FREEDOM IN CHAINS
by Deena Remiel
I am born. Without forethought. Without intention. Without love. I am thrust out of a darkness so warm, sheltered, and secure. Thrown into another kind of darkness so cold, exposed, and depraved. I cry and reach out, instinctively, for a mother's love that should be there, instinctively, and is not. I learn instead to reach inward. I learn to design my own world in a corner of my mind. I learn not to cry.
Bad things happen when I cry. Bad things happen always...when you're not intended.
In my world, it's best to be invisible. If She can't see me, I'm forgotten for a while and safe from the brutal attacks on my fragile heart. I know She can't help herself yet, and I forgive her...over and over. She is Mother. If He can't see me, my body is safe from unwanted, unwarranted intrusions. I just can't be invisible long enough, though. I know He can't help himself. He tells me so as He hurts me and cries...or laughs.
No longer a person, but a receptacle for other people's basest desires, I exist. I am pissed on and passed on to innumerable faceless people who don't see me, a precious child, but see me, a thing to be exploited. This is not my choice, but I have no voice. It was stolen sound by sound, thread by thread, each day sucked up more and more by the vacuum my family surrounded me with, veiled as "protection".
My name is Freedom, and it was my birthday, once.
Freedom's not my real name, but I chose it on that one birthday. The one that was actually remembered. The one that made Mother angry at remembering, angry at me. My birthday dinner was Rice Toasties and milk. My birthday gift? I got visited by Him and his friends. As my body was repeatedly invaded, I made plans for my revolution, my escape.
Today is the dawn of my revolution. Mother isn't home, and He's too doped up to lift his head when I walk into our apartment. So I gather my few belongings and walk right back out, never looking back. The streets have to be safer than where I have been for the past fourteen years.
I walk along the bustling city streets of my town, seeing everything just a bit differently than I had only minutes before. I see, for the first time, because my head is up and not turned down in shame. The store windows sparkle brilliantly in the sunlight, just for me. In upstairs apartments, window shades are pulled down and then up to let in more light. But I know they're really winking their approval at my decision. My heart is light, my cheeks lift, and I touch them. I am smiling. What a strange feeling.
Awareness and attention to detail assault my brain like a battering ram. There's an old lady with wrinkled tissue paper skin pushing a shopping cart, but I know she's not shopping anywhere. I see her lips moving but nothing's coming out. There's a pack of boys, acting as if they owned the corner they were hanging out on, whistling after pretty girls walking by. Some of the girls give them nasty looks, while others ignore them altogether.
I notice the smells. The sweet, succulent aroma of the flowers from a flower shop is tucked away in a little box in my heart labeled "sweet things". Next, I smell pizza. I know pizza. I eat it a lot. My nose wrinkles in defiance of the familiarity. No more pizza for me! I smell garbage. I know that smell, too. It perfumes my apartment. It creeps into my nostrils and lingers. I put my hand to my face and smell my skin. Anything is better than the smell of where I came from.
Darkness is inevitable. Hours fly by in a dizzying swirl of sights, sounds, and smells. More swiftly than I would think, the insipid darkness descends upon the city. I am tense, anxious. My stomach grumbles. I haven't considered where or what I might eat. I haven't considered where I might stay. I haven't considered how I might pay for anything. I simply haven't considered. My thoughts wander as I stand frozen in the middle of the sidewalk. I am now one of those people, the street people, who lay on benches or cardboard boxes on the ground. It's still better than who I was before.
An unnatural breeze, sour and rank, wafts over my face. I know that smell, and a shiver snakes its way up my spine and clenches hard at my neck. It is Him, and my stomach roils in abject humiliation. My revolution, only in its infancy, has been suppressed. I am tugged and pulled and squeezed by his cruel hands. And he smiles at the people we pass on the way to his car that He left parked in the middle of the road. He calls me an incorrigible teenager to mollify the onlookers while shoving me into the front seat, and they respond with an understanding glance. But they don't understand! I scream that I'm being kidnapped and they shake their heads disbelieving me, believing Him instead. How can they believe Him instead of me? His right hand forms a manacle around my wrist as He drives one-handed all the way back to the apartment. I am barraged with insults and curses and threats meant to intimidate me.
They will work...for a while.
A closest, a very dark closet with some matted carpeting, becomes my home, and I am chained by my ankle to the floor. But not before my whipping, not before cigarettes are burned into my flesh, and not before I am reminded of what my only purpose is on this earth. I don't know what day it is. I only know day from night when the door opens and I'm given a sandwich and water. And when They come to fetch me.
In the darkness I hear them scheming. I know they have to send me to school. It's the law. But they won't until I'm healed. Mother told me she called me out sick so the police won't come. They've told stories to everyone at school about how difficult I am at home and how I'm a habitual liar. Mother told them she's getting me into counseling because I hurt myself intentionally. My teachers don't believe them. Do they?
I am scheming, too.
I am finally set free to go to school. I have no clue what's going on in my classes and no friends to ask. I'm never there enough to string concepts or friendships together. My stomach is cramping, so I ask to see the nurse. Denied. I 'm only allowed to have stomach cramps in between classes. I see my assistant principal at lunchtime and decide to approach her. Maybe she can help me. We go to her office and she leans back nonchalantly in her seat and stares blankly at every tale I tell. I even show her the scarring from the cigarette burns and the chain marks around my ankle. I'll look into this, she says, as she walks me out. I turn around to see her shaking her head and tossing her notes into the wastebasket. She doesn't believe. They've gotten to her. She's one of Them now.
The end of the school day brings no relief, as He is there, waiting for me in his car. He waves me on and I can do nothing but obey. Mother's gone. On and on, my days blend together. Every day the same routine--chains unlocked, get ready for school, go to school, go home, chains locked. Sometimes He comes, sometimes his friends, sometimes it is people he doesn't even know. I am His meal-ticket. I am His drugs.
I am His.
He has a computer on the table in the kitchen, right next to the pizza boxes and dirty paper plates and cups and empty beer bottles. While in my closet I have been busy. I have found a way to get out of my chains and back in them again. Malnourishment has its advantages.
The front door slams shut and I wait. I listen. There is silence. Boldly, I remove the chain from around my ankle and I stretch. Reaching up for the doorknob, I hesitate. What if He's testing me and He's really laying in wait, ready to pounce? What if the door is locked and I can't get out? Enough of the what-ifs, I scold myself. What if you just open the Goddamn door?
I do, and I am alone.
Energy hums through my body as I rush to the computer. Now what? I search for freedom. I had been in Civics class once where the teacher taught us about human rights violations around the world. He had mentioned human trafficking and children being sold into slavery as a couple of examples. I remember hyperventilating and being sent to the health office. I retched and dry-heaved for a while and then she sent me back to class. Only other people get to go home when they're sick.
Human Trafficking brings up 9,000,000 pages to view. I only need one to confirm that I am what is called a victim. It takes a couple more clicks and I find my savior. Someone actually saves people like me, victims of unspeakable human rights crimes. I quickly write down a phone number, put it in my pocket and return the computer to exactly the way it was before.
I hear loud cursing and laughing coming from the hallway. He's back, and he's got company. Scurrying like a mouse, I scramble to my closet, close the door, reattach the chain to my ankle and curl up in a ball. I say my nightly prayer, "Please make me invisible tonight." Tonight, it works. His company is female. Poor woman.
At school today, I skip out of English. I borrow some kid's cell phone. Okay, I steal some kid's cell phone and race outside to make the call. The call of freedom. My finger trembles as it pushes each number. It knows this is my last effort to be free. The thrumming of my heart threatens to drown out the voice on the other end.
I am born. Again. It is a long row I hoe with many ruts and boulders in my way. Nightmares and depression replace my former reality. But I have people in my life now who help me plant the seeds of strength and trust and happiness. People who show me what it is to be treated with human kindness. People who show me I am deserving of such. The evil that bought me when I was but a child has his own shackles to wear now in his own "closet" for the next forty years. It should bring a smile to my face, but that's still hard to do.
My name is Freedom, and I had a birthday once. I named it my Freedom Day. My Freedom Day dinner was a real steak, a baked potato, green beans and a Coke.
My Freedom Day gift? My new life.