‘My transformation – Taťána to Tatiana’
When I was fifteen, I used to help the teachers in the orphanage teach English and History to the children. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and I hoped to take some examinations and train as a teacher. My little sister, Tereza, was eight years old and had long ago forgotten our parents. I tried to remind her with photographs but she would shake her head and call me her mother, “Matka Tata”, I tried to get her to call me sister but she would shake her head and say, “No Sestra Tata, Matka Tata” – she reminded me of my mother – strong minded.
The orphanage was a good and safe place managed by Mrs. Izabela Svobodová. She was like a guardian angel – she really cared about us children and never hid her feelings. We used to hear horror stories of different orphanages in Europe where the children were treated very badly. Some had terrible buildings where children would literally freeze in winter and some had buildings with no windows so that when it rained, inside would get wet. We heard stories of girls driven out of orphanages when they were sixteen and ending up as prostitutes. We heard stories of overcrowded orphanages where the children were not cared for properly, not educated and were bullied or beaten regularly by the workers. We didn’t have any of that at our orphanage. We were treated well, given respect and love and told to treat other people respectfully and with love (to love our neighbor as our self).
Mrs. Svobodová would not stand for bullying or ill treatment of the children by any worker and for this I loved her as I would a favorite aunt if I had one. The day she was suddenly taken ill and had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital in Prague was a sad day for all of us. We had a new woman come in to manage the orphanage called Mrs. Mertle. She told us that she was from Poland and had lived in Czechoslovakia for over twenty years. She said she had so many new ideas for the orphanage which she would immediately implement because she didn’t think that Mrs. Svobodová would survive her illness. The first thing I noticed about her was what I can only describe as bleak ‘hollowness’. Maybe I am wiser now and I am looking back in hindsight and this makes me critical of her actions. The truth is if I am critical of her actions then what should I say about my own?
It was on a Wednesday that the lady from America came to the orphanage. She came in a big car that most of us had never seen before and she wore a big hat that none of us had ever seen before. Her blonde hair shone in the sun and her clothes looked like she had stepped off the page of one of the contraband American fashion magazines which Mr. Kovář, our head gardener and security man kept in his shed. Tereza said – ‘she looked shiny and new and not real’. Wise words from a little girl!
“She wants to take five girls who can speak and understand English very well back to America and give them a chance of a better life, a life free from communism.”
Even now those words still haunt me. They still manage to pierce my soul, to unpick a healing wound in my heart and lay it bare for all types of infections to invade – to shatter me! I wish that I had never heard those words spoken by Mrs. Mertle that day. I wish that the American lady had never come to the orphanage. With all my heart I wish that Mrs. Svobodová had never taken ill and had to leave the orphanage. But what good is wishing? I could wish until I was blue in the face and nothing would have changed.
Back then, I thought I was one of the chosen, one of the selected few. All five of us went around looking down on the other children – we acted like we were better than them. There were over ten girls between fifteen and sixteen who could speak and understand English but I had been chosen because in my head I was special. My mother had talked about leaving Czechoslovakia and going to the West and I was going to live her dream. The American lady told us that we would either be adopted by a good American family or be able to live in an American orphanage. She said that she had a lot of contacts in America; she knew people in modeling agencies and wealthy people who were looking for European nannies or au pairs who would be happy with us because we were all pretty and once we were eighteen we could get jobs. We would be able to help our brothers or sisters by sending them money for a ticket so they would one day join us in America. At the time I didn’t think it strange that the five of us selected all had a brother or a sister in the orphanage. In fact Mrs. Mertle said that this was an added bonus as we were securing a bright future for our siblings. The thought of leaving Tereza broke my heart but the thought of having a better life in America and one day sending for her to come and live with me consoled me. I told myself that I was not only doing this for Tereza, I was doing this for mama and papa as well.
Within days our paperwork was organized and we were set to go. I asked my best friend, Leona, to look after Tereza for me and promised to write to her every week. Leona begged me not to leave the orphanage, she said that she had had a dream that the communist regime would end before 1990. She also said that she had a bad dream about the American woman but I refused to listen to her. Leona was always having dreams; we sometimes teased her and called her ‘Leona Josephina the dreamer’. We often told her she was like Joseph in the Bible who was always dreaming and annoying his brothers and like Joseph she had been sent to annoy us. She would retaliate by telling us that Joseph’s dreams came true and that God speaks to people through dreams. She was so serious when she told me that I should stay in Czechoslovakia and wait for a few more years. She insisted that things would get better, we would be older and wiser and then we could all go to America or England or Canada, anywhere we wanted to go. She reminded me that we were the four musketeers, me, her, Tereza and Eduard, Leona’s little brother. We had made a vow that we would always stay together and I was now breaking that vow. She cried and begged me for two days but I wouldn’t listen. In the end to get some peace and quiet I told her she was just jealous that she hadn’t been chosen. You should have seen her face; it was like I had hit her with a baseball bat. I have been hit with a baseball bat in America several times so I know what it feels like. On the day I left Czechoslovakia I begged Leona to forgive me. I knew she would take care of Tereza but I didn’t want to leave in the middle of a fight with her. She is a good Christian and she said that she had already forgiven me. We hugged and cried and hugged some more. I kissed and hugged Tereza and hugged Eduard (he tried to be a brave little boy but I saw the tears in his eyes). My own tears blinded me as I climbed into the bus that would take us across Europe to our ultimate destination – America.
Ebooks from GLL Publishing available at Amazon, Smashwords etc – Books also available via http://www.gllpublishing.com
Despite all odds: A Dream Fulfilled Part 1
Despite all odds: A Dream Fulfilled Part 2
Truths, Lies And Untold Secrets
Blood Borne Connections
U Murder U (Suicide)