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Posts Tagged ‘trauma’

The Truth about Bucharest School no. 19

Posted by E on December 2, 2016

scoala-19

This note was originally posted in October 2016 on the Facebook wall of ‘Scoala nr. 19’ – the Bucharest elementary school I attended between ages 6-11.

This spring the nightmares came back. Hardly a month goes by without a flashback, but after my mother died in December 2015, everything that happened to me in Romania intensified. The last 30 years of my life have been a nightmare, and much of it stems from what happened to me in Bucharest, at Scoala Nr. 19.

I write this note in English because it’s the language I’ve spoken for the last 30 years. My parents are both dead, and I don’t have any Romanian friends in Toronto, Canada, where I emigrated at age 11 before the 1989 Romanian Revolution that toppled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. I feel awkward expressing my emotions in Romanian, but the scars of what happened to me at Scoala nr. 19 still haven’t faded. Pain doesn’t fade with time. Sexual exploitation has consequences, especially at a fragile, tender age.

I was 9 years old when my mother defected from communist Romania, four years before Ceausescu’s regime was defeated. My father was 68 years old and didn’t want a child; his long-time affair with his mistress was all that he cared about. I was nine years old when my father began to lock me out of our apartment on Magheru Boulevard, and when I realized for the first time that nobody cared if I lived or died.

At nine years old I was skinny, always hungry, and most of all – afraid. The boys at my school started to pick on me – none worse than Marc Faur, the gang leader of a posse of boys who made my life miserable. He sensed who the most vulnerable, defenceless kids were in our school and honed in on me.

Those boys attacked me before and after school – kicked me, grabbed at my breasts, and Marc always made sure to punch me in the stomach with as much power and force as he could muster. They stole my innocence and at only ten years old, they made me feel that I was worthless, garbage and should kill myself.

Marc Faur hit me almost every day, making me feel dirty and afraid because nobody else tried to defend me. I know what it’s like to double over in pain, gasping – choked out of breath, feeling as worthless as a cockroach. Feeling that nobody gives a shit about me, that anybody can do whatever they want to me with impunity. I was alone, and Marc – well, Marc was the Pioneer President of Class E. His mother was a renowned opera singer, while my own parents were deaf. Worthless.

After my mother defected on a trip to Italy in 1985, my father and me were labeled political traitors. No teachers gave a shit about me.

The teachers knew better than to pick on Faur, and consequently he became our class bully. Marc Faur was a big, overweight boy and I was scrawny and unloved. Nobody cared how much I cried behind the school gymnasium, how hungry I was because nobody had packed a lunch for me.

Our teacher, Tovarasa Elena Hlatcu, sent notes to my father that my hair wasn’t brushed and I hadn’t washed my face. She sent notes after my period started, saying that “Someone should make sure the child is clean and doesn’t smell so awful.”

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My father didn’t give a shit. I lived on the streets most of the time, fending off pedophiles, depending on my best friend’s family to feed me. I was a proud girl and never asked for food, but I didn’t turn away any sandwiches or leftovers, either. Marc and Silviu Constantin abused me in every way possible – kicking me, spitting on me, grabbing my breasts, punching me in the gut, and Marc Faur went so far as to look for cockroaches and drop them in my hair.

Marc wrote horrible things on the blackboard, calling me a whore, and (as always) punched me in the stomach and in the breasts, with as much force as he could. Others, like Dan Popescu didn’t care about my abuse; they were too delicate to hit me themselves, so they looked the other way. Even as boys teased, hit and abused me, Dan (who was the only boy I ever had a crush on) looked the other way.

To this day, I am terrified of bugs. I relieve what Marc did every moment I step into the shower and wash my hair.

To this day, often I look in the mirror I am embarrassed by the size of my breasts. Silviu and Faur did this – they made me feel like garbage. They assaulted me while (at only ten and eleven years old) I felt too worthless and ashamed to tell our teacher or my father, who probably would have beaten me for causing trouble.

Thirty years have passed. I am forty years old, but the trauma those boys caused me was worse than a sexual assault – it has permeated every pore of my being. It made me feel ugly and unloved. It made me feel disgusted with my own body, which I felt had betrayed me. As a teenager, I started picking, cutting at my skin; I hated every bit of me. I was as worthless as they made me feel – even worse.

