Mia: Shaken Not Stirred

The true life stories of a NYC female.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thank You

“How do you over come it”, I asked “how do you survive it?” “One fucking painful day at a time kid” she replied, “but you can’t let the pain define you or dictate your life. Instead you focus on the good and then one day without even realizing it you let go of the pain and you’re reborn.”

I was asked to write an essay as to why I chose my field specifically why I want to work with troubled children and adolescents and I froze. I could give a standard answer of wanting the world to hug and kumbaya their ills away and to do this we must first treat the children but the reality is that the answers that spring to mind are myriad and complex. Ultimately it comes down to this. I’ve been blessed in life and I know it. My work is a debt I owe and gladly repay with love because if someone had not taken the time to save a child’s life over thirty years ago I’m certain that the person who stands before you today would not exist. I’ve always felt that my path was chosen for me during my freshman year of college but in retrospect I guess the path was already being mapped out for me as far back as 1965 …

She was running again running from the demons in her mind running from her illness. Running away was nothing new except this time she took off with her three year old daughter. In a city the size of New York it is not so hard to get swallowed up especially when you don’t want to be found. Eventually her condition deteriorated to the point where she had to be committed. No effort was made to locate her family and the child became a ward of the state.

To look at her now you would never guess that she’d done hardcore time in hell. Her little body had been tortured and used in ways so vile and repugnant she’s never revealed the details to anyone including her parents. What is known is that she was often beaten to the point of unconsciousness her skin flayed with leather belts or whatever they could get their hands on, “Did you know extension cords are really multi-functional? You can use them to tie someone down or as a whip. Amazing how versatile those things are.” She dead pans. There is no anger in her eyes, no self pity. “It is what it is,” she says “ but I survived and didn’t let them break me. If I’d done that then they would have won.”

She was their prisoner four years. you’re ugly that’s why no one claimed you…your eyes are evil, no human has eyes that dark. When she was older she wore dark tinted lenses to hide her eyes but now she wears them because,” I look fucking good in them!” While the women found nothing they liked about her that was not the case with the father. If only she’d been so lucky. He thought she was beautiful and would often tell her so. Every night he ate dinner with her in his lap and fed her from his hand. He called her “mia bambina” (my little girl) and at night he would walk into her bedroom and slide into the bed with her.

As an adult she can no longer recall the names or the faces of the adults. She blocked them out long ago but she still remembers certain things, the name of their teenaged daughter for instance. The way the mother always wore her gray hair in a bun, and chain smoked Viceroy Cigarettes. She remembers his brown uniform and his smell. He reeked of cigars and old spice after shave. Their hateful legacy still lives on in the form of little quirks she has. She hates people whispering in her ear or breathing on her because he would do this to her. She hated having long hair because they always grabbed it and twisted in their hands using it to keep her pinned down while they violated her body. For years she kept her hair short, cropped close to her head.

“I used to call the man fat pig and he used to find it funny; his wife was always yelling at me for something or other and cursing me out in Italian. For the longest time I swore puttana (whore) was my first name and stronza (shit) was my middle name. Their daughter was named Leonore. Good lord she was something. Thick glasses, acne, braces and her breath was always hot and putrid. I remember her clearly she always hurt me with her braces, drew blood from me on purpose. I took it like a champ though. When I was old enough to realize they wanted to see me cry I learned to keep it inside. I guess that’s why they escalated their beatings because I refused to give them the satisfaction of crying or begging for mercy. Even when they… no, no you don’t need to know that. Ah shit. Okay…You know I saw her once when I was pregnant? She was standing right next to me getting ready to cross the street. She didn’t even see me. Honestly it took all the strength I had not to push her into traffic. For as long as it took the traffic light to change I was suddenly a kid again and so scared I wanted to run and hide and then I felt a flurry of little butterfly movements in my belly and that brought me back to reality and it made me smile. I looked over to where she was and I realized she had no power over me. I remember thinking to myself that she had probably been his victim as well and felt sorry for her.”

