Levys Endure '11 Weeks of Torturous Craziness'

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On many of the sleepless nights since Chandra Levy vanished, her mother slips into her daughter's small bedroom, full of memories, and curls up in the little bed.

She tells herself it's so she can escape a snoring husband and a snoring dog. But she also admits its her way to feel closer to her daughter.

In the 78 days since Chandra Levy was last seen in Washington, D.C., the room has become a sanctuary of sorts for her family, taking on a state of disorder the 24-year-old neatnik never would tolerate.

Her younger brother, Adam, is constructing a toothpick model of the Eiffel Tower there. Her mother leaves the bed disheveled. And her father, Robert, grieves amid the diplomas, books and pictures, sometimes chanting her name and crying.

"It's just the most painful thing," Susan Levy told The Associated Press in an interview. "It's been 11 weeks of torturous craziness."

Since they reported their daughter missing, each day offers a range of challenges: from getting out of bed to turning over Chandra's dental records to viewing TV footage of police dogs searching landfills and abandoned buildings.

Anger, sadness and anxiety fill the days. Unfulfilled hope and an empty bedroom are all they have to show for it.

"Some days I just want to collapse, just do nothing," Susan Levy said. "I shouldn't say some days. It's almost every day of the week."

Levy, who once founded a children's museum and involved her children in her charitable works, projects another image in public, of the vigilant mother, a crusader for justice who wants her daughter back.

She's stood before banks of cameras to repeat her message. She traveled to Washington and confronted her daughter's reported paramour, Rep. Gary Condit, the 53-year-old married man who represents their district, an agricultural region in the San Joaquin Valley.

Her husband, Robert, a well-known oncologist who has delivered more than his share of bad news to cancer patients, is often by her side, his eyes rimmed in tears or his head bowed in grief. She does most of the talking.

Susan Levy endures occasional criticism, such as the callers to a talk radio show who questioned what they see as a lack of emotion, or complained that other cases don't get as much attention, or questioned her daughter's morals.

"I've had to be real brave," she said. "I've found I have done things that I never thought I would do."

But behind the doors of her house, she struggles to get dressed and comb her hair each day.

One day last week, she spread photos of happier times on the dining room table in the large, open room that is the heart of their spacious contemporary home.

In one, a scowling little girl sits in a mess of shredded paper from one of her classic childhood tantrums. In another, a young woman stands with a squad of fighter pilots she befriended at an air show. And there's one of the whole family, all smiles, shot in April, the last time they were together, just weeks before Chandra disappeared.

Her father can only take so much of this talk.

"Don't go too much in the past," he implores and then walks away from the table.

But with an uncertain future and a present that is nearly unbearable, the past at least provides a comforting distraction.

A ringing phone keeps them coming back. Their two phone lines ring as many as 50 times a day.

"But not the one call we want, saying that 'I'm OK, I'm alive,"' Robert Levy said. "That's the only one we want. You don't get that one."

Neighbors deliver food. Strangers from across the country send letters of support. Believers of many faiths -- Jews, Buddhists and Catholics, to name a few -- are saying prayers.

Francis and Carole Carrington, whose daughter and granddaughter went missing for weeks before their bodies were found near Yosemite National Park, have helped the Levys manage a reward fund. On Monday, they also stopped by the Levys' house on their way home from a court hearing for the women's accused killer.

The Carringtons didn't have that much advice to give. Every grieving couple discovers their own ways to cope in such situations, Francis Carrington said.

"I still want to have that flame of hope," Susan Levy said last week.

"Yeah, you should," her husband said in a weak voice.

"That flame of hope she's alive and miracles can happen," Susan Levy added. "I've been saying that the whole time."