The Road of Good Intentions (A Personal Essay in Two Parts)

The human infant cannot survive without the care and attention of another loving and (preferable) older human. I admit that the word loving can be substituted here by caring without crucial alterations in the infant’s life. Yet, sliding too low on the caring scale holds concealed dangers. Drawing upon scientifically conducted studies on children of diverse backgrounds as well as researches done on feral children, children writer Jane Yolen says in her book Touch Magic that “the first years of human life are significant for physical, mental and emotional development” (Yolen 85). Conform to the studies she consulted: “[i]solation at an early age can create changes in a human so complete as to make that individual unrecoverable as a human. […] [B]eing human depends on human contact. […] We become human because of our human society” (86).

True, but how about the picture on the other side of the coin? What if care and nurturing turn to obsession? And what if the obsession is pushed far beyond the first years of life? It must be love, no doubt, to continually throw precious time and effort into an endless care for another person, balancing and guiding her every step in the slalom around the countless dangers out there.

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Lotru Valley - Brezoi - Valcea
Lotru Valley – Brezoi – Valcea. Photo: George Cristian Enache

As any other child, I liked toys. I loved the days when I got a new doll. Mom and dad would watch me holding it for a long while. After that, the doll would get a place next to the other dolls I own that I could hold only when mom or dad had time to watch me. From what mom told me, dolls were dangerous things to a five years old child. What if I took their hands apart and shove them into my nostrils? I’d die, of course, and I didn’t want to die. What if I cut off her hair and tried to swallow it? So, the dolls lived quietly on the shelf while I watched them. I could not play outside much. Other children were known to be wild sometimes and throw toys or even rocks without considering where they might land. What if I happened to be in the place where a rock landed? Would I be happy to bleed to death? I wouldn’t. Bikes looked like a lot of fun but children were falling off bikes every day and have scratches and bruises. Of course, I understood why I couldn’t have a bike. Or rollerblades. But one day, while mom left the playground to buy a bottle of mineral water, a girl tempted me to try on hers. I put them on and threw myself into a glide the way I saw her doing. I did glide. For almost a second, before falling hard on an elbow, on the rough concrete. Mom came back at a run and told me how stupid I was not to listen to what I was told. Now I could see for myself she was right. My bleeding was dealt with as soon as I recognized my mistake.

Growing up is hemmed with all sorts of unseen dangers. I grew up in a rustic little town, a place surrounded by mountains, bordered by mountain forests and by a mountain river. People went to picnics in the meadows, took walks around the forest trails, bathed in the cool waters of the river. Oh, how I would have liked to go picking raspberries by the side of the forest when I was eight, or picking daisies on the other side of the river when I was ten. But mom knew about snakes and scorpions hidden under rocks. I could’ve been bitten or stung. At eleven, I would have loved to go fishing with dad or go up with him, beyond the forests, where the blueberries grew. Sometimes I would hear mom and dad arguing about me, late at night; mom always won. She was firm that she did not raise me up to become bear-food. The following day, dad would go fishing alone.

Malaia-Lake -Valcea
Malaia-Lake -Valcea. Photo: George Cristian Enache
Vidra (Other) Lake - Valcea - Romania
Vidra (Otter) Lake – Valcea – Romania. Photo: George Cristian Enache

Just going swimming with children from my class would have been nice. But mom assured me that I would not like it half as much if I knew how high the risk of drowning was. Yet, occasionally, things would happen unplanned. Like the day when mom was sick and her brother supervised me and my cousins on the sea-side. It was a summer holiday. I was twelve and my uncle couldn’t believe I could not swim. He picked me up and took me to the water, letting me slide on top of the waves as he held me. I swallowed a lot of water. Salty and tasting like sea weeds. It was hopeless; I was never going to swim and, even worse, I was going to drown in that foul-tasting water.

I did not drown. I kept dreaming about that flight over the waves and I trusted my cousins to lift me up again, while I pretended to swim. I hardly could feel their little hands in the cool water, lifting me up. Into the salty water, it didn’t take much to raise my toes up to where I could see them. I loved pretending to float on my back, seeing the sun and the sky, while I imagined the immensity of all the water in the sea under me, cradling me back and forth, tame wave after tame wave. It was during one of those times when I heard both my cousins calling me from a distance. I saw them waving at me and I realized that no one held me. I never told mom that I have learned to swim. The holiday would have been over and we would have taken the first train straight home. It was a secret I kept for a long while.

