Category Archives: Immigrant Stories

Talking to…the other side of me.

I’m in the Blue Church mildly high on Petro’s stuff that he says comes straight from Amsterdam. Well, damn! This is one awesome place to just sit (or kneel) and be in the NOW (Thanks, Tolle). Oh, I forgot, with my earplugs in; listening to “Best Funky Disco from the 70’s”…. I’m sharing my music with God. And right here – looking at the other side of me.

Wow! They’re bong, bong, bong ringing the bells. A tourist couple spends 2 minutes kneeling and looks reverent in their hiking shoes. An older Hungarian lady is sitting 2 rows ahead of me. Reminds me of the 1960’s in Austria. But it’s her feel to me, not her appearance really – that tells me she is “Magyar.”

Could be projection but I swear I smell the musty odor of sadness, of a gentle but weighted soul carrying both the burdens of her present life without AC, dryer and a bit less comfy than hi-tech America. And the weight of too many histories of conquest and oppression: Mohacsi Vesz, the Turks, Habsburgs, Nazis, Communist Russia, and now – rogue capitalism.  It’s a heavy feeling, compounded by the perennial feminine plight of being attracted to and so forgiving of the social and psychological transgressions of her male counterpart.

I can appreciate now why my mother routinely repeated “We women are stronger than men – We have to be.”  All the while she was indirectly manipulating, pleading with and overtly adoring her terribly angry and insecure refugee husband, the father we feared and adored, and whose wrath we endured.

I am here on my own journey – to discover myself – finally choose a life, a path forward that is actually mine and not one foisted on me by virtue of circumstance or happenstance, or the whim and unfulled dreams of a suffering parent – I have been unable to assert myself this way for 60 years. Yes, I’ve been loud, audacious, and brassy – Of course! What would you expect of one who comes into the world motherless and upon being reclaimed, is immediately burdened with the weight of her mother’s fears, her father’s anger, her brother’s weakness…and then the whole, damn, god-awful story of a refugee….

Here in this blue church it all comes together like a puzzle that suddenly takes shape and you just know where to put the pieces – because – well – you just know. I’ve already dealt with how and why I failed myself or my children as a mother. You just can’t be an easygoing or natural sort of “Mom” if you never had one of your own….

And I’ve been dealing with all that fucked me up because I became an “outsider” (They say that time’s supposed to heal ya, but I ain’t done much healing).”Immigrant” is the word we use…. In a country 30 years ahead socially and technologically; going from Hungary to the USA in 1956 was like going from Pickens, SC to NYC after high school (tenfold) – from what I hear, most run back to Pickens and never leave again. THAT kind of cultural change is just too overwhelming for most of us.

So – I’m back to MY Pickens – and I can feel the connections – the language feels like me…. it just comes out so naturally, though I’ve hardly spoken it these past 40 years. It’s no wonder  that it should feel like home. I only heard it as a young child in my home and from my parents – not surprising it is the natural, first, and preferred sound in my ear… it’s music. MY music. It gives me an emotional jolt of comfort – a rush of inner security and well-being whenever I hear it.

And these people ARE like me. Serious, melancholy, well-intentioned, determined, emotional yet stoic in the face of suffering. Like me, they were steeped – though continents apart – in the same mythology, same stories, same history. We all had Magyar parents… It’s been so good to feel the kinship. I have been tempted to come “home” and rest my wandering and tired soul. But I have to admit the truth – they don’t really understand me any more here than those American friends who adopted me so long ago. Despite all the bullying, humiliation, and childhood rejection – I am more than Hungarian in my old age. I do crazy things these subdued people would never dream of ….

A blend of 2 equally playing stories and experiences – I can choose now…can’t I?

I can.

Yes, the summers I have journeyed back to my mecca, I’ve always felt calmed by the quiet serenity, reminiscent of a time gone by, an ancient call, a yearning to return to a past that promises safety and security…

Wake up! It’s the same sort of feeling you had in Mexico watching simple, poor people humbly carrying out menial tasks. The same feeling of antiquity with all its mythical trappings as in Vienna and all ancient cities. These were part of my identity in that catholic girl’s boarding school in the Viennese Alps so long ago

– where my mothger sought to save my hymen for a few extra years while she avoided the complications of raising a teenager in what was to her “A Brave New World” accompanied by a severely war traumatized husband ….

