DISCLAIMER: This is a current affairs post that references the heinous death of a small child. Read with caution.
A lot of the time when I write I talk about history – things that happened to other people in other places. Very rarely do I have a personal piece – and it is usually hidden away in a real journal – with paper (gasp!). My posts are almost never intimate and I don’t have an extroverted personality. In spite of that, I have a relatively large group of friends and acquaintances that have all known each other for close to 20 years. We found each other when we were much younger in nightclubs, bars, motorcycle clubhouses, legendary street parties, or the middle of a vast desert. These are not the kinds of places where most form blood ties but we did. We formed a close and ridiculous bond and are lucky enough to see familiar faces or “family” almost anywhere we go.
We have so many great stories and great memories – but those come with equal amounts of tragedy, death, and trauma. We aren’t lucky enough to skate by without both. The reality is that like attracts like and we formed family ties because for whatever reason, we needed to create one of our own. We grew together as survivors and clan, getting stronger with every triumph and harder with each new hurdle of pain. We share a lot of the same scars – the tragic echos of the past, and the reminders of those we lost who were gone too soon.
It gets worse as we get older. Gone are the days of the imagined invincibility. In the last year alone, we have had over fifteen fundraisers to help those amongst our tribe. These range from permanent injury, disintegrating bones, cancer, toxic environmental poisoning, and death to pet problems and moving costs. Because we are getting so accustomed to tragedy, we are very good at supporting each other through it and it is a point of pride that we take care of one another. We are super organized – armed with instant phone trees, food schedules, and care taking abilities. Many have said how remarkable our group can be and it is one of our more positive hive-mind traits. Springing into action and taking care of others is something we are all good at. We’re one of the most prepared for anything bunches I’ve ever heard of.
Except for that instant when the phone rings, late at night or early in the morning. A feeling of overwhelming dread and sadness happens to us all, even before we pick it up because we know in our exhausted bones that we have to rally again, that we will have to survive something else. Odds are the news is not something we want to hear, but as much as we want to ignore that phone, we know we have to answer.
Monday was another of those days. The phone rang before 7:00AM. I put my hands over my ears like a two year old because I didn’t want to know – for about 30 seconds. Then I sighed and called back to learn that one of our extended tribe was lost. Madyson Middleton was the eight year old niece of my chosen sister. I posed with Maddy in hilarious pictures when she was a newborn. She became a media sensation when she went missing on Sunday night from the Santa Cruz area and over 22,000 people shared her picture on social media within twelve hours to boost the search. Late Monday night, after more than 24 hours of frantic searching her body was found, not far from where she disappeared.
Our collective tribe—so good at being prepared—is not prepared for this. We have grown irritatingly resigned to losing adult members of our family but we have only barely gotten used to the idea children at all, much less losing one. Now we have to figure out how to deal with the utter heartbreak of one of our nearest and dearest, and the senseless death of a gorgeous little girl…and we have to accept that in a situation like this, there really is absolutely nothing anyone can do.
We can rage. We can cry. We can compartmentalize. We can care for our sister/her aunt and our brother/her uncle as best we can. We can try to hold her in strong arms. We can mourn a little girl, lost far too quickly as we try to protect her family, but in the advent of social media, talking heads, and internet news, it is near impossible to shield anyone from the truly gruesome details. Within hours, vultures were calling for interviews (I don’t usually swear in my writing, but Fuck You Nancy Grace) and strangers were sharing hundreds of pages and fundraisers that were not connected in any way to the family or their needs, which may never have been intended for them at all. The idea of capitalizing on anything like this is revolting and the sensationalized headlines and gross coverage is just getting started, as are the con artists and opportunists. It has already been a whirlwind and I fear it will get a lot worse before it gets better.
Madyson Middleton is world-wide news now, due to the tragic circumstances of her death, but she was also a daughter, a niece, a grandchild, a cousin, and an eight year old little girl. Please remember and refer to her in those ways, not as a victim in a bin. See her freckles when you hold your kids close, and teach them to be better humans. Think of her when you turn off the TV and really get to know your kids. Don’t give up on them but don’t ignore the fact that some may need help. Have hard conversations. Make necessary sacrifices. Open up your atypical dialogues. No one can prepare for this kind of situation, but we can all try harder to prevent another one. If you’re wondering what you can do, there it is.
And please, remember the Jordans, the Middletons, the Tannery residents and friends, and anyone else who loved that bright little girl in a purple dress. They need your kind thoughts and well wishes, not the play by play headlines and nosy, rude judgements or suppositions. No family—related by blood or bond—should ever have to go through this.
(Author’s Note: I am venting, processing, and speaking as my own self, not as a spokesman or a relation of the families involved. Please recognize that and know that any opinion I offer or any offense I’ve made is not on their behalf. It is my frustration and emotion that is overloading this page, not theirs. Theirs belongs to them and them alone and I would not presume to speak for them.)