Shortly after I began college, the stories found me.
The girl raped by the basketball player who wouldn’t go to the police because she had a couple drinks. The boy who broke down in the dorm shower because he had been kidnapped and repeatedly abused when he was 11. The friend who was forced to abort her baby by her ex-boyfriend and then was committed to an institution by her parents. The woman beaten in front of her infant girl by her husband because dinner wasn’t warm enough. Unfortunately, there were many more tales spoken through tears, shaking fear, but never anger.
I never showed it to the people who confided in me, but after we parted, the anger they let go of found a home inside of me. It was the logic of it that broke me. Why echoed in my head on repeat. I wanted to take action to help them, to make sure it never happened again. I wanted to hunt the people down that hurt them. But I never did. The same broken logic that fueled my anger left me prostrate. Instead, I punched canvas bags until my knuckles bled. I cried into the night asking over and over why any of this could ever happen. My biggest mistake was not realizing that any of it was ever mine to avenge.
I was naïve to the depravity of this world before I entered college. And naïve to think that violence would ever be a solution that worked for anyone. So when I started writing, it all came out. Sentences became my weapons. Paragraphs became their jails. It didn’t solve anything, but it kept me sane.
And then I found Vachss.
Andrew Vachss is an attorney and an author. His books are borne from his experiences in helping kids in the worst of situations. As I read his stories, I stopped feeling alone in struggling with the horrors I had heard. Though this also opened my mind to the fact of just how widespread these horrors were. Still, I found small comfort in knowing that people like him existed to try and counteract the darkness.
A few years later, I sat in my office at work—a computer support job that seemed to mean so little against what was on my mind. It was in the middle of a safe, suburban business park on a bright, sunny day. Looking out the window, over a man-made pond with lots of crows gathered around it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the trip I had taken a few months prior—an adventure to Africa.
Beyond the stories of stolen babies for witch doctor cures and the night raids on villages by various “pirate tribes,” I watched two men get taken. It was on a small road in a smaller village in the middle of Zululand. The two men were far down the dirt two-track, walking away from town. I only noticed them because their J. Crew model looks and wardrobes were so out of place. The truck came barreling down on them, a few armed men poured out before it stopped. The two men were quickly subdued and thrown into the truck. It was all so simple and matter-of-fact that I still question what I witnessed.
But that day in my office, all I could do was put my head on my desk and cry. I couldn’t understand why we existed. All we do is hurt each other, and for what? I understood that there were varying levels and reasons for being good or evil, but so much of it was just evil to be evil.
I don’t know if I dozed off after all the stress, but I had a vision of a boy. He was in an underground room being hurt. He didn’t hope because he had forgotten what it meant. So when someone rescued him, he didn’t understand what was happening.
And in that heartbreak was the beginning of Lost and Found. It is my hope that this story and the others that surround it will help bring to light, to educate, and not glamorize.
The characters are partly modeled after Burke and company in Vachss’ novels. But Pete and Liz are a little more hopeful. Selfishly, I made them that way. I don’t have the decades of experience on the streets or in the courtroom that Vachss does, but I do have a drive to do something rather than nothing.
Since I know myself well enough to understand that getting any closer to the front lines of this war would destroy me and my family from the inside out, this is my contribution.
To those of you that have moved ever closer to that front line. To those that have given it all to take real action. To those that have saved a casualty of this most horrific war. To those who’ve traded sleep for nightmares and would do so a thousand times over if it meant one less boy or girl in slavery.