It is Memorial Day 2018. I have thanked men and women, alive or dead for their service. Thank you again.
I woke up this morning with tears streaming down my face. They turned to sobs, heartrending sobs. It went on for quite a while, until I could hardly breathe. Bear in mind, I rarely cry. I realised I must have had some silent nightmare, bright and piercing in its intensity, but that one doesn’t remember. Other than John having died June 5th, 2015, so that date was looming, I knew it wasn’t that. It was gnawing at me and the physical pain was intense. The ER? No, this was strictly emotional and something was coming up that had lain buried.
Last night, I had dinner with my dear friend Donna. We laughed, talked, mourned the way this country is heading and trying to find some hope. I told her that on Friday, I spoke with four sixth grade classes in Perkiomen Middle School West, about my childhood in the war. They had studied the Holocaust and wanted to know about children who were evacuated. Hearing their questions, which were not about their personal safety, but rather how I coped, I felt hope. These eleven and twelve-year-old students were so compassionate and curious. I was their age when war ended. One asked if she could hug me – warm and delightful.
The evening at home was like most these days if I am not working – reading, watching something actually intelligent on the television, then a DVD of a film I didn’t understand because the screen was so dark, so I removed that. On reflection, I began to feel a little uneasy. I ignored that. It happens to everybody, doesn’t it? So what was so terrifying to have me waken in that way? Earlier in the day, I did some food shopping and actually bought a copy of People Magazine, as it was the full report of the Royal Wedding. I discovered it was only about five pages, but that’s showbiz! Then out of the blue, I had a most thunderous headache. I don’t have headaches. I put it down to the fact that parts of my body should be involved with the weather channel. My fingers and my head usually warn of bad weather, so I decided that was it. I’m taking a medicine for six weeks for a condition I have which doesn’t allow me to take Tylenol or any other headache relief. A nuisance, I thought. As you can see, nothing was outstanding in the day.
The Child That Never Was
Suddenly I knew what it was, why I was so frightened and almost in a panic when I awoke. The following passage is from my first book, The Child That Never Was. Grieving Your Past to Grow into The Future. I wrote it in 1989 I believe.
To encapsulate it, as briefly as I can, it went thus.
“We were on holiday in a place called Blean outside of Canterbury in September 1939 – the entire crazy family. Suddenly there was intense activity with everyone packing their bags preparing to leave. It was September 3rd, the day war broke out. Everybody left, except me. Nobody said anything except one cousin told me I would be fine. That was it.”
I wrote quite a lot about how I felt; being frightened and scared out of my wits. I didn’t know what to think or where to go until I fell into oblivion. I was five years old.
I returned to London during the worst of the bombing until 1940 when I had a label put on my coat, a suitcase in my hand, and was herded onto a bus without a word.
“She stepped out into the strong sunlight, blinking against the glare. She had no idea where she was or where anyone she knew was. She had no feelings – not happy, not sad, not afraid, nothing but her numbness.
“I’ll take that one!”. The voice startled her out of her reverie. She was given a shove toward a tall silver haired man. She put her hand in his and walked with him toward the hustle and bustle of registration tables. It was all very normal to her. She came from a family where children are frequently blindly obedient to keep the peace”.
The rest describes the home she lived in, the family, the circumstances that today she would not tolerate. She was eight years old.
All of this I recorded, including the episode when I was sent away again to a family just outside Oxford, where for six months nobody would talk to me. The silent treatment. I was 10 years old.
I know all this. I’ve dealt with it in therapy for years and still have PTSD from those horrendous experiences. I live by the mantra, OVERCOMING IS NOT THE SAME AS GETTING OVER. I have overcome much and developed a “watch me” personality type which means – tell me I can’t do anything and watch me do it. I trust my therapist completely and we have spoken about this period in my life, and how it still affects part of my personality. I am at peace with that. So, what is the undercurrent of pain and terror I lived with for almost six years of my young life. I didn’t care about the bombing – I wanted to be home. Bombs didn’t frighten me at all. Being sent away did.
Suddenly as if I were hit by a Mac truck, I knew. I never spoke nor wrote of the dark side of those years. Set aside being bombed out almost three times, the last was just shattered so we weren’t homeless. I have written about this, how it formed who I am today and what I do, spoken about it but not all of it.
I then remembered that when I went on Facebook, I saw a photo of a young child watching through a large gate as his family was deported while the heavily armed guard watched on. I thought my heart would break. I read a story from a woman who had witnessed a child screaming for her parents who were sent away in the airport when she was boarding a plane. That will stay with her I am sure. I read a posting from a man who said something cruel like “These mud filths have children illegally so what do they expect.”
