Remembering the Magic of When a Community Unites

March used to be one of those months for me that held dreadful anniversary dates.

We all have those dates. Whether it’s the dreaded anniversary of a death, or a divorce anniversary, or maybe even a natural disaster like a hurricane, there are the dates that split our lives in two. There was life before the traumatic event, and life after the traumatic event.

I left my husband on March 5, 1990. He abducted our daughters on March 13, 1994.

There was life before the abduction. There was life after the abduction.

This March, I’ve been busy with book events related to my memoir. The events have given me time to think not just about those anniversary dates, but the phenomenal amount of kindness my family was gifted that helped put trauma back in our rear-view mirror.

My coworkers at the battered women’s shelter donated their leave. Friends threw every kind of fundraiser imaginable to help with expenses. My Alaskan lawyers donated their time and resources, and then my Greek friends donated their time and opened their homes to me. People of diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, and ages worked along one another to help us achieve the impossible. When I look back on that awful period in my life, I am filled with gratitude.

What is it about a disaster that brings out the best in people? And would I have the same experience today, in this age of social media where too often we camp up and talk about each other rather than to each other?

Often, people do show up when help is needed. Think of a car accident with people inside a smoldering vehicle.  A human is in peril. In that moment, it’s all that matters.

Alaskans have long had a rich history of helping one another, especially in the 90’s when my daughters were kidnapped. The weather, the location, the physical isolation serve as reminders that we need each other to survive.

After the girls and I returned from Greece in 1996, we resumed living small, quiet lives. And then two decades later, as I began promoting Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, all the memories came back. Not just the bad memories, but the beautiful memories of all the grace and love we’ve received.

I wish we didn’t need to go through hard times or traumatic events for people to unite for a common goal. But I’m so fortunate to have once been witness to the miracle of unity inside my community, both in the states and overseas. And to have commemorated that period in my book makes me both humbled and proud.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my daughters’ kidnapping. A reminder that I am one of the lucky parents whose kids returned.

Thank you for being a part of my story.

 

 

 

Four Thank You’s and An Apology/Publishing My Memoir

 

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Next month, my memoir will be published, and just after that, I’ll have my book launch.

It may not seem like much, writing 80,000 words (give or take) and getting them published, but for me, it’s been monumental. And while I went to great effort to thank people in my Acknowledgment section – those who helped me find my kidnapped daughters, the people who later helped me to raise them, and who were above-and-beyond supportive as I wrote my story- it turns out that it doesn’t come close to a complete list.

Four Thank You’s.

Thank you to my family, near and far, from daughters to siblings, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins, I’ve been so fortunate to have your support. The book covers my childhood and young adulthood when family dysfunction ruled, when I felt all alone and believed I always would be. Each of your social media shares, every text, email, or contact through my website has positively made the stress of this effort so worth it, and I hope in the end, you’ll be proud.

To my fellow She Writes authors, thank you for connecting daily on our Facebook page. I’ve loved learning from your experiences, getting to know some of you and exchanging our books for blog interviews or reviews, and sharing the journey on our path to publication. It’s become a sisterhood I will always treasure.

Thank you also to the non-profits and other sponsors partnering with me to launch Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters in October:

  •  The University of Alaska, Anchorage’s (UAA) Consortium Library
  • UAA’s Pre-Law Society, Alaska Book Week, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC)
  •   Green Dot Anchorage
  • Victims for Justice Eva Project
  •  YWCA Alaska

Thank you for joining my effort to kick off the launch during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Together, we’ll make a positive impact on our community.

To my friends, old and new, thank you for your excitement about Pieces of Me. It’s contagious. Your shared enthusiasm has resulted in two gift shops asking to consign books, a radio interview, book clubs, and more speaking engagements. Finally, I have confidence in my book.

An apology.

I was so tickled last week to get a late night message through my website’s Contact button from the Republican Women’s Group in the MatSu Valley, requesting I speak about the late Senator Steven’s efforts to aid me in rescuing my daughters in the mid 90’s.

