Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:
We all stood huddled in a corner of the kindergarten playground, so close I could feel my best friend’s breath on my shoulder and some girl I didn’t know was touching my hand with the back of hers.
It was recess time, but no one was running around or screaming or throwing up in the hallway from winning the unofficial lunch eating contest (two bowls of chili, a glass of chocolate milk and a bag of Cheetos in 12 minutes and 33 seconds, more or less, no one really knew how to read the clock yet).
Our teacher held up a poster showing different clothing items. Sort of like in the fashion catalogs my mom sometimes would look at. But not really. There were no smiles, in fact, no people at all, and the clothes didn’t look pretty and new, like anyone would want to wear them. They were dirty and crumpled and some of them even torn. No one knew what was going on.
Then, Mrs. Archer spoke.
“Do any of you recognize these clothes? Or maybe a shirt or a pair of pants? Anything?”
She was the only person I knew that could cut out the most complicated figures, steadily and neatly along the lines. That day, her hands were shaking.
Most of us shook our heads, still confused. One girl said she’d seen the shirt before, but in a different color. Mrs. Archer smiled and told her she needed to know about clothes that were exactly the same. After that, no one said a word and a couple of minutes later, we were shuffled back into our classrooms.
When me and my best friend were picked up later in the afternoon, we overheard our moms’ conversation (pretending not to pay attention to what they were saying while, in fact, concentrating on each and every little sound that left their mouths – because it seemed important):
“It’s a terrible thing, I don’t know what to say.”
“I know. You never think these things hit so close to home. The poor girl. And what her parents must feel like…”
“I don’t even wanna think about it…wrapped up in all these clothes…and then thrown out the window…who would do something like that?”
They fell silent after that. My best friend’s mom nervously rummaged about in her purse until my mom handed her a tissue. They hugged, then they reached for us. My mom held my hand the entire walk home (so, so tight) – the last time she’d done that was on my first day of kindergarten, about a year ago.
I still wasn’t quite sure what all this was about but I was sure of one thing: something wasn’t quite right. In fact, something had to be awfully wrong. I had this weird feeling in my stomach, all tingly, kind of like when you’re spinning around and around in a carousel. But in a bad way, more like a ghost train that goes around in circles and never stops.
I was scared.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time I was scared. I had been scared before – scared of monsters hiding in the dark (hiding under my bed, of course), scared of the older kindergarten kids (and what they might do to a munchkin lie me), scared of witches in fairy tales (because they sometimes ate little children or turned them into animals), scared of the neighbors’ huge, abandoned shack in their backyard (and of who or more accurately, what might live inside) – but it had never felt like this. It had never felt as bad.
I had nightmares for days: someone wrapped me up in clothes, layer after layer after layer, someone put me in a bag and tied it up and just left it somewhere, someone locked me up in a dirty room full of nothing. Some nights I woke up and was sure I sat in a trash can. Some nights I woke up and struggled to breathe.
Finally, though, the nightmares stopped.
The poster was put up on a wall, near the main entrance, but we still went back to recess and lunch eating contests after a while. Because that’s what people do and because we didn’t know what else to do.
But what we knew (what I knew) ever since that day: something was awfully wrong. And we all felt (I felt) it wasn’t just something in our neighborhood, it felt bigger than that. Something was awfully wrong – we knew it and we felt it but we didn’t want to think about it – with the world. We had, after all, discovered it. We had (I had) discovered evil.
[According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), kids have crime victimization rates over two times higher than adults. For the year 2000, the approximate total number of violent crime victims from birth through 17 is 1,935,000. That is one child among forty. That is one child in every other classroom.1]
1: Stats: University of New Hampshire, Crimes Against Children Research Center
I’ve seen it. You’ve all seen it: someone wins the Oscar, tumbles upstage in bliss and is so overwhelmed by the moment that their acceptance speech goes on for-ev-er. And because the people backstage have seen it, too, and because they’re clever little girls and boys, they’ve come up with a semi-polite way to shut up the winner before the entire audience falls asleep – the (in)famous get-your-overpaid-butt-off-stage-now-will-ya-melody!
It’s effective and quite catchy, too. Its recognition value approximately equals that of the ice cream truck melody. The only difference: while one has kids (and one or two adults who still feel young at heart…and me) running out onto the street as if they were chased by a group of armed Alcatraz escapees, the other one has people blinking, kind of confused, and, reluctantly withdrawing from stage.
Now, you may ask yourself: what’s that got to do with the price of eggs in China (or any other country of your individual choice)?
The answer: well, guess what? That ain’t not happening to me tonight, folks! I can take as much time (and space) as I want to thank all the people I’ve ever met (I can even tell you silly anecdotes about them if I really want to) in order to celebrate that I’ve been – drumroll – freshly pressed!
