The conversation we held was somber, he reminded me of how life can rob us of our happiness before we have the chance to insert our own influences. We were children. My vague memory of my biological older brother, Adair, consisted of a sparsely dressed wild child possibly raised by wolves. I never knew my mom or dad. My dad died before my birth and my mom was an alcoholic who’s mental health issues consumed her. I remember my mother’s hair being like mine, as I lie on her shoulder looking up at the street lights. My very first memory.
I love my brother and considering his life growing up, he’s a survivor in every sense of the word. I understood him on a level others seemed to see through. Growing up without love is a tortured existence. His words seemed to tell a story of loneliness, abandonment, hunger, sadness and destitute. A story I knew very well. Many understand this as truth. He grew up in an all boys orphanage in Brazil. Today he’s a father to a sweet little girl, and married to spunky attractive blonde with a kind beautiful spirit. He insisted his daughters resemblance to me is uncanny. I agreed with his observation, although I have yet to personally meet her. I hope to soon.
It’s been 25 years since my sister and I left Brazil and even longer since I’ve seen him. The questions I prodded him with were uncomfortably painful but I wanted more. At 33, I was now unemployed and labeled a convicted felon. I couldn’t gets job at Walgreens, and after hundreds of applications and failed attempts, I quit looking for a job. What went wrong?
“What did our mother look like? Did she look anything like me? Do you remember our father? Was our mother sad like us?”
“I don’t remember our mother and father. I’ve closed out most memories of my childhood, it’s for the best. I’m a very introverted person to this day, and It seems we’ve all been affected by sadness. I’d get so sad and lonely sometimes growing up, I’d just sit down and cry, hopeless and sad.” Thoughts raced in my mind, lonely with everyone around you is more common than we seem to think..
The sadness in his words brought a familiar lump to my throat. He wasn’t as lucky as Joraci and I. We, being girls, were kept together and eventually adopted together. He stayed behind in an all boys orphanage many miles from us. I didn’t think of him much, not out of bad feeling but I don’t think my mind had the capacity to hold that much grief. I was a kid and I wanted to be happy. As a child the underlying idea that everything would be fine seemed true. Somehow everything always turned out ok.
I recall the very moment I realized I could think independently of others. I stared down the sidewalk of the cement orphanage building I called home. The heat radiating off the wall seemed to break the air and make it swirl and dance. “hmmm, I wonder if anyone else can talk to themselves in their heads, or just me.”
I choose to put the painful memories of my early childhood behind me and go forward in life. Living in an orphanage with 15 other girls is fun, they became a family to me. We desperately needed love and attention, and living there we were able to provide each other with that. I sang for the other girls, the younger ones. Standing on a chair, I pretended to hold a microphone and performed for them. They loved it, it made them smile. I loved singing and performing in front of people. Tonight was the night I had to sing for the church. My singing partner already bailed so it’s just me. I was so scared.
“You are getting older now, Luci. You are going to have to start taking care of the little ones. Pick a girl to care for.”
I looked at a small big eyed child named Zelia. She was 4 years old, with a dirty snotty face, scabs on her sparsely thin hair and her clothing disheveled, pant pockets sticking out on each side. I do the best I can for my lack of mothering experience.
I wiped her nose, tucked in her pockets and brushed her hair. She looked up at me with a smile. We walked hand in hand to breakfast.
Breakfast consisted of sweetened coffee with milk, and bread. The same thing everyday. I was appreciative for it. Understanding hunger at 6 causes food insecurities. Pushing the thought away, we shoved the food in our mouths and headed to clean our rooms. The fact that I’m acting as a caregiver slips my mind and I become a 6 year old child one more, skipping down the hall, my little shadow closely behind.
I sleep on the top bunk with my cousin Ella below me. Ella doesn’t say much, I’m not sure but she may be a hair developmentally disabled by societies standards, but I didn’t think of her this way, she was my family.
My young childhood consisted of finding ways to manipulate people into feeling sorry for us so they’d give us food or money or whatever. That’s how I understood it anyway. Maybe at the time, I could’ve looked at it as survival instead of manipulation. It’s not the best way to raise a child but when you are doing it yourself with the help of your brother who’s 8 and sister who’s 10, you’re not left with much of a choice.
I wet the bed that night, I somehow convinced my cousin to change her sheets, take the old off and throw it on the floor on top of mine. I didn’t want to sleep in my urine, she threw her sheets down and as I distracted her, I swiftly recovered her dry sheets for my bed. I don’t understand why I did that to her. Possibly because as a child you desire immediate gratification and my upbringing was not in discipline. Discipline was learned while living in the orphanage. I only learned discipline when I came to the orphanage. I knew it was wrong but I did it.
The day was not unlike any other. Our caretaker, “auntie” came to me with a stern face. “There will be a family coming for you tomorrow, Joraci will be with them, pack your things.” I had not seen Joraci in over a year. She had traveled to the USA to have dental work and we were being adopted from there.
This long year of separation from my older sister proved extremely challenging for me. She had always just been there. I don’t recall feeling too sad about it but I did get physically ill with meningitis. This was a significant point in my life as it was a milestone to determine whether or not I’d continue my life. The onset of the disease woke me abruptly out of my sleep. I sat up, and the pain in my head was beyond imaginable for a 6 year old. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Auntie cane running, “what’s the matter with you!”
“I don’t feel good, it hurts up here so much.” I spoke Portuguese at that time but memories are as they are. Memories don’t hold language barriers, only people do. The remainder of the night consisted of nausea, vomiting, headache and high fever. I recall sitting at the toilet the next morning, hugging the green toilet bowl with the water tank up high, and a pull string for flush. We were never to place toilet paper into the toilet, as you can imagine, it got rather gross in the bathroom. Sharing one large bathroom with 10-15 other girls can be a bit interesting at times.
While in the hospital, I remember the feeling of death. I lie on the hospital bed, a carcass on a dry day ready to succumb to the circling vultures not visible from the sun’s brilliance. They would look at me, and say, “that’s the girl. Poor thing, I don’t think she’ll make it through the night.”
I heard that, I understood it, but I couldn’t make myself get up. I hadn’t eaten or drank in days, My resemblance was that of a corpse. I slept all day most of the time. The turning point in my disease was when a grumpy pregnant nurse rag in my room. I knew her, I had her before. She was angry this time. “Get up! I’m getting you to this moment and you will stand, do you understand me?” I was scared but I shook my head yes. She picked me up and stood me next to the bed. I collapsed and she did it again more forceful. I stood with weak shaking knees. I was proud of myself.
“I knew you could do it! You had no faith in yourself! I believe in you Lucimara! You have to believe in yourself too.”
The memory is distant but the feelings are still there. I kept that with me as proof of my strength.
Back at the orphanage, I remember thinking I was glad to be seeing my sister and wanted to jump for joy but always uncertain of my response. The idea of a ME was there because of the body and image but I never recognized as a person. I simply grabbed lessons, ideas, images of others and carved a person I thought I would be. Never really knowing though. Uncertainty was a close companion from birth.
“Omg! You’re going to The USA!? You’re so lucky!” Kelly tells me.
“I heard that the roads are paved with gold in The USA! You’re going to be rich!”
Rich to a 7 year old who’s never had anything was exciting and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had been in that orphanage for 2 years, wondering when my turn would come. Wondered why no one was interested in adopting me except that one man with a creepy smile who said he’d use me in his farm. Luckily my sister touched my shoulder and said, “You can’t take her! Not over my dead body! I’ll have to go with her! Go away if you’re not serious!
To be continued…