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Dared To Survive

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A true story of abuse, neglect, and survival against the odds

Dared to survive

Olya Mancuso


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any process. No part of this publication may be stored in retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

And then your lifeless lips whispered to me,

“Promise you will try your best.”

Wiping the tears off to see you clearly and gulping air,

Just like you did, I whispered back

“I will.”

You took my hand and whispered again

“Everything is possible!

It only takes a fighting spirit to hold on

and fight till the last blood is left,

fight for your rights and freedom,

fight for what you believe is right.

And when you fall,

get up and go forward;

while you are able to breathe,

you shall fight….

If there is anything beyond this life

I will be there, always

And when you feel you can’t handle your life any longer,

You just keep on repeating what I’ve just said to you.

Promise that you will turn all your misery into something positive…

For you, Dad,

This is the last part of my promise.

To the memory of the life of my loving, beloved Dad, Sam Rotshtein: You are my true love and inspiration. And to that of my unborn, murdered by my mother and my first husband’s mother son, Charles, who became the purpose of my existence even in death, I have never forgotten you.

To my precious children, Daniel, Kristina, and Jane: You have given me the miracle of belonging, a real family, and unconditional love, all that I was deprived of but searched for throughout my whole life. To you, Igor, thank you for raising my fatherless children and being there for me in good times and in bad.

To you Tony: You saved my life many times. This book would not be finished if it weren’t for you and Igor. You both picked me up when the world turned its back on me, when others destroyed me. And you were there to lift me up again, so I could recover and live.

So, my story has survived. Now it will reach those millions like me.

I am dedicating this book to ALL SURVIVORS of childhood trauma and abuse, and to those who might not be alive to tell their story


To begin, I would like to thank God, my closest friend, Olga Karlova, and my family for giving me the courage, the encouragement and the strength to write this book. You have helped me to feel the powerful purpose, energy, and desire to dare to put myself, my family and my life out there in front of millions of people. Thank you all for believing in me when I did not believe in myself, and for encouraging me to stay on the path and for caring for me as much as you did. You all have been an inspiration for me and an amazing source of peace and serenity. You have granted me the wish to write with total freedom using my own voice. I am so thankful to have you all in my life because you have been a positive influence on my achievements. After almost four decades, I finally found the courage to tell my story. Many times, I was tempted to give up on this book. Writing my story meant reliving the most painful and dreadful times of my life. I was not sure if I was able to handle it. I have trained myself to leave the past in the past and not to bring up the horrifying memories that I have tried so hard to forget for decades. This is not just my autobiography and journey but the message I have felt compelled to bring to others about child abuse. I want to break the silence and help others.

Child abuse is a hidden epidemic. More than five children a day somewhere in the world die from abuse. More than bruises are left behind. A tear drop speaks a thousand words. How many children suffer in silence? How many die each day? How many of them cry out and no one hears them? How many adults will turn away? Child abuse is the world’s greatest, silent crime.

People ask how a mother can abuse a child. I ask how so many people cannot do anything about it? Everyone’s childhood should be a bright, happy time of love, laughter, and joy. However, thousands of abused children are living in a dark existence… What if we continue to stay silent?

I knew that, in this book, the truth must be told. I am not afraid to take this chance — even if some would not believe me, even if some will slander and judge me. I know that anyone reading this book who has been abused as a child will understand how brave I am to break the silence and publish it.

One of the things I love about getting this book published is that it reminds me of how important it is to follow your dreams, despite what others will think. When I finished this book, it became so clear to me that I had not just helped myself by telling the world what had happened to me. I had helped other people too. I know many have been silenced just like me. It is my hope that these silent sufferers will now take strength. I hope they will speak out and have their voices heard.

As you read my story, I hope that you will realise that, just because survivors have scars, just because we sometimes find it hard to function in many aspects of life, it does not mean we are weak. We have already been through more than most people can ever imagine and we have stayed strong and we still fight every single day of our existence. It is an endless battle, but I am proud of myself to still be standing and I hope that other victims feel the same way.

