As we grow older and learn about life, or life teaches us, and surely our experiences shape our beliefs one way or another, many times we stop trusting our” gut feelings”. Remember, those strong likes or dislikes when we meet someone “nice” who turned out to not be so “nice”? When we are kids, it’s okay to frown and say “I don’t like you!” and start crying. Excuses are made for you, because, what does a kid know?
Later we are not afforded this luxury and always have to give the benefit of the doubt. It is no longer acceptable to just listen to our gut without some logical explanation as to why you don’t like someone. The more the logical part of the brain takes over, the more we loose touch with our gut and because I am not attempting to write a politically correct story I dare say that this “gut” quality, which God gave us at birth comes in hand and sometimes save our lives. I’d say it needs to be preserved and treasured by all means.
One such event showed me early in life the importance of trusting my gut.
I must have been six when Annie was hired as a maid and she was unlike any other person I have ever met. She was a short, skinny young woman with a broad contagious smile. Somehow she always found time to play with me and cook and do the laundry and if she didn’t finish her chores she’d offer to come Sundays, her day off and do them at no extra cost. Wow! My mother was in owe. I was finally not driving the nanny away and seemed happy. This was an asnwer to prayers, or because my parents denied the presence of any God, it was a fortunate coincidence. Annie was the ONE!
The miracle lasted for about a month and we all wished for many more, for years of having Annie around, that’s how amazing she was.
One rainy afternoon when Annie diligently was washing the windows, while I watched her fascinated by the thoroughness she desplayed in doing her work, the door bell rang.
Who could it be? We never had guests, at least not uninvited. No one ever just stopped by…
Annie answered the door and in walked a very tall, dark- bearded man who looked me up and down and said:
“Hi, I am Annie’s husband.”
Then he completely turned his back on me and they went in a corner whispering. He never turned towards me again, but at times I heard his voice raising and then Annie would turn towards me smiling reassuringly. It was okay.
After a while he left and slammed the door. He didn’t bother to say good bye or even look in my direction. Soon, my mind transformed him into a monster with huge feet and hands probably able to strangle someone. In spite of Annie’s smiles I knew, I knew they were arguing about something. I felt danger in my entire being!
“Annie,” I asked as she continued to wash the windows and smoke cigarettes. ” I didn’t know you were married?”
She stopped and came off the chair and looked me in the eyes:
“He was my husband, now he isn’t but we still love each other” she whispered, although there were only the two of us in the apartment.
“She wiped her hands and sat down next to me. She lit another cigarette and with an encouraging smile she said:
“I’ve notice how you look at me when I smoke. Now, it’s okay to want one, here, have one, so you know how good it tastes!”
We were buddies, I thought, we were smoking together, she must really like me!
Reluctantly, afraid the dream will end, I took the cigarette and she lit it for me. She instructed me how to keep it burning and I must have done a fairly good job because soon after I inhaled, I started to cough uncontrollably. I had a bitter taste in my mouth and I felt dizzy.
“Are you okay?” Annie asked, and put off the cigarette. My first cigarette! Damn, I thought, I should have never coughed!
“Now,” Annie continued,” this is our secret, that you smoked, your parents don’t understand you, but I do, we are friends!”
I still felt dizzy and her words seem to come from far away. I nodded in a kinda approval and she continued:
“Now, since we are friends, and have all these secrets, don’t tell your mother my ex visited. She would get upset, just as she would get upset if I told her you smoked!”
This time I heard her loud and clear and completely understood the threat we were both facing from my mother who was such an unforgiving person.
I mumbled I’d never tell my mother about the ex or the cigarette and Annie was happy:
“That’s a girl,” she said, “Next week we’ll try again smoking, you get used to it, you will not be able to live without them and like it as much as I do, and your parents. It’s difficult just at the beginning. After you learn, you could snetch one here and there from your parents’, they won’t notice!”
Suddenly, when she said I’ll have to snatch cigarettes from my parents, the memory about my friend’s mother and the stealing of the Turkish piece of material came to my mind. What Annie was proposing surely sounded like stealing, and I knew better. This was not a secret, it was a lie!
The definitive sense of danger kept me quiet. I didn’t contradict Annie and pretended to go along with her plan.
When my mother came home from the hospital Annie, all smiles, set the table, gave a full report which was not that complete and left for the day.
Was it the fear I felt in my gut when I thought of Annie’s giant ex husband, was it the guilt I felt because I smoked, was it all of these feelings and more that made me tell my mother the truth:
“Annie’s husband was here today” I didn’t volunteer at first the part about the cigarette smoking.
“Annie is not married,” my mother said and continued to eat undesturbed, as if I had told her the weather was cold.”
“…and after he left Annie gave me a cigarette to smoke because now we are friends,” I continued.
That made an impression on her. She put down her utensils and asked:
“What? She did what? You did what… smoked?
“Yes.” I affirmed, remembering what happened last time I lied to her.
“You smoked a cigarette? she continued. “Annie gave you cigarettes?”
“Yes, because now we have secrets, we are friends. But I still don’t like her husband, he looks like a thief!”
Silence. That was unusual in our household because my mother was never out of words. But now she was silent and I was more and more scared as this was unfamiliar to me:
Why wasn’t she screaming? That would have been much better, I’d know what to do, where to hide, how to press my ears hard to not hear and close my eyes tight. But she was silent and I just sat there expectantly.
“Okay,” she said, “it’s a good think you told me because I would have found out anyway, and you know what would have happened! And about the cigarette… you should have known better!”
What would have happened? I thought. Would she have given me to a family of gipsy in exchange for new plates, as she often threatened, to an orphanage? All choices were equally bad and I was glad I told. After all, Annie and I weren’t such good friends and the fear of her ex-husband was greater than any other feelings I experienced!
“I am going to the Police Station to inquire about Annie” my mother announced.
She took me to the neighbor’s and left.
After a while she returned and it was the first time I saw her cry. She told our neighbor that the officer told her Annie was divorced from one of the most dangerous criminals in Bucharest. He also told her the divorce was only on paper, so that it looked to the authorities that she was no longer involved in his operations, but they knew she was. Their modus operandi was that Annie was hired as a maid and after a while, especialy if the family who hired her was expecting to buy something valuable, she’d tell him, he’d steal the valuable object and off they would move to the next fools. The nest day, when Annie came to work all smiles, my mother just said:
“Give me the keys and go”.
Annie didn’t ask why, she handed the keys and left without asking for her pay. We changed the locks anyway.
As I look back, it seems hard to believe the two valuable objects Annie and her husband aimed at stealing were a black and white TV set my parents planned to buy for New Year’s and my mother’s new winter coat which was not back from the tailor. It is hard to imagine in today’s America that there was a time in my life when stealing such objects were the goal of two of the most skilled thieves in Bucharest in the late 1950’s. Most important to me is the fact that I smoked my first cigarette in the company of one of them, but her offer of friendship didn’t deter me to listen to my gut and tell my mother the truth knowing the adverse consequences.
On the other hand, honesty paid off in the long run because we were the only ones who had a TV and neighbors came to our house to watch the soccer games.
It was no longer lonely.