at, yelled to, talked about, boundary-tested and propositioned. “Luck” is being able to walk away with a girlfriend, to ask your mom what that guy was talking about, to have your high school expel the star athlete who was saying things to you that made you feel awful but you didn’t even know why.

But how do things get worse, so very much completely worse, 10 years worse, never-coming-home worse for some women and girls? As much as anyone is thinking about that trio of women and one girl in Cleveland tonight, we’re also talking about Charles Ramsey. The neighbor who likes his McDonald’s and thought he knew his salsa-playing neighbor and is so damned astonished by the story he jumped into as one of the only people in the right place at the right time since that first girl, Michele Knight, was kidnapped.

‘So I opened the door’

CLEVELAND-articleLargeAmerica is in love with Mr. Ramsey’s heroism and his urban musings. The McDonald’s, the ribs, calling the reporter “bro.” That hair! But by far the most remarkable thing he said in his first interview is this: “You know, I figured it was a domestic violence dispute. So I opened the door.”

How often do we read about and hear about domestic violence as the very last kind of violence to attract third-party intervention? Anyone who has read about the tragic, tell-tale domestic-violence case of Zenia Haughton knows not even a rifle, a police file, a kicked-in door, slashed tires and a restraining order are enough to convince some folks – experts included – that a domestic violence situation is happening. And needs to be stopped.

So who the hell is this Mr. Ramsey? Just walking into what he thinks is some man-woman kind of dispute and busting down a door?

He’s a hero, he and Angel Cordero. Nosy neighbors. Ramsey heard something, but didn’t put down his lunch. He just took it with him, walked out of his house and onto the porch of 2207 Seymour Ave.

I think it’s been about 48 hours since the stories of Amanda Berry, Michele Knight and Gina De Jesus broke. Mr. Ramsey, a dishwasher, has been famous for a couple days.

What we’ve learned about these women in the last 24 hours is, blessedly, very little. I hope that the news comes slowly. Very. Their families will hear it first, when their daughters and sisters are ready to tell them. The trained investigators will interrogate with caution and compassion.

The most important news, I think, we already know. Four or five times a crack in the secrecy surrounding 2207 Seymour Ave. drew in suspicious neighbors. It brought cops to the side of the house and onto its porch. It got the home’s owner and alleged captor fired from his job. It showed us a little girl standing alone at an attic window. It convinced a neighbor or two that Ariel Castro was “not right.”

Mr. Ramsey says he feels bad that he lived there for a year, knew Ariel Castro and sensed nothing unusual. He shouldn’t. He caught on a lot faster than the professionals who were seeking out Amanda Berry and Gina De Jesus for more than ten years. But not Michele Knight.

Yelling and banging from inside the house, lunchtime fast-food deliveries, rumors of women in the backyard – these are red-flag reminders that we don’t need to be experts or psychics or mad geniuses to know when something is very wrong. Would the Charles Ramseys in our neighborhoods please stand up, take a bow, and promise to never move away?

Two Girls Remembered

Their stories probably could not be more different – the two girls I knew in Cudahy and the three women I don’t know in Cleveland. Different in circumstances, outcome, time and place. But every time I read about girls who come home I think about the two I barely knew who didn’t: Jessica and Anna. I remember stick-straight hair and brown curls, badminton and jump rope. That we shared teachers and a zip code. I’ll never stop wishing I’d been a little kinder. Asked a few more questions. Paid better attention.

I Remember Two Girls

I know two dead girls. I remember them now, as an adult, out of proportion to how I knew them then – one I knew in grade school, one I knew in high school. Neither were girls I knew very well, or for very long.

One talked to me in gym class. Maybe we were badminton partners. She left our school about as quickly as she arrived. I remember an incident with a lacrosse stick, some of her more colorful stories. Feeling nervous every time I talked to her, but in an electric way. Her fast-talking storytelling drew me in in disbelief and fascination. Would she ask me to hang out someday? What would I say? Was she alright? Who did she live with?

I never got any of those answers, and within about one year she was found murdered in Milwaukee. Her death is linked to those of seven other women. She was a runaway, the only minor, the only non-professional whose death is connected to a serial killer who targeted sex workers. He is locked up for beyond-life. Exactly who killed Jessica, maybe it wasn’t him, remains unresolved.

What I remember is that there were pictures of the other women, six or seven of them, in the newspaper some 15 years later. But there was no picture of Jessica. I can tell you she was thin, very thin. Her eyes were maybe not quite as brown as her very straight brown hair. Eyeliner was involved. That’s all I remember. We were not friends. Others from my hometown would have other stories, real stories, about Jessica – including the handful who wore blue tee-shirts in her remembrance. The girl had her own tee-shirt, but the newspaper of record could not even find her photo.

The other girl, a childhood neighbor, had her final hours recounted by the man who murdered her. He is in prison again, too. This time he will stay there, and how he killed this other girl – aged 19 – is something that can be looked up easily elsewhere but not here. This girl left behind a daughter, brothers, a sister and a mom. I remember not seeing her for ten years, then seeing her picture in the paper and reading this story and regretting, immediately, the summer I spent barely acknowledging her as my friend of convenience.

She was killed in Milwaukee the very same week that Elizabeth Smart was found in Utah.


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