On the bus that took us from Czechoslovakia we were shown our passports, we all had new names. According to my passport my name was now Tatiana Nikols. I didn’t question this, none of us did. Neither did we question how the passports were obtained so quickly, we were so happy to be chosen, so happy to be going to a new life that you could have called us Humpty Dumpty and we wouldn’t have bat an eye. ‘Bat an eye’ – what does that really mean? How does one bat one’s eye? This is not something that we readily say back home. I heard Tommy, one of the eight men who guards us tell Hanna this. Hanna is one of the girls who traveled from the orphanage with me; she is the same age as me but looks much older and is more physically developed than me. Tommy told her that he wouldn’t bat an eye if she died. He had raped her so many times and she had tried to kill herself so many times and on the last unsuccessful attempt he said this to her as she lay on the ground covered in blood that slowly seeped out of a new cut on her wrist. He became hysterical when he found her that day, the other men tried to calm him down but he wouldn’t listen to them. He tried to beat her but they wouldn’t let him so he spat on her. Two days later he was begging her for sex and when she said ‘no’ he raped her. How can you spit on someone one minute then want to sleep with her the next? You spit on something when you think it is dirty and beneath you. If this is what you think, is it not logical that you would not want to touch that thing?
America is a capitalist country. Growing up in Czechoslovakia you are told that capitalism is bad and corrupt. You are told that too many people have too many thoughts in a capitalist country and nothing substantial in their thinking. Their thoughts lead to confusion and a division between the rich and the poor. The rich have too much money and too many cares and the poor have too little money and care about nothing in their attempt to get rich. This is why the poor readily kill and steal in their attempt to be rich and then they get rich and they have too much money and too many cares, so much so that they wish they were poor again. It’s hilarious! This is a word I picked up from Hanna. She says that life is hilarious and if she weren’t always crying in pain she would be laughing at her good fortune of being in America – the cause of her pain! Hilarious!
When we first arrived in America we were moved from one house to another, several times and we immediately saw the difference between this country and ours as we were driven in a van with darkened windows. The skyscrapers – the fast food restaurants – the big cars – the big houses – the homeless people who lived out of supermarket carts – the overdressed shops – the underdressed women. It was very different from Czechoslovakia. The music was so different. We would spend hours watching music videos on the television, our favorites were Whitney Houston ‘Saving All My Love’, Debarge ‘Rhythm Of The Night’, Foreigner ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, Kool &The Gang ‘Cherish’, Ashford & Simpson ‘Solid’, Madonna ‘Crazy For You’, New Edition ‘Mr. Telephone Man’, Billy Ocean ‘Suddenly’, Sade ‘Smooth Operator’, Jermaine Jackson ‘Do What You Do’ and Tina Turner ‘Private Dancer’. I loved Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and would watch it over and over again when it was played on the television. We were fifteen and sixteen year old girls exposed to music we had never heard before and we would dance and dance. We didn’t know the words but the videos spoke their own language and we would sing along as if we did know the words. Although short lived they were fun times that united us and gave us something to talk about and write about. You see we were encouraged to write letters to our siblings and friends back in the orphanage. I wrote long letters to Tereza, Leona and Eduard. I told them my name was now Tatiana as this was more Americanized. I also told them about the many things we had seen, the food, the television shows and the music. I tried to describe the things I saw as best as I could in detail so that they would feel as though they were here with me, and seeing what I saw. We were given a Post Office Box address to give them so that they could write to us. I remember waiting for letters from home but never receiving any. After a few weeks of being moved from one house to another the blonde American woman came to the house we were in and told us that we were all going to a final location. We were all excited about this and packed our few belongings.
The say evil has a humorous side and just before it strikes it can’t help itself; it lets you know it is coming. Moments away from our final location we were told the sad news of Mrs. Svobodová’s death and told that we should work hard and do our best to make her proud of us in America!