I felt that pain rage-fire through me and although my experiences were different, the separation through no fault of my own, the silence, the no explaining why, was the same. I thought, what is going to happen to those innocent children? How their lives have changed and all they have is bewilderment. Why. What did they do? To be taken from the family and put where? In a concentration camp, a warehouse? A woman wrote that as they were not Americans, they didn’t know the good life anyway, so they’ll be fine. I wanted to choke her, yes, even now. I realised that this plunged me into the nightmare. All over again. IT COULDN’T HAPPEN HERE.
This is what I never shared and I feel so desperately for these abandoned children. When I was five and was left for the first time, I was so scared I couldn’t control anything. I was too afraid to cry. This affected my bladder and bowels. I was so terrified to ask any questions as I didn’t know what would happen to me if I did. (As I am writing, I am feeling this intensity in my body as if it were yesterday). I wet the bed every night and one day in school, I wanted to go to the lavatory so badly, I did so on the floor in the classroom because I was too frightened to ask the teacher if I could go. It was a nightmare. I was punished of course and humiliated in front of the class the next day. There were no school counsellors or psychologists in those days. It was simply bad behaviour and I needed to be made an example. Every time I wet the bed, there was no supper. I went to bed hungry every night. With all that, in addition to threats about what would happen to me if I didn’t change this disgusting habit, I wanted to die. I had just turned six.
As a child, I had no concept of time. Every day I waited for my family to come from London to take me home. They didn’t come. Was I ever to see them again? What did I do that was so bad that they didn’t want me at home? Was it because one day I told my mother what her husband was doing to me and she called me a little actress with a vivid imagination? Thank goodness for that vivid imagination – it kept me sane. (When I asked the children what modern literature they thought I related to, they knew immediately. Harry Potter. I asked them why and it was the way he was treated and kept in secret and how he overcame having to deal with the bad people. Children are magnificent)
Finally, both the foster mother and the school decided to contact my family to take me home. I had been there for six months and was so thrilled to go home. I wasn’t well received of course but then I hadn’t been since birth. That first night I was home in London, I didn’t wet the bed. Even with all the cold dysfunction, I was back in control of bladder and bowel.
When I was in the second home, to compensate for this constant abandonment, I was given a doll. Her name was Queenie. I was allowed to hold her for half an hour every Sunday and of course if I cried when listening to the radio hearing London had been bombed, that meant no Queenie that Sunday. Many years later I was in group therapy and the counselor gave me a teddy bear to hold. It felt warm and wonderful. Suddenly she snatched it away from me and I wanted to kill her. This was explained to me by Dr. Viktor Frankl’s work, a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. It did the job. My anger was released from the fear of speaking my mind, of telling my story. As I wrote that part of my punishments, I felt that and then it left.
I won’t write more about how I was ‘contained’ as it would take a book. It was this horrendous nightmare and the picture of the child that brought it all back and with it a multitude of questions. As most of the people who have created this horror of ripping families apart, are narcissists, they wouldn’t understand if I were to ask them how they would feel if they were ripped away from their screaming children. They would just say – it wouldn’t happen to me.
Well it is happening. Who is next? This is reminiscent of the plight of the Japanese in World War Two. Yes, in the very country called the “Land of the Free”, American born people of Japanese descent were put in some kind of camp with a different description. They were concentration camps. What’s next? Death camps?
I don’t know the answers. I am more than willing to ask the questions of this indescribable cruelty being inflicted on innocent children. It is the truth. The innocent are punished in any conflicted situation. What kind of people are in the Senate and the Congress to allow this brutality to occur and then accuse other countries of the human rights of their people that are being abused? How dare they? Isn’t this a case of abusing their civil rights? On occasion when I have spoken of my childhood people make really ignorant statements like “When are you going to get over this. It was a long time ago”. Look around, and don’t be so friggin’ smug. Nobody ever thought 9/11 either.
When I came to this country in 1968 it was a different place. People appeared to be free to speak their truth. Maybe I didn’t see behind the masks – it didn’t seem that way. This is my dilemma. I simply cannot comprehend how any political body can inflict such excrutiating pain on families who did no harm. If one is a member of a minority, as I was and to some extent still am, they are all painted with the same brush. If they are in the same religion as some who are terrorists, that somehow means they are all terrorists. If a person of colour commits a murder, they are all murderers.
I see a sight I never dreamed I would see again, particularly in this country. Nazis. Who is next one might wonder? Whoever pisses him off and isn’t a white Christian. I have to end with this as I have written so often. If Christ were to come back today, he would be appalled by what has been and what is being done in his name. Of course with long hair and sandals they probably wouldn’t believe it was him. By the way, he was born in the Middle East – why the blond hair and blue eyes? Who thought that up?
So, with deep sorrow in my heart, I hope that some of the people I respect will use their power to bring the families together once more. I am willing to do anything I can. November 2018. Be there. I will as soon as the voting booth opens. AMOR VINCIT OMNIA
LOVE CONQUERS ALL.