Stopping the Trauma Train VII


This is a picture of my little girl. Her name is Emily and she just turned 30.

I remember looking into these eyes for hours at a time. They were like windows into some heavenly place, a clear and unfettered world that I myself once knew.

Our wide-eyed world gets clouded over all too soon. There are family narratives to contend with and unspoken secrets that we inherit. The world that is wide and endless and full of possibilities begins to shrink.

When I arrived here, the Holocaust still loomed like a cloud of terror over our house. It did not take long for that unnamed fear to coagulate into attitudes and stances. In a thousand ways we were taught to resist, refuse, reprove an untrustworthy world out there. Yet still, to do well in it, to outsmart it, and never to allow Hitler a posthumous victory.

All of this translated into our little bodies. My siblings and I adopted postures that variously defied, defeated, or caved to the odds that awaited us. Like plates of armor many layers of effort veiled our childlike brightness.

Nobody told us what lay beneath the surface or why there was so much pressure to perform. How different it might have been had our mother just said it straight: Many, many of our relatives were killed in the war. So we have a duty to remember, to be happy, and live good lives because they never got a chance to. Or if our father had dealt directly, saying: I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. I cried and cried. Now we must all remake a world that we can believe in.

Veils lift when we tell the truth, and clouds disperse, even when the truth is extremely bitter. Even if the world is fettered and bound in complexity, I want to face the truth.

I want those bright and open eyes to see again!

This month my sister Laya and I will travel to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest—and to the small towns and countryside in between—to see where our ancestors lived (and died.) We are going there to find their homes, smell the earth they walked upon, and reopen the windows of our family's history. I am seeking clarity for Emily, for the children that may come from her, and for the child that still lives inside me.

Tirzah Firestone