by Luīze Eihmane
*subject lacks an appropriate point of reference to describe its conditions*
’Congratulations! We are pleased to offer you a chance of survival and potential upwards mobility!’ Packing bags. Hugging family members. Printing plane tickets. Excitement filled eyes, soon. So soon. Looking at the broken windows, for the last time. Quieting a hungry belly, for the last time. Kicking needles off the sidewalk on your way home, for the last time. Have you heard of the West? It’s not like the rest. Children have their own rooms, their own phones and sometimes even their own bathrooms! Their own. I’ve seen it in the movies! They have their own. Their rights known. And sometimes respected.
I am the golden boy. I am invincible. Nothing can stop me, nothing can hurt me. Mamma, did you know it is not normal to cry every night? To always want to die? To not sleep? To drink and do drugs from the age of thirteen? To only ever see your parents suffer? I know you didn’t, and neither did I. And neither did your mother or hers before that. Points of reference moved. Waves shifting. Conditions changed. I am happy-go-lucky, I am the chosen one. I change my name. It’s easier on their tongues. It’s easier for my lunges. I quit smoking. I am seventeen. I barely ever take amphetamines. I am so good. Is this what life is like for everyone else? I don’t think. I live. I am alive. Breathing for the first time. Sometimes several days go by without me remembering where I’m from. Sometimes two years go by.
There were ambulances at our high school graduation. Several people fainting, having panic attacks because it is all over and all over means it is all beginning again. The war. The sealed memories, alive again. Homecoming. The ugly side of scholarship. Plane tickets. Hugging family. ‘It’s just for a few weeks. You are still moving forward. Just for a few weeks.’ I look at my hands and try to guess who’s are they. Which name do I go by here. They say it takes twice the time it took to build muscle to lose it. Trauma is not a muscle. It takes just a few days to rip open the stitches two years have sown. Did I ever even leave? Can you ever leave the premises of trauma?
Room, check. Meal plan, check. Carefree western teenagers around me, check. Ancestors left on the other side of immigration and customs, check. It is different this time around. Less of a roller coaster ride. I want to put my arms on the nurses table and have the red, white and blue injected in my veins. I want my genetic composition changed. I don’t want to know where I am from. I want to be normal. I want to have a golden retriever, a two car garage and parents that would ground me when I come home past curfew. ‘omg mom, I hate you! You’re ruining my life!’ Because things like that matter when you can focus on something other than survival. I am itching and scratching. I am really hot and really cold. Sometimes days go by and I forget where I’m from. Sometimes days go by and I forget I left. I cry every single movie I watch. Tears are floating around my body and they don’t know how and when to come out. Movies seem appropriate. I need more sleep, have less energy. I give my body the rest my mind needs. The professor is talking about one theory or another and I want to care, but my stomach hurts from the beatings my mother has gotten, from the wars my grandmother has walked through. I inhale through my nose and exhale through my mother’s mouth. We shouldn’t carry the pain of those before us, but I don’t know another way. I’m watching students walk building to building making funny patterns in the snow and suddenly feel like dying. I want to laugh from how lucky I am to be here, I want to cry from how much it hurts to not be of here. I laugh cry.
Today I’ll eat a sandwich for lunch the content of which will not fill my grandpa’s belly, but twenty years ago something unspeakably painful can happen to my mother and it’ll physically hurt me today as if my skin was nothing but an extension of hers. Ain’t it funny how that works. Intergenerational. That’s the word of the day. The decade. A whole lifetime and then some, and then some, and then some. Adverse Childhood Experiences. The ACE test. A test which I ace. ‘Abuse can be emotional, physical or sexual. Neglect can be emotional or physical. Household dysfunction can happen due to mental illness, incarcerated relatives, mother being treated violently, substance abuse or divorce.’ How do you take that and apply it to a family tree? What’s the formula for multiplying and calculating all this hurt? Why am I a tree branch? What a Western notion, separating the branch from the tree. I for one, cannot. You for one, cannot. It is not real. A fake dichotomy. The rain falls and water runs through the tree, the wind blows and the branches sway in a choreographed dance. I am my mother’s daughter. A tree may be a household, but the forest is a neighborhood. Why do we zoom in at the doctor’s office but zoom out at public policy? What office do I go to fix this? I didn’t know how to tie my shoes when I first learned how to run home from danger. PTSD. A neighborhood. hood. Touch me and I’ll scream.
I wake up in the middle of the night and go to the window of my soviet apartment bedroom. My body moves from muscle memory, I don’t need to think. I see my feet dangling out the fifth floor window. This is how I used to sit before I left. Contemplating death as a hobby.
I wonder if all the other students scan for an emergency exit when they enter a room. Do all my neighbors immediately lock the doors behind them with their heart racing. Does everyone else go in panic mode when the phone rings and its home. Survival tactics. In the mirror I look normal. There are bruises I’ve healed and ones that never will. What a waste of a scholarship! I’ve received too many to not succeed. To be held back by something that can’t be pointed at. The assignments are due at the same time but the ghosts arrive whenever they want to. ‘what did you do this weekend?’ Pulled my hair, danced around the room, cried my grandmothers pains, caressed my fathers bruises on my own body, stared at the walls. ‘Hung out with some friends, watched a movie!’ Reconciliation is a war zone. You think we live in Baltimore, but I don’t. I live here and there today and ten years ago all at once. An ocean is nothing but a blink of an eye. It takes a decade to learn that trauma is not where you’re from, it’s what you are.
You can try to evict trauma from the premises of your body, you can try to burn down the house, but it’s been in you since before you were you. Sometimes I wake up in a pile of sweat. It’s 3am and my bones hurt. Thoughts and memories enter my mind that are dark and make me twitch. Hi, you’re here. I know you, I’m sorry. Sometimes I wake up smiling. It’s 7am. I take trauma by the hand and go for a walk. We’re gonna have a good day today. Other children inherit intergenerations wealth, but all we got was intergenerational trauma. A productive day is one in which we come to terms with it. Sit with it. Heal from it. I am attending to my wounds and I see them closing up on my father’s back. That is how I know I am on the right track.
Luīze (Lulu) Anna Eihmane is a PhD candidate of political science from Latvia.