The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “women’s studies”

A Mere Babe in the Woods

First published April 10, 2016

deep woods

                                                                       have a listen…

Gre

I was still just a girl when he took me as his bride.   It was just a few months shy of my sixteenth birthday when parents arranged for me to marry him.  He, at twenty-three, seemed ancient to me.

He was a hunter and trapper and lived deep in the woods, far from town, where we had both grown up.  Although he had some money from his enterprise, he was somewhat coarse and lacking manners, having lived alone for many years.   He was big and tall with a long thick black beard and wild black hair.  He towered over my tiny frame. Although his size was intimidating, he did not seem unkind. I was not afraid of him.

He had done well in his trade over the previous years, and felt it was time to take a bride; to start a family.  He came to town to seek not a beauty or a spoiled rich girl.  He needed a wife to do the woman’s work,  to mother his children.  He knew he could not live alone forever.  It would drive him mad, like some of the old woodsmen he’d met.

In the village, the daughters of wealthier fathers had better choices. I was a plain girl,  from a poor family.  I felt lucky that my parents were able to find me a husband at all.  To not have a husband and children was a cause of great shame. It was the worst kind of failure, a bad reflection on the girl herself, and her family. Nothing good became of such women.

I was not asked if I wanted to marry him. It was not my decision.  In any case, it was not a question I would have thought to ask even myself.  As most young girls, I’d often wondered what kind of man my future husband would be but it never crossed my mind that I would have any choice in the matter. I could only hope my parents chose well.

Our marriage was a practical transaction. He was in need of a wife and I was in need of a dependable husband with whom to make babies. He’d heard of me though some family of his who still lived in town.  He sought out my parents and made the arrangements. We were married in a quick service the next day. Afterward,  we rode back to his small house, in the forest,  far from any neighbors.

He was solitary by nature; not comfortable around people. A more social man never would have taken up that line of work.  Whether he preferred being alone because he was not good with people, or whether he was not good with people because he spent so much time alone, I really don’t know. I always suspected he never had much use for other humans.

In the beginning, living there was torture.  When he was home, he barely spoke at all,  and there was no one else to talk to.  I would often have imaginary conversations with myself, in my head when he was there,  or aloud when I was alone.  Every few weeks, we went to town for supplies and to visit my family;  more often in the nice weather,  less in the winter. Although the trip was arduous and took the better part of a day,   I always looked forward to it.

My family might not have had much money,  but I was trained to be a good, efficient, frugal wife.  I saw what needed to be done around the house and I did it without grumbling.  This was my lot in life, same as my mother’s, and her mother’s, and her mother’s before her.  Without choice, I had no cause for complaint. I did my best and learned to find satisfaction in my own accomplishments.

In bed,  he took me when he wanted me, not cruelly and not forcefully,  but neither without any passion or recognition of me as a person.

Eventually, there were children.  Five. Three boys and two girls.   The boys followed in their father’s trade, and the girls married better than I and lived in town.

After all those years of marriage, even without speaking,  we learned to communicate. We took care of each other, watched out for each other, even worried about each other.  We became kinder, more thoughtful.  We slowly pushed the boundaries of our trust.  We respected each other’s differences and gave each other plenty of room.  I don’t know if I would call it love,  exactly.  It was two people making the best of their circumstances.

He died at an old age, and by then, I was old myself.  It was too difficult for me to be alone in the house,  so I moved back into the town  to be closer to my children and grandchildren.

You might think, after all those years,  after all we’d been through together,  I would have missed him. But no. What I missed was the quiet solitude of the woods.

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Asch in Ashes

First published July 5, 2017

This week is the 109th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. March 25, 1911

 

Mir

I was thirteen, and my brother sixteen, when we left our family home and set out for the New World.   It was a great adventure – both exciting and terrifying – but as long as I had my brother to care for me, I felt safe.

He and my parents had been saving money to send us both together.  The plan was, they would continue to save and my brother would find work and send money home, until eventually they would join us.

My mother had a younger cousin who had been living in New York for several years. She was, by our standards, a “real American” already,  settled with a husband, an apartment, and a job.  They had agreed to sponsor us and take us in until we could make our own way.

My brother was a big strong boy, tall for his age.  He quickly found work ferrying packages from suppliers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to the showrooms and shops.  It had been agreed by all before we left that I was to continue my education for at least two years.  My parents wanted me to also become a “real American”. They made my brother promise to keep me in school.

Our cousins were very welcoming and kind.  They gave us a corner of their small apartment.  There was just one cot, and my brother and I took turns sleeping in it while the other slept on a pile of folded blankets on the floor.  I often let him have the bed, even when it was my turn because he worked so hard during the day and was so physically exhausted.  I didn’t have the heart to make him sleep on the hard wooden floor.  It was by the grace of his hard work that I was able to remain in school. Since I didn’t have money to contribute,  I made myself as helpful as possible – cleaning,  washing, cooking some simple meals,  doing marketing and errands, mending clothing as I’d been taught by my mother.

When I was 14, and my English passable, my cousin found me a job at a small restaurant owned by her friend and her husband.  The husband cooked and the friend waited tables, but they had a young daughter who needed attention after school while they prepared for the dinner customers.

It didn’t pay much but it was the perfect situation for me.  I started in the afternoon, so I didn’t miss any classes.  I would sit with the girl while she did her schoolwork, and my own English skills improved.  Sometimes if they needed extra hands, I cleared tables or swept the floor or even chopped vegetables.  Occasionally, they’d send me out for an errand.

They were good to me and I was determined to justify their faith in me.  I worked hard and they came to rely on me more and more.  For this, they raised my pay as much as they could afford. It wasn’t much, but it enabled me to contribute a bit to the rent and to my parents’ travel fund.

I had been working there for just over a year when we received terrible news.  My father had become ill and within a very short time had passed away.   My brother and I would not, could not, let my mother remain alone in the Old World.   My brother took on extra shifts and I found additional work minding other children in the evenings.  Within the year, there was enough in the fund to bring her to us.

In the days before her expected arrival, I was so excited I could barely eat or sleep. When we met her at the boat, we all burst into tears at the sight of each other, touching each others’ faces and stroking each other’s hair, reassuring ourselves that we were all real.

We went back the apartment and my mother and her cousin caught up on the family news, remembering old times, laughing and crying.

Later, the three of us squeezed into our corner, with my brother and I insisting my mother take the cot. It was obvious we could not remain in this situation for much longer.  Fortunately, my mother was an experienced tailor and seamstress, and she was able to find work quickly.  Within a couple of months we were able to move to our own small room on Hester Street.  It was tiny, and the bathroom, down the hall, was shared by others, but to us it felt like paradise, an unimaginable luxury to be living with just our own family in our own room.

I finished school in my sixteenth year, and my mother got me a job at the factory where she worked, making ladies’ blouses.  Initially I was thrilled to have a real job; to get a regular paycheck; to be an adult among other women like myself and my mother — new immigrants, filled with hopes and dreams for a better future – but the novelty wore off quickly.

We worked long hours, six long days a week in very unpleasant conditions. The supervisors treated us more like slaves than workers. But, with the three of us bringing home a salary each week, we were able to save money.  The dream was for my mother to buy a sewing machine and have her own tailor shop so we could get out of that awful factory which seemed to suck more life out of us every day.

And then,  one Saturday afternoon,  there was chaos!  A fire!  There were so many flammable scraps and pieces around that it didn’t take long for the fire to be raging.  The doors were locked as they always were.  There was no escape.

I pressed to the window with my mother and the other women, barely able to breathe, terrified of being burned alive and equally afraid of jumping onto the unforgiving pavement below.

In the end, I jumped.  My mother stayed.  It didn’t make a difference.  We, along with dozens of our friends and coworkers, all died that day.

My brother,  alone and lonely,  soon took a wife.  They named their children after me and my mother, so our story would not be lost – a story of two women with dreams, unfulfilled.

 

______

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

My Husband, My Jailer

Originally posted September 25, 2016

falling down stairs

Am

I didn’t know him when I married him.  I was a young woman and he was much older than I was. He had never been lucky with women, never been married. My family arranged for me to travel from my country to his to be his wife. They said my life would be better there.

I was taught that wives should behave in a subservient manner towards their husbands so I knew my place.  I was clever enough to know I should hide my cleverness. I was efficient.  Reliable. Pliable.  Not too demanding, at least not initially.

This was my appeal for him.  He was a sad, weak man who needed a weaker woman to make him feel strong.

After a couple of years, we had a child.   I devoted myself to motherhood which gave me far more pleasure than my marriage.  I did not have too many friends.  My social circle was very small.  For the most part, I was limited to the wives of his friends, of which he had very few.  Some of the wives were also foreign-born, married sight unseen like me, but they were not from my country.  The language barriers made it difficult to share our experiences although I assumed their stories were similar to mine. I would have loved to have had a friend to talk to about my marriage,  but it seemed my own husband was not the only one who preferred to keep me from getting to close with others.

Initially, he was kind to me.  He sometimes lost his temper but he went through the motions of apology.  He pretended that we were a happy couple in love.  But we were not.  Soon he made less of an effort to control his temper.  He was an unhappy man and nothing I could do could change that, although I worked hard to be a good wife and give him what he needed.

I eventually realized that any intimacy we had at the beginning was purely fantasy. In reality, we had nothing in common. When I first came to him, I respected him. He seemed to me smart and successful and knowledgeable about the world, but of course this was only in comparison to the men I knew from my village.  When I got to know him, however, I recognized that he was not worthy of even my insignificant respect.  I tried to hide my growing contempt for him, but such things show on the face,  in the tone of voice, in the  lack of genuine interest in pleasing him.

He took out his anger at the world on me. I could do nothing right. I was useless.  He was going to send me back and keep our son. No man would ever want me again.  Even my own family would reject me because I was such a terrible wife.  I would go back to my village and live out my days sweeping the streets, an outcast, a pariah.

I believed that he could do this.  Worse, I believed that he would do this.  I tried harder to put on a good face for him; to be obedient and of service.  I made myself small and invisible when I was not fulfilling his present needs.

And then, one day in the market, I saw a woman who had a face typical of the women who came from my country.  I said something to her in my language to see if she would respond.  To my delight, she did!  We became fast friends.

She had come over as a young woman and found work as domestic help.  The family she worked for was kind, and even allowed her to take some evening classes in school to improve her language skills.  This was something I dared not even ask my husband about. I already knew the answer.  I’d be punished in one way or another just for suggesting that I wanted to become more independent.

We met once or twice a week, me with my son and her with her charges.  We would do our shopping then steal a few minutes for ourselves in the park, while the children played. We chatted in our mother tongue,and for the first the first time since I’d arrived, I felt that I had a friend of my own, someone who understood me.

Even though, as a married woman, I had more status than she did, I was envious of her position.  She knew things about this new land that I never would have imagined and never would have discovered on my own. She was a window into the culture.  She might not have had much that was her own, but at least she was free (so it seemed to me, anyway.)

Eventually, I confided in her how unhappy I was. I felt like a prisoner in my marriage, with escape being worse than captivity. I didn’t want to stay but I had nowhere to do. I had very little of my own money – just the little bit that I managed to hide away from my household budget.  It wouldn’t get me and my son anywhere. I had no skills and could not support us.  In any case, my husband would not rest until he had hunted me down.

I felt like a trapped animal.  The isolation of my marriage was unbearable.  If it weren’t for my son, I might even have killed myself but I would not leave him alone to be raised by that man.

In the early years, when I was merely unhappy, I used to pray for more kindness and understanding from my husband, more patience for myself.  Eventually, however, my prayers were not so noble.  I began to pray for his death.  I knew this was a sin, but it was the only path I could see to my salvation.  With him gone, I would be free and have the house and his money.

These wishes soon became manifest in my actions.  At first, I was defiant in small, secret ways.  For example, I would not wash all his clothes but rather fold them and put them back as if they had been laundered.  One afternoon, as I began to prepare dinner, I noticed the meat had gone bad.  I fed it to him anyway.  Slowly, I became emboldened.  Sometimes, I would pull plants from the side of the road and add them to his food, hoping that they were poisonous.  One day, after he beat me, I was so angry, I picked up some dog feces in the street and added it to his soup.

