My Earliest Childhood Memory.

CHILDREN AT RISK FOUNDATION — Brazil (Flickr)

Life has to have a starting point. For some, it is the earliest memory, then there are the peculiar ones. The kids who realize their existence in that beautiful moment when life decides to rip them from their childhood. Trauma is painful, but its also inevitable. and in a lot of ways, the people around us will play a big role in how we deal with it. For me, life started on a cold rainy night. If I could recall the year, I would. Unfortunately that is not a luxury I have. I had to have been at least at two, no wait, I was probably three. My father and I were returning from Haiti and he wanted to introduce me to family in New York.

From the moment we entered the house, I was plagued with negative vibes. Things just did not seem right. We were greeted by an older woman. She was 5’3 with tired brown eyes, high cheek bones, aging but flawless skin, and shoulder length hair that was peppered with grey. She and dad hugged then she came down to my level to give me a kiss on the cheek. Her breath smelled of tobacco, almost instinctively I backed. She laughed, picked me up, and carried me into the apartment.

It was dimly lit and carried the scent of cooked food and old cigarettes. probably New Port 100s. I was put in the section of the house where the children were. Once settled, she and my father went into the den where the adults had set up camp. Upon his entrance, he was greeted with hugs and firm handshakes. My logic was simple, “Mommy is home, so daddy and I have to be nice to these people for a little bit. When daddy is finished, we will leave and go back to mommy.” But as all children eventually learn, not everything is as simple as it should be.

I must admit, things were not all bad. While dad was doing whatever adults do with their down time, I was in a room with two other kids, a boy and a girl. The boy’s name was Malik. He was 5'4 with a dark ceaser haircut, big brown eyes, and brown skin. He was a bit older, but we got along just fine. The girl, her name was Savannah. She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She was a dainty 4’9 with grey eyes, jet black hair that reached the middle of her back, and a devious smile. We kept busy by playing house, hide and seek, and doctor. At first Malik enjoyed my company, but after a while, he lost interest. But Savannah loved having me around. She wanted to keep me as a little pet.

Just as things really began to get interesting, my father called to leave. Savannah was lots of fun, but there was no way I was staying in this house with her. I ran up to my father ready to go on about our business. But when I approached him, he gave me a kiss on the forehead and began to walk away. Suddenly nothing made sense, try as I might, I couldn’t process what was happening. Why was my father leaving me here? In hindsight, his decision seems pretty obvious. He had two jobs and my mother was still in Haiti. With that in mind he decided the best thing for me was to stay with our family until he could afford a more convenient set up. Children can be blessings, when born to poor families, they are also burdens.

Before I could process another thought, I was chasing after my father with tears in my eyes. He had a head start and calmly walked out of the apartment. I was left with nothing to do but bang on the door helplessly. The old lady approached and grabbed me by the arms. I did everything I could to fight her off. She was surprised by my strength and called on the help from one of the other men in the house. They pulled me away from the door and dragged me into the kid’s room. I fought the entire way kicking and screaming for my mother and father. But no one would listen. No one seemed to care at all. I swear I even saw a few people laugh.

I was desperate to see my parents and everyone considered my anguish a joke. The old lady became annoyed and got a belt. She beat me for what felt like forever, but I would not stop trying to get to the door. Finally they picked me up and put me in a high chair in the kitchen. There was a spoon on the stove. The old lady took it and put it against my arm. The spoon was boiling hot. The pain was searing. I yelled at the top of my lungs, but her message was clear. If I did not cooperate there would be more of this kind of pain to come. The struggle was won, by the haggard old woman. This was my home and from here, life begins.