The trauma that I experienced at Scoala Nr. 19 is still part of my daily life. To this day, nobody has apologized for destroying my innocence and causing me the nightmares that still return today. Nobody has apologized for making me feel ashamed of my body, for the disgusting words I still hear inside my head today.

But I have nothing left to lose – and I’m no longer willing to remain ashamed and feel worthless just to cover up what those boys did to me. They physically and sexually abused me. They raped my innocence, and I don’t owe them anything.

I refuse to be silent anymore.

Writing this post is part of empowering myself again – reclaiming the power that they stole from me.

Postscript: after I came forward with the truth about what happened to me, on Oct. 27 I received an “apology” via email from the bully ringleader of the abuse, Marc Faur, saying he was sorry for “not being nice” to me.

marc faur apology

“Not nice” meant beating me during recess, among other things.

I rejected the apology because it wasn’t genuine and decided to write openly about it and post about it on his Facebook page this past week.

For the last 48 hours I’ve received hate-filled messages from his friends in Romania, telling me to “Go fuck yourself”, “you’re deranged”, and calling me terrible insults and names. This is without them knowing any evidence.

THIS is the reason women and girls don’t report abuse.

Soon they enlisted Facebook friends to attack me – friends who weren’t even Romanian and had no clue about what happened in the 1980s. Foreign friends who simply wanted justification to attack a stranger.

marc-faur-threats

In the last 48 hours I also received messages asking me to excuse the actions of 11-year old boys. But none of those requests acknowledged the trauma caused to a 10-year old girl. Just because this happened decades ago does not lower the impact, the pain, the consequences of their abuse on my life.

Why are girls considered worthless compared to boys?

Why is my trauma considered worthless?

costin-craioveanu

Former classmate Costin Craioveanu writes on Marc Faur’s Facebook wall: “I remember her…a superb being…it was impossible not to abuse her.”

This is pathetic – it’s bullying, and it’s NOT right. Abuse does NOT have an expiration date.

December 4 update: Other women have approached me with memories of being assaulted by boys at my old school. A model whose photos are pictured on Faur’s Photography page also contacted me privately. Another woman spoke about being raped by a boy from School no. 19, but from a different graduating year.

Last night I also spoke with an old classmate who was also beaten and abused by Marc Faur and shared the effects it had on her life. I hid her identity to protect her privacy and ensure she won’t suffer the abuse I’ve received over the last week. However, her story is important and needs to be heard. Her account is written in Romanian, but states that she was repeatedly emotionally and physically abused by Marc Faur.

We are not alone!

marc-faur-abuse

Posted in abuse, marc faur, romania | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Genetic Memory: Remembering Your Ancestors’ Lives

Posted by E on April 25, 2016

intergenerational-trauma babushka dolls

Fifteen years after my family emigrated to Canada, I decided to spend the summer after my university graduation backpacking through France and Spain with Dina, my closest girlfriend. We scoured Paris together, rode the overnight trains, sweated under the intense heat of the Andalucian plains, took countless photos of Gaudi’s wonderful modernist architecture in Barcelona, ate churros con chocolat in the back alleys of Madrid.

I was drawn to the south of Spain, in part because Federico Garcia Lorca influenced so much of my poetry that I just had to see the house where he was born in Fuente Vaqueros, to see the mystical Granada he had loved and hated. I wanted to breathe in the same dry, white-hot air that had filled his lungs and infused his verses. And it was there in Moorish Spain, at the foothills of the Alhambra, that I heard the ancient Judaic language of Ladino for the first time.

Elisa AlhambraThe song was “Durme, Durme,” an ancient lullaby sang by the Sephardic Jews of Spain before they were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula by Queen Isabella’s decree. I don’t remember exactly how I came to hear it – I might have been standing under the awning of a shop, taking a break from the unrelenting heat, or while eating cold gazpacho out on a scorching patio. But as soon as the words entered my consciousness, I recognized them. I knew the song, somehow. I started to hum along with it; my mouth began to shape the words, almost as though they were a memory just hanging on the tip of my tongue.

The trouble was, I wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t have any Jewish ancestors that I knew of and my father had died long ago, when I was 13 – before I could ask him any questions about his background. So I chalked up the experience as a déjà vu oddity, one of those freakish yet ubiquitous experiences we all have once in a while, like thinking of someone just as the phone rings or dreaming of an old friend who happens to email us the next day.

A few days later I parted ways with Dina. We said goodbye in Marseilles, a sun-scorched, dusty place just outside the Italian border. I journeyed on to Rome, then Venice, where I found lodgings in a spartan Benedictine nuns’ convent and spent my first afternoons on the lagoon sitting on bridge steps near the canal, gazing at the mossy green water, writing poetry and sketching the images of stray dogs against alabaster buildings.

barracksThen it was time to travel eastwards into Europe. My ultimate destination was Romania, where I planned to track down relatives in my father’s old village and find out more about my family’s past. But before that, I wanted to visit Krakow, Poland so that I could make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp where millions of people met their deaths. I wanted to see the place in order to understand the scope of the brutality that had swept Europe only two generations earlier.

On the day I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, the sun was high up in the sky. The grass was knee-tall and swayed against my bare legs. The floorboards underneath my feet crackled and snapped as I walked among the barracks crammed with three-tiered bunk slots. Sunlight filtered in through gaps in the planks that formed the walls, smearing long, arrow-like shafts along the ground.

I thought of those nameless prisoners and something deep inside me stirred – the same familiarity I’d experienced when I heard that Ladino song back in Granada. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, and I swear I recognized that smell. The smell of burning ashes and wet wood, of fear and lost hopes.

I was here before.

I was twenty-five years old and World War Two had been over for close to sixty years but somehow I had been there, or someplace equally terrible. In the intense heat of that August afternoon, an ice-cold shudder passed right through me.

Elisa Jewish family historyI hadn’t expected this. At sixteen years old, I was recruited by a Canadian neo-Nazi group called the Heritage Front and sent to work for Ernst Zundel, renowned Holocaust-denier and publisher of anti-Semitic propaganda that was distributed worldwide. I left the group at age 18 and testified against its leaders in court, but it took several years for me to get over the guilt of having been part of such a hateful thing. To understand that as a minor girl, I had been exploited by group leaders.

In the years that followed I lived in hiding, and during that time I used many aliases. The surname I used the longest was Cohen – for whatever reason it felt natural that I would adopt a Jewish surname, and that one in particular seemed to speak to me.

Years later, after I managed to track down my uncle in my father’s village and started piecing together my father’s past, the truth came out. It came in the form of a pretty lacquered box that had been my grandmother’s most prized possession. It was inscribed for her, bearing the name “Anna” on its bottom. And when I opened it, the name Kohan was etched inside its lid – a Hungarian version of….you guessed it, Cohen.

Discovering that my father had been Jewish was a surreal experience. For so long I’d wanted it to be true, because so much would make sense. My collection of babushka dolls and Russian things, my affinity for Ladino music, my connection to Jewish people, klezmer and food, the fact that the Transylvanian region where my father’s family came from was a known place where Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews had intermingled.

For ten years I’d wanted to convert to Judaism, but it was only after I took a 23andme DNA test that the choice to become a Jew became simple. The results showed I had Romanian, Russian, Polish, Hungarian and Italian/Greek roots, and confirmed my heritage as a blend of Ashkenazi, Balkan and Sephardic. The Relative Finder tool even matched me to over two dozen third and fourth cousins with the surnames Cohen, Cohn, Kaplan or Kuhn.

For me, the process of conversion wasn’t simply a matter of embracing the hidden religion of my ancestors and their multigenerational persecution – it also allowed me to accept that the genetic memories I’d experienced all my life were real.

GENETIC MEMORY, AND WHY IT MATTERS

genetic memoryWikipedia defines genetic memory as a memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time.

Why should it matter to you?

Discoveries in the field of genetic memory have immense ramifications on our society, particularly among previously-subjugated persons. What would happen if science proved that trauma was passed down in our cells, from parent to child? What if the anger and mistrust harboured by Aboriginal or African-American peoples isn’t something they can just “get over”? What if they are given a reason to sue governments for restitution based on genetic stressors that have impeded their ability to function?

Sure, one could argue that generations of abused and exploited people will produce offspring who mistrust their government because they grew up hearing tales of discrimination and injustice from their parents and grandparents.

