speaking about our experiences gives a voice to the voiceless parts within ourselves.
by Matt Kahn
in order for you to know where i come from i’ll now take you into my world of thought and action.
“you were always happy,” she said, “and you were so funny. i always laughed when i was with you.”
surprised, i replied in speed, “yeah, maybe but inside i felt hurt. i felt all alone. all the time.”
“i couldn’t tell,” she replied. “i am so sorry.”
“that’s okay,” i said.
it all began in 1985 when on june 4th i saw the light but my joy left quick when i met the dark. only hours passed when my mom gave up her parental rights. and just like that i was an orphan, one in millions, abandoned and rejected by my own flesh and blood.
for three months, sick to my bones, i cried and healed in a hospital bed, were soon after i arrived to a children’s home.
it was the soviet times, and back then, like songs they shuffled the kids. by age seven i entered a third orphanage of the wild and brave.
in the institution, there were many of us. few dozen or so wherein the flock of fatherless i was the troublesome one.
whenever life didn’t go my way, i exploded. oftentimes i even threw myself on the floor and put on a show. i cried and yelled and kicked my feet with fleeting anger. but majority of the time, when not in the midst anxiety, i was known as helpful, hyperactive and exuberantly happy.
but already as a child i felt that we all had something in common. we all seemed to be more alike than unalike. somehow i knew, me and my fellow orphans, we had stories with memories locked away. feelings too hurtful to dug up the past.
and like other kids, i too lived in a privileged and darkened place.
i had a roof. clothes. food. and access to basic education. but something was missing. i felt empty in a wilderness of a human experience that felt hostile to me.
i don’t remember much from those days. but i do remember this. i didn’t feel loved. i didn’t even know what love is. how love feels. love, it felt like a foreign concept to the oneness inside.
during those years, i recorded a tape for decades to come.
what’s wrong with me? why no one wants me? why no one loves me?
they were questions that put me to sleep and woke me up in fear. questions i played hide and seek with. questions i never shared with anyone. never. ever.
early on, i decided that the world is cruel and i am in pain and that i need to thicken my skin to protect myself from people, places, things.
i guess, it was then when silence became frightening to me and with a smile of a warrior i kept on running. i was always in move because to stop and do nothing felt suicidal to me.
but in my brokenness, i guess, i was the lucky one – i had seen my mom few times at least. and like any kid, i held on tight to the memories of hope — maybe she’ll change her mind, maybe she’ll return and rescue me. but it never happened. never.
and that experience, the survival of the fittest, was the voiceless pain we all seemed to shared. pain we all knew we had. pain that got burnt into the maze of our subconscious mind. pain that shaped our stories forever to come.
life, it wasn’t easy for my younger self.
by age seven i had seen enough. enough to stand on a deadly cliff of faith and trust.
but not all hope was gone.
in 1992, just like a falling star a foster family fell down from the open sky. suddenly i got to spend my weekends and school holidays at their home up north, only 200km away in an urban town.
about a year later, a week before my eight birthday in 1993, their home became my home too.
and i think this happened. “elsa, be good now,” a caretaker said. “i hope i’ll see you again. let’s write, okay?” she then prayed and hugged my toughened self. and then with my tiny bag i slouched into a back seat of a black Russian pride, the Lada, not knowing if and when i’ll ever return.
the ride, familiar and foreign at once, was long enough to think and feel, and miss the ones left behind. i had been there before but not in a lap of a parent on my way home.
by then, i had made few friends, some in south, some in north, but the ones down south stayed behind. and from what i knew, i’d never see them again.
abruptly they came, abruptly they left.
hours later my long held wish shipped to dock. i was at home, finally after all those years. then, without a thought in me i jumped the chance and never looked back. mom, what’s for dinner? dad, lets get an ice-cream.
the labelling like breathing came natural to me.
but that newfound joy was short-lived.
“elsa, don’t get your mom angry again,” my dad would said again and again with his eyes fixed on a flickering screen.
at all times inside the kingdom of our house, justification called the shots. whoever was the loudest won points of reason, or even better, whenever my mom was on the loosing side she pulled out her magic-card. “i am older”, she would say, which translated to, she’s right and i am wrong.
from all the memories i carry, i remember, we only had skin-deep conversations. if we ever talked we only polished the surface of a real story.
and as time went by, i got petrified to ask anything, especially from my mom. before i asked the simplest of questions i developed a courage for days to come. the same courage that escaped in her presence each and every time.
“why so noisy?” she asked.
it was either me against them or them against me. from early on, obedience was a virtue of ours. i had to go places i hated going. i had to be girly when i refused to be. i had to talk upscale when it felt untrue to me.
my mom, she came across as being smarter than God. “you don’t know what you want, you’re just a kid”, she said in repetitive patterns which made me feel like a puppet micromanaged by adults. but in those very moments i grew a wish to piece together the meaning of life. also, i kept on flirting with an idea if their unlived dreams got glued on me.
i craved for someone to hear me and to see me for who i was and to encourage me to keep my stride but instead, back then, the easiest way to carve a life of my own was to tiptoe the battlefield of a 260 square meter house.
being a fairy would have been my choice. float from room to room, and go in n’ out the thickened walls, only to hear and see and feel the backstage of unheard cries. i wanted to know. i yearned to know. but i didn’t know the questions to ask. and even if i did, i met a deaf universe.
it was during those wishful nights when i began my endless quest to understand the nature of what makes us us.
but in order to do that, i had to take breaks from the house of discomfort. whenever i could i walked away to charge myself. but going outdoors, like anything else, was a mission to feat. “why do you have to go outside? can’t you stay at home?” she said.
“mom, i am always at home,” i said, “there’s nothing to do here! i am bored.” i then took my skates and did few laps or i went next door to feel more at home.
those very moments, safe and joyful, patched the holes in my energy field.
but still, as time went by, around age twelve i worried constantly, did i say something wrong? did i do something wrong?
and because i was afraid to ask, i began my endless swim in fear – when i do this or that, what do they say? what do they do? what do they think?
it went on and on with no switch to turn it off.
in my adolescence it became clear to me, whenever at home i shopped for pain. and i guess, i was fourteen or so when i decided to shut up and dry up for good. i couldn’t take it anymore. from then on, i held my tongue than gave it say. also, i released my last known tear. after that, until my thirties, even if i tried, i couldn’t cry like normal people do.
and it was then, when in selfish manner, pleasing others became the breath i breathed wherein my fears, one by one, lurked around and got the best of me.
in my prisoned self, i tried, i really tried to be the good girl because i noticed, my mom’s temper was softer when i allowed myself to be enslaved by her in a breathless altitude of codependent patterns.
lucky i had volleyball back then. my escapism. my addiction. my retreat from life. a reason to leave home, to train as mad and fall in love with the ball, and go to every camp i could and bus out of town to another game to find passion long gone from sight.
also, what brought joy to my life was that we always had dogs, big and small. i guess, they were the only living beings who saw me for who i was. who carried my weight when i had enough. who frantically waved their tails and ran me down with “i see youse”, no matter if i walked once or twice or ten times through a double woodened doors. i could tell, they loved me. i could feel, they knew better what love is, how love feels, and i felt safe with them.
and then, i had my grandmother, too. a silent book-a-holic who swallowed over twenty books a month in her deep meditative states. who never raised her voice against me. who was always a peaceful observer minding her own things.
but not even this, the existence of good in life, could pull me out from the sunken place.
it wasn’t my birth parent or my adoptive parents who discarded me now. it was me who abandoned myself, every-single-day.
without a fail i slipped and i slid in hurtful patterns with thoughts like this. i am boyish. i am stupid. i am not interesting enough. no one likes me. i feel i belong nowhere. i have no true friends. i hate this life. and i wish my mom would die.
most of them were my daily thoughts that colored my grayscale views.
they arose from the echoes i had come to believe. “you’re such a tomboy,” or, “you’re stupid. get your act together.” for years those were words from my mom whenever my attempts unsatisfied her.
at some point, the inevitable took its share.
while inundated and stuck, i disowned my story with the present nowhere to be found. and, i guess, it was then when with a heavy armour i descended to war between my mind and heart.
from then on, there was the public me and the private me, two distinct realities with separate lives.
in social environments, i made friends quicker than you can blink an eye, and with my loud and speedy voice i cracked jokes, and burst into laughter uncontrollably with my addictive optimism that never died.
but in privacy i stood eye to eye with my naked truth. i didn’t need a tv, neither i had one. my mind was it, the selection of the best blockbuster movies that the world had ever seen. vivid and wildly toxic.
throughout my senior years, day in and day out, i lived in flight or fight, which became the only home i knew.
then, this happened . . .
“put yourself in his shoes,” my mom said, purging her latest trends of psychology.
okay smart-ass how do i do that? i asked in the privacy of my own thoughts, how do i walk in someone’s skin? come on, tell me!
it was a popular thing to say, cultural and empathetic, i guess, but i didn’t know a single person who lived up to those words.
over a decade i had seen a world of empty words lost in a desert of a promise land. so why should i listen? i thought. why? i had no role model from whom to learn how to walk in someone’s skin but the wisdom struck a cord in me, so i filed it away with a wish to build a bridge between them two, the word and action.
then years passed. i had finished secondary school were i refused to go. i had gone to work to be independent. and i had moved in with a man as broken as me. also, daily i socialised and i kept myself busy with people, places, things.
while days tipped by, slowly but surely, in my early twenties i began to ship my messy thoughts, my insecure words, and my unknown feelings all in the name to reclaim my power.
during my first steps in healing while my earthly success materialised, i received a call to adventure. “come to australia with me,” she said with her lively voice.
“you know what? i’ll think about it,“ i said surprising myself.
three days went by and i was ready to pack my bags. i knew, i need a change, a major one, to finally make sense of the senseless world.
two months later, at age twenty-six i left the known with questions in me — what makes us us? why am i here? and above all — mom, what’s your story?
my mom was a mystery to me. i knew nothing about her, except what i had heard and seen. but that nothingness grew a hunger impossible to control. i had to know, i wanted to know what made her her. i didn’t know how to but i had hope and hope, it tagged along with me.
in december 2011, on a cold windy day, i wobbled into my 75-liter backpack. with a belt i buckled my emotionally numb body in safety, and in the airport i waved goodbyes and stepped into a life of a nomad.
over five years went by.
the road, with its periods of profound expansions and contractions, shifting between extraordinary highs and infinite lows, gifted me the skills to unlearn and relearn the ways i had come to see this world.
and now, i am honored to say, in the upcoming days we’ll explore the simplicity in its complexity, a fraction of lessons wrapped in the brokenness of a human experience.
but before we’ll jump ahead, here’s a question to your heart.