I would “accidentally” leave small objects, such as toys or shoes, near door and along the hallway, hoping that he would trip while drunk and break open his head.

I didn’t have the nerve to actually murder him, but I tried to give Fate a helping hand.  But none of these efforts,  not any of my prayers, seemed to have any effect on him.  How could a man so evil be so lucky?

I never told my friend about my prayers or small sabotages. I didn’t want her to feel responsible if I succeeded.  Maybe I was afraid she would encourage me to do worse to him, and that I would allow myself to be led.

Finally, one day, after many such miserable years, he was drinking in the local bar and simply fell over, clutching his chest.  I pretended to others to be sad – I had become quite good at pretending – but I was relieved that he was finally dead, and that I was not responsible for his death. (I didn’t figure my prayers had killed him because I’d been praying for a long time with no results.)

There wasn’t a lot of money, even after everything was sold,  but it was enough to let me start over somewhere else.  I took my son and my friend, and we went far away, and made a new life for ourselves. It was sometimes a struggle, but at least we were free.

—-

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Beautiful Birds in a Cage

 

first published July  20, 2016

Schi

I was born into slavery ; I never knew any other life.  My mother was taken as a girl.  As I was the product of her body, so I was property as well.  My mother was concubine to the master and even though I was the offspring of that union,  I had no birthright.

We, and others like us, had to work because we were not wives.  We had no power, no rights, little privilege. We were at the beckoning of the master’s mother, who ruled us like a queen.

Those who were concubines went to the master or his guests when summoned. Otherwise, we worked in the house or in the court at jobs that best fit our skills and age. The concubines did not work in the fields,  lest we become unattractive and our usefulness diminished.

When I was young, I sewed tiny precious beads onto beautiful fabrics, in elaborate, intricate designs using the finest golden thread. These were later made into clothing for the family.  I did this until my fingers cramped and bled (I had to be careful not to stain the silk!) I did it until my eyes crossed and I was nearly blind. I did it until my neck and back ached even when I slept.

Still, my lot was better than the slaves who worked the fields and orchards. I thought myself lucky. I was fed regularly. My living quarters were clean and dry and warm in the winter. If I became very ill, my symptoms were tended to by the doctor. We were not beaten or whipped.

We were kept away from all men. Our bodies were not ours to give nor for any man but the master to take or share as he saw fit.  We belonged to him, to be used or lent at his (or his mother’s) whim.  I was never sent to the master because I was his own child but I was, from time to time,  offered to visiting dignitaries or officials.  These men were not gentle or kind,  but fortunately, as I was not particularly beautiful or adept in bed,  my charms were not in high demand.   Eventually, I was completely ignored for such things.

All I knew about life beyond the walls was what some of the others,  including my mother, told me. For many, the outside world seemed more difficult,  full of poverty, back-breaking work, and starvation.  Almost all were young virgins when they were captured so they did not long for lost husbands or lovers or children.  Many were captives of war, and were grateful for the peace and plenty of their new circumstances.  But some were captured away from their families.  These girls found adjustment most difficult. They would weep and cry when they first arrived but in time they forgot their old lives and settled into the new. I was lucky because I had nothing to miss,  and because my mother was there to teach and protect me.

I did not consider my life bad or unfortunate.

When the weather turned warm, I enjoyed being outside in the courtyard with the others, working, gossiping.  Not all the women were embroiderers.  Some minded the children.  Some played instruments and sang. Some were dancers.  Some were ladies’ maids to the women of status.  Some of the favorite concubines  had only to keep themselves attractive. This was very important as it was her access to the master that gave her power.  Each of us had access to different parts of the household, and so each had different information.  By sharing what we knew, we could put together a bigger story.

Oh, the plots and rumors and intrigue that were discussed!

Some of the older women, longtime favorite concubines and lesser wives, those with more power and influence than I could ever hope for, were quite adept at grand manipulations. A carefully planted rumor, a well-told lie, a damning truth, whispered genially and sincerely in the right ear, all served to help accrue more power and influence.  Over the years, there was more intrigue and machinations than I can recount. There were poisonings and betrayals, false friendships and lies, all in the service of power and rank.  But my own ambition was never so great as some of the others.

When I was young, I was useless at that game but I observed and listened closely, and slowly, I learned the way it was played.

My first manipulation began accidentally when I befriended the youngest child of one of the lesser wives.  The nanny who minded her was dull and sullen and was too lazy to play with her. I could see that the child was bored so later, alone, I fashioned a small doll for her from scraps of blue silk, with eyes of fresh water pearls and tiny lapis beads, and a smile of garnets. This was not done with any specific plan in mind.  The girl seemed lonely and I felt sorry for her, so I made her a small gift using what I had at hand.  She was, after all, my sister (although this was not common knowledge among the other women.)

I gave it to her the next time I saw her.  She was delighted. And her nanny was pleased that someone else made an effort to entertain the child, relieving her of the burden of having to pay attention.

Several days later, when we were again all outside together, the girl came over to where I sat to watch me work.  She seemed fascinated by the idea of making designs with beads and thread.  As I worked, she listened raptly as I told her stories about fantastic creatures and faraway places, completely of my imagination.  I felt a kinship for her and although she did not know who I was,  she sensed the attachment.

Seeing us together, it occurred to the nanny that I was perhaps entertaining the child too well. She suspected that her position might be in jeopardy.  She called the child to come away from me but she was reluctant to go. In that brief moment, I sensed opportunity. I whispered to the girl to come see me again soon.  I’d have more stories for her.

Her nanny, by then, had become wary and prevented her from visiting with me. But the girl kept her eye on me.  I would smile and wave.  I would tell funny stories to the other girls my age to make them laugh, so the child would see this and feel she was missing the fun.

And one day, not long after, I was summoned by the girl’s mother and informed that I would now be her nanny.

And so, my rank among the women of the household increased.

The girl loved me because I devoted myself to her.  And I loved her, because, even though there was a great difference in status,  I knew we were blood. We shared many of the same features, and I brushed her long black hair and styled it like my own.

When she was grown enough to no longer need a nanny, she kept me close by making me her ladies’ maid. And so my rank increased again, as I was now privy to more important information, received firsthand, which made it more valuable.  Information was currency.  I could trade it for favors.

Eventually it came time for her to marry.  Her husband lived afar. Although she wanted me to come with her, I was still property of the household and her father would not give me to her. Both he and I understood that if I went with her,  her husband would be my new master,  and if he took me as his concubine,  as was his right,  it would cause her deep pain.

She did not see the danger of this new situation as I did.  I consoled her,  assuring her it was for the best.

We bid our tearful farewells.  She was both a child and a sister to me.  She was the only person I ever missed.  I only saw her once again, many years later, when she returned for her father’s funeral.  It was a sweet reunion.

By then, I had spent many years as a ladies’ maid to increasingly important wives,  my circumstances improving and my status growing.

I was a slave , but as a life,  it was better than many who live free.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

artwork: Kamil Aslanger  (I discovered this image a year after writing/channeling this post but it’s such a perfect image, one might think it was actually inspiration for this story. It was not.)

 

A Mere Babe in the Woods

First published April 10, 

deep woods

                                                                       have a listen…

Gre

I was still just a girl when he took me as his bride.   It was just a few months shy of my sixteenth birthday when parents arranged for me to marry him.  He, at twenty-three, seemed ancient to me.

He was a hunter and trapper and lived deep in the woods, far from town, where we had both grown up.  Although he had some money, he was somewhat coarse and lacking manners, having lived alone for many years.   He was big and tall with a long thick black beard and wild black hair.  He towered over my tiny frame. Although his size was intimidating, he did not seem unkind. I was not afraid of him.

He had done well in his trade over the previous years, and felt it was time to take a bride; to start a family.  He came to town to seek not a beauty or a spoiled rich girl.  He needed a wife to do the woman’s work,  to mother his children.  He knew he could not live alone forever.  It would drive him mad, like some of the old woodsmen he’d met.

In the village, the daughters of wealthier fathers had better choices. I was a plain girl,  from a poor family.  I felt lucky that my parents were able to find me a husband at all.  To not have a husband and children was a cause of great shame. It was the worst kind of failure, a bad reflection on the girl herself, and her family. Nothing good became of such women.

I was not asked if I wanted to marry him. It was not my decision.  In any case, it was not a question I would have thought to ask even myself.  As most young girls, I’d often wondered what kind of man my future husband would be but it never crossed my mind that I would have any choice in the matter. I could only hope my parents chose well.

Our marriage was a practical transaction. He was in need of a wife and I was in need of a dependable husband with whom to make babies. He’d heard of me though some family of his who still lived in town.  He sought out my parents and made the arrangements. We were married in a quick service the next day. Afterward,  we rode back to his small house, in the forest,  far from any neighbors.

He was solitary by nature; not comfortable around people. A more social man never would have taken up that line of work.  Whether he preferred being alone because he was not good with people, or whether he was not good with people because he spent so much time alone, I really don’t know. I always suspected he never had much use for other humans.

In the beginning, living there was torture.  When he was home, he barely spoke at all,  and there was no one else to talk to.  I would often have imaginary conversations with myself, in my head when he was there,  or aloud when I was alone.  Every few weeks, we went to town for supplies and to visit my family;  more often in the nice weather,  less in the winter. Although the trip was arduous and took the better part of a day,   I always looked forward to it.

My family might not have had much money,  but I was trained to be a good, efficient, frugal wife.  I saw what needed to be done around the house and I did it without grumbling.  This was my lot in life, same as my mother’s, and her mother’s, and her mother’s before her.  Without choice, I had no cause for complaint. I did my best and learned to find satisfaction in my own accomplishments.

In bed,  he took me when he wanted me, not cruelly and not forcefully,  but neither without any passion or recognition of me as a person.

Eventually, there were children.  Five. Three boys and two girls.   The boys followed in their father’s trade, and the girls married better than I and lived in town.

After all those years of marriage, even without speaking,  we learned to communicate. We took care of each other, watched out for each other, even worried about each other.  We became kinder, more thoughtful.  We slowly pushed the boundaries of our trust.  We respected each other’s differences and gave each other plenty of room.  I don’t know if I would call it love,  exactly.  It was two people making the best of their circumstances.

He died at a old age, and by then, I was old myself.  It was too difficult for me to be alone in the house,  so I moved back into the town  to be closer to my children and grandchildren.

You might think, after all those years,  after all we’d been through together,  I would have missed him. But no. What I missed was the quiet solitude of the woods.

 

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

My Husband, My Jailer

Originally posted September 25, 2016

falling down stairs

Am

I didn’t know him when I married him.  I was a young woman and he was much older than I was. He had never been lucky with women, never been married. My family arranged for me to travel from my country to his to be his wife. They said my life would be better there.

I was taught that wives should behave in a subservient manner towards their husbands so I knew my place.  I was clever enough to know I should hide my cleverness. I was efficient.  Reliable. Pliable.  Not too demanding, at least not initially.

This was my appeal for him.  He was a sad, weak man who needed a weaker woman to make him feel strong.

After a couple of years, we had a child.   I devoted myself to motherhood which gave me far more pleasure than my marriage.  I did not have too many friends.  My social circle was very small.  For the most part, I was limited to the wives of his friends, of which he had very few.  Some of the wives were also foreign-born, married sight unseen like me, but they were not from my country.  The language barriers made it difficult to share our experiences although I assumed their stories were similar to mine. I would have loved to have had a friend to talk to about my marriage,  but it seemed my own husband was not the only one who preferred to keep me from getting to close with others.

Initially, he was kind to me.  He sometimes lost his temper but he went through the motions of apology.  He pretended that we were a happy couple in love.  But we were not.  Soon he made less of an effort to control his temper.  He was an unhappy man and nothing I could do could change that, although I worked hard to be a good wife and give him what he needed.

I eventually realized that any intimacy we had at the beginning was purely fantasy. In reality, we had nothing in common. When I first came to him, I respected him. He seemed to me smart and successful and knowledgeable about the world, but of course this was only in comparison to the men I knew from my village.  When I got to know him, however, I recognized that he was not worthy of even my insignificant respect.  I tried to hide my growing contempt for him, but such things show on the face,  in the tone of voice, in the  lack of genuine interest in pleasing him.