But what if that pain goes beyond anecdotal tales about deceased ancestors absorbed by a marginalized community? What if the pain of a massive traumatic event suffered by a parent or grandparent continues to live within your body, in your physical tissues, in your subconscious anxiety and reflex reactions?

Increasing evidence shows that it can, and indeed it does.

I have researched genetic memory for the last decade, and especially over the last two years as I began working on a memoir that discusses the imprint of multi-generational trauma and suffering. Time and again, my research led me nowhere. The scarcity of scientific data is easily due to academic biases: which scientist is going to study the field if he/she expects their work to be derided by fellow academics who pledge irrefutable allegiance to the Darwinian model?

The History of Genetic Memory

Jean-Baptiste_de_LamarckIn the late eighteenth century, there lived a French biologist by the name of Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck. He was both a predecessor of Darwinian theory and one of its competitors. He was, in fact, one of the first men in history to propose an evolutionary structure to humanity’s existence. Darwin was a mere babe in the cradle when Lamarck began to experiment on organisms using the theory of genetic memory – rather than natural selection – to account for much of the evolution of all species.

He basically asserted that an organism can pass on its memories and experiences to its offspring, and that in and of itself constitutes our evolution.

A new biologist by the name of Paul Kammerer took up the Lamarckian torch in the 1920s, when he experimented on toads in order to prove the validity of genetic memory. Before his results could be released, however, the experiment was tampered with by Nazi sympathizers who sought to bury Kammerer and his work because of his political beliefs.

Since Lamarck and Kammerer’s work was dismissed and/or destroyed, the study of genetic memory has been dormant. At least, until the 21st century.

That’s when a miracle happened. It started with the new and exciting field of Epigenetics, which explores the concept that traits can be passed down to successive generations without alteration to the genetic code but via some other means, and that the experiences of one’s ancestors have a direct effect on our physical and emotional development today.

Sweden epigeneticsOne of epigenetics’ most quoted (and explosive) studies focuses on a 19th century province in northern Sweden which experienced seven years of famine followed by good harvest and abundance of food. Scientists from the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institute evaluated this history of feast and famine to see how it affected the lives of offspring, and found that “life conditions could affect your health not only when you were a fetus, but also well into adulthood.” They concluded that parents’ experiences early in their own lives change the traits they pass on to their offspring. Scarcity of food in grandfather’s life was associated with a significantly extended survival of his grandchildren for many years, whilst food abundance was associated with obesity and a greatly shortened life span of the grandchildren.

intergenerational traumaBut genetic memory is more revolutionary, and goes beyond trait inheritance to argue that memories can pass between generations. In 2013 several animal studies suggested that behaviour itself can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory. There is evidence that phobias are also derived from ancestral memories.

In 2013, new research was presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. Brian Dias, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University, reported that mice inherit specific smell memories from their fathers — even when the offspring have never experienced that smell before, and even when they’ve never met their father. What’s more, their children are born with the same specific memory. Skepticism and quips/tweets such as “Crazy Lamarkian shit,” formed the kneejerk reflex of many scientists who preferred to stick within their comfort zone and deny that genetic memory could ever exist.

Even when faced with new evidence.

IMPRINTING PAIN AND TRAUMA

multigenerational traumaI don’t blame the scientific community for being afraid to pursue what many of us intuitively sense is a reality. Just imagine the floodgates of victims tearing open – the children of indigenous people who were massacred or sent to residential schools. The descendants of African slaves. The children of “comfort women” who were held prisoner and raped by the Japanese during WW2. The offspring of Holocaust survivors. All potentially suing the governments that exploited their ancestors for the brutality, fear and exploitation that still courses in their veins today.

It’s called Intergenerational Trauma.

Lamarckian theory drove the study of Orthogenesis, which nowadays has been called progressive evolution or autogenesis. This is the hypothesis that life has an innate tendency to evolve in a unilinear manner due to some internal, intrinsic driving force.

Do you know what this means?

It means that the fire inside us, that drive to survive and succeed that burns in our hearts and defines our species, that propels us to create art, to reach sublime peaks of achievement, is based on the building blocks of what has come before, but is still part of us.

There are so many trends in evolution that simply cannot be explained by natural selection alone.

IMG_9131How can you define, through Darwinian natural selection alone, that mysterious inner force in all beings to reach up to the sky, to conquer the universe? That emotion that wells up inside us when we look at a magnificent mountain, when we walk along the shoreline of a vast ocean, when we gaze up to the stars and feel something stir up inside our chest, something that cannot be defined in words alone.

Although I converted to Judaism, I don’t consider myself particularly religious in the sense that I don’t go to temple. Both my parents and myself experienced so much trauma in our early lives without ever being saved by divine intervention. I believe that organized religion and its stringent rules has contributed to more suffering and death than any natural disasters in the history of mankind. So I am not talking about God here.

What I am saying is that we are all connected on some level. We are all part of a grand design that is bigger than the archaic mythology that passes for organized religion. Rooted inside our cells reside the desires, heartaches, and yes – even the memories of every one of our ancestors. And it is this combined force that propels us forward, toward bettering ourselves and the world around us.

Carl Jung talked about racial memory, a collective memory of humanity as a species. To him this meant that the ancestral memories of our forbearers have become part of our collective unconscious and are in fact, continuing to shape our world.

Let me put it in a different way: every single thing that makes us who we are is shaped by our ancestors. Our food preferences, our penchant for hot or cold weather, our phobias and inexplicable fears, even our food sensitivities and idiosyncratic habits lie in our genes. A kitten will instinctively search for the litter box before its mother nudges it; it will automatically salivate at the sound of a can opener or an egg being cracked over a frying pan without ever having tasted eggs or canned food.

In the absence of any actual experiences, genetic memory is carried within our DNA, within the genome of our species.

Just as all rivers flow toward the sea, the blood that flows within our veins carries the memory of its first drop. It REMEMBERS – and makes us who we are.

If you would like to help me write my memoir REMEMBER YOUR NAME, please join me on Patreon.com and become part of the journey.

Posted in ancestry, DNA, jewish | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

My Little Girl – The Wildflower of Alexandria

Posted by E on January 14, 2016

Cu Mama Iablanita bridge 2

When you’re on the brink of death, common lore says that your life flashes before your eyes. But what they don’t tell you is that the same thing happens when someone you love – or at least someone who was a tremendous influence in your life – dies.  Take for example, my mother – who died only a month ago.

Parinti meiMy mother Lucia and I weren’t close – if anything, I was a parent to her: because both my parents were deaf I was paraded around like a hearing aid dog, interpreting anything they needed to know, translating back to them the often stressful or painful things a child shouldn’t be privy to. And yet this happened – I was there when my mother was arrested by Romania’s Securitate police and escorted off a plane because she’d made the mistake of confiding in a childhood best friend, Dida Tufeanu, the fact that she intended to declare political asylum. I was there when my father beat her brutally, when his fists rained upon her even as I tried to wedge myself between them.

On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

When someone you love dies, your entire life flashes before your eyes – every memory you shared between each other. Every kiss, every blow. The lightest, earliest caress glimmers behind your eyelids – like the time my mother read me fairytales. The time she pretended that Mos Gerila (Father Frost) was at the door and he had brought me two new book volumes of fairytales. The moment she put scars on me for the first time.

Lucia was the mother who kissed my forehead every night. The mother who hit me until she drew blood, whose nails clawed at my skin until new scars were left on my hands and arms. The mother who caressed me as I slept and told me I was the smartest little girl in the whole wide world. The mother who let my father hit me and joined in sometimes.

Sibiu 1My mother Lucia confessed that my father hated children and at the age of 55 he didn’t want a new life in his new, Securitate-given apartment. Over and over again, she told me that my father kicked her in the stomach throughout her pregnancy – determined to abort the fetus who was sure to cause him troubles.

Whenever I didn’t do my homework or play the part of the perfect little daughter, my mother told me that she wished she had indeed aborted me – and shared her regret that my father (who she had married only to obtain a Bucharest city permit) hadn’t managed to kick her stomach hard enough to get rid of me.

Elisa Sibiu deaf school

School for the Deaf, Sibiu spring 2015

But when she loved me, my mother touched my cheek and told me that I was her little girl forever – despite the fact that my brown eyes (my father’s eyes) disappointed her. Despite the fact that she had always dreamed of a Shirley Temple doll – blonde and blue eyes – and her happiest time was right after I was born and when my eyes had (almost) looked bluish. But then my baby blue eyes turned brown and her love for me waned, and then she turned into the same little girl nobody wanted.

Nobody ever wanted my mother – as a small child, she was the wildflower of Alexandria in Teleorman county, Romania – a deaf and dumb little girl who was raped around age 12 by brutal villagers – monsters who in turn transformed her into a monster. She grew to love only animals – kittens, puppies, baby goats – but never trusted people, and it showed.

Lucia was a deaf little girl whose own mother didn’t want her. Who was sent away to her uncle’s estate where she spent years living in the barn next to the outhouse, among the sheep and goats she tended because as “deaf-and-dumb” in the old country she wasn’t deemed human enough to sleep inside the house.

My mother lived in barns, next to sheep and goats, for most of her childhood. She slept in haylofts oblivious of the mice and rats that scurried at her feet. Having fallen off a changing table when she was two, her tympanic membrane had shattered and she was rendered deaf. Once she was deaf, she was useless. In 1940s Romania a deaf child was a curse, a useless mouth to feed. So her mother abandoned her on her uncle’s doorstep, and after that she slept inside a barn for years, unworthy of a bed inside their house – a feral child exposed to all elements except a human’s love.

All my mother ever knew was pain and hardship, and that is all she taught me.

Lucia fetita smallAnd then, the rape by village boys. She was barely twelve. The rape that caught the village priest’s attention and got Lucia sent away to a girls’ Boarding School for the Deaf in Sibiu, the heart of Transylvania. There she would learn to read and write despite having lived as a semi-feral child through critical stages of development.

That school would be the happiest time in her life – she made friends for the first time, learned to sign, lip-read and communicate with others. But the best part was when her and her friends raided the kitchen at night, or when they snuck out the window of their dormitory and went to the movies – when they enjoyed the brief freedom their fleeting youth had to offer.

But those early brutalities never took away the sting of her strap, the sharpness of her nails. My mother clawed and tore at my innocence because she herself never had the chance to be innocent.

She hit me because she was never caressed – she abused me because nobody ever taught her the importance of being loved.

My mother hurt me because everybody in the world had wounded her – because when you live with unkindness, you don’t ever learn how valuable we all are, how each of us without exception deserve love. She was deprived of love and learned that the only way to overcome her worthlessness was to wound others – and wound me, she did.

If I could see you one more time, Mama – I would tell you that you weren’t worthless. You didn’t deserve the pain and horror that others in that brutal world inflicted upon you, making horror be the only thing you knew.

I wish my father hadn’t raped you, Mama. I’m sorry that he impregnated you through rape and made this child that neither of you wanted. I’m sorry that he kicked your belly and convinced you that abortion was the only way – only to give birth to me, an inferior little girl who would never match your desperation for a Shirley Temple doll who might actually bring you happiness.

Iablanita bridgeI brought only pain, because that is the only thing you taught me – I still look at the thin white scars across my hands and arms and cry for you, Mama. A little deaf girl unwanted by the world. A little deaf girl sent out to feed the sheep and goats from daybreak to night, just skin and bones, a feral little thing who slept in the barn next to the animals you tended without anybody ever wandering if you were thirsty or hungry. Without ever wondering how you were in those cold hills when there was nothing except you, a little girl, and the brutal winds of Alexandria county, Romania.

I’m sorry that I told the police what you did, Mama. I was only fourteen years old, and I didn’t understand – but within a week I made sure to recant my testimony because I didn’t want you to get arrested. I didn’t want you to suffer more than you already had, more than a human being could ever suffer. You made countless mistakes that changed both of our lives, but in the end you loved me more than you loved anybody else in the world. You loved me as much as you were capable of loving, despite nobody ever having loved you. You did the best with what you had, and that was so very little.

Elisa Biertan tower2I inherited your pain, Mama. It was seeded inside your DNA, inside the epigenetic code your passed into my blood. Your pain shines in my eyes, Mama. Your wounds are my wounds, just as my father’s ancestral pogroms flow through my bloodstream.

