What would I say to my child 18 years after she was stolen from me — after her childhood was stolen from her — by a stranger?
Words don't measure up to such circumstances, which is why the Jaycee Lee Dugard story is being broadcast worldwide today.
The horror of it all defies language.
One day in 1991, Dugard was 11 and darling enough for a magazine cover. Then, as fast as a speeding car can make a U-turn, her image was fit for a milk carton.
A mountain community near South Lake Tahoe scoured the countryside after a couple pulled Jaycee into their car and sped away.
But all that love couldn't reach her forced solitude.
Public vigils were maintained, until one day they weren't. Trails got cold.
Life went on, but time doesn't heal all wounds. In this case, time concealed a terrible injustice while others paid the price.
"(This) broke my marriage up," Carl Probyn, Jaycee's stepfather, told the Associated Press this week. "I mean I'm a suspect up until yesterday."
Probyn saw Jaycee get snatched as she walked to her bus stop that June morning in 1991. He desperately tried to chase the kidnappers down on a bike. But he became the object of suspicion. Ultimately, he and Jaycee's mother, Terry, separated. Carl lives in Orange County now, Terry in Riverside.
Phillip Garrido — the man arrested this week on suspicion of kidnapping Jaycee — was never a suspect. His name never came up.
God knows what words were spoken between Carl and Terry in those 18 anguished years. And now, one wonders, what could be said to help soothe them.
What can anyone say now that Jaycee Lee Dugard has been found alive, a 29-year-old woman, herself the mother of two children allegedly fathered by the man who took her.
The punishment will never fit the crime.
"We are beating ourselves up over this," said Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren E. Rupf.
That's because Garrido's neighbors at one point became suspicious and called Rupf's department. An officer Rupf described as "bright and energetic" was dispatched to Garrido's home, but did not discover the young woman police say was being held captive in the backyard.
The officer should have been "more curious," but he will not be disciplined, Rupf said. Going forward, his department will have to make "adjustments."
Garrido called his "a heartwarming story" and said Jaycee and her children slept every night "in my arms."
According to media accounts, Carl Probyn said Jaycee is "feeling guilt for having bonded with (Garrido) the way she did."
Which brings us back to the failure of words. What can anyone say to Jaycee?
I love you. I'm sorry. I wish I could erase the last 18 years. I wish it had been me instead of you?
All any parent can do is love Jaycee and pray she loves you back.