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Save Me

It is dark. So dark she cannot see her fingers when she wiggles them in front of her face. Her body is pressed in on all sides by other young girls. Girls, like herself, alone and frightened.

The stench in the bottom of this boat is so overwhelming even the scarf she has pressed over her nose and mouth does not keep it away. She tries to breathe slowly and shallowly not letting too much of the stench into her lungs. Sweat, vomit and urine mixed with something denser, deeper – basic animal fear. She could taste it on her lips, inside her mouth.

The girl pressed into her right side sobs aloud and is quickly shushed by the older girl pressed against both their backs.

How long have they been on this boat? She has never been on a boat before, even though her family lives by the water. Only her father and two older brothers go fishing with their small boat. Every day they would go out looking for fish to feed their own family and, hopefully, with enough extra to sell in the market. Every day, that is, until the day her father and brothers did not return at sundown. Other fishermen found their boat, but not her father and brothers.

Her mother cried and cried. How would the rest of the family of 11, now 8, eat? Women were not allowed to work outside of their homes.

The youngest of her brothers were sent to beg in the streets. They weren’t very good at it and came home with only 1 or 2 coins and long, sad faces. They hated begging in the streets where their friends might see them.

The girl could tell the family would not survive much longer with no food and no way to pay the rent for the small, dirty hut away from the water and sun they now had to live in. No yard to grow vegetables in like before, no hope for going to school now – for her brothers, that is. Girls in her fishing village did not go to school. No point to it, since they would be marrying young, having enough children to help with the fishing and gardening while the wives learned to clean fish and pack them to be ready for sale on market day.

Soon, her parents would have chosen a husband for her. It would soon be her 14th birthday, time for her to marry and start having babies. Now, however, without a father and older brothers to negotiate a marriage for her, this would never happen. Sometimes girls without fathers married if she brought enough property and money to the marriage, but she had neither.

What to do? What to do?

Her mother cried all the day long and their stomachs were empty at the end of each day.

One day, about a month after her father and brothers disappeared she found she had wandered to the middle of her village. In the village square was a man, a handsome man wearing a white caftan and white trousers. He had a white straw hat in his left hand and was gesturing with his right hand for her to come to him. When he smiled, his teeth gleamed whitely, blazing in the sunlight. Even his voice sounded white.

He told her he was looking for young, strong girls just like herself to work for rich people farther inland. Could she cook, clean fish, sweep a floor? The girl nodded yes and yes again! She could do all these things!

This was all a lie. Her mother did all the work in the house.
The girl would learn these things after her fourteenth birthday in 3 weeks. The secrets of womanhood still eluded her, but soon all would be revealed. The girl was desperate to impress this man with the blazing smile, so she answered yes to everything he asked.

He told her he was looking for young, hard-working girls who came from good hard-working families who had fallen upon hard times. He knew of wealthy families in the nearest big city who were in need of maids and cleaning women and nannies for their spoiled children. They paid handsomely for these young workers. Would she like to be one of these chosen girls? She would live in a castle, enjoy the best food, be able to save money from her monthly salary to send home to her mother.

Yes, yes, yes!

The man with the blazing smile said there was only one little task she needed to perform first. He asked for ‘only $900’ to pay for her passage to the big city, uniforms for her new position and government papers to prove who she was and why she was traveling inland. If her mother agreed to this arrangement and paid the $900 she could leave by the beginning of next month, on her 14th birthday.

The girl was thrilled. New shoes, new clothes, a new cloak, food, a room in a castle and wages to send to her family.

She was so excited about this opportunity to save her family from starvation and shame that she ran all the way home, even though a proper young woman, no matter her social status, would never run in the village streets. Because she was so pretty the townspeople indulged her high spirits and forgave her for running through the town. She was a good runner and her braids flew straight out behind her ears in a most comical and charming way, or so she had been told. She was her father’s favorite, even above her brothers, so she could not let them down even after their deaths.

The man with the blazing smile provided a better, richer life she could not refuse. So…she begged and cried and pleaded and stamped her foot until her mother gave in and sold her  wedding sari with the golden threads she was saving for the girl’s wedding. The wedding that now would never take place. The sari plus her mother’s wedding band fetched the $900 needed to travel to the inland city where the girl’s exciting new life was about to begin.

 

In the dark, by the water, 20 of us, mostly girls of 14 years or younger, stood in a circle holding tightly to our bundles of clothing and perhaps a stuffed dolly we just couldn’t part with. We all tried to smile at one another, but soon our heads were bowed and we became lost in our own thoughts.

The man with the blazing smile came striding into our circle with his hands outstretched to collect the money we brought. After collecting the money he also collected our travel papers which had been made out quite properly for each of us. He would stow these items for safe-keeping until we returned to visit our families on our first day off a month from now.

I as yet sensed no harm in the man’s actions. They made sense to a 13 year old girl.

Then he had some men collect our luggage and stuffed dollies claiming they would also be safer in one place until we were assigned to the rich people’s home in which we would be living and serving.

We climbed into the fishing boat and were wondering aloud how such a small boat could carry us and all of our possessions to the bigger town upriver when to my surprise the boat turned around and went down the river into the harbor. There, a large boat strung with little lights and rising higher into the air than any building in my neighborhood, lay waiting for us. I came to know this big boat to be a sailing yacht for rich people to sail across the wide water in front of us.

When we climbed on board there were perhaps 30 girls already there. We were tossed in with them. No money, no bundles of our precious possessions and, more alarmingly no government papers to prove who we are. It slowly dawned on me that we had been kidnapped and would never see our families again. The money my mother had sold her most prize possessions for was lining the clean, white pockets of the man with the blazing smile. Who knew where we were going now? We climbed a rope ladder up onto the deck of the bigger boat and were shoved belowdeck where I found myself in a space so dark I could not see my fingers when I wiggled them in front of my face.

The next morning – I could only guess it was morning by the tiny slices of light blinking through the spaces between the slats of wood overhead, the cries of the birds seeking their morning breakfast, and the muffled sighs of the men as they came awake above us – I found myself in the same dark, dank putrid hole I was in all night. So, this had not been a dream I could awaken from. It was a nightmare that I would never be able to escape.

Soon there was the sound of a motor and laughter both high like a woman’s and low like a man’s. The motor stopped and there was a thud as a smaller boat carrying these people hit against the side of our boat. More laughter. I heard people climbing the rope ladder we had used the night before, but these women were allowed to stay up on the top deck in the warm sun and cool breeze and fresh salty air.

These people were not barefoot as we were. I could hear the clacking of metal heels on the floor boards above our heads. Then I heard a sound that froze my blood in this hot, sticky, stifling place.

It was the deep rumbling laughter of the man with the blazing smile. I had wished to never see him again, but here was my captor laughing right above me with his friends.

What other surprises awaited me?

The older girl in charge of us whispers to us to stay silent. Not one sound or we will be discovered and all killed and thrown over the deck as food for the sea monsters. We all believe her.

Just as she finishes giving us this warning something scuttles across my cramping, outstretched legs with claws that dig into my flesh. It must be a rat. A scream forms in my throat and travels up my tongue into my mouth. It sits behind my clenched teeth and lips pressed tightly together. It wants to escape into the fetid, heavy air. If I open my lips even the slightest bit the scream will escape and go on and on and on….spinning and spiraling up and up through the tiny slits in the boat’s boards overhead and up into the clean, cool sea air. Then upward into the sky. Perhaps my scream will travel on the wind back home to my mother who will stop in mid-sweep with her worn broom in one hand gnarled with work and age, the baby strapped to her back crying weakly from hunger. Perhaps she cocks her head slightly thinking she hears my voice but, ‘no’ her eldest daughter is no longer in the hut, no longer in the fishing village, no longer in the bigger town upriver working for a wealthy captain of many fishing boats. No, her sweet eldest daughter, soon to be 14, is no longer even in the same country. I think about being food for the sea monsters and swallow the scream that is knocking against my front teeth and I pull my bare legs in closer to my chest and wait for what, I do not know.

The boat’s motor starts up and we must be heading out to sea now. After a while the motor stops, but we keep moving so the sails must be up and they are moving with the wind. The waves are rough and the ride bumpy and many of the girls are vomiting adding to the stench and fear.

I can hear more laughter and music above my head, the clink of glasses, the booming voice of the man with the blazing smile. How can these people be enjoying themselves with so much misery right beneath their dancing feet? This question will stay with me my whole life. The distance between people like myself from people like those above will remain a mystery to me.

I have eaten nothing, but still manage to vomit as the boat hits wave after wave. Time slows down. The hours, minutes and seconds tick slowly by marked by pain in every part of my being, throbbing in my head and behind my eyes. Hurting my very heart.

I am like my baby sister now. Too weak to even cry properly.

The boat suddenly stops, knocking against wood, a dock somewhere in the world. The chattering people with the noisy, metal heels go down a plank of wood and disappear, their laughter floating back on the sea air. After a while, hours perhaps, a man opens a door in our ceiling – his floor – and sends a ladder down beckoning us to climb up. No one can move at first as our legs are frozen into whatever position we have been sitting in all night and day. Our clothes are soaked with urine and vomit and worse. But, slowly, ever so slowly, we rise and push or partially carry one another up the ladder.