Our new home was a large three-story house with many darkened windows. There were no other houses next to it on either side, it stood alone, almost sinisterly so. From the outside it looked like a house that could accommodate many families. Once we got inside the house the doors were locked and bolted and the men who guarded us immediately changed in the way they behaved towards us. You see when we first got to America we were told that these men were protecting us from the corrupt American men who exploited innocent girls like us. We were told to regard them as bodyguards and that they didn’t understand our language and as such we should avoid interacting with them, but if we had to speak to them we were to speak only in English. Hanna noted that when we spoke in our language some of the men would stop talking. She suspected that some of them could understand and speak our language and didn’t understand why they pretended they couldn’t. In our first weeks in America they hardly spoke to us and they never touched us; they acted like we were their little sisters. Once the door of the new house closed behind us they grabbed hold of us and pushed us down steep stairs into a large room in the basement of the house. We screamed, we cried, we tried to make sense of the sudden change in our treatment but the men told us to shut up and do as they said. They took our belongings from us and locked us in the room, which was dark and smelled of urine and vomit. I remember feeling sick and trying to hold my breath but everywhere I turned the smell followed and made my insides churn. We were kept in the room for two days with no food and a dripping tap as our only source of water.
What did we do during this time? We sat on the cold floor and waited. You have to understand; none of us knew what was going on, our upbringing in Czechoslovakia had been very sheltered in the orphanage. Communism had sheltered us from the wicked ways of so called modern civilization. Of course we cried and cried, some of us banged on the door and begged to be released, begged for food and begged for mercy. For two days we were ignored. It was during this period that I learned something; I learned that Leona had been the first girl selected by the American woman and she had turned the woman down. Despite the American woman begging her and offering her money, Leona had refused to go with her because she said that the woman did not look sincere. She had told the American woman and Mrs. Mertle that she had prayed to God for direction and God had shown her in a dream that the American woman was not to be trusted. I cried when Hanna told me this. I cried when I thought about what I had said to Leona, how I had accused her of being jealous because I had been chosen and she hadn’t and I cried when I thought about the fact that I might never again see her, my sister or Eduard, we would never again be the four musketeers. I would die in this dark cold basement from starvation. Looking back that would have been a luxury compared to what lay ahead.
On the third day, the men who had guarded us during our first weeks took us out of the room one by one. I don’t know what scared me the most, the fear of seeing a girl taken and knowing that it would soon be my turn or the thought of what they were going to do to the girl they had taken and what they would do to me. One of the girls had said during our two days in the basement that they were going to kill us and sell our organs – again that would have been a luxury.
I remember two men grabbing my arms and pulling me out of the room, I remember being blinded by the light as I was dragged up the stairs. Then things start to get blurry. I was dragged into a room and told to take my clothes off when I refused I was slapped several times. I heard girls screaming from different areas of the house and my mind froze with a fear that I have never felt before. Hands ripped and pulled off my clothes and threw them onto a pile already on the floor. One of the men held a hand over his nose while another one said I smelled like shit and needed to wash. I was pulled naked out of the room and thrown into a room with a shower. I was told that I had two minutes to wash and that I should make sure I washed in-between my legs and my mouth properly. Amid the instructions I heard screaming, I heard shouting and I heard the quiet sound of someone weeping as if her heart were being shattered. It took some moments before I realized that the quiet weeping was coming from me. I could taste blood in my mouth from where I had bitten myself when I was repeatedly slapped. I tried to pick up the soap from the floor but my hands were shaking so much. I had never been naked in front of a man and I felt ashamed at this. I felt ashamed and scared. The men were looking at my body and grinning at each other. They told me to hurry up or they would ‘do me’ right there. I didn’t know what they meant but from the evil glint in their eyes I knew that it wasn’t good. I remember picking up the soap and standing under the shower, the water was freezing and I washed quickly thinking that if I did this I would be given some clean clothes and some decency. I brushed my teeth and someone threw a towel at me. I used the towel to cover myself and the men laughed at me and called me a stupid bitch. All this time I knew I was so hungry and cold but the fear in my heart seemed to paralyze my brain. Someone pulled the towel off me and threw it on the floor. I was dragged out of the room naked and taken to a room filled with about ten men. Music played in the background; it drowned out the noise of the screaming girls.
“Have you slept with a man before?” A man I didn’t recognize asked me in my language.