In your later years, you were MY little girl – I tried my best to be there for your needs, despite my failures. I brought you food and paid your bills and tried to understand your needs, although I couldn’t. I’m sorry I put you in the hospital – I thought that after you broke your leg, that was the best thing for you. I wanted you to eat and be cared for, and the waiting list for the Deaf nursing home you wanted to go to was oh so long. But now I think I made a mistake. I should have made sure you stayed in your home, I should have figured out a way for you to trust the help that might have been arranged. Even if you wouldn’t open the door for social workers and Meals on Wheels, even if you didn’t trust anybody but me. Maybe you might have lived longer – although we all die. Although after all, nothing matters.

bob rumballThe month after you died, I tried to kill myself. We all die anyway, right? – so what’s the point? I felt that everything I ever did was wrong, and that you died because I forced Mount Sinai Hospital to keep you and look after you until you’d get a bed inside the nursing home of your choice, Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf. But neither of us knew back then that Bob Rumball nursing home had come to accept hearing people, and in some cases placed deaf people lower on their list in favour of hearing applicants. I didn’t know that in the end you would die in hospital while waiting 13 months for a bed at the Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf – after having waited another year before that also – in total, close to 2 years overall on their waiting list. For whatever reasons which I strongly believe involve either mismanagement, corruption, bribery or God knows what, the Bob Rumball nursing home in Barrie, ON kept taking more and more hearing people in instead of a deaf person like you, who most needed their help.

Elisa Sighisoara yellow street

Walking the same streets my mother had walked

I miss you so much, Mama – the wildflower of Alexandria county. The skinny little girl who herded goats barefoot, thirsty and afraid, and nobody ever loved because they all thought you were worthless. I understand now why you didn’t know how to love – because nobody ever loved you. Because you were born and eventually died alone, like a parched little flower, so tender and beautiful but unwanted by the world, in the foothills and plains of Teleorman county.

You were somebody, Mama. Even in this awful, ugly world where the rich are everything and the poor are considered worthless, you were an innocent little soul who deserved more but was never loved and was abused in every way imaginable. I’m sorry this happened to you, my little girl. I’m so sorry that you didn’t understand the meaning of compassion because you never felt it yourself.

Lucia July31And after all that pain, life cheated you by cutting your life short through early onset dementia (Alzheimer’s). Although your last wish was to return home, there was no money. You worked more than twenty years for Canada’s CIBC bank, never missing a single day of work, and they packaged you out without a pension, leaving you to die in poverty. Leaving me an orphan in a cold, indifferent country I was forced to come to as a child – a country that has brought me only pain.

You were only 71 when you died – an unfair, ugly death you fought with all your might. It wasn’t fair! You didn’t want to die – you struggled so hard against the darkness that seeped into your existence – that made you forget how to eat, how to drink. The darkness that made you become weaker by the second, that fought me so hard whenever I tried to feed you, to keep you alive. But through it all, you didn’t want to die. You raged against the dying of the light – you fought to hang on, no matter what.

In my heart you will be both my mother and my little girl forever. On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

I couldn’t even afford to bury you, and I know how scared you were of being cremated. In your later years you regretted so deeply that you couldn’t return to Romania, and I shared your pain. In the end I was just as worthless, just like those who were supposed to protect you – I’m sorry that I failed your wishes, Mama. I’m sorry that in the end I didn’t have the money to abide by your wishes. In the end, I failed your last wish not to be burned.

I think of those little white hands, their skin so translucent and frail. A little nest of bird bones, a tiny sparrow limp inside my grasp. No semblance of the beautiful lady you once were, or the spiteful young mother who clawed my skin to shreds. No more heavy tears, no more regrets. We had made peace with each other, and I could finally see that beautiful light of your soul, the light that had never had a chance to shine.

My little girl, I told you as I kissed your cheeks, your forehead. Goodbye, my little girl. My little one.

I can’t wait to see you once again. I can’t wait until this pain is over – we live in this horrible world where indifference reigns and nobody gives a shit about the fragility of life, the tenderness of vulnerability, the frailty of hope.

You were innocent. You deserved to be loved. You deserved it, but everybody failed you. And then you failed me – because you didn’t know any better. Because nobody ever taught you how to love.

Goodbye, my little girl. Goodbye.

imagini-cu-ghiocei  Stefan Luchian - Pastorita

Posted in abuse, ancestry, deaf, death, indifference, mother, personal, romania, sadness, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

When I was first gay-bashed

Posted by E on May 27, 2015

girl running

I was fourteen years old when I was first gay-bashed. My family had emigrated to Canada 3 years earlier, while Romania was still trapped within Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship. But in 1990, the Revolution was behind us. Communism had fallen and my mother, freshly widowed, wanted to see her relatives for the first time since she defected. So, in the summer of 1990, we travelled to Bucharest for the first time in several years.