I wait until all the other girls are above deck. I climb up the rough wooden ladder and poke my head out the hole and stop, startled by the harsh sunlight even though the sun is setting now. I am made breathless by the clean salty air filling my ruined lungs. I am amazed by the sight before me. A castle with a high stone wall all around. Sand. Lots and lots of white sand dazzling even in the fading sunlight. I walk down the plank of wood and step one small bare foot onto the sand, spellbound by the sight before me.

 What will become of me now? Someone, please save me!

 

Across the expanse of sand, beyond the castle and its walls of protective stone that will soon become the girl’s prison, an American woman is sitting by her kitchen window, safely inside her gated community of ex-patriots.

A cup of tea is midway between the table and her parted lips. She is wondering why she is in this desert country, so foreign to anything she has ever known. She feels a chill and shivers although it is turning out to be another scorching day. Something, someone has just called out to her: “Save me….”

“Yes,” she whispers to the empty house, to her empty self.

“Yes.  Please God. Save Me.”

 

I Call Myself Pentimento

 No one sees me

No one really looks

I’m dressed up, dolled up

to look 21 when I’m only 14.

Primped and pimped

That’s me.

Made to look enticing and exciting.

Someone other than I truly am.

Someone I surely am not!

Don’t know where in the world I am.

Some famous race track town.

My pimp, ‘Mr. K.’ – he wants

us girls to call him that –

is happier than I’ve seen him in weeks.

‘Lots of Money to be made here,

little girls, so let’s get to work.’

His ‘let’s’ means ‘us little girls’

Mr. K doesn’t like it when ‘us girls’

talk to each other but

the one next to me in his van

looks so terrified I say,

‘Hey, my name is Pentimento’

She says, ‘That’s no name I never, ever heard of.’

I say, ‘I named myself. It’s a high-society-sounding

name. Unusual. Men remember it and

ask for me and that makes Mr. K happy

and that’s what keeps us safe and alive.’

I walk alone into the hotel lobby

making myself invisible to

some prying eyes and noticed

by other eyes. I stay in the shadows

hiding behind what’s already there but

visible to those looking for someone like me.

that’s why I call myself Pentimento.

It means something like hiding in plain sight

or artist’s regret  or some such…..

Well, I don’t know what regrets

that artist fellow had about the hour

he spent with me last year.

Mostly he talked about art and

how in some old paintings

you can see where the artist changed his mind and

painted over something.

‘Over time,’ he said, ‘the old figure starts to bleed through:

a dog where a little boy now stands, a balloon where

a cloud now floats overhead.’

And I thought heck, that’s me!

My old self is covered over by

this make-up and these god-awful clothes.

But my real, true self is still in here

peeking out and obvious to

someone who is really looking,

who  wants to see Me.     Lucy.

I’m too young-looking even with

this get-up on to go into

the hotel bar so I stand around the

edges of the lobby avoiding the desk clerk and

normal-looking patrons.

I see Mr. K outside holding that new girl

in a vise-grip and yelling without raising his voice one iota.

He shoves her into the hotel’s rotating door.

I’m so intent on watching them I don’t

hear the man come up behind me until

he strokes my shoulder

with his diamond-ringed hand.

‘Hey sugar, what’s your name?’

I turn and plaster my sweetest,

little girl sexy smile  on my face.

‘Pentimento.’

‘That’s quite the name. What’s it mean?’

‘It means let’s go upstairs and have a good time.’

While we wait until we can get on

an empty elevator car

I put my hand out and say

‘This’ll be $100 right now and more later

if you know what I mean.’

He puts something in my hand

as he backs out the closing elevator door.

It’s 2 $100 bills and a business card.

I  read the card 2x  as I slide down to the elevator floor.

Finally, finally after 4 long,

lonely, tortured years

someone sees me

ME, Lucy.

I no longer have to be Pentimento.

 

The card says:

If you are in trouble dial this number ***

We are ‘Eyes Wide Open’

We see You and are here to help You.

We care about You.

Call us.

 

 

Eyes Wide Open

On August 12, 2015 my friend Debbie Fowler – with moral support from me – officially started a 501(c)3 Non-Profit called Eyes Wide Open NENY, Inc.

The Mission of Eyes Wide Open is to give hope and healing to women and girls who are victims/survivors of human trafficking in the Capital District.

Check us out on Facebook and Website: www.eyeswideopenneny.org.

Over the past 6 months we have met with wonderful people who share the vision of Eyes Wide Open. Debbie has been invited to speak about this issue at many area venues and I have displayed my art work and read my poetry. The following pieces I wrote illustrate the plight of trafficked girls everywhere.

Violinist

I love my violin.

I practice and practice

after school each day.

I dream of being

a concert violinist

in a long white dress,

my hair swept up and back

into a silver chignon

with silver high-heeled shoes to match.

My brother is at the piano

and we imagine ourselves

playing in Vienna.,

the Barcarolle from

Tales of Hoffmann,

A soloist at our side.

 

Of course, not now

but after the war.

After the Nazis leave,

after we reclaim my violin,

hidden away for safe-keeping,

and his piano

my parents had to leave behind

when we children left for England

away from the coming horror

and they were forced to live

in another German town

and could not take

their things.

 

But we will come back

and play music again,

Won’t we?

 

After the war…..

Always after……

Yellow Star

It is September 30, 1936

I am 12 years old today.
I have received a yellow star pin

for my accomplishments in gymnastics.

 

I am proud to wear it.

 

It is April, 1937

We hear about a new law

declared by the Nazis that soon

all Jewish people

must sew a yellow star

on their clothing

for everyone to see.

 

 

This is not a good thing.

 

It has not happened in our

part of Germany yet

but we hear it is coming to us

from east to west.

 

I hide my yellow star pin.

 

It means something different now.

Fortunate One

Everyone says I am fortunate.

“Lucky,” they say.

“You were lucky.”

“You got away when others did not.”

“You and your brother escaped

The Nazi terrors.”

“You were so lucky

to be sent to England

to live where it was safe.”

 

Was it luck that put me, a Jewish girl,

   in Mainz Germany on

      Kristallnacht?

Was it luck that only my father

   was arrested and sent to

   Buchenwald?

Was it luck that got me a seat 

   on a train bound for the Dutch coast

   then on to English shores

where Nazi bombs fell day and night?

Was it luck that guided my life for 7 ½ years

   separated from the only life

   I had ever known

        and loved?

 

Yes, maybe I was fortunate

all those years ago.

But, had I not been a Jewish girl 

living in 1939 Nazi Germany  

I would not have needed

all this ‘luck’

for my very

Survival.

 

 

Margot Hanau’s Tale

In April 2015 I had the opportunity to meet and interview Margot Hanau who, as a young girl, survived the Holocaust by being sent to England, along with her brother, by her parents via ‘der Kindertransport.’

She, her parents and brother lived in Mainz Germany during the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi party before they were able to escape. Margot’s first-hand experiences bring to life this period of darkness that over-swept Europe and threatened the peace of the entire world.

One of the stories Margot told me was how she and her brother Erich played –on violin and piano – the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffmann in the mid-1930s. So I titled my book “Margot Hanau’s Tale.”

Stories collected on March 28th and 29th 2015 which became the basis for “Margot Hanau’s Tale” written by Margot Hanau and Patricia Carley

“Kindertransport  from Germany to England, 1939”

Margot Jungermann Hanau greets me at the door of her apartment on Long Island, New York. She is a petite lady with soft gray hair framing her sweet face. She takes my hand in hers while looking into my eyes with her own faded blue ones. She welcomes me into her comfortable, spacious living room which overlooks a pond in the middle of her apartment complex.

I wonder, briefly, if anything of her current living arrangements reminds her of her early life in Germany and England. She seems happy to be near the water.

 

As we settle in, I ask Margot a few background questions such as her date of birth; place of birth; parents’ names and occupations. She lists off the answers and soon begins to speak about her life as a Jewish-German girl in the mid-1930s as Hitler and the Nazis begin their rise to power and initiate the systematic elimination of  Jews and other ‘undesirables’. 

Her eyes take on a faraway look as she travels through her memories of nearly 80 years ago. For me this is history I read in a book for school.  For Margot it is but yesterday.

 It is her life story.

 

 Following, is a collection of Margot’s reminiscences  interwoven with historical background  that bring to life ‘Der Kinderstransport’ or the exodus of 10,000 mostly Jewish-German children to England in the early years of what history calls World War II.

More Comfort Books

‘10 Secrets For success and Inner Peace’ is really no secret at all

Give up what I think I know and trust my inner soul

Reading ‘The Tao of Healing’ gave me the strength to roll

With my parents’ and son’s hospital stays

The wisdom of ‘The Tao of Women’ leads me along a different Way

The animals in the ‘Medicine Cards’ are my guiding Spirits each day

As are the wise words written in the ‘Numerology Guide’

What is my fortune today?

 

Comfort Books

Many people have ‘comfort foods’, but I have comfort books. They have helped me get through some difficult times.

 

The ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ watches over me from book and wall

I am reminded by The Giver’ it is a blessing to receive as well

Edna in The Awakening’ becomes a woman true to her inner soul

The ‘Poisonwood Bible’ does not preach but has a riveting tale to tell

Of Africa and American missionaries who become the real ones saved

And, in the end, ‘The Alchemist’ turns into Gold the tattered lives of all.