Yesterday I downloaded a copy of Michelle Knight’s book, "Finding Me." It’s a harrowing account of the eleven years she, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus were held captive by Ariel Castro. Although Amanda and Gina are mentioned, the story is Michelle’s story and told from her point of view. Like most Americans, I was riveted to the screen when news broke about the kidnappings and Amanda’s escape that led to Michelle and Gina being rescued. A resident of California, I had never heard of any of the three young women nor did I know they had been kidnapped. The tragic incident was something straight out of a horror movie.
After a few months had passed, there was talk about the women writing a book about what they had gone through. Immediately I made a decision that I wouldn’t read any of their books. I just couldn’t bear to read –let alone imagine what had happened over the eleven-year period. However, while searching for my next read, I stumbled upon Michelle’s memoir. Something tugged at my heart, and I knew I had to read her story.
From the first page I was hooked, and I’ve been hard pressed to put the book down. Fortunately, Michelle does not give graphic descriptions of the despicable, monstrous acts Ariel forced her to perform, but she does talk about the countless rapes and beating she endured. What she went through is beyond heartwrenching. While reading her story, I managed to keep my emotions in check, while wondering to myself where does someone get such strength and determination. How did she survive the beatings, the rapes, the starvation, the forced abortions, and the humiliation? And the horrid list goes on. What is it in a person that keeps them going under such unimaginable conditions?
For Michelle it was her son Joey that gave her the will to keep living. The day she had been kidnapped she was on her way to a court hearing about regaining custody of him. Abuse in the home by her mother’s boyfriend led to Joey being put in protective custody. Unfortunately, Michelle never made it to court, but she also never lost sight of her son. She even spoke to him as though he were there with her in the house of horrors.
I mentioned earlier that I was able to keep my emotions in check, but that all came to an end during the twenty-third chapter that Michelle titled "Mustard." It’s in this chapter that she reveals how Ariel made her eat a hotdog that was smothered in mustard. At this point, Michelle was practically starving. But she knew she was deathly allergic to mustard and refused to eat the hotdog. Ariel threatened to kill her. In Michelle’s mind, she was going to die either way, so why not die on a full stomach? She wiped as much of the mustard off as she could and then bit into the hotdog. Immediately her faced puffed up and things went from bad to worse. After a few hours, she was red as a tomato, couldn’t feel her tongue or breathe. Gina was chained to her at the time and tried to offer as much comfort as possible. Then Michelle passed out. It was during this time that she said she saw the brightest light she had ever seen in her life and heard a loud voice that said, "It’s not your time yet." She said she knew she was in the presence of God. When she came to she was still being held captive, but for the first time she had no doubt that God was real. The following day the swelling went down and she was able to breathe. At the end of the chapter I was sobbing and trembling so badly I had to get off of the elliptical machine I had been working out on.
I was not only crying for what Michelle and the other women had endured, but I was crying out of sadness regarding my overall attitude and behavior. I was crying asking God to forgive me for being so ungrateful at times, for complaining and whining at times. "Why is the gym so dirty?" "Why do women leave hair on the shower floor?" Michelle mentioned in the book, that the first eight months of her captivity, Ariel wouldn’t let her take a bath or shower and that the stench was so bad, it mad her gag. How dare I complain about hair in the shower! I get to shower. At work, we get a free lunch buffet daily. I often hear others complain when something is served that they don’t like and I have been guilty of the same. Michelle once was starved for two weeks. She had lost so much weight the dirty chains Ariel used to strap her to the walls and bed would fall off of her. Here I am, not only am I’m eating, but doing so for free. I cried and cried, asking God to forgive me for not being grateful ALL the time. I wiped my tears and realized that Michelle’s torture had not been in vain—that her book had touched me and reminded me how blessed I truly am. I know that I’m not unique and that if touched me, it’s moved countless others. I’m still reading the book and I look forward to the part when the women are set free. Yes, Michelle, God is real and he may not come when you want him to, but he’s always on time!