FROM CHAPTER 11
(Bereft and devastated, Claire's just left Mia in Morava Academy, a behavior modification school on a mountain side in Brno, Czech Republic.)
The Santon Hotel is a squat, white splat on a verdant hill sloping into the lake opposite Morava. Nirvana is playing in the lobby. American rock is ubiquitous in this country. My room comes with a lake view and Aretha Franklin. Playing from a radio inside the wall with the knobs sticking out of two crudely made holes. Talk about theft prevention. It won't turn off and my head is splitting from crying.
English and Czech share no common word roots, not Latin, Greek, Romance, Germanic, nada. Yes = an, ice cream = zmrzlina, there you have it. Which renders the phone useless. Back downstairs I go, where I'm reduced to making knob motions and humming "Love in a Pink Cadillac" to the desk clerk, a stunning young woman who knows all about us, we shell-shocked Morava parents. She nods sympathetically and comes with me to do whatever it is one does to turn off a Czech wall.
Normally, I'd be amused by this, but I'm so cracked and fragile now, it's just aggravating, it feels like a punishment, a further indictment. My life as a Santon Hotel room, nothing works. For some reason, I think of Anne Lamott, the “cranky Christian” whose books have been pressed on me by a friend who thinks her spiritual wisdom and humor will help. The things she endured, the accoutrements of addiction – vomit, snot, fear, poverty – would have made me a pagan, a witch, an atheist at least. I can hear Annie now, exhorting me in her best church voice to do what she always does when troubled, "Pray, child!"
What, I have to tell Him? Like it isn't’t obvious even for the non-omnipotent? Some deity.
Well, now I’ve done it, I’ve snapped at God.
“Dear God, forget I said that, but more important, could you watch over Mia, please knock some sense into her before she - ”
Stop, this is stupid, disrespectful. I have no idea how to pray properly, but I’m pretty sure it’s not in the epistolary manner. Once again, Claire, and this time at least bow your head and use proper language: Lord, cleanseth my child of evil substances. Maketh her thoughts of me not vile, that she may gaze upon my countenance with gladness, for it is not right nor holy that a little lamb should desire to killeth the ewe that hath nursed her.
I hateth this. I sound like Latka’s half-wit sister auditioning Shakespeare. Religion’s supposed to be a comfort; instead, it’s turning out to be a skilled profession for which I am singularly unqualified...
FROM CHAPTER 20
(Six months later, as Mia leaves Morava for the last time.)
I stand with my mother in front of Morava, just as we did six months ago when she dropped me off. I remember seeing this building with such a sense of dread and fury it's hard to reconcile that with the feeling inside of me now.
Morava now stands only a shell. It's empty of boys and girls walking in lines, of death-defying soccer tournaments, of dancing butterflies and ballerinas, of pseudo-German-speaking American teens trying to figure out their past and future selves.
Morava's essence is now carried inside sixty teenagers who call themselves a family, who are all painfully aware that a chapter of our life is ending. It's a chapter that is an indescribable mix of a Utopian environment and pure hell. We've all despised Morava, we've all loved it, we've all been thankful for it, but above all we've all loved each other. We've seen sides of people that they rarely show and grown together in ways that outsiders will likely never understand.
I turn as Glenn grabs me tightly. We look at each other and both start to cry. It hurts to see this strong woman cry, this woman who helped so many of us find that same strength within ourselves. It's not right, Glenn's not supposed to cry.
"Be strong, Mia," she whispers fiercely. "For yourself, for the girls. Don't let them slide back into old patterns, Katrina's anorexia, Sunny's self-mutilations. Don't withdraw, don't shut down! Don't use this as an excuse to call everything you did here bullshit. The work you've done here is real. Take what you've learned and grow. Take it and fly."
"But what about you, Miss Zuza - "
"We'll be fine, sweetie. You have to go now, go..."
I stumble to the van, climb in and turn around to face her, pressing my hand against the rear window. I know this image will never leave me, seeing Glenn crying in the snow, watching her once powerful figure become smaller and smaller until it's finally swallowed up by the silence that was Morava. The silence where I listened for myself, and for the first time, really heard.
FROM LATER CHAPTERS
(parents had to take personal growth seminars that paralleled the students; some scenes from Claire's)
I’ve always thought people found me good natured, genuine, so I’m floored to keep hearing that I’m snobby, smiling but not real, too intellectual (can you be?) A facilitator’s assistant stares into my eyes and tells me, “Claire you use words to distance yourself… I experience myself as almost invisible around you, because all I feel I’m getting is your mouth and your brain, not your heart.”
I’m so uncomfortable, I wish my mouth and brain could make ME invisible. The facilitator Duane chimes in: “Claire, you’ve been disconnected from your heart for so long, you’re dead inside. You haven’t felt joy in so many years, you can’t even remember what it feels like. When did you first decide it was okay to kill yourself, Claire? Your heart is dying and the pain is exhausting you.”
He leans down and whispers in my ear, “and you’re scared to death that you’re never going to come alive.”
I walk out of there feeling transparent, like I’ve been roto-rootered only the crap came out the other end. This is too much consciousness-getting at once. I feel like I’ve swallowed ten self-help books in one sitting and someone needs to burp me…
Why do I have to be napalmed before I’m aware of how I’m really feeling about most things? Why do I have to think about how I feel? Which is a perverse statement – how can you “think” about how you “feel?” Isn’t that like eating an apple to know what the color blue sounds like?
My brain has been my sword and shield against pain, and where else is pain felt but in the heart? To slay one is to slay the other. When did I stop trusting my heart? When did I disconnect? When did I forget joy, lose what I had as a child?
I’ve spent so much of my life paddling and holding Mia up to safety that I’ve forgotten that I could stop thrashing about and trust that the water would bear me up, because that is what water does, if you let it. And Mia could have learned to do the same by watching me. She could have learned ease, learned to trust , in herself and in the universe. She could have seen her mother know joy.
I suddenly realize that I know exactly what it was like for Mia to have a mother like me. When I was growing up my biggest fantasy was not to be a smokey-eyed secret agent or Ginger on Gilligan's Island. What I fantasized was this:
I'm in a fabulous department store, trying on pearls, in my hot pink Twiggy dress. I have stick straight hair and no glasses. A beautiful, elegant woman in a pink pillbox hat, a la Jackie Kennedy, joins me at the counter and says, "I see you like pink, too."
I notice her accent is familiar. I ask her if she's from Hungary and she is! We get to chatting and more things sound familiar - she had a brother named Leo, too! And a big sister named Leah? Oh, my God! we both exclaim, raising our fingertips to our lips just like Audrey Hepburn in Charade - she's my mothers sister, the Nazis didn't kill her after all! She throws her arms around me and I'm overjoyed! I have a brand-new, glamorous aunt who likes me immediately and a lot! I run home and tell my mom I found her sister, she's right here, mom, look! She's alive, you have a sister again, Mommy, aren't you happy? Are you happy now, Mommy, are you happy?
FROM CHAPTER 30
(as Mia heals and grows in self-awareness and understanding)
I’m picturing my father in court, a man I know nothing of but his own personal demons, and I see a haunted man. The feelings he instilled in me, self-hatred, anxiety, sadness, he must feel these every waking moment. And having lived and felt as he must – and then had the chance to change – I feel sorry for him. Sorry that he was too weak to face himself and change, that his pain was so great it poisoned him and he chose lies instead of me. Sorry that the only legacy he left me with was one so dark.
And it hurts all the more because I understand it. Because I know how it feels to only be able to operate from the shadowy part of you that feeds off pain, because it’s so familiar and it makes itself available in such abundance.
Sometimes I wonder if I was attracted to the streets, to those darker places, as a way of getting to know him, of feeling some connection with the man who half put me on this earth. I knew nothing of him but that black hole he left inside of me. There were times I would wake up in so much pain it felt like the world was crying in my ear as I slept. It was a sadness I wasn’t equipped to handle and I did it the only way I knew how. Maybe diving in was my way out. Maybe this is what I had to understand to let him go.