I am scared of erecting a wall of arrogance by telling myself that I will raise my daughter to be stronger than a man with a gun who is hell-bent on taking her, who has thought of nothing else but taking her no matter how hard I hold on to her in the bathtub.
The detail of Jayme Closs’ abduction that will stay with me forever is the image of Denise Closs, Jayme’s mother, holding her 13-year-old daughter in the bathtub. Outside, Jake Thomas Patterson slams his shoulder against the door to break it down.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Patterson, who was arrested on January 10 following Jayme’s astounding escape, Denise Closs held her child in a “bear hug” when Patterson opened the shower curtain and found them. He ordered Denise to duct tape her daughter’s mouth shut. When Denise couldn’t do it—Were her hands shaking too much? Could she not work the end of the tape free?—Patterson bound Jayme’s limbs himself, and then shot her mother in the head.
Downstairs, Jayme Closs’ father already lay dead. Patterson killed Closs’ parents for the sole purpose of abducting Jayme, whom he had targeted after seeing her board her school bus. According to the complaint, he saw her and “knew that was the girl he was going to take.”
He went looking for her. He went looking for a girl to take.
We know that most violence against women is committed by people they are familiar with, making this one of those terrifying outliers—the stuff of nightmares that too often occludes the data—where the victim had never seen the perpetrator before he staked out her home, made two failed attempts at kidnapping her, and then killed her parents on the third, successful, attempt. It is bone-chilling to picture Patterson driving by the Closs home, peering in the windows in the two weeks before the kidnapping. Shaving his face and head to avoid leaving hair at the crime scene. Pulling his car into the driveway on October 15 and drawing a balaclava—the same winter accessory my mother bought me for Christmas this year—up around his face.
We don’t even know yet the extent of the abuse Closs experienced at the hands of Patterson—I expect more details to lodge themselves in my brain before it’s all over. But even now, with the scant information we have, it is much worse—and much more important—to picture what happened to Jayme Closs. To imagine her in the nondescript two-story house of a monster, stuffed under a bed on a hardwood floor. I want you to picture it, too. In your mind’s eye, I want you to see Jayme being bear-hugged by her petrified mother in the bathtub. I want you to see Jayme, bound and hauled over the body of her father and into the trunk of a car. See her barricaded under a bed for three months without the remote possibility that her mom or dad will find a way to rescue her because they are dead, and she knows they are dead. She grieves for them under the bed where weighted household objects are placed around her like prison bars.
I can’t stop seeing it, and neither should you.
Instead, the basement-dwelling incels of America are furious about an ad for razors that asks men to step up in the fight against sexual harassment and assault. Some will say these two things aren’t related. I disagree. If nothing else, the sheer volume of responses from men show which of these things matters more to them, or at least which one they are more comfortable talking about.
Watching these two stories unfold simultaneously—and let’s not forget about Cyntoia Brown, who was recently granted clemency, but still blamed for having been a victim of sex trafficking—is deeply depressing. My god, I am exhausted by the storytelling of the past two years, which is something I never thought I’d say as a teacher of narrative. The groundswell of women’s stories during the height of #MeToo was always met with deniers and cynics who played the “women can be terrible, too” card (Meghan Daum, I still love you, but you broke my heart). Of course women are capable of violence, even horrific, heinous violence. But claiming that women pose an equal threat of such violence as men is, well, statistically untrue. And I am so sick of women feeling pressured again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again to narrate their traumas, and I’m even more sick of hearing that this narration is really some sort of exultation, that victimhood is fashionable, that women are enjoying the spotlight and spectacle, that any performance of pain means the pain is a lie. Sometimes, women lie. We say those women do a disservice to “real victims.” That’s an easy way to shift the focus, protect ourselves from unbearable truths.
Cue the “lone wolf” profiles of white, 21-year-old Patterson. Cue the focus on Jayme Closs’ heroic escape instead of on what happened to her in that house that could’ve been any house in the town where I grew up. Cue a bunch of declarations from terrified, vulnerable fathers who are too afraid to imagine bear-hugging their daughters in the last moments of their lives. The ones who will go on social media and declare that they will teach their daughters to take no shit, fight back, shoot a gun.
Cue the memory of being 9-years-old and running away from…no, I’m not going to tell you another story.
A 9-year-old can’t have a gun.
I’ll tell you something else instead. When my daughter was born (five years ago today), I started to read every story about violence against women and children that appeared in my news feeds. I would see a headline and feel sick as I clicked the link, but I clicked the link and read every word of the things they suffered. I did this compulsively, reading the worst sentences two or three or four times, trying to inoculate my family against the worst I could imagine by imagining it. Taking a part of it too small to kill me into my body. I pictured a man punching my baby in the stomach so hard that she bounced. I pictured my daughter watching a man stab me to death. For months, I looked at the face of every dead Syrian child shared by Lina Shamy and the White Helmets on Twitter. Last summer, I listened to the sound of children crying in cages and watched videos of children pried from their mothers’ arms by ICE agents. I still do it. I am scared to turn away from the details of violence. I am scared of erecting a wall of arrogance by telling myself that I will raise my daughter to be stronger than a man with a gun who is hell-bent on taking her, who has thought of nothing else but taking her no matter how hard I hold on to her in the bathtub.
Lots of men (and plenty of women) are angry that an ad for razors is lecturing them. It’s easier to slam the company for pandering to “wokeness” and bringing morality into consumerism. It’s easier to call out the generalizations the ad might clumsily make about masculinity (welcome to every ad aimed at selling stuff to women).
It’s harder, apparently, to casually tell a friend not to catcall a woman on the street, or interrupt her at a meeting. It’s harder to suss out which behaviors are simply masculine, and which have the potential to harm another person. Jake Thomas Patterson had no criminal record. Maybe we’ll find out this was a case of mistaken identity or a false confession, and I’ll brace myself for the comment thread to tell me what a stain I am on society, a dumb, illiterate feminist looking to blame my problems on good men who hold down jobs and don’t drink and serve in the military so that I can have my freedom, as though these are the only criteria for goodness, or that the fact of them means such men don’t cause harm (workplace harassment, war crimes, men killing other men at higher rates than any other victim-perpetrator relationship), or that a majority of men not harassing, kidnapping, raping, or killing women means we shouldn’t be concerned about those who do and why they do.
Here’s another detail: Near Christmas, Patterson said in the complaint, he left Jayme Closs in that two-and-a-half-foot space under the bed for 12 hours while he went to visit his grandparents, who had no suspicions about their grandson during their time together.
“Nobody had any clues up until this thing happened,” Patterson’s grandfather said.
This thing. This girl.
Amy Monticello is an assistant professor at Suffolk University. Her most recent collection of essays, How to Euthanize a Horse, won the 2016 Arcadia Press Chapbook Prize and can be purchased directly at amymonticellowriter.com. Other work has appeared in many literary journals, and at Salon, The Rumpus, and Brain, Child Magazine online. She currently lives in Boston with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.