I included this memory in an earlier incarnation of my memoir, Race Traitor. I wrote about how, after this first incident of hate and gay-bashing, I decided never to be vulnerable again. I’d never be beaten again, I swore. I decided to become a  neo-Nazi, one of the strong ones. Not someone who would be rounded up and exterminated, but one who sided with the exterminators.  And the consequences of that decision, made one sweltering August day in Bucharest, would haunt my teenage years and lead me to the verge of suicide.

Now, on the heels of the burgeoning gay rights movement in Eastern Europe, I decided to republish it here in the hopes that it will touch someone in some infinitesimal way. Because I have nothing left to hide except my vulnerability. Because, no matter how apathetic or greedy or self-centered people have become in the 21st century, we are still ONE – we remain connected in visceral, undecipherable ways. Even if we live in an indifferent, apathetic world, deep down we all feel the kind of loneliness and desperation that roots itself inside the gut and doesn’t let go without blood-letting.

Tree_roots_memory

Every time I ask myself where it all began, memory smashes into me like a fist and I remember the heat of that blistering afternoon and the heat of tears running down my face as I held my best friend Pereta while she lay bloody on a Bucharest street.

We all have a day within our chronology where everything that leads up to it and everything that recedes from it comes to be entrenched in the ebb and flow of the individuals we grow to become. For me, that day came the summer after I turned fourteen, on the bullet-scarred streets of my old hometown.

It’s taken me the better part of twenty years to recognize that a split-second choice made a lifetime ago can come to haunt the rest of your life. Should you hide something from yourself, the memory of it will grow beneath the surface and come to tear its way out of your body like shrapnel, clanking at your feet decades after the explosion.

It was my first time back in Romania since my family had emigrated three years earlier. Across-the-street neighbours and inseparable since we were five, nothing could keep Pereta and I apart. We had only three weeks to spend together before I was to fly back to Toronto, hardly enough time to visit all our old hangouts. Still, we did our best. We went to the cinema, strolled through the park that encircled the lake where we used to play, fed the swans and watched the weeping willows sway toward the water. We shared new secrets and walked hand in hand under the shade of linden trees just as we’d done when we were children returning home from school.

When the boys came up to us in that alleyway, I wanted to run. I tugged on Pereta’s arm, trying to pull her back even as they had us surrounded. There were seven or eight of them, not counting the girlfriends who hovered behind, egging them on. As the circle tightened, their footsteps sounded like a rain of pebbles descending from the rooftops onto the charcoal cobblestones. Their laughter reverberated in my ears, sending my heart racing.

The flash of a dark shadow, a passing pigeon flying overhead, made me glance up suddenly; as I did, I realized all the apartment windows that backed onto this narrow path, both to the left and right of us, had remained shuttered, blocking out the stifling mid-August heat. It was useless to hope for intervention. Even if any residents of those low-rise buildings heard us shouting, decades of living under a communist dictatorship had ingrained in them a sort of unspoken terror to bearing witness, an impulse to look the other way no matter what. Had any windows remained open, no doubt they would be boarded up as soon as the first cry rang out.

My eyes fell back to the boys who were calling us horrible, dirty names, names more dangerous than the rocks they carried in their fists.

I’d like to think there was a brief instant when we could have turned and ran. I don’t know if it would have been possible to avoid what would come, but I do know that Pereta never tried. She stood in front of me, shielding me with her own body, ready to take them on.

The first blow make a sickening impact with her cheekbone, unleashing a stream of blood that coursed down her face. I wasn’t sure if her nose was broken only because her entire face was smeared red. The acrid smell of blood and boy sweat permeated the air around us like a shout, contrasting with the sound of fist against flesh, hollow and muffled in part by Pereta’s body.

She was still fighting back, throwing punches that were returned with a flurry of kicks meant for the both of us even as I stood frozen in place, completely useless, muted by fear and cowardice. In the blood that coated my hands, in the wounded look in Pereta’s eyes, I saw a reflection of my true self.

And in the years that followed, I blamed her for it.

Posted in abuse, activism, gay, homosexuality, identity, lesbian, love, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »