I am a first generation American. Both my father and mother immigrated after World War II and brought with them, layer upon layer of secrets from their past.
My mother emigrated from Germany to Boston; my father emigrated from Hungary by way of Calgary, to Boston. Both came from complicated upbringings and the horrors of war. My mother’s strong European bloodline and my father’s tragic life story helped me eventually understand, but not excuse, their willingness to betray their own daughter for the good of a country.
By the time I was five years old, I already had hopes and dreams of being able to live alone. I had a book called Miss Suzy, about a squirrel who lived alone high atop an oak tree. Miss Suzy cooked, cleaned, and sang all day. At night, she was lulled to sleep by the gentle wind and the stars. One day a band of red squirrels sneaked into her house, broke all her things, ate up all her food and chased her away. Homeless and rain-soaked, she climbed a tree and found another home in the attic of an old house. She lived in a doll house where she found a box of toy soldiers who came to life. When Miss Suzy told them about what happened to her in the oak tree, the soldiers marched up the tree, kicked out the red squirrels and Miss Suzy moved back home.
In my five-year-old mind, this tale had many relatable metaphors. I compared myself to the story’s heroine. It gave me hope that I could also live alone in a tree, and I began dreaming up ways to escape my family. But I knew, even then, that unlike Miss Suzy I wasn’t going to be rescued by a group of chivalrous soldiers. I knew that all the adults in my life were the same. They kept secrets.
Like most abuse victims I ached for someone to rescue me, but I also knew that I wasn’t living in anything like a storybook. I loved the Miss Suzy book because she was so happy living on her own after the toy soldiers saved her home. She didn’t need anyone else in her life, she was safe and happy.
By a very early age, I had stopped hoping that my family would be vanquished by a company of toy soldiers. I knew the only way out of my situation was if I left and found my own place to live. Instead of an oak tree, I began to fantasize about living beside a deep blue lake surrounded by soft sand and white cliffs. As I look back, that fantasy of taking control, leaving my family and finding a peaceful existence, nourished my amazing ability to survive.
An excerpt from my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph