Grant’s Trail, a biking-walking-jogging-rollerblading trail in St. Louis some eight miles long, begins about a mile-and-a-half from my house. It’s a converted railroad track bed, and I’ve been biking it for years now. Counting the round trip and an occasional side meander, it’s a good 20-mile ride.
Just before the trail begins, there’s a brick apartment complex of some 40 to 50 units in five or six buildings. Rather nondescript, it’s neither at the luxury end of residential living nor the housing-of-last-resort end. Nondescript, and rather anonymous, sufficiently describes it.
Each time I’d go to Grant’s Trail, I’d bike past the complex, barely giving it a thought except to watch for doors suddenly opening from cars parked on the street (bikers have to watch for these things). But it wasn’t the kind of building or complex that you’d pay much attention to.
Until January of 2007.
One cold, icy day (I remember because we eventually lost power from the ice coating the trees), police made a startling discovery. Inside one of the apartments was a 13-year-old boy, kidnapped a few days before as he rode his bike home from school in rural Franklin County, near St. Louis. And with him was a 15-year old boy, Shawn Hornbeck, kidnapped when he was 11. The good news was that both boys had been found alive. The bad news was what they had endured, one during a short few days and the other for several years. Police arrested Michael Devlin, 41 at the time. He later pleaded guilty and is now in prison.
The story became international news. During the next few weeks, news media from all over the United States and several other countries converged on the complex, the local pizza parlor where Devlin worked, his family’s home in neighboring Webster Groves, the police department and everywhere else in our suburban St. Louis municipality of Kirkwood.
The news cycle eventually turned and went on to other things. But I can’t ride or drive by that apartment complex now without thinking about Michael Devlin and those two boys. What happened there horrified all of us who live in Kirkwood and anyone who read or learned about the story.
For me, the horror went deeper. I don’t really understand why it did – there’s nothing repressed or anything that happened to me when I was young that would trigger such a reaction. But I was profoundly affected.
Many people asked why or how. Why didn’t the older boy try to escape when he had so many opportunities? How did neighbors ignore screams coming from the apartment? Why did the police ignore tips? Why didn’t Devlin’s family question some of his odd behaviors?
I didn’t ask how or why. I understood. I knew the answers to all the questions. Instead, I focused on the shock, the fear, the horror, the desolation, the pain, the hopelessness, the desire to survive that became part of these boys’ experiences.
I finally knew what I had to do to deal with it. I wrote it out. More than 44,000 words poured out of me until I knew it was time to stop. I wrote it as fiction, far removed from Kirkwood and the events of February 2007. Anyone reading this manuscript wouldn’t recognize anything of what actually happened.
In The Right to Write, author Julia Cameron says that “when we commit our thoughts to paper, we send a strong and clear message that what we are writing about and whom we are writing to matters.”
In my head and in my heart, I became a conduit, what Cameron refers to as “become a channel.” I don’t understand why this happened, but it did. I’ve shown the manuscript to no one. No one else has read it, and it’s likely no one ever will.
But it mattered.
Over at the High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess is leading a discussion of Cameron’s The Right to Write. Take a look and see what others are saying, commenting and posting. Last week’s discussion was about loneliness, writing as witness and where a writer writes. This week's discussion is about connection, being an open channel, and integrating.
L.L. Barkat's Excuse Me, I'm WRITE-ing.
How a Life Makes Sense by Nancy Kourmoulis.
Melo's The Little Things.
Cassandra Frear's The River.
Julia Says by Nancy Rosback.
Monica Sharman's Writing, Prayer, Confession.