Cap Aurora - Black Sea - Romania
Cap Aurora – Black Sea – Romania
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Olimp – Black Sea – Romania

Yet, there were two things I was allowed, even encouraged, to do as much as I liked. Writing and drawing. Years before I learned my alphabet, I sat in a corner with pencils and note books and I scribbled endlessly squiggly lines and wavy marks, while talking out loud what I was pretending to record. Fairy-tales mostly. Not the ones dad used to read to me. My own fairy-tales. I was making books and books of them so dad can read them to me when he came home from work. He always smiled when I handed him yet another book, embellished with illustrations as good as the writing. Will read them one day, he always said. Later, I enjoyed writing for school. Grammar and composition classes were my favorite subjects. In fact, I loved them so much, I decided to candidate for a literature high school. I was thirteen and I felt so good, I was sure I was growing wings. We had just moved to a bigger city, a city with a with a better school. I imagined how wonderful my life will be and the books—real books—I was going to write. My soul had found a pocket of eternal spring and I visited it every day in my mind, daydreaming again and again while my imaginary wings were getting larger and larger, ready to hold me up during my first true adventure. It was about that time when my mother informed me that I will be undergoing the examinations of the best mathematics and physics high school in the area. What? No. She was mistaken. I was going to a humanity high-school; I wanted to study literature. Literature? Literature! I will be not doing such thing. Why not? People went to literature high schools and lived. Yes, they probably did, but her child was meant for a higher purpose.

lahovari-interior
National College “Alexandru Lahovari”

I did not want to study mathematics. My head hurt from too many numbers sometimes and I was not able to memorize formulas without a struggle. Mom refused to listen. You have the best marks in school at both math and physics, she kept saying. I had the best marks in school at everything except sport where I could not jump, roll, squat, run or even play volleyball. I talked to your professors and all of them agreed that the future is in mathematics. Don’t you want a good future? No. I wanted to study literature. What for? Reckless child! After all I’ve done for you, you want to end up a librarian! Honestly, I would have loved nothing better than to end up a librarian but I learned fast that I must refrain from telling that to my mother.

 

lahovari-dc
“Alexandru Lahovari” National College. Inside schoolyard view.

The days of the dreaded examinations found me, miserable, writing math exams in the fancy school benches of the best school of math and physics in the area. Although I hated the school, I wanted to pass the exam. If I didn’t, I would get pushed into any school where exams marks were so low they did not have enough students with passing grades to fill the available places. I could have ended in a trade school and mom told me that there was nothing worse than ending up in trade school. Those were schools with no future. There was no university after them. Only jobs. Not career and no brilliant future expected anyone who was in trade school. Luckily, my high marks placed me somewhere at the top of the math and physics classes. My parents found me a boarding school as the high-school was too far from our city. For the next year, I went to school and then returned to the dorm only to change my school’s uniform and run to the corner book store where I stayed for a couple of hours every day, reading poetry and memorizing it so I can enjoy it later, sometimes during the long hours of math. I read and made plans about when and how to cross over from math to literature. During the next examinations, known as “the mid-step exam”, sometimes a certain migration from one school to another was possible. A seedling of hope was sprouting again. I read poems and I hoped. I remember bits of poems from the poets I was discovering every day: Nichita Stanescu. Ana Blandiana.

“La vanatoare

in padurea fara prihana

merg in urma ta cu un pas

asa cum se cuvine femeii

asa cum e bine.”

 

“At the hunt

in the forest of unspoiled innocence

I walk a step behind you

the way it was meant for the woman

the way it is right.”

 

I remember bits of poems I wrote for myself:

“Vantule, care mi-ai insalciat parul

aduna-ma-n buchete

si-arunca-ma apelor

de pe cele mai inalte poduri.”

“you, wind, who enwillowed my hair,

gather me in bouquets

and throw me to the waters

from the tallest bridges”.

Besides the poems there where just confused questions. Was it possible for love and affection to ruin a life? How? Why? Where not the birds supposed to learn to fly? My mother cut my wings and now, my flight was a fall at the mercy of a gust of wind or another. Will my frail petals land on the water? Will they land on land? But my hope was budding and everything feels better when there’s hope.

 

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5 thoughts on “The Road of Good Intentions (A Personal Essay in Two Parts)

  1. Thank you for sharing this Elena. Your writing is always a great insight into who you are as a person & I’m enjoying getting to know you.

    I understand how childhood limitations can seem such a hardship at the time but they are a large part of what makes us ‘us’ and I’m glad that you are you, poet and author, and I’m thankful to have been given the opportunity to meet you. : )

    1. This is so nice. Thank you! I don’t have many moments like this in a year. I, too, am very happy for the chance of knowing you. 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, Elena! I love your description of growing imaginary wings when you thought about a life spent in literature:)

    Janelle

  3. Thank you, Janelle! Yes, I think it was confidence. I did not have any other skills and I was questioning what I was going to do. It felt good to think there was something I was good for. 🙂

  4. Thank you for giving me the freedom that you did and for always encouraging and supporting me to follow my own hopes and aspirations, whatever they may be. Love you mum. xx

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