Once in a fit of rage they’d set her on fire. The father was furious when he came home from work and found out the little girl had been hospitalized. It was an accident they told the officials she’d been playing with matches and the child had been too scared to refute the lie. He rarely left her bedside while she was in the hospital such a devoted father the nurses had whispered among themselves. While in the hospital her new family had been approved for public housing so when she was sent back to hell the location of her prison had been changed. Sometimes fate can’t help but to intervene to right what never should have been in the first place. What they didn’t know was that their project apartment was located smack dab in the middle of the very neighborhood where her parents had grown up together, where she had been conceived and born and had learned to walk and talk and had ridden her first tricycle and most importantly where someone would recognize her.

It had been nearly a year since the fire when a home attendant paid her first visit to the family. The mother had been ill and needed an attendant. Even though the child was older the home attendant recognized her and recalled the young mother’s family looking for her when she’d taken off with the little girl. “Where are her parents?” she casually asked the mother over a cup of coffee after being told the child was adopted. “Dead, her mother killed herself and her father died in a car accident.” Despite the fact that they had moved away the death of the parents would have spread through the neighborhood like wild fire the attendant thought to herself, tragic news has a way of getting around. “What about her family?” “No one wanted her.” The attendant remembered how the child’s feet barely were allowed to touch ground; she was always in the arms of her mother or father, an aunt or uncle. She was the youngest female member of a very tight clan and she’d been a child who had been loved and cherished by an entire family. La muñequita (little doll) her family had called her.

When they were alone the attendant asked, “Como te llamas?” and in a voice barely above a whisper she responded, “I don’t speak Spanish.” Maybe she was wrong maybe it wasn’t the same girl. “What is your name?” The little girl whispered her name. The attendant knew she had the right girl when she heard the name a name so unusual that 39 years later I’d google it out of curiosity and discover that in the entire United States of America and Puerto Rico there is only one person with that name. The little girl picked up a dust rag and began to help the attendant dust. She had finished dusting the ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary on the mantle when Leonore entered the room. “Momma says it’s time for you to take a bath. ” The little girl reached out and grasped the attendant’s hand, “No.” The teenager leaned over and pinched her arm. “You have to.” The little girl didn’t even flinch despite the fact that the pinch had left a wicked red mark. “She’s such a pig she doesn’t like to take a bath.” Of course she didn’t want to bathe Leonore always saved her worst for the tub knowing that the running water would wash away the evidence of her assaults.

“Mi muñequita can I give you a bath? ” asked the attendant. The little girl stared at her weighing her options trying to decide if the attendant could be trusted. “Why are you calling her muñequita? That’s not her name” Leonore asked. “In my country muñequita is what we call pretty little girls.” Lenore snorted,”She’s not pretty.” The attendant ignored the teenager and turned her attention back to the little girl."Will you let me bathe you muñequita?” The girl shyly nodded. As she bathed the child the attendant saw something that disturbed her and she knew she had to get the little girl away from those people. When she was done the attendant asked the mother if the child could accompany her on her errands. The mother nodded her consent as she handed the list of errands and some money to the attendant. “Can I go too?” Leonore asked “We’re going to be doing a lot of walking.” The attendant replied. “Never mind.” Leonore said as she clicked on the TV and walked over to the sofa.

They took the elevator down in silence the attendant formulating her plan as they got closer to the lobby. They walked three blocks down towards Broadway just in case someone was watching them before the attendant hailed a cab to her apartment 19 blocks away. After several phone calls the attendant was able to locate a friend of a friend who was still in touch with the family. Several hours later five cars, 1 motorcycle, and two police cars pulled up in front of her brown stone; five aunts, six uncles, an anxious looking set of grandparents, and one 22 year old father who looked as if he’d been crying followed by several policemen climbed up the three flights of stairs and knocked on the door of apartment 3S. The little girl was my mother, the attendant was Maria and until she died holding my mother’s hand at the age of 90 my mother thanked her everyday for saving her and now by virtue of my career her namesake does as well.

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