The woman in front of me is crying – I see her wipe her tears discreetly the same way I have done since childhood – doing my best to appear strong and confident. I can tell she is like me – like most of “us” – our feminine side, coupled with generations of servitude and desire, would die for the man we accompany. We will do it all: cook with enthusiasm, clean with determination, fight for our children – and make love with a passion that borders on desperation.

Would she, like my mother, pretend her husband wasn’t beating his son with a rubber hose whose center contained a flexible steel core? Would she deny the time she made her daughter eat the ‘palacsinta’ in her plate – thrown up in a moment of choking laughter….

Would she?

No. Though I feel her pain and her story as my own – this crying lady is not my family – I have coated her image with snapshots and feelings from my past as I seek to engage my “own.”

I have come on a journey, my task at 63 before I die: to find my way to myself – wherever it is that I can feel at home in my own skin…

Oh, how I just want to go home!

Somewhere, where I belong. Now I am the one quietly sniveling as I write – the disco music in my ear no longer elevates my mood – I am wretched and alone – deep within my own world – so disconnected from any other.

I rise, do not genuflect or cross myself. I have long ago left the ranks of obedient Catholics – too much education, too many disappointments: the minister who felt me up in his Baptist sanctuary, the nun who made me feel unworthy and sneered when I got special privileges to attend Mass with the nuns at 6 am, the priest in the leather jacket who for $500 was willing to bless my marriage, the one failed to hug or console my mother as she lay dying, but performed stupid rituals each time he came at her request. Judge Candida Steel of the CBCA, a few years ago sealed the lid on my faith life when she, under influence from Senator Ted Stevens, knowingly and intentionally reversed her own decision and sent us into that final spiraling bankruptcy. And I was so elated when I read the news of his sudden plane crash and death. Well earned!

But I did cross myself with holy water on my way out. Old habits die hard – and habits create security – For a moment, I was joined with Christ. God bless us both.

It’s a tourist town and I love the sights and sounds – so many languages… they are the music I dance to.

But in the stores, the prices are theivery, and the courteous sales people’s efforts to engage me are no more alluring than those of any cashiers who smile to earn a living. The earrings I just bought are made in Korea, and most Hungarian souvenirs are imports from China now…

WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR?

I really don’t like tourists with their bags and hats and baggage – the baggage of people buying other people’s services. Maybe I just don’t like people… I’ve spent my life relegated to the fringes – an idol to other less-talented misfits without the benefit of 5 languages, writing skills, and on and on… (with gratitude to my parents – of course)

Raised with hostility, seeing the world through my parents’ wounds as refugees, imprinted with how we, the genteel former aristocracy are superior to proletariat Americans – while being taunted and bullied in school and living in poverty…was an ideal recipe for social and mental illness.

May my mother’s God bless her soul for making me stronger in her rejection of me; she who once told me she never consoled me as a teen when my brother and father bonded by bullying me and ridiculing women as useless for anything besides sex – until I became unglued and ran from the dinner table in hysterics to my room….She never consoled me as I wept tears of pain and humiliation….because…well, she said…because…. she didn’t feel anything…

I know, Mom. I know. I know that in that last day as I tried to care for you dying at 92 of cancer; in that last day – perhaps the very last thing you said was “Why did my mother leave me? Why? Though so full of painkillers you could not shed tears, yet I saw and felt your own lifelong pain….the little girl you were – whose mother died when you were 5 – whose father placed her in that same boarding school where you put me…the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) – the refuge you told me about so often  – the one that you returned to in your dreams …your haven of rest…that place where you had felt safe …where nuns raised you and where your religious beliefs became your “family” …. I forgive you – in fact, there is nothing to forgive you for…. it was never really  your choice to be who you were…. 

And you passed that “family” on to me… You gave me that deep love you felt from Christ and the nuns – and in my failed real family life, I too, attached to an all-loving yet all punishing father figure  Except that I, raised in my turbulent American world of the 70’s, had to overthrow the whip-weilding Father and reject his character as an unacceptable hypocrisy. I couldn’t respectt that father who beats his children or condemns the “unworthy” to hell…. No, Sir..No…. and you washed my mouth out with soap for cursing the brother carrying his father’s name who taunted me day in and day out.

But I will always keep the Christ that also came from you. And THAT Jesus is the porn in my mind’s eye when Jim and I make love. It is that power I worship in the man who likely has no idea why or how he becomes such a god in bed – but who is so glad he does…..