He took out his anger at the world on me. I could do nothing right. I was useless.  He was going to send me back and keep our son. No man would ever want me again.  Even my own family would reject me because I was such a terrible wife.  I would go back to my village and live out my days sweeping the streets, an outcast, a pariah.

I believed that he could do this.  Worse, I believed that he would do this.  I tried harder to put on a good face for him; to be obedient and of service.  I made myself small and invisible when I was not fulfilling his present needs.

And then, one day in the market, I saw a woman who had a face typical of the women who came from my country.  I said something to her in my language to see if she would respond.  To my delight, she did!  We became fast friends.

She had come over as a young woman and found work as domestic help.  The family she worked for was kind, and even allowed her to take some evening classes in school to improve her language skills.  This was something I dared not even ask my husband about. I already knew the answer.  I’d be punished in one way or another just for suggesting that I wanted to become more independent.

We met once or twice a week, me with my son and her with her charges.  We would do our shopping then steal a few minutes for ourselves in the park, while the children played. We chatted in our mother tongue,and for the first the first time since I’d arrived, I felt that I had a friend of my own, someone who understood me.

Even though, as a married woman, I had more status than she did, I was envious of her position.  She knew things about this new land that I never would have imagined and never would have discovered on my own. She was a window into the culture.  She might not have had much that was her own, but at least she was free (so it seemed to me, anyway.)

Eventually, I confided in her how unhappy I was. I felt like a prisoner in my marriage, with escape being worse than captivity. I didn’t want to stay but I had nowhere to do. I had very little of my own money – just the little bit that I managed to hide away from my household budget.  It wouldn’t get me and my son anywhere. I had no skills and could not support us.  In any case, my husband would not rest until he had hunted me down.

I felt like a trapped animal.  The isolation of my marriage was unbearable.  If it weren’t for my son, I might even have killed myself but I would not leave him alone to be raised by that man.

In the early years, when I was merely unhappy, I used to pray for more kindness and understanding from my husband, more patience for myself.  Eventually, however, my prayers were not so noble.  I began to pray for his death.  I knew this was a sin, but it was the only path I could see to my salvation.  With him gone, I would be free and have the house and his money.

These wishes soon became manifest in my actions.  At first, I was defiant in small, secret ways.  For example, I would not wash all his clothes but rather fold them and put them back as if they had been laundered.  One afternoon, as I began to prepare dinner, I noticed the meat had gone bad.  I fed it to him anyway.  Slowly, I became emboldened.  Sometimes, I would pull plants from the side of the road and add them to his food, hoping that they were poisonous.  One day, after he beat me, I was so angry, I picked up some dog feces in the street and added it to his soup.

I would “accidentally” leave small objects, such as toys or shoes, near door and along the hallway, hoping that he would trip while drunk and break open his head.

I didn’t have the nerve to actually murder him, but I tried to give Fate a helping hand.  But none of these efforts,  not any of my prayers, seemed to have any effect on him.  How could a man so evil be so lucky?

I never told my friend about my prayers or small sabotages. I didn’t want her to feel responsible if I succeeded.  Maybe I was afraid she would encourage me to do worse to him, and that I would allow myself to be led.

Finally, one day, after many such miserable years, he was drinking in the local bar and simply fell over, clutching his chest.  I pretended to others to be sad – I had become quite good at pretending – but I was relieved that he was finally dead, and that I was not responsible for his death. (I didn’t figure my prayers had killed him because I’d been praying for a long time with no results.)

There wasn’t a lot of money, even after everything was sold,  but it was enough to let me start over somewhere else.  I took my son and my friend, and we went far away, and made a new life for ourselves. It was sometimes a struggle, but at least we were free.

—-

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Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Beautiful Birds in a Cage

 

first published July  20, 2016

Schi

I was born into slavery ; I never knew any other life.  My mother was taken as a girl.  As I was the product of her body, so I was property as well.  My mother was concubine to the master and even though I was the offspring of that union,  I had no birthright.

We, and others like us, had to work because we were not wives.  We had no power, no rights, little privilege. We were at the beckoning of the master’s mother, who ruled us like a queen.

Those who were concubines went to the master or his guests when summoned. Otherwise, we worked in the house or in the court at jobs that best fit our skills and age. The concubines did not work in the fields,  lest we become unattractive and our usefulness diminished.

When I was young, I sewed tiny precious beads onto beautiful fabrics, in elaborate, intricate designs using the finest golden thread. These were later made into clothing for the family.  I did this until my fingers cramped and bled (I had to be careful not to stain the silk!) I did it until my eyes crossed and I was nearly blind. I did it until my neck and back ached even when I slept.

Still, my lot was better than the slaves who worked the fields and orchards. I thought myself lucky. I was fed regularly. My living quarters were clean and dry and warm in the winter. If I became very ill, my symptoms were tended to by the doctor. We were not beaten or whipped.

We were kept away from all men. Our bodies were not ours to give nor for any man but the master to take or share as he saw fit.  We belonged to him, to be used or lent at his (or his mother’s) whim.  I was never sent to the master because I was his own child but I was, from time to time,  offered to visiting dignitaries or officials.  These men were not gentle or kind,  but fortunately, as I was not particularly beautiful or adept in bed,  my charms were not in high demand.   Eventually, I was completely ignored for such things.

All I knew about life beyond the walls was what some of the others,  including my mother, told me. For many, the outside world seemed more difficult,  full of poverty, back-breaking work, and starvation.  Almost all were young virgins when they were captured so they did not long for lost husbands or lovers or children.  Many were captives of war, and were grateful for the peace and plenty of their new circumstances.  But some were captured away from their families.  These girls found adjustment most difficult. They would weep and cry when they first arrived but in time they forgot their old lives and settled into the new. I was lucky because I had nothing to miss,  and because my mother was there to teach and protect me.

I did not consider my life bad or unfortunate.

When the weather turned warm, I enjoyed being outside in the courtyard with the others, working, gossiping.  Not all the women were embroiderers.  Some minded the children.  Some played instruments and sang. Some were dancers.  Some were ladies’ maids to the women of status.  Some of the favorite concubines  had only to keep themselves attractive. This was very important as it was her access to the master that gave her power.  Each of us had access to different parts of the household, and so each had different information.  By sharing what we knew, we could put together a bigger story.

Oh, the plots and rumors and intrigue that were discussed!

Some of the older women, longtime favorite concubines and lesser wives, those with more power and influence than I could ever hope for, were quite adept at grand manipulations. A carefully planted rumor, a well-told lie, a damning truth, whispered genially and sincerely in the right ear, all served to help accrue more power and influence.  Over the years, there was more intrigue and machinations than I can recount. There were poisonings and betrayals, false friendships and lies, all in the service of power and rank.  But my own ambition was never so great as some of the others.

When I was young, I was useless at that game but I observed and listened closely, and slowly, I learned the way it was played.

My first manipulation began accidentally when I befriended the youngest child of one of the lesser wives.  The nanny who minded her was dull and sullen and was too lazy to play with her. I could see that the child was bored so later, alone, I fashioned a small doll for her from scraps of blue silk, with eyes of fresh water pearls and tiny lapis beads, and a smile of garnets. This was not done with any specific plan in mind.  The girl seemed lonely and I felt sorry for her, so I made her a small gift using what I had at hand.  She was, after all, my sister (although this was not common knowledge among the other women.)

I gave it to her the next time I saw her.  She was delighted. And her nanny was pleased that someone else made an effort to entertain the child, relieving her of the burden of having to pay attention.

Several days later, when we were again all outside together, the girl came over to where I sat to watch me work.  She seemed fascinated by the idea of making designs with beads and thread.  As I worked, she listened raptly as I told her stories about fantastic creatures and faraway places, completely of my imagination.  I felt a kinship for her and although she did not know who I was,  she sensed the attachment.

Seeing us together, it occurred to the nanny that I was perhaps entertaining the child too well. She suspected that her position might be in jeopardy.  She called the child to come away from me but she was reluctant to go. In that brief moment, I sensed opportunity. I whispered to the girl to come see me again soon.  I’d have more stories for her.

Her nanny, by then, had become wary and prevented her from visiting with me. But the girl kept her eye on me.  I would smile and wave.  I would tell funny stories to the other girls my age to make them laugh, so the child would see this and feel she was missing the fun.

And one day, not long after, I was summoned by the girl’s mother and informed that I would now be her nanny.

And so, my rank among the women of the household increased.

The girl loved me because I devoted myself to her.  And I loved her, because, even though there was a great difference in status,  I knew we were blood. We shared many of the same features, and I brushed her long black hair and styled it like my own.

When she was grown enough to no longer need a nanny, she kept me close by making me her ladies’ maid. And so my rank increased again, as I was now privy to more important information, received firsthand, which made it more valuable.  Information was currency.  I could trade it for favors.

Eventually it came time for her to marry.  Her husband lived afar. Although she wanted me to come with her, I was still property of the household and her father would not give me to her. Both he and I understood that if I went with her,  her husband would be my new master,  and if he took me as his concubine,  as was his right,  it would cause her deep pain.

She did not see the danger of this new situation as I did.  I consoled her,  assuring her it was for the best.

We bid our tearful farewells.  She was both a child and a sister to me.  She was the only person I ever missed.  I only saw her once again, many years later, when she returned for her father’s funeral.  It was a sweet reunion.

By then, I had spent many years as a ladies’ maid to increasingly important wives,  my circumstances improving and my status growing.

I was a slave , but as a life,  it was better than many who live free.

Humans are all and always slaves to someone or something.


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Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooe

artwork: Kamil Aslanger  (I discovered this image a year after writing/channeling this post but it’s such a perfect image, one might think it was actually inspiration for this story. It was not.)

 

Ruined Innocence

NEW!

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) / Toyokuni III (三代豊国) Print: Night rape double-page illustration from volume 1 In Praise of Love in the Four Seasons (Shunka shūtō, Shiki no nagame – 春夏秋冬 – 色の詠)

Lir

I was still a child myself when I had a child of my own.

I was taken by a man – my father’s cousin – only a year after my first blood.

I knew, as I knew my own name, that he never thought of me again.  I was a convenient receptacle for his momentary arousal and release.  To him, I had no face, no name.  He was drunk, and I could see in his eyes that he was not anywhere near with me.   It was not gentle. It was not slow or kind.  He grabbed me, threw me down, pulled up my skirt and put his thing inside me.  I thought I was being torn apart. He made noise like an animal.  His hot yeasty breath filled my nostrils,  causing me to retch.  He didn’t notice.  He was finished quickly, wiping himself on my skirt.  The only words he said to me were to let me know that if I told anyone about what had just transpired, he would find me and murder me in my sleep.

When my belly started to grow full, and my mother understood that I was with child,  she beat me almost senseless.  How I had been made pregnant was not the issue.  All that mattered in that moment was that I was pregnant. It happened, and as a girl, it was my fault, my sin.

She demanded to know who. I dared not tell her the truth so I said it was the son of a farmer who had come to town for market day; that he kissed me, and I found him pleasing, and we lay together in a field.  (I knew enough about how babies were made to lie convincingly.)

Truth or lies, the outcome would be the same for me, I knew. There would be no justice.  My violator would never suffer any punishment.  To speak his name would only give me reason to fear.

The shame to the family was more than they could bear.  They sent me away to a place where I would not be known, and where my sins would not be reflected back on them, even though the fault lay not with me but with the very men who took their pleasures without responsibility or remorse.

I was sent to a sad and lonely place which kept fallen girls like me away from respectable citizens.

My father took me in the middle of one cold night, to a place far away, and left me at the gate of an imposing building. The old bricks struck in me both respect and fear.  I was pulled inside and before I could turn to wave goodbye, my father was gone.

 I waited, like the others, for the day of my labor to arrive.  The ones in charge kept us busy with as much work as our swollen bodies could bear.

A few months later, I had my child there, and she suckled at my breast when she needed to be fed, but other than that, she was kept away from me.  I knew they would some day take her away. They did not want me to love her too much;  to cry and protest when they pulled her from my arms for the last time.  I understood this and did not let myself love her.

