The Romanian version (previous post) was published for the Save The Children Romania campaign – “CHILDREN WITHOUT LABELS”.
True stories about real people…
I watch her on her way to school. Her homework is done, she learned all the lessons their teacher gave them for today. Moreover, she learned the most important lesson of all: how to tell without blinking that she stumbled on the cellar stairs and fell, when the rest of her peers will ask her about the bruises around her eyes – two green-bluish ghastly blemishes on her pale skin… It is by far the easiest lesson of all; she learned it a long time ago and now, at the age of ten, she’s already an expert – she’ll wear a nonchalant smile and she will recount calmly and detached how did it all happen and how her parents were scared out of their socks and forbid her ever going near to that cellar. There is no way the other children (or the teachers, for that matter) won’t believe her; especially now that grandma’ summoned all her knowledge to make those red finger marks fade away… And for the reminder of the day, and the days to come, she will act like nothing happened.
And yet, there’s something else in her eyes, a ghostly shudder, an unwavering resolve woven with something akin to terror; a promise – that’s it! She made herself a promise. From now on nobody will ever raise a hand on her. Nobody! Ever!
Almost 24 years passed since that chilly morning, and now she watches me calmly and somehow curious. She didn’t break her promise. The beatings, the foul words, the educational “lessons” for everybody to see – all seem like a distant nightmare. What she didn’t know back then is that the road she would come to walk would be a hard and endeavouring one, and that most likely she would have to fight for all her life – not to gain prizes and money, but for her not to become the product of those who shaped her childhood; not to become a celebrity in one area or another, but to find her true self.
To this day she still tries to rip apart the threads of woven lies, and illusions, and scars, and wounds that surrounded her childhood and that made her be somebody else. It is a constant battle with herself – sometimes she discovers yet another part of what she truly is and she looks at it with wonder and curiosity; other times she falls back into the dark spider web she’s trying to get herself freed from. Sometimes when she thinks she escaped from one of her many shackles, not much time passes until she’s proven wrong. Each and every day is a fight to subdue the violence and anger that boil within her – for she, in turn, acted violently (verbally or physically) and with cruelty towards others… until one day it dawned on her… She, who knew what terror and pain was; she who knew what being afraid to come home after school felt like; she, who was looking for any possible reason in the world to make herself unseen – she was the one to inflict on others the very cruelty and violence that she hated so much!
She understood that this wasn’t her fault, that she never knew better, that she acted in the only way she was taught. Yes, her rational side understood that; but then there was the other side of herself, the real her, buried and somewhat forgotten, but still there…
And in that moment she was flooded with remorse and guilt, that gnawed at her and that still prey on her like salt on a fresh wound. She cried hard and long, and sometimes she still bursts into tears whenever she recalls the cruelty and wickedness of her own actions. But she can’t turn back the time – she can only hope that she will be someday forgiven, just the way she learned to forgive. She can only hope that one day she’ll learn to tame the ever-present instinct to act as a cornered wildling…
To this day, whenever things are getting too hard to cope with, she is starting to fall back into a dreamy state and runs from reality in the old world she once forged in her early childhood. To this day she doesn’t know how to ask for help, not even for the slightest of problems, let alone the big ones. She doesn’t know her own worth and value in this world, and thus she never learned to stand up for her own rights – she knows that this is absurd, but all those years when she was victimised and told, one way or the other, that she is nothing, that she is unworthy and deserves nothing, are now embedded in her being deeper than she ever thought it possible.
It has become harder and harder to blend in a society that is getting harsher with each passing day. And the fight within becomes more often than not a fight for survival, a fight to make ends meet. For one cannot separate the soul from the world outside one’s body, and the turmoil within makes it difficult to act with ease; and the everyday struggle only adds more to the fight within. All the little parts of one’s existence are pieces of a puzzle that somehow mirrors on itself – if something doesn’t fit on one side, than something goes wrong on other sides…
To this day she is still flinching, and panicking, and feeling guilty – for the briefest moment – whenever something bad happens. The guilt is deeply carved in her very bones, and the body reacts instinctively long before reason starts to kick in. To this day, if somebody makes a sudden move towards her, the same instinct makes her to raise her hand in a gesture of self-defense. Only if you ask her “what’s the matter with you?” she realises; otherwise, she’s completely oblivious.
At almost 34 years old she still fights with herself – luckily she’s not among those who abuse drugs or alcohol (she barely drinks), but there are other behaviours and reactions as equally self-destructive; she runs away and hides from others, choosing solitude and seclusion; she wants to trust people, but always expects the worst.
But sometimes she wins. For years she was angry towards her grandmother for her educational principles: “no matter how wrongly a parent behaves, you never intervene in front of the child!” Therefore, while she was badly beaten in a room, from the other room could be heard loud thuds – the grandmother would forcefully hit her fists against the wardrobe hoping thus to make the father to stop.
Even this kind of behaviour lingered within her for a long time – she saw acts of violence and, although frustrated and shocked, she froze and wasn’t able to react and make a stand. But she won; she still freezes, but after a few moments of perplexity (not my business!) she recalls the never-ending fear, and helplessness – and she acts.
And she won something else: she learned to forgive. She couldn’t forget, but forgiveness brought her calmness, almost an inner quietness that helps her look at things more objectively and without shiver, and so her fight is not as painful anymore as it has been.
Twenty four years ago she made a promise. Alas! She never knew what was to come. She never imagined the price she would have to pay for choosing the – unknown to her back then – right way. But something tells me that she would’ve made the same promise nonetheless. She would’ve made the same promise and she would’ve kept it despite the bitterness that would follow her for all her life, like a faithful loyal dog.
Alas, the sour taste of resignation: the burning desire to be close to your kin, the need to feel that you belong, the need to be caressed and to be granted the trust of those considered to be closest to you – a desire you know it will never be fulfilled.
She learned to forgive and she learned to understand; and she also learned something else: to accept the fact that beneath what meets the eye and despite all the pleasantries, no matter how much she wishes everything would be different, the chasm between her and those she yearns for is far too deep, and they are nothing but mere strangers carrying out some social expectancy.
A sad and bitter truth written within the tired eyes glancing back at me from the mirror…