And then it hit me: I’d completely forgot to thank Senator Stevens in my Acknowledgments section.

photo courtesy of UAF

Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens was haunted by my Alaskan support network from 1994-96, especially by my former supervisor and now dear friend, Heather Flynn. At one point, Heather arranged a calling tree to his office. My friends at Faith Daycare and Learning Center took turns ringing his DC number all day long when my case heated up. After my arrest in Greece, he called the American Embassy to make sure the girls and I were safe, reinforcing to the Embassy staff that we were important to Alaska.

I’m sickened by the omission, and will do what I can to get this error corrected in the second printing.

Thank you, always and forever to Senator Stevens and his talented staff.

Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is available now for pre-orders through your local bookstore, library, or on Amazon. The first launch is on October 5,2016 at the UAA Bookstore upstairs in Anchorage from 5-7PM.

Click here to find out what others are saying about my book.

Thanks for sharing the journey with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Process of Publishing Pieces of Me: Naked and Afraid but Not Alone

A tidal wave of emotions has swept me away regarding publishing my memoir, Pieces of Me.

First, it started with a simple post. Last month I went on my author fan page on Facebook and mentioned my book’s publication date   (September 20, 2016!) next to its cover image.

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I thought it would reach a couple of hundred people. It did, and then they shared the post too. When all was said and done, nearly 6,000 people had seen of it, and so many privately and publicly commented to me. Friends remembered with me my daughters’ abduction and the community’s recovery efforts. Many friends and family members assured me that they couldn’t wait to read the book. These were nicest comments that a normal person would be happy to read.

But, the comments didn’t land with a normal person. They landed with me.

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed. Would my work live up to the reader’s standards? Did I remember to include the story about X? Am I too honest in the story? Not honest enough?

Dumb stuff.

And then I got my long-awaited round of edits back from just as I was taking time off work to take care of a few routine health and home issues. Perfect timing! Soon, I realized that she edited an older draft of my manuscript given to her by someone on my work team.

Again, pretty small potatoes. Unless you’re the one tasked with adding back all of the name changes and other details, and you have severely limited computer skills. I was devastated.

I reached out to a friend about it. “I’m a firm believer in timing,” she responded. “Things will work out just as they are intended.”

And they did. As I spent the next few days scrolling, page by page, through 300 plus pages, I was reminded of what brave people stepped up to help when I needed it. I was also reminded of what a great editor I am working with, who caught not only my grammatical but mathematical errors and did some back fact-checking about Greece and other things. And as I saw what ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, I was reminded of the most important thing about memoir writing.

Pieces of Me is not the story of my life. It’s about a slice of my life, the process of rescuing my kidnapped daughters. It covers snippets of my childhood as a kidnapped child. Not the whole childhood, just the parts that propel the story.

I went to see Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot this weekend, a terrific film made based on the memoir of journalist Kim Barker. There were a lot of artistic liberties taken in the making of the film. In an interview about the movie, Barker spoke openly about her decision to not make herself nuts by tracking the details of the movie once she’d signed her rights away. She was pleased that the important themes and relationships were captured in the final product. That the movie captured the essence of important relationships and themes was critical, and she refused to get caught up in the minutiae she couldn’t control.

So cheers to my insecurities and to timing and to the process glitches. And thank you to my well-wishers, supporters, and future readers. This has been a wonderful reminder that indeed, I am not alone.

 

Thanks always for stopping by.

The Discipline of a Grateful Life

This week, I enjoyed reading Sam Gentoku McCree’s piece on Ten Steps to a Grateful Life.

Having a grateful life is a discipline.

photo 1It’s not difficult for my mood to tumble this time of year. It’s dark in Alaska for much of the day. My energy dips just as my work chaos soars. And then there are upcoming social functions associated with the holidays that I loathe given my crowd-averse nature.

But I’ve made a point of penciling in times of gratitude in my day to day life. I wake up ten minutes early each day to give thanks, and in doing so, realized how much I appreciate the surprise sources.

Case in point: I am naturally drawn to darker topics, so after much consideration, I decided to piece together the life and death of Muriel Pfeil, who died in 1976 in Anchorage. The story is everything I write about already: domestic violence, international child abduction, the works. The trouble is I don’t know her family or friends.