While the other girls wore their guilt like a sack of stones slung around their necks, my own burden was anger.  I raged at the unfairness of it. Why should I have felt guilty when I had done nothing wrong? I was not a bad girl.  I did not offer my body to men for money or food or for shiny baubles, nor even for love. My maidenhood was stolen from me, violently and cruelly, despite my tears and shouts and pleading. Nobody else heard me. He made certain of that.   I had become a prisoner of my circumstances and of my own body.

In the meanwhile, I earned my keep cleaning and working in the kitchen,  as most of the other girls did.  I remained there until the child was weaned, and then I was sent out into the world with a few small coins to make my way as best I could.  I had no family, no friends.  There was nobody to watch out for me, no one to rock me when the sadness overtook me. This was supposed to be my punishment, but for what I never understood.  I was not the one who should have been punished, and yet, my life was a ruin because of that man.

I was far from my family and even if I had the means to return to their town again, they would not want me.  And I didn’t really want them.  I did not want to be with people who would treat me so unjustly,  who thought of me so ill.

I was fortunate to find some work in a respectable house as a scullery maid. I was grateful they have me work without a proper letter, and they did not treat me unkindly.  They paid me rarely, and only a few small coins, here and there.  Why did I need money?  They gave me food and shelter,  a uniform and some cast-off clothing.

After time, it became my job to go to the square on market day.  The kitchen maid knew exactly how much each item cost and only gave me just enough money for what we needed, but I was quite clever at bargaining, and was able to pocket a little bit here and there, and the maid was never the wiser.

Some days, I was told to hurry home. But other times, when she was feeling generous in spirit or if the family was away and there were no meals to prepare, I was allowed a few glorious hours for myself.  On such a day, especially when the weather was fine,  I felt truly alive.

One day, on my way to market, I picked some wildflowers and braided myself a beautiful floral crown.  A pretty young girl admired it.  After a quick negotiation,  I sold it to her for a few small coins.  Her friends, in turn,  admired it on her head.  Each week, from then on, I would make a few flower halos and sell them to those girls whose parents had given them a tiny allowance to spend on whatever they wished.

One of these girls was the daughter of the mushroom seller.  We made each other laugh and so we became friends. I taught her how to braid flowers and she took me with her into the woods to search for mushrooms.  We were both surprised to discover I had an instinct for it.  I understood which fungi liked which conditions, and where we were likely to find such conditions.  I could sense where they hid.  There was not much time for me to search. Conditions had to be just so on a day when I was free, but whatever I found, I sold to my friend’s father, for him to sell to others.

And in these ways, in this way and that, slowly, over the years, I saved enough for what I had been dreaming about for more than a decade.

I bought a fine dress.  I rode back to the town of my birth, which was many hours away. I had in my possession a knife borrowed from the kitchen.

I knew where he lived.  I knew how to find him.   If anyone was going to be murdered in their sleep, it would not be me.

When I arrived, I immediately set out to locate him.

But he was not in his field. He was not in his home. He was in none of the places where men gather.  I had arrived driven with revenge but finally I was worn out from the traveling, from searching, from burning anger.  I wanted to do my worst and be done with the deed. I could wait no longer. I needed to act while I still had my courage. I asked somebody where I might find him.

“In the graveyard,” I was told.  Many years before, he had been hurt by his plow and died weeks later from a creeping black infection.

My feelings were all a-jumble.  Disappointment.  A different taste of anger, now that my revenge had been stolen from me.  Relief, because I wasn’t even sure I could have carried through on my plan, even having dreamed about it for so long.  A sadness at my wasted life. And under it all, a sense of freedom;  a new beginning.  His accident had saved me from committing a mortal sin. Perhaps this was God’s gift to me.

For the rest of my life, and still,  I sifted through all those emotions,  trying to make more sense of them;  trying to come to a conclusion about what it was all supposed to mean.

 

(note on the artwork:  I did not have the impression that this narrator was Japanese, but the act itself as depicted here is as it was shown to me.)

______

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Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

Bark, Roots, and Berries

NEW!

 

Wal

I was a medicine woman, like my mother before me, and her mother before her.  From the time I was old enough to walk, I foraged with the older women in the woods and the fields,  by the streams and rivers, for roots and bark and leaves and berries with which to make remedies, salves, syrups, and potions.  I soon knew both the proper and their common names of them all.   I knew which very similar-looking green berries were good for settling the stomach and which would cause even greater upset.   I learned the best times and places to harvest green shoots; how to know when their medicine was strongest.  Even out at play or on an errand, I got into the habit of filling my pockets with leaves and flowers that soothed and calmed.

At my mother and grandmother’s side, I learned how prepare each cure, and the proper dose for each ailment.

There were books, too.  Some had been passed down from many mothers before us.  Some were written by my mother and grandmother.  Most other women did not know how to read, but this was a skill essential to our field, and so the knowledge of it was passed down with the other teaching.  Our skill was rudimentary — we needed  just enough to be able to read or write a recipe or describe (and perhaps draw) a plant or flower and where to find it.

This was knowledge that needed to be taught from a young age.  There was too much to learn to start as an adult.

We three women, along with my father, shared a small cottage with a garden for growing that which could be cultivated.

When I was twelve,  my father and grandmother were killed in an accident with the cart, on a steep hill in the rain, on their way home from market in another town.  It was difficult to live without them, for they were both wise and loved by us.   Having no choice, my mother and I carried on.  We were fortunate in that my mother’s skill and calling provided us with enough money to survive in some comfort. We never went hungry, had candles and oil enough for light, and were warm in the winter.

Also in our large town, was a midwife and her daughter who was several years older than me.  The town was small enough that I knew of them  but not so small that we knew each other well.  Our mothers sometimes consulted on women’s matters, but because of our age difference, we   girls did not much associate with each other.

As I got older, I devoted myself to my calling.  My mother passed on when I was in my late 20s. I did not marry.  I should have.  But I never was much interested in the company of men,  and since I was capable of surviving on my own without one,  I didn’t see much point.  I had no mother to urge me to the altar.  I was content, alone in the cottage; just me and my few animals whose company gave me more comfort than most people.

Over the years,  as with our mothers,  it became necessary for me to consult with the midwife’s daughter, who, when her mother died,  took on her mantle,  as I had taken on my own mother’s.  She had married young, had no children, and by then was a widow.