However, because I know how annoying that might be, I won’t. I’m just saying I could. Just. Saying. What I really want to do, though, is share the two emotional stages I just went through, due to the special occasion.
Stage I: Doubt.
At first, I couldn’t even believe someone had picked my post! I refreshed my wordpress every other minute like a maniac to see whether my post would actually pop up among all those wonderful freshly pressed entries. I pondered the odds and must have looked kind of like this…
Stage II: Exitement.
When I finally realized I hadn’t just made everything up in my head (which wouldn’t have been that unlikely), I was thrilled through the roof. I still am. So right now, I must look somewhat like this…
No, sorry, I’m not quite done yet – just real quick:
Stage III: Thank you!
Thank you guys, for all the nice words, the likes, the follows! I’m a happy blogger today. Also, thanks Mom, for carrying me around for 8 months and all those hours of labour. Of course, you deserve to be mentioned here as well! That’s all for now. I’m out. Good night, kids.
I was born on a Saturday. Twenty minutes to midnight I came: no beautiful dress to show off, just one of the smooth glass slippers, the left one. Old spells seem to wear out much quicker these days. Even on your birthday. Old superstitions, however, never do: my mother always says she would have wanted me to be born on a Sunday. If only you could have taken these extra minutes, she’d say, you’d have been born a Sunday’s child – born under a lucky star, as they say. Maybe then, things would have been a little different, she thinks (and sometimes my mother must have wished for things to be different). That’s probably what she’s really wanted, for a long time (but there’s no spell, not even an old one, that can turn back time) – you just never understand these things when you’re younger. On the other hand, maybe things wouldn’t have been that different after all – but who knows? (I don’t.) Probably a lot of babies were born that Sunday, and possibly, all of them lucky– but again, who knows? (No one does.)
Written in the Stars.
I’m quite sure, though, that all the babies born on the Monday after, they were born under a revolutionary star – born under a night sky lit up by candles, torches, lanterns; born to the sound of raised voices; born to the smell of autumn; born to the bittersweet taste of frustration paired with anticipation. Every time my mother sees a shooting star and wishes I was born on a Sunday, I close my eyes and wish I was born on a Monday – I would like to be a Monday’s child. I would raise my candle, torch, lantern and leave a mark: a dab of light, like a tiny hole in the dark sheet that covers the earth at night. There’s more to life than simple luck; more than old spells that wear out even before the clock strikes twelve, more than old superstitions that leave you hanging on to things that could have been. You can’t change the past, but maybe, if you try, you can change the future.
Sometimes, in the short moment before falling asleep, I feel the light of candles, torches and lanterns warm on my skin; I hear people chanting; I can smell fallen leaves and I’m overcome by a sullen feeling, quickly followed by a feeling of hope. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel restless. It’s nothing I could ever explain, it’s just something that is. If I had to try to find words for it, I might simply say that I’m a child of my times. We all are.
Hearts and Cages.
Even now, the idea seems so strange, so unnatural, that I can’t wrap my head around it. No matter how hard I try. No matter how often I try. Sometimes I look at a map and trace the borderline with my index finger. With my scalpel, I cut through a city, an entire country – I become a surgeon. I take out half a nation’s heart (pincers!), just like that (swab!), and it’s bleeding all over me. Desperate people behave in ways that scare me. They get that frantic look in their eyes that always reminds me of a caged animal. And maybe that’s what they are: caged. Trapped in their despair.
We’re all people. We’re all in this together. We’re all created equal. But then: How could anyone be so mean (cruel)? How could anyone be so indifferent (inhumane)? How do you sell an entire country for a breadcrumb’s worth of power? How do you barter with millions and millions of people’s fate? Everything’s going to be okay, they said. In the end. They’re all liars; or blind and dumb and deaf. Or all of that. The upside : They’re also solidary like nothing else: you didn’t even have to kill yourself – it was done for you (working men of all countries unite. Unite, unite, unite. Shoot, shoot, shoot.). Once there was a man. He looked at the grey concrete, the barbed wire and the men with their nice uniforms and polished guns and he realized: you have to run. For freedom. Whether you’ll make it or not – you’ll be free, everything’s going to be okay, in the end.
I don’t know whether my mother was truly happy about the fall of the wall. I once asked her if she remembered what she’d done the night people were dancing on it, if she’d been dancing as well. I probably changed your diapers, she’d said, and that was that. My mother never was the dancing type – but maybe not because she didn’t want to dance, I often think the world just wouldn’t let her.
The sudden feeling of liberation might have been too much to handle for some – as anything that comes down on you so unexpectedly and overwhelming. The wall came falling down in front of their feet and then the ground fell out from underneath them. Maybe it was that feeling that scared away my father. Or maybe he was just high on freedom and so he went to find some more, another fix. And I don’t think anyone could have held him back, not with any luck of the world.