I got a couple of names through a friend of mine. Two lovely women who have been friends for sixty-plus years were gracious enough to take me to a Thanksgiving party hosted by the Alaskan Pioneers yesterday to do some digging around.

Yes, I actually signed up to hang out with a group of strangers and socialize.

Two hours later, I felt like a part of a great new supportive family. I’d been tentative when it began. ”I’m thinking about writing the story of…” but with the encouragement of my dear hostesses, I left with many new contacts and a greater conviction. I’m not thinking of writing the story of Muriel Pfeil. I am in the process of writing about Muriel Pfeil. And I so appreciate the support and enthusiasm of my new friends.

My daughters with cats
My daughters with cats

There are always the typical things I’m grateful for, like my wonderful daughters. They’re happy (mostly). They’re healthy. They’re working. I even managed to get one of them to move out of the house. I’m grateful for my kittens. My extended family and friends. My work. My health. My volunteer work.

But I’ve scaled back on some things and it’s given me time for a bit more rest, and for writing workshops and coaching. I have created space again.

Thanksgiving is here. What are you thankful for?

I’m always thankful to connect with you here.

PS– I learned that A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson is now available on Amazon. I’m pleased to have my essay  titled Healing included.

Three Lessons I Learned from Mike Dominoski/What’s Luck Got to do with it

Some people have all the luck.

403202_304172969624299_581089741_nmikedThat’s what I  thought when I met my friend, Mike Dominoski.

I met him in the dorm cafeteria at Western Washington University in the fall of 1982. You could tell he was fun by how he held himself. Wearing a pinstriped, button up shirt with grey parachute pants and a matching fedora covering his curly brown hair, Mike had a nose that can only be described as a Karl Malden knockoff. (For those of you who are too young to know who Karl Malden is, click the link.) And he seemed so very comfortable in his own skin.

I went to college thanks to decent grades and a decent interest rate on student loans. Born of two high school dropouts, there wasn’t a lot of role- modeling or planning for a higher education.

Mike, on the other hand, seemed to ooze money. After we became friends, he was the first to offer to pay for pizza. Coffee? Mike bought a round for all of us. He must be loaded, I thought.

He explained it simply. “I was born with a lot of health problems, and no one expected me to live, so I’ve inherited a lot of money at different times.”

Score! All I could think was how great it must be to go on vacations. Buy a new car. Go to college perhaps debt-free. (I know none of this to be true about my friend, but these were my youthful assumptions.)

970343_10201224373832400_36313353_nmikesmessageOf course, back then my young mind just processed Mike’s words in relation to what I’d never experienced. I didn’t give much thought to what it would be like to have a life that began with incurable and debilitating medical issues. That all became clear with time.

What I could see was that although Mike’s scoliosis made him look and walk differently, he was never self-conscious. Mike loved performing. He did air band at talent-shows (known as lip-syncing to other people’s music today). Every day, Mike happily escorted my roommate Erin and I to meals, studied with us, and showered us with attention. He went to church with us, and always impressed me with his abiding faith, which was much more about unconditional love and compassion than excluding others who were different or didn’t follow the rules.

When Mike inherited a caboodle of money two years after we met, he asked me to go to Switzerland with him (“I’ll pay!”) to visit a mutual friend attending college there. I said no. I thought he should invest his money for the future, and I wanted no part of the indebtedness I would feel if he gifted me with such a luxury.

Did he invest or save his money? Absolutely not. And within a year, it was all gone.

This worried me endlessly. Where would Mike live? What if he couldn’t work some day? What if bad opportunists took advantage of him? Mike seemed unconcerned, but I worried enough for the both of us.

Given that he was a few years older than me, Mike finished college sooner. We said our tearful goodbyes after I turned twenty, quit school, and found my real dad through a lawyer.I moved back to Alaska. Mike couldn’t find work with his degree in marine biology, and settle for one as an elevator man in Seattle while I married the first man who showed interest in me in Alaska and had two daughters in rapid succession.

It’s funny, the things that you remember later. Most of us in college felt we would definitely meet someone to love us and settle down with. Mike hoped for love, but had no air of entitlement about it. Love wasn’t a definite.

We stayed in sporadic contact. These were the pre-Facebook, pre-cell phone days, after all. The days when a husband bent on controlling his wife’s social interactions were made easy by the absence of technology.

After my husband tried to wring the air out of my neck, Mike let me and the girls stay with him for a few days in Seattle. And then the matters of life separated me from my buddy. I became consumed in legal matters, my daughters’ eventual abduction, and finishing college.

Mike’s issues were at least as critical. After serving as a missionary in Kenya, he landed a teaching job in the Dominican Republic. He suffered many health setbacks and professional disappointments, but he kept pushing forward.

When we communicated by written letter or occasional phone call, I tried not to ask whether or not he’d met a woman. Mike was at times discouraged, but always funny, and always sure of one thing. “I think God has a plan for me,” he would say with conviction. I couldn’t help but believe him.

Mike and Sita and Me/Jan 2012
Mike and Sita and Me/Jan 2012

It was New Years of 2012 when I last saw Mike during a long layover I had in Seattle. We’d connected through Facebook, and he was recently married at fifty years of age. Mike and his bride picked me up in his pick-up truck. One of the doors was smashed in his truck, forcing us to all cram in on one side. Mike was unemployed and looking for work. I would have been crushed at the setbacks. Mike never looked happier. And as always, he was making jokes about his job loss on Facebook.

A beloved teaching  job would come after a forced move across the state. But love had arrived, and Mike and his wife lived out loud, recording their joy in their Facebook posts, taking endless selfies, and making the most of every opportunity to demonstrate love.

Mike passed away when I was out-of-town last weekend. Cancerous tumors had ravaged his already challenged body, but he didn’t die alone. Mike was surrounded by his loving wife, and honored by the many students whose lives he touched. And since he lived keenly aware of his vulnerabilities, Mike may be one of the few people I’ve ever known to celebrate each day, playing practical jokes, savoring a good cup of coffee, and generously offering love to his friends and family.

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What a lucky man he was. He knew from the beginning what most of us learn towards our ending:

  • Life is short, and we are all living on borrowed time, so be brave! Be uninhibited! And be thankful.
  • Faith is an anchor. It should connect us to one another and to God. Not divide us or exclude.
  • Love is a gift, not an entitlement. It is to be celebrated, and even shared.
  • Today, the world is a little less funny without my buddy Mike in it. But his is an easy life to celebrate, and he will never be forgotten.

    Remembering Grace and Making New Memories/The Bright Spot of My Daughters’ Abduction

    I’m in Italy this week, spending time with  a cherished friend.

    Have you ever been the beneficiary of uncommon kindness from a random stranger?

    There is something special about going through a brutal time and finding that you have guardian angels who pop up out of nowhere. 

    Such was the case for me in 1995 when I found myself  alone in Greece without two dimes to rub together, looking for my abducted daughters.

    On my first trip to Greece after they were kidnapped, I met with a lawyer I had retained there. Two young women attorneys worked in his office, and after our initial meeting, they invited me to lunch with them.

    They weren’t involved with my case. They were not being paid. They simply extended their hospitality, and they were only too happy to practice their English skills.

    One of the women, Popi, inquired about my living arrangements while in Greece. When I told her I was staying at a hostel, she piped up. “It is settled, then. You will come stay with me in my spare bedroom.”

    And I did. 

    At the time, I had long been a motherless child, and was now a childless mother.  Popi’s nurturing presence was medicinal to me. She taught me to read and speak Greek after work, something that would come in handy since my daughters no longer spoke English. Popi took me on outings with her friends, and when my lawyers quit my case temporarily due to non-payment by me and due to the fact that I second-guessed them constantly, Popi stood in the line of fire with them to help me find a private investigator. In turn, her job was threatened.

    What do you say to someone who has done so much and asked for nothing in return?

    Thank you, Popi. I said I would never forget  you, and I have not.


    We’ve all faced hard times and have been the recipient of uncommon grace.

    Who in your life has stepped up to help you?


    With luck, I’ll post next week. Otherwise, I’ll return to you at the end of the month.
    Take care.

    –Liz