After the first consultation,  we began to find excuses for others.  We enjoyed sitting and discussing the various aspects of our callings. We compared notes and tried to understand why certain cures or techniques worked sometimes, but not always.  Sometimes we experimented together.  For example, I suggested a numbing, healing leaf poultice to ease the tearing and after-pain of childbirth.  She knew a mild sedative that soothed colicky babies..

Our age difference was less important now, and we completely enjoyed each other’s company.  She was truly the first and only friend I ever had in my life.

Several years into our friendship,  there was a large fire in her corner of town, and her house was damaged and uninhabitable.  Several people had been killed, and she felt lucky to have gotten away with her life and her bag of tools.

There was not even a question that she would move in with me.

The fire turned out to be a blessing for both of us, for as we got older,  we found it lovely and comforting to have company in the evenings. If one or the other of us had to go out in the night to attend to a labor or illness,  we could often be accompanied by the other – for company, as protection,  as an extra set of eyes and hands to work.  After a many years like that, we could spell each other if the other was not available or not well enough to travel, and as long as the case was not too complicated.

After only a couple of years together,  we delivered a beautiful baby girl to a mother who died two days after childbirth, despite our best efforts to save her.  The girl’s father was a drunkard and ne’er-do-well.  He had no interest in the child; he saw her only as a burden.  There was no other family.

And so, with her father’s blessing, we took the girl and raised her as our own.  We both taught her our trades. She was smart as a fox, that one,  and learned so fast.  By the time we, her mothers, had passed over,  she was more than capable of fulfilling both our positions for the townsfolk.

She eventually passed her knowledge on to her daughter,  and that daughter to her daughter.  And so this valuable information,  these skills and knowledge which kept the human race alive generation after generation, became the dominion of women.  And thus it went for centuries.  Until the men called it Science and took it away from them.

______

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

Asch in Ashes

NEW!

 

Mir

I was thirteen, and my brother sixteen, when we left our family home and set out for the New World.   It was a great adventure – both exciting and terrifying – but as long as I had my brother to care for me, I felt safe.

He and my parents had been saving money to send us both together.  The plan was, they would continue to save and my brother would find work and send money home, until eventually they would join us.

My mother had a younger cousin who had been living in New York for several years. She was, by our standards, a “real American” already,  settled with a husband, an apartment, and a job.  They had agreed to sponsor us and take us in until we could make our own way.

My brother was a big strong boy, tall for his age.  He quickly found work ferrying packages from suppliers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to the showrooms and shops.  It had been agreed by all before we left that I was to continue my education for at least two years.  My parents wanted me to also become a “real American”. They made my brother promise to keep me in school.

Our cousins were very welcoming and kind.  They gave us a corner of their small apartment.  There was just one cot, and my brother and I took turns sleeping in it while the other slept on a pile of folded blankets on the floor.  I often let him have the bed, even when it was my turn because he worked so hard during the day and was so physically exhausted.  I didn’t have the heart to make him sleep on the hard wooden floor.  It was by the grace of his hard work that I was able to remain in school. Since I didn’t have money to contribute,  I made myself as helpful as possible – cleaning,  washing, cooking some simple meals,  doing marketing and errands, mending clothing as I’d been taught by my mother.

When I was 14, and my English passable, my cousin found me a job at a small restaurant owned by her friend and her husband.  The husband cooked and the friend waited tables, but they had a young daughter who needed attention after school while they prepared for the dinner customers.

It didn’t pay much but it was the perfect situation for me.  I started in the afternoon, so I didn’t miss any classes.  I would sit with the girl while she did her schoolwork, and my own English skills improved.  Sometimes if they needed extra hands, I cleared tables or swept the floor or even chopped vegetables.  Occasionally, they’d send me out for an errand.

They were good to me and I was determined to justify their faith in me.  I worked hard and they came to rely on me more and more.  For this, they raised my pay as much as they could afford. It wasn’t much, but it enabled me to contribute a bit to the rent and to my parents’ travel fund.

I had been working there for just over a year when we received terrible news.  My father had become ill and within a very short time had passed away.   My brother and I would not, could not, let my mother remain alone in the Old World.   My brother took on extra shifts and I found additional work minding other children in the evenings.  Within the year, there was enough in the fund to bring her to us.

In the days before her expected arrival, I was so excited I could barely eat or sleep. When we met her at the boat, we all burst into tears at the sight of each other, touching each others’ faces and stroking each other’s hair, reassuring ourselves that we were all real.

We went back the apartment and my mother and her cousin caught up on the family news, remembering old times, laughing and crying.

Later, the three of us squeezed into our corner, with my brother and I insisting my mother take the cot. It was obvious we could not remain in this situation for much longer.  Fortunately, my mother was an experienced tailor and seamstress, and she was able to find work quickly.  Within a couple of months we were able to move to our own small room on Hester Street.  It was tiny, and the bathroom, down the hall, was shared by others, but to us it felt like paradise, an unimaginable luxury to be living with just our own family in our own room.

I finished school in my sixteenth year, and my mother got me a job at the factory where she worked, making ladies’ blouses.  Initially I was thrilled to have a real job; to get a regular paycheck; to be an adult among other women like myself and my mother — new immigrants, filled with hopes and dreams for a better future – but the novelty wore off quickly.

We worked long hours, six long days a week in very unpleasant conditions. The supervisors treated us more like slaves than workers. But, with the three of us bringing home a salary each week, we were able to save money.  The dream was for my mother to buy a sewing machine and have her own tailor shop so we could get out of that awful factory which seemed to suck more life out of us every day.

And then,  one Saturday afternoon,  there was chaos!  A fire!  There were so many flammable scraps and pieces around that it didn’t take long for the fire to be raging.  The doors were locked as they always were.  There was no escape.

I pressed to the window with my mother and the other women, barely able to breathe, terrified of being burned alive and equally afraid of jumping onto the unforgiving pavement below.

In the end, I jumped.  My mother stayed.  It didn’t make a difference.  We, along with dozens of our friends and coworkers, all died that day.

My brother,  alone and lonely,  soon took a wife.  They named their children after me and my mother, so our story would not be lost – a story of two women with dreams, unfulfilled.

 

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