Hearing my language from this man made me cry. I spoke to him in my language, “Please help me, I only came to America to-”
He slapped me, “Answer my question bitch, have you slept with a man before?”
“No,” I replied stunned.
“If you are lying I will know and I will kill you and I will send one of my men in Czechoslovakia to go to the orphanage and kill your little sister, Tereza.”
I panicked at the mention of my sister’s name, “It is true!”
“I know everything about you so tell me the truth!”
“It is the truth, I have never slept with a man,” I begged.
He turned to the men in the room, “Okay gentlemen we have a virgin here; two hundred bucks for two hours!” He told them in English. I saw what looked like money being waved in the air and then I was handed over to an old man with very little hair and a fat gut. He told the man who had sold me for two hours that he would add ten bucks not to use a rubber. The man called him Emilio Russo and told him to make it twenty bucks. He nodded gave him the money then smiled at me and walked out of the room. Two men dragged me out and we followed the old man up the stairs. The screaming seemed to intensify with each step I took. I heard girls screaming in my language, in Polish, in English – girls like me, begging for their lives. Terrified, I was taken into a room with a bed, a sink and darkened windows. The two men dragged me towards the bed and threw me down. They laughed as I struggled to get up and mocked me as I tried to run. They grabbed me and held me down on the bed. I could hear my heart pounding as fear stole my breath and paralyzed me. The fat bald man called Emilio Russo, took off his clothes slowly and smiled at me as he did so. I begged and I cried, I told them that I was only fifteen but the men holding me down told me to shut up. Naked, Mr. Russo climbed on top of me and I screamed. I screamed at the pain of his thrusts. I cried and begged him to stop but he wouldn’t stop, the men wouldn’t let me go. I screamed until my throat ceased and shock took control. When Mr. Russo had finished the men who had held me down took turns in raping me. They did things to me that I cannot bear to think about and as you are reading my thoughts you will not read the things they did. When they left the room I was battered and bleeding. My face was swollen and my lips cut from where they had punched me several times and . . . I was angry . . . Before I came here I had plans! Plans that I would one day meet a young man and flirt a little, fall in love, have a first kiss, hold hands, go for walks, get engaged, get married, give myself to him on our wedding night, have children and live happily ever after. I had plans! I had dreams!
These animals had taken my plans and destroyed them, contaminated them. Who would want me now? My innocence had been taken away by a man old enough to be my grandfather, a man who had lived his life to old age and had now destroyed my young life. I was angry . . .
I had to clean myself up. The pain was unbearable as I held onto the bed and walked slowly to the sink to get some water to wash myself. I stood by the sink with a wet towel and tried to wipe away their dirt and their smells. When I had finished cleaning myself I looked around the room for some clothes to wear; there was nothing. I heard the door open and frightened I backed away. The man who had sold me walked into the room; he had some clothes, some food and some tablets in a transparent bag in his hands. He placed them on the floor and talked to me in my language. He told me he had paid a lot of money to get passports for us in the Czechoslovakian black market and spent many Koruna (the currency in my country) for us to be taken across Europe to Yugoslavia and then brought to America. He said that he needed to make sure we repaid him all the money he had spent and that it was only fair that we did so. He asked me if I was hungry, if I wanted to wear some clean clothes and take some drugs to stop the pain. I nodded. He told me that I must listen to him and obey him. He said I was chosen like the other girls because I had family that they could get to in Czechoslovakia if I disobeyed him. He told me he had someone in the orphanage watching my little sister Tereza and he could easily arrange for Tereza to be brought here and go through exactly what I had just been through and that afterwards he would kill her in front of me. My heart froze when he said this because I believed him. He had mentioned my sister’s name three times today and I knew he could do what he said – when someone mentions someone’s name three times in relation to a bad thing it is seen as a bad omen in my country. He undid his belt and told me to get on my knees in front of him. When I didn’t move he walked over to me and punched me in my stomach then dragged me by my hair around the room. I cried and begged him to stop but he told me to shut up, he told me that when he spoke to me I had to obey him before the words were out of his mouth. He told me his name was Vitto and he owned my ass. Then he pushed me down on the floor in front of him and unzipped his trousers.