I’m on a journey – But what do I seek?

My mind has already processed so much of those feelings most of us never examine because we barely realize we really operate based on the feelings and NOT our rational mind. Lucky for me, I had the tools to live a dysfunctional life and find oases of health and respite – in friends here and there who despite my obvious “issues” (now so easily labeled: PTSD, rapid-cycle bipolarity, codependent, depression, hyperactive)…. saw something else…and gave me love…the love we feel when someone’s hand reaches out to us, or they laugh at my silly jokes, or Jim pulls me close for a hug and just says, “It’s OK, I’m here” – when the tears and emotions pour out for no obvious reason….or I just woke up that way – or my daughter told me once again how much she hates me and blames me for everything in her life that went wrong – or my son told me I was wrong, or Jim didn’t smile at me yet that day….

What am I looking for as I peer into the faces around me – both afraid of being the stranger and so, always ready to defend and attack – and yet telling any stranger everything about me  without catching my breath, as though this one will understand me through my endless verbal stories – and love me despite or because of who they think I am.

Where is my home? Who am I? I wander homeless through the world….waiting. Waiting for Godot:

 

Waiting to be saved from anonymity? Waiting to go home – to be part of something greater than myself – not just ideological or professional, perhaps not even ethnic… What am I always looking for in the faces I see and the voices I hear? What is it?

It strikes me suddenly…

NOT only did I lose my country, my culture, and my language. Not only did I endure abuse and rejection in American schools and at home. I know these issues and have dealt with them intellectually. Surely my strong mental capacity can rebuild those emotional reactions of fear and insecurity rooted in these experiences…. And yet – my pain and loneliness persist and have persisted despite working these through for 50 years.

GOD BLESS AMSTERDAM! Its smoke has opened a window of perception and perspective. Why did this take so long?

Born to my mother at 7 months, weighing 2.5 lbs, I was whisked away to a hospital for nearly 2 years. When I came back – in deportation…. bonded to and protecting her frail son from abuse and malnutrition, my mother no longer could bond with me – I was a stranger – even to her.

And now I know – I seek that family connection – the recognition I never had in seeing my mother’s eyes close up for the first time as a baby. Removed at birth from the sounds and smells of the mother whose womb held me in safety for 7 months – I have sought the safety of that womb since birth – a birth too soon, ejected into a foreign world – a motherless child disconnected from her primal love.

I hear whispers of that primal love whenever I hear that first language from the womb – and when I see icons and idols of my childhood – crosses and saints, clergy and big men.

But I have been talking to my son daily and with Jim since leaving my American home in Florida. And each time I see or hear them, or read their words online… I feel the desire to climb through the screen – to be near them – just to be able to touch them and be touched by them. And when I talk almost daily to those few close friends in Germany, Sweden, and America – who continue to send smiley faces and “likes”, the ones I know seem to stay interested in what I post, say, and write…. I feel a deeper contentment than I have found so far in my cultural journey to this country of my parent’s past.

Last week, Stephen wrote on Skype that he had read my post on his blog “Home is where….you feel it” and said: “Wow that was really good – Very powerful and well written” – I have no emotional control in place when I am alone…and so I cried tears of joy as my eyes reached his last word. My son liked my writing. He liked it! I must still be the little girl seeking recognition and approval – from anyone and everyone…. but especially from those I have loved.

I saw Jim yesterday – he walked around his workplace at lunchtime, showing me the bay, the beauty of my home in Bradenton. Oh, what I wouldn’t have done at that moment to be by his side…. He smiled and I was transported in a flash, seeing his face beaming down above me in bed – his smell, his hands, his power, his lips…. I asked him to send me a photo of himself – a selfie… and he did. I received it a few hours later, but he looked serious and wasn’t smiling – It wasn’t the man I had spoken to a few hours earlier.

So late last night we talked and I told him, “Honey, you weren’t smiling in that photo you sent me.”

Jim replied, “I don’t smile much.”

I countered, “You always smile when I see you.”

And then he smiled at me through my computer screen and said, “Yes, I do. Because it’s you. I only smile for you.” 

I peered into his eyes that were so full of trust and desire…and recognized – myself. And in that moment I knew what I was looking for – and even more – that I had already found it.

MY family – the one I chose and the one that chose me….

Thank God I can wrap things up soon in my ancestral homeland – and go home – finally!