During her captivity, she wrote in a journal and drew pictures, focusing on “the brighter side.” She willed herself to live for her young son, Joey, who had been removed from her custody when her mother’s boyfriend broke the toddler’s leg, she writes in the book. She was trying to get to a child-services appointment when she was abducted.
Since her release, she has been in touch with Joey’s adoptive parents, but has not seen her son, now 14, who doesn’t know her story. That heart-wrenching disappointment she handles with more understanding. “I think about how I would feel if I were in his situation. I wouldn’t want him to be ripped away from the people he knows. I wouldn’t want to hurt him in any way. ”
And then this, when asked how she could believe in God after she had endured such cruelty. “Everything in life is not what it seems to be. And eventually, just like now, you get exactly what you want. And just like all things, they can be taken away.”
Really? She finds comfort in that? “Everything in life doesn’t always stay the same,” she continues with eerie composure. “You move on. There is a point in time when you go through pain. You suffer. But you’re going to overcome it. And you’re going to be different. And that doesn’t mean you have to let the money, the fame, love, abuse, define who you are.”
Estranged from her family, she is living in her own apartment in Cleveland, where she has many friends, old and new, she says. She has also taken up boxing, hopes to release a song, and is enrolled in cooking school.
Despite her recovery – she had nightmares at first, which have since subsided – there are some things she cannot do because they remind her of Castro.
No paper napkins: He would throw them at her, to clean herself up after his sexual abuse. “And more than likely, he rammed them down my throat,” she explains coolly.
Nothing with chains on them, not even decorative ones on shoes or purses.
“No mirrors,” she says. Why? “Because he had them all over his house.” A pause. “To watch.”
No McDonald’s food ever again. He would feed her rancid leftovers from the fast-food chain.
I ask her if there are things she has treated herself to. “I got my first blanket,” she says with a little laugh. Castro never gave her sheets or blankets, and for months removed all her clothing so she was freezing in the unheated house. “I took it recently to a friend’s house, and she said, ‘You don’t need that!’ And I was, ‘No, it’s my first blanket. I have to take it everywhere.’”
In the book, she writes that she was treated more cruelly than the other women. I tell her that I sometimes think weak people have more hatred for those who are strong. She looks at me, unsmiling, her blue eyes clear and direct. “Yes,” she says in a slow, calm voice. “He was the type of person who wanted to break everyone in the house. And I was considered unbreakable.”
We look at each other, quiet for a moment. I take her hand to say goodbye. It is tiny, and fragile as the palm of a spring leaf, and she looks up at me, expressionless.
Her resiliency, I realize, is significant not because of what it shows us about human strength to overcome hardship. Rather, because it shows us what we should be focusing on in the first place. Many of us allow things to define us – status, our spouse, where our children go to school, a job, wealth, address, ancestry. That’s how we live. And yet they’re all ultimately meaningless and limiting.
“Our life is a painted canvas, painted by everything you do,” Knight told me at one point. “Make it a beautiful one. Don’t make it ugly. There’s no time for that.” I asked how she feels on a daily basis. “I’m just sitting here, looking at the world in a different light, and I see all the beauty that I missed.”