I came back from taking out the trash to discover that door lock was broken and my children were gone. It was the most horrible moment of my life.
It's every parent's nightmare to find their children gone, vanished into thin air. I know how terrible that is because it happened to me.
It all started on an ordinary Friday evening. My husband was due home any time, and I'd just finished giving my two girls their dinner. They asked me if they could watch TV and I agreed.
I tidied up the kitchen and washed the dishes to the distant sound of the cartoons they were watching. The trash can was overflowing, so I decided to empty it out.
I stuck my head into the lounge where Millie, 7, and Emma, 5, were sitting in their pajamas watching 'Phineas and Ferb.´"Girls," I said, "Mommy is just going to put out the trash, I'll be back in a few minutes!"
As it turned out, it took me exactly seven minutes. I walked to the curb with my garbage bag, found the trash can tipped over and I righted it. Then I put in my bag, covered it with the lid, and found a few big stones to place on top.
I knew the raccoons were back, tipping over the trash cans and tearing open the bags for treats. I walked back to my back door and had the fright of my life! The lock was smashed in!
Immediately I ran in to check on the girls. I know all this by heart, I've gone over it all so many times. I ran into the lounge but the girls weren't there. The TV was still on, and the weird little characters with their strangely shaped heads were jabbering but my babies were gone.
I ran from room to room calling their names, getting more and more breathless as I went. This huge bubble of fear was pushing the air out of my lungs. I went looking for my phone and dialed my husband's number. "Frank," I cried. "The girls, they're gone! Someone smashed in the back door..."
But my husband's reaction wasn't what I expected. "I know," he said calmly.
"You know?" I asked stupidly. "How do you know?"
"They're with me," he said calmly.
"Oh my God, Frank!" I gasped, relief flooding me. "Your stupid practical jokes! You gave me such a fright! I thought the girls had been kidnapped!"
"It's not a joke, Helen," Frank said. "I'm leaving you."
"Leaving me?" I couldn't believe my ears, it was all too unreal.
"I'm divorcing you, and I'm keeping the children," he said.
"Why?" I asked. "Why, Frank? Why are you...I don't understand!"
"I'm marrying someone else," he said coolly. "And we can give the children a better life. You want them to be happy don't you?"
Frank thought he could walk back into his daughters' lives after twenty years of neglect.
"I want my children!" I found myself screaming. "Bring my babies back!" But Frank had already hung up. I called the police, but they said I had to sue for custody before they could act since Frank had equal rights to our children.
The next day I found myself a lawyer. He was a young guy, maybe three years younger than me, but he was sharp and savvy. "We'll sue for custody and child support," Michael Roane said. "It's going to be ugly, but we can win."
And ugly it was. Frank had access to his fiancée's considerable financial resources and he was determined to keep Millie and Emma. Michael had a hard time even getting me visitation rights before the custody was decided.
Frank told the judge he was moved to take the children when he came home one night after work to find them home alone, the back door open while I was out drinking!
I sat there in the courtroom, my mouth hanging open. I couldn't believe the Frank who sat there and lied was the same man who'd once been so loving, so gentle, and adoring. It was all a nightmare!
The judge decided that she would see Millie and Emma in chambers without the presence of either me, Frank, or our lawyers. I watched in trepidation as the court officer took them to see the judge.
An hour later they were back, and so was the judge. She sat down and brought the court to order. She threw Frank a cold glance. "Mr. Marrow," she said, "I spoke to your daughters at length. Either they are both lying or you are."
I saw Frank gape at her then turn his head to look at Millie and Emma. Emma was happily swinging her feet, but Millie was looking down, avoiding her father's eyes. "Don't look at them, Mr. Marrow, look at me."
"Your daughters told me you snuck in, told them they were playing a joke on mommy while she took out the trash," the judge said coldly. "There was no drinking was there?"
"In addition, your daughters tell me that they miss their mother, and want to be with her, not with you or their 'new mother.' I'm taking their wishes into consideration. I'm awarding primary and physical custody to Mrs. Marrow effective immediately.
"Tomorrow we will convene to discuss visitation and child support," she said and dismissed the court. I couldn't believe it! I rushed over to my girls and threw my arms around them.
I won, I couldn't believe I won. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned and smiled at Michael. "Thank you," I whispered. "You saved my life!"
He grinned. "How about I take you three ladies out for some pizza to celebrate?" he asked. The next day completed my victory. The judge gave Frank visitation on alternate weekends and some holidays and attributed a generous amount of child support.
Frank didn't take it well at all. He acted as if Mille and Emma had betrayed him by telling the judge the truth. Even though his child support check came in as regular as clockwork, he never saw the girls.
I know they were hurt, but it was over twenty years before I realized how hurt. One day Frank called. It was Thanksgiving, and the girls were there with their husbands and their children.
I'd married Michael, and we'd had a boy of our own who was now fifteen, and you can believe it was a full and noisy house. I answered the phone. "Helen?" I recognized his voice immediately. "Please, can I speak to Emma and Mille?"
My hands were ice cold. I walked into the dining room and gestured to the girls. "Your father is on the phone," I said quietly. "He wants to speak to you two." I saw Millie and Emma exchange a glance.
Millie stepped into the hall and picked up the phone. She pressed the speaker, and Frank's voice filled the hall. "Millie? Emma? It's daddy..."
"This is Millie. What is it that you want?" Millie asked coldly.
"Baby, I want to see you and Emma so much. I love you, baby," he said.
"You do?" she said, "WOW! Is that why we've seen so much of you over the last twenty years?"
"You have to understand," Frank whined. "I was hurt that you took your mother's side..."
"You mean you were angry because your lies and your expensive bribes didn't work?" asked Millie. "The toys and the video games and the clothes?"
"It wasn't like that!" Frank cried.
"Yes, it was," Emma said. "I was only five, but I knew what you were doing!"
"I just want to be part of your lives now," Frank cried. "Forget the past and let your children meet their granddaddy!"
"Our children HAVE a granddaddy," Millie said calmly.
"And it isn't you," said Emma. "It's the man who was there for us all these years. Please don't call again." Millie hung up the phone. I don't think Frank ever called them again.
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