In Communist Romania of the years 1950’s an average Romanian family had one child. They could barely feed the one, lucky to be allowed to be birthed baby and the rest were aborted. Abortion was an acceptable form of “birth control”, although illegal. At the same time, Ceausescu, the tyrant President of Communist Romania in the 1960’s, 70’s and late 80’s, was ordering mandatory gynecological exams for women of child-baring age, and if a woman didn’t have four children already, she was forced by the state to birth the child. Because these poor families could not feed their children, their children were placed immediately in Orphanages. It was Ceausescu’s secret plan to build an army of orphans, people blindly devoted to him and ready to defend him under any circumstances. After the fall of communism and the execution of Ceausescu, on Christmas Day of 1989 many documentaries revealed the horrors of Romanian Orphanages. They showed footage of children never touched by human hands, shaking their cribs to soothe themselves, their milk bottles attached to the crib to ease the work of the caretakers. These images were to stun and haunt a world, but only later, in the the 1990’s after The Romanian Revolution and Ceausescu’s execution, on Christmas Day, 1998. Only after the fall of communism the truth about his many abuses surfaced for the entire world to see them. We, the Romanian people lived through it in silence and fear!
In 2009, while in Graduate School in the U.S., I wrote a paper, “Diagnosing Ceausescu” and the research I did on the man whose insanity drove me out of my native country, in 1981, still gives me goosebumps and the memories of my childhood and youth still seem surreal.
But we are not there yet, this story is about a little 2-year old, me in Bucharest, Romania. It is 1952 and I am the only daughter of a Romanian ophtalmologist and an agricultural engineer who is also a Counselor in the Romanian Minsitry of Agriculture. One would think my family was priviledged, and perhaps it was by the communist standards. I do not know how other families lived, but we lived in one large room. There was a long corridor leading to the room where the three of us lived (my parents and I). The heating system, a large stove made of tiles, was in one room and the window in the other, thus the space was always used together, as one room. The kitchen also contained a bath tub and to take a bath while mom was cooking, we would draw the curtain around the tub, for privacy.
Yes, we must have been better off than our neighbors, for sure, who did not own a bath tub, and were grateful to use ours at times. But what I recall vividly even today, was the small, unheated room at the end of the corridor, which we called bathroom. It had one toilet and a small sink with cold water. We didn’t have toilet paper and used old newspapers instead. Sometimes I was bleeding, but it was no big deal. The toilet was a small and smelled of disinfectant. Even today, everytime I sit on a toilet, the chills I experienced when I went to the bathroom as a child, still echo in my mind. “To sit or not to sit? What if my behind freezes?” But it didn’t then or ever. The fear was all in my head, it still is… A terrible feeling, to be cold. Its like my whole brain slowed down and I became unable to function, but it do, I have no choice! I was a survivor!
Because in Communist Romania we owned nothing material, and the communist officials constantly attempted to own our souls, early on, my mother tought me that “the only asset one cannot take away from you, is your education”.
With that truth in mind, my mother focused all her attention to improving me, as an individual. I did not have toys, but I had books. Well, I did have one doll, named Olga, after my grandmother and lots of children’s books, even French books and somehow my mother managed to enlist me in a French daycare for a while. Oh, and ballet lessons were a must! She found a private, probably illegal studio, and at the age of two I started taking dance lessons. I hated them so much I was developing fever before going to classes, but what I felt didn’t matter in the making of a finely educated young woman in communist Romania, I was still forced to go.
I don’t remember the ballet lessons or what I learned, if anything, but I do remember being forced by my nanny who took care of me when my mother was working in the hospital, forcing me to sit on a dirty toilet seat at the studio. The smell of that bathroom will always stay with me and the recollection of it still makes me vomit. After all, smells go directly to the limbic part of our brain, that’s why certain smells are instantly connected, to certain memories.
A few days later, I started feeling sick and sicker and sicker…
until my parents took me to a hospital. They immediately diagnosed me with thyphoidic fever, a potentially deadly disease, which I most likely contracted from the toilet seat at the ballet studio. Yes, I could die, my parents were assured, this was serious, and such a small child, not understanding the importance of drawing blood, shots, medicines.
I remember the austere, simple iron beds with matresses that made my back hurt. I remember the doctors and nurses, all dressed in immaculate white uniforms. They always came to my bed smiling. They didn’t know they weren’t to fool me! I always saw the siringe in their hand, the tool of torture! The siringe which they wanted to insert in my neck, the only part of my body that had good veins, they said, but I didn’t care, it hurt!
The first time it was easy, I didn’t know the pain the shot will make me experience, but then, every time they came I fought as an army of adults forced me upside down and stabbed me with the needle in my neck. It hurt, I didn’t like them and the fever was not going away and I was confused as to why were these people so mean to me? What have I done wrong to deserve such pain?
Then, one day, the fever went down and they no longer stabbed me in my neck holding me upside down. I stayed in the hospital for over two months and it wasn’t all bad! Let’s not forget the theme of my blog. What was the Positive of it all: First, I was alive! Yes, a BIG positive!
I have some good memories too of my stay at the hospital. Actually one: A train and its mechanic. Every day the train would pass by at the same time. It was the highlight of my life. The mechanic always smiled and waived, and I waived back. He never missed our secret date. He was my only friend. I trusted him!