Experiencing any form of childhood trauma and abuse can impact on an adult’s quality of life in fundamental ways. It can make basic day-to-day activities, such as eating, sleeping, working and study difficult. Trauma and abuse in childhood can also affect your mental health, physical health, and your relationships with the people around you. Like everyone, survivors have a right to a life worth living, but instead survivors often live with chronic distress and pain. For many survivors, these emotions are so much a part of their day-to-day life that they don’t realise that there are alternatives. Unable to readily regulate their emotions they may seek to do so through alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or other compulsive behaviours. Many survivors also harm themselves out of a sense of despair. All of these ’coping strategies’ make sense in the context of childhood trauma and abuse. Survivors often find it difficult to trust others. As children we have been tortured and betrayed by the very adults who were meant to love, nurture and protect us. As a result, we often find it difficult to form and sustain relationships. When children are abused they come to believe the messages their abusers deliver, such as: «You are worthless,» and «You have no value’. Of course, these messages are not true, but children accept and internalise them. These messages become ingrained that, when a child who has been abused or traumatised grows up, the adult survivor will often experience feelings of low self-worth or poor self-confidence. Surviving evil is hard, but possible. Evil must be named and unspeakable must be spoken. Doing so is enormously frightening but despite what your abusers would have you believe, hold on to the faith that each of us has within us something adorable, beautiful, special and unique. We glow with the spirit of beauty. All we must do is believe in ourselves and doing our best in searching for JUSTICE and freedom. Even in the face of pain and hopelessness have faith that, everything that is best in life comes at the price of the greatest suffering.


Daddy, its dark here“, „Get me out of here. You promised! You said you would fight for my freedom and happiness

SET ME FREE, Daddy………. Come back for me.

Tears flow down my face as I keep on repeating this over and over. The old hopeless dream. My bitter plea of mine. Screams of my heart, unknown, unheard…

There’s a corridor… I am running towards my Dad, grasping his hands.

Desperately I try to hold on to them, using every bit of strength I have left.

The tips of his fingers slowly let go. He disappears down the long corridor. I still hear the rustle of his military uniform. The sound melts slowly away.

Tears are streaming down my face, soaking my sweater.

I keep running along the corridor, screaming like a wild animal, full of desperate, fuelled by hope, calling my Dad’s name, hoping to find him and stop him before he leaves me.

«Come back!» I scream to my Dad. «Come back, please. Don’t leave me here. Do not abandon me, Daddy. Come back to me…»

The corridor is dark and long. The smell of urine is strong. The shadows of children here are not humans. They are dead souls… I don’t belong here. I am not like them. Mother fabricated my illness to lock me in here, to get rid of me.

At the age of six — based on the medical history fabricated by my mother — I was locked in this place for mentally and physical disabled children. I was forced to take unnecessary medications for years. At the age of six, I was sexually molested……

The light does not come here...This place would be unfit for animals. But it is the only home I know — this haven for abandoned, sick children. All of us have some degree of physical or mental disability.

This is where my mother wangled a «referral» for me. She bribed them to lock me up thereby setting herself free from this burden: ME.

My mother invented stories. She induced symptoms in me because she craved the attention of medical professionals. It was her ultimate goal for them to take me and keep me here. It bought my mother temporary freedom. She often used sedative medications on me that were not prescribed simply to make her job easier. Trying to make me submissive.

The nurses scream into my ear that mother instructed them to tie me into the bed and sedate me with medication if I became «difficult». I wiggle like a worm, kicking and screaming.

I still hear the footsteps of Daddy’s military shoes echoing in the corridor as his steps slowly get quieter and quieter until everything disappears completely.

I am all alone somewhere in this cold, dark, lonely, and creepy place. I am all by myself in the cruel reality of my life. A life of long, heartless torment.

I see the house of my tortured childhood. My mother’s house… I silently pray God to end my misery as I kneel in front of my mother. Tears flow down my face as she approaches me with the leather belt… I am stuck in her house of terror, in the dark house of my unhappy childhood, the childhood that she stole, the childhood that she turned into a nightmare where only shadow of me had existed.

Everything was unstable in our house. There was no peace. Every day, there was violence.

The light never shines here. There is only darkness. Laughter is replaced by a river of tears. Love is replaced by hate and fear…. I bang my little fists on the wall and scream like a wild animal, with pain, humiliation, fear, and hate «If you really exist, God, let me die……

I have these flashbacks so often. I find myself unable to sleep at night because I am constantly having these vivid, shocking, disgusting and frightening images. It is like a life sentence. I am affected physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Some of my painful memories are repressed. But they are still harrowing, and disgusting. I am plagued by the physical symptoms that go with it.

I am still suffering severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic attacks. I try very hard to conceal. I always see the pain in others. Yet, I hide my own pain, covering it with a smile. I don’t want to be a burden to others and 1 believe that others do not want to hear my pain. I don’t turn to people for soothing and understanding.

After a long while, realization dawns. No matter how long it takes, you begin to understand that you are worth a lot more than you give yourself credit for. You can get past this. We victims never fully recover. We just learn to cope. We never forget.

I always remember having been physically, emotionally, sexually abused and neglected. For many years, I have repressed my memories of sexual abuse. If only somebody knowing the torture of my life had stretched out a hand to save me. If only human kindness had knocked on my door. If only love had found the way to my broken spirit.

I was a child tortured not only by mother but by others whom she allowed to abuse me. Memories and flashbacks of horrific childhood abuse flood my memory. There was no one present during the outrageous events of my childhood except my abusers. All her life, my mother was in denial. She bluntly denies she and those others she involved to make me a «proper girl» abused me. I am convinced she is being truthful in her sick, mind. Her memories are deliberately buried and concealed as deeply as mine. She may well be plagued by occasional flashes, and glimpses of unknown terror, just as I was.

It is left to me as a witness to my own horrific abuse to speak to a world that does not protect children like me. Instead, it is a world that protects the ideas of parenthood, motherhood, fatherhood, adults, and family at the expense of the undeniable evidence that often exists of child abuse.

Our memories and pain, as adult survivors of CHILD ABUSE, are often ignored. Many times, we are not believed. Our stories are dismissed as hysteria, attention seeking and «craziness».

The destruction that follows and haunts us is REAL. Thoughts of suicide and self-mutilation are not attention seeking. They are a cry for help. They are screams of a heart that is torn into pieces by abusers.

My life story is not typical. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I am still here. I am alive to tell...my story so that others may heal.

My nightmare began a long time ago before I arrived in Australia. This is my story. It’s the story of a victim who became one of the greatest survivors.

There has always been a sense of something missing. An empty well inside me. I feel like I have been fighting my entire life, trying to fill that empty well. Sometimes I pretend the well doesn’t exist. Sometimes I scream down into the well, hoping someone hears me. Hoping that my mother will hear me but knowing that she will not. Something in me died before I was ever born.

Chapter One.
Don’t Leave Me, Daddy!

My beautiful girl,

Please don’t cry.

I wish I could be there

To sing you a lullaby.

I can see your arms,

Bloodied and bruised.

They tell the stories

Of being tortured and abused.

I know you scream

When no one is there.

I failed to protect you

But I am everywhere.

You see, Daddy raised up so high

You were asleep, so you didn’t hear my cry

I know, little girl, you would not have died

If someone had only bothered

To listen to you when you cried.

I became dead before I was reborn. I could no longer handle being hurt, afraid, intimidated, and ashamed. I had no choice but to rise and live. I have seen hell. It was so painful and dreadful that my pain and sufferings forced me to become unbreakable. The only way to survive was to become unbreakable, and to learn to love myself.

Sometimes, when you can no longer handle your life, bear your pain and loneliness, you become immortal, immune to anything. So, your time comes, and you set your spirit free and fly.

As a child, I had begun to find comfort in cemeteries. It was humbling and peaceful. I would walk among the graveyards, and talk to the dead. Then, I would lie on their plot and rest among them. I would spend days there fantasizing that God will give me shelter there too.

Uninhibited by a dread of graveyards, I played hide-and-seek among the tombstones, talking to them, and telling them about my pain. I loved to walk among the graves and look at the dates and words on the tombstones. I played a game, wondering what sort of life the person might have had.

That’s the thing about life. It is fragile, precious, and unpredictable. Each day is a gift, not a given right.

The cemetery was my comfort zone, a place where mother could not find or hurt me. So, I fell in love with its peace. I had never before felt such peace. I hadn’t known what peace was like. My house was a place of nonstop violence. Growing up, I feared living at home. I was petrified of my mother. I would hear her opening the door with the key and — no matter what I was doing — whether I was watching television, making food or talking on the phone, I would stop what I was doing and run. Then, I would sit in my room, waiting to hear and feel how her mood was.

Had she had a good day? Did she have sad news about my criminal brother, Zhenya? If it was bad day or she’d received sad news, I knew the day was going to be bad for me and my Dad.

I never used to run to her. But, I remember how, one day, she came home and I ran out to greet her. Her response: «Why are you svoloch (brute) running to me? Get out of my way?» It was the last day I ran to her.

Mother used to belt me almost every day. She was creative. She used a variety of methods to physically punish me. Her physical punishments never ended. Every day, I was beaten. She used leather belts, plugs and anything she could find to beat me with.

Again, I got used to it. I simply stopped feeling physical pain. It wasn’t the physical abuse that bothered me. I became used to it. It was the fact that she didn’t even bother to think about my needs. She seemed unaware that I had physical or emotional needs. I never got those warming hugs, that concern, that care that moms give to their children whenever their children are crying, feeling down or even when they make you proud. I never got reinforcements of my mother’s love for me. I was alone in my own troubled world.

I never had the mother-bonding experience that I wanted. For so many years, I blamed myself. I cried because I wanted to feel that love. To this day, I still wonder what it would be like to be loved, cared for, and appreciated by a mother.

A vivid memory has stayed with me. I always wanted to have long hair. But, mother dragged me to the hairdresser’s to have it cut short because she said I was an «ugly scum» anyway. Therefore, no hair style would make me look beautiful, she always explained. I did not belong. I wasn’t wanted. I wasn’t worthy of the same treatment from her as her son, Zhenya, received. She used every opportunity to let me know that Zhenya was her favorite.

All my life, I have felt like the rest of the world is going to treat me the same as my mother did. So, I have kept to myself. I never learned how to socialize. I still to this day automatically assume that everybody is going to dislike and eventually mistreat me — especially verbally and emotionally. I can talk to guys. But, I find it hard to relate to women, even though I am a woman.

Perhaps that is why I kept getting married to men who physically and emotionally abused me. I tolerated it because it was all I knew. I didn’t believe I deserved any better treatment. Being abused was a habit. It was better than being ignored.

My Dad was never home. He was a military man, catching criminals and keeping a secret about my brother from the Communist party. As a party member, he lived in fear. You had to meet certain qualifications to be accepted. The Communist party was tough. Your new social network in the party gave you access to many benefits that non-party members wouldn’t have. This resulted in a mixture of jealousy and envy from those not in the party.

The struggle for leadership was filled with feuding cliques, the competition brutal. The ambitious were always watching you, waiting for your failure so they could take your place. If they had found out about my brother’s criminal activities, my Dad would have lost his rank and his job forever.

Dad was rarely home. He was often sent off to the states to work for months. So, mother often used to lock me up in the Reform (reformatory) School for girls and the orphanages where disabled or mentally disabled children were abandoned by parents who did not want them.

There I was subjected — along with other girls — to a harsh and sadistic regime designed to break our spirits and install discipline. I always wanted her to know how much grief and pain she added to my life. But, she never allowed me to cry, complain or plead.

I longed for my Dad. He was the only person who had ever shown me kindness and love. He was the only person in my childhood memories who loved me, who tried to protect me. He was probably the only reason I ever tried to become somebody, study hard, and survive.

I was my mother’s sacrificial lamb until I married Alik, the first man who offered me a better life. This later destroyed me.

It was the summer of 1981, in the Ukraine. I was six years old. I was terrified of my mother. She was always angry, hysterical and furious with Dad and me. She constantly yelled. She was preoccupied with my brother’s issues, his debts, and his efforts to pay them off that resulted in his criminal affairs.

Zhenya was always in debt. He needed a lot of money to buy the good things in life: fancy clothes, expensive cars, food and women. These were things that most soviet people couldn’t afford — even those who worked.

Whenever I was near my Mom, she got so angry. She hit me and pushed me over. I was always walking on egg shells, so afraid to be in her sight. She called me bad names and cursed me. I was petrified of her, dreading being in her sight.

So, I often stayed under the bed hoping that she would forget about me. That provided only temporary safety. Aware of her violent outbursts and her hatred for me, whenever my Dad was home, he kept me near him. He made sure I was not out of his sight to prevent my mother from beating me.

I was safe when he was home. But he was rarely home. As a military man, his work often took him away from home, out of our town. Some of my happiest memories are of him putting me to bed and telling me fairy tales in his soft voice. I drifted off to sleep feeling safe and loved and happy.

«You are spoiling the evil bitch!» my mother would scream. «She does not need so much attention,» she complained, «Who is she? Your queen? You old fool. You are undermining me when I tell this spoiled bitch that we have problems with Zhenya and she needs to understand her mother is suffering and has to help Zhenya.»

«She is your daughter too,» my father reasoned. «She is only six years old. She needs care and nurture,» Dad would reply in a tone that would only serve to infuriate mother more. Then mother would start breaking plates and throwing them over the floor or into the wall, claiming he provoked her and undermined her authority as a parent.

During my childhood I could never understand why there was this constant raging battle over me. My mother always blamed me for «making a fight» between her and my Dad and ruining her marriage. She kept saying I was born to destroy her life, her marriage, and even her son. She would start shaking and beating me, yelling into my face that her son was on drugs because of me that I was the beloved child of my father. But, her son was fatherless. Every time she yelled, screamed, and cried she kept saying it was my fault and why should I continue living and destroying her life? Why couldn’t I die and set her free and let her live.

I would press my hands over my ears and wet myself. This would bring on further beatings. «You bitch!» Mom would scream. «You did this on purpose, you disgusting piece of shit. You are bedwetting at night and you are scum during the day time. You shit. You slut. You imbecile. You retarded fucking freak.»

Then she’d grab me by my pony tail and started beating me with the belt. I would scream at the top of my voice, begging and crying. But, I couldn’t protect myself.

At one stage, I remember that, somehow, I crawled away and then ran to hide under the bed. She bent down and dragged me out by the hair. «How dare you escape,» she shouted. «Shut up, you scum!» Holding me by the hair, she punched me in the face and bit my arm, leaving a row of her teeth marks mixed with bits of blood on my arm.

«Your fucking stinky father is not here to save you,» she screamed. «You will never see him again,» she threatened. «He will get killed by a car!» Mom yelled into my face.

I collapsed on the floor sobbing in despair, terrified that Dad would not be back ever again. «Daddy… Daddy,» I sobbed. «Daddy! Come back to me. Daddy help me….»

I had lost hope of ever seeing my Dad ever again. The doorbell rang. There was Dad back from work. As soon as I saw him I ran to him in tears and hysterically jumped into his arms, shaking with fear, soaking his uniform with my tears and clinging to his neck.

«What have you done to her?» Dad shouted. She is wet and terrified.

«I did not touch her!» my mother yelled. «She creates these scenes on purpose to cause us to fight. She wants to turn you against me,» mom accused. «She wants us to fight. She is evil.»

My father looked at the bite mark on my arm. It was now swelled and purple.

«What the fuck have you done to her arm?» he accused. «Those are teeth marks» Dad yelled, looking in disbelief at my arm and the bloody spot where mom had left her teeth marks.

«This scum has tried to self-harm herself,» mom lied. «She does it often when she does not get her way.»

«And what about the bruises on her face?» he asked.

«She bumped into the wall when she tried to be violent,» mom lied again.

«Don’t, leave me, Daddy,» I sobbed, «She is lying! Don’t believe her,» I begged.

I sobbed hysterically unable to prove anything. I remember my feelings of despair and how I could not stop shaking even though I was in Dad’s arms. I knew the beatings weren’t over. As soon as my Dad left, she’d start in again.

My mom has never felt remorse for the way she treated me. I’m sure she thought it was normal to bully and beat children. She often bragged to us that she was beaten by her parents. That’s how she became a «decent» person.

Even today, she proudly describes how the «punishments» inflicted on her during her childhood helped to make her a great, decent, remarkable person. She was actually grateful to her parents for that abuse.

The cycle of violence obviously commenced during her own childhood. It may well have been how her parents were treated as children. I remember my mom and my Grandmother always being enemies. Mom has always had fights with her, even physical ones where my Dad used to jump between them to restrain them from assaulting each other.

Dad wanted to avoid physical fights with Mom because she was very violent. She tried many times to hit my Dad and chased him with knife. He used to call my Grandmother to come and calm my mom for him.

My Grandmother lived in the same block a few apartments away. My Grandmother loved my Dad — even though he was her son-in-law. She tried to keep mom under control and to protect me and Dad. However even my Grandmother would rarely succeed. I think Mom enjoyed the drama and fights as much as anything else.

However, my Grandmother was not scared of mom’s violence although Mom was able and willing to hit hard, she was capable of everything when it would come to win her point or get her way.

I often pined for my Dad. He was the only source of love, attention and protection I would get. I remember Dad would hurry straight home from work. He never felt I was safe with Mom. My happiest times were when only he and I were home. I would then become his shadow. When I cried, he wiped my tears and promised me he would try his best to protect me from ever being hurt again. He tried his best. But, it was a promise he couldn’t keep.

Chapter Two.
I Need You

My mother has always searched for ways to get rid of me. She wanted to devote all her time and energy to being there for my criminal brother, Zhenya, helping him with his problems, money, drugs and criminal behaviour. She was totally preoccupied with worrying about her son. She was always capable of being a nurturing mother to him — a blessing that was not extended to me.

Zhenya was always — in my mother’s mind — the one who «needed» her most. She noted that Zhenya was always «in hardships». He was constantly in hiding from police, and on run from those people who were chasing him to pay up his debts.

She was not wrong about Zhenya’s being «needy». My brother has always needed endless amounts of money. No amount of money was ever big enough to resolve his issues. He has never worked in his life. Even today, at fifty-two, he doesn’t lift a finger to help himself. Instead, my mother provides everything for him. She sends him her pension and her earnings. This money goes to pay for his alcohol, the drugs that he smokes, and makes sure he continues the elite style of life he is accustomed to. Zhenya would not settle for less.

When I was growing up, I was always fed table scraps. I was last at the table to be fed and I was always given the least amount of food. I would watch my mother at the dinner table, serving the food. There was no particular order other than that I was always last. If there was a cake, I was guaranteed to be given the smallest piece. The best would go to Zhenya. My mother always used his «poor health» as the reason. The truth is: His health was damaged by his drug abuse.

No rules had ever existed for Zhenya. On the other hand, there were too many harsh rules for me. I was only worthy of being last, getting the least, or being given nothing because she wanted to save the rest for her «unhealthy», «misfortunate» son.

On most of my birthdays, she would basically ignore the occasion. I never had a party. At Christmas time, she would often buy Zhenya the best clothes and give him money because he had to look «good» as he had «many girls» chasing him. But, I would most often not receive anything.

At a certain age, I outgrew the clothes that had been passed on to me by my mother’s friends’ children. The principal of my school had to call my parents and insist they buy me some warm clothes as I had hardly anything to wear to school.

I went to school without lunches because my mother never made them but she would give my brother money to eat at restaurants and cafes to make sure he was able to «cement» and maintain relationships with girls.

I remember at twelve going to school during the winter time in old summer shoes. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the money for boots; it was worse than that. New shoes or required basic clothes were not bought for me. My mother insisted that Zhenya needed the money to get good things or get rid of debts he owed to people who could «kill» him if their money was not repaid.

Mother was always making sure that Zhenya’s debts were paid. His life and well-being were precious. Mother said he was in the very sensitive age. Teenagers are sensitive, she’d insist. If he was deprived, he could get into further criminal activities to obtain what he needed. So, to protect him and prevent him from getting into more trouble, mother believed that his desires and needs must be met.

Nobody would ever notice that I was wearing very old, worn-out shoes, inappropriate for the weather conditions. I obviously could not dare to ask for anything I needed because we constantly had to pay off Zhenya’s debts, so no one would kill him.

I grew up with a nonstop agenda to help Zhenya as he was a «misfortunate». Our lives revolved around him and his issues. Mother has always made him out to be the victim of unfair circumstances: a bad employment market, his unstable health, evil people who influenced him.

Even today, at seventy-two, my mother’s world seems to revolve around her dependent son with no room for me in her life. When I try to express concern about her enabling Zhenya, my mother gets angry and defensive, accusing me of being «jealous» of a «disadvantaged» poor brother.

When the teachers and the principal confronted my mother about my inadequate clothing for the weather, I finally got the cheapest, out-of-fashion winter boots.

I have absolutely zero memories of my mother cuddling me or holding me. I have no memories of her playing with me either or spending time with me or reading a book to me. I have many such memories of my father. So, I know that it’s not that my memory was faulty.

Mother never paid attention to how my life was going. She neither knew nor cared that I was bullied at school. She never came to wipe my tears and never asked me why I was crying, why I was hurting, or if I needed anything. Instead, she would dismiss my sufferings, and my feelings. I was never allowed to cry, complain, or ask for anything. If I was in pain or if I had been bullied at school, and wanted to cry, I was beaten to be silent or blamed for it.

My mother — ironically a fierce protector when it came to my brother — was never there to guide or protect me. She was never there to console or comfort me if I was hurt by others. I could never understand how could she ignore my pain and my needs when I was so little, so innocent, so helpless and needed Mom the most! She was never there most of the time. However, she was always there for her son Zhenya. As a matter of fact her, whole life revolved around him and his safety — when we were children and even today.

I was often left by myself and I felt so lonely. I even felt lonely when Mom and Dad were in the house because, mentally and emotionally, my mother was completely unavailable to me. Dad expended a great deal of energy trying to settle her hysterical outbursts.

My mother never gave me any advice on how to be a woman. She never taught me housekeeping skills. I spent a lot of my childhood hearing about all the things my mother had failed to do and the things my mother had lost because of me. I have always felt that there was no way out of the relationship with mother. Sadly, I also convinced myself that, without her, I would have nothing.

My mother used a variety of strategies to make me believe I was evil. She would employ insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs.

In order to increase my dependence on her, she tried to cut me off from the outside world. I was not allowed to bring home nor even have friends. My mother believed that I would «contaminate» good children with my «evil».

Growing up, I never believed that my mother wanted me. Never. Not for a moment. She always told me I was unwanted the moment she found out I was growing inside her womb. She said it was because she already knew I was too horrible. She always told me I ruined her life, her marriage, her relationship. She was convinced that her son went to jail and got on drugs because of me. Growing up, I believed this. I never could make that horrible thought go away — as much as I tried. No matter what scenario I could come up with, the truth always stared me in the face: I was an unwanted child, a child who ruined my mother’s life, and her marriage. I was to blame for all her misery and hardship.

I remember growing up fantasizing to die throughout my whole childhood and youth. I felt I didn’t deserve to live or be loved.

It is hard to admit, but I’ve been dealing with sadness my entire life. I was a depressed six-year-old, crying for my mother on my birthday. My mother abandoned me for months, leaving me in an orphanage and in a correction school for troubled children. I waited for her to start loving me all my life….

Chapter Three.
The Bike

Scared and alone,

I cry myself to sleep,

No hand to hold,

No one to tell,

At night I weep.

You killed my spirit.

You damaged my soul.

My foundations—

My very childhood—

You trampled on and stole.

I dreamed to be taken to a place

Where little girls didn’t feel fear,

Where I would never have to cry

Never shed another tear.

I wanted to mean something to you

But I know I’m not worth much.

I wanted a loving role model,

Not your cold, painful touch.

I cry along the wall

You caused with my fears,

And whisper to myself,

“Don’t ever fall.”

I cry silently my sorrowful tears.

I close my eyes

And you still haunt me.

This image I can’t bear.

I hate that you still surround me—

Even though you no longer here.

I ran down the stairs, choking on my vomit and tears. I was beaten every day. It hurt so much. I was whipped, kicked, bitten — whatever — you name it. My body took it all.

I smelled because I wet the bed. I was always dirty because mother was always too busy for me. She was usually hysterical because my brother ran up debts, conned people, and committed crimes.

Mother told everyone–even my friends — how bad I smelled. My suffering never ended unless I was in bed. Every day, I waited impatiently for the night and darkness to give me shelter so I could hide inside myself.

For me, there was no better tomorrow, no brighter future. My future was no different from the present where I struggled to survive to keep myself alive. Every day, I was bashed. Fear made my stomach cramp. This fear was all I knew. It was part of me, deeply instilled.

I had problems sleeping even though other kids my age slept just fine. I often had sweaty hands. Almost every day, I had heart palpitations and nausea. I was six. But, I still wet the bed. I had dry mouth very often. Therefore, I always drank a lot of water. This did not help my bed wetting issues.

I could not sit still or calm. I was unruly at school. My behaviour at school was shocking. It added to my physical punishment at home. However, I never stopped behaving badly at school — no matter how cruelly mother beat me for this.

One day, I lost my bike. I was terrified because it meant my mother would kill me. Picturing in my mind the punishment that was awaiting me at home, my whole body began to shiver with the intense fear of pain. I knew I would be whipped and beaten again. I would have to stay inside again for another week or two doing my chores. These clever punishments of my mother were invented, deliberately impossible to accomplish or complete.

The creativity of my mother’s punishments knew no bounds… They were always inside. I was forbidden to play. I was petrified of being in mother’s way. I lived with fear. I was always walking on eggshells.

It was my first day out after having been locked up for two weeks. I had blown it again by losing my bike. Mother would never forgive me. She would beat me and then lock me up again for another week or two. Dad was not home, and I did not know when he would be back. As usual, I was on my own.

Tears rolled down my face. I dug my nails into my flesh so hard that little drops of blood appeared on the surface of my skin. I had to confess to mother about the bike.

When I got home, I told Mother that the bike had been stolen, and that it was not my fault. Timidly, I was looking at her, trying to plead for mercy. Tears were rolling down my face. I was thinking of some tricks to delay the punishment, hoping that, by that time, Dad would be home, and I would be saved. If I stayed by his side, no harm would come to me.

I show mother the blood from digging my nails into my arms and neck. I always do it to distract her, thinking this will get her pity. Pity is all I can hope for.

But, mother did not pity me. Nevertheless, I always tried. Anything to gain her pity. It never worked, but I never gave up trying. Mother spit on my clothes, grabbed me by my ponytail and hit me in the face. Hard. She kept on hitting me. I toppled to the floor, screaming and begging her to stop it. I screamed as loud as I could,» Stop it, mama. Stop it, please. Please stop it. Pity me. Have mercy. Please stop it.»

I have learned all sorts of tricks to decrease the number of hits mother can inflict on me. It doesn’t work in most cases. First of all, I fall on the floor and scream my guts out, as loudly as possible, showing her that I am in pain. Then, I start vomiting. I have trained myself to vomit anytime I want.

Sometimes, I wet myself during the daytime — but not deliberately. When this happens, Mother starts laughing. Then, she tells her few friends about my accidents. Worse. She tells the few friends I’ve managed to have. I don’t have many friends. Most of the kids from the neighbourhood already know that I am a «scum», the «child from hell» and «a leper». Mother always makes sure that no one mixes with me and I mix with nobody because I am «bad» and may «contaminate other good kids with my evil ways.»

Mother used a variety of methods to make sure no parent would allow their kid to hang around somebody like me. She said I don’t deserve to mix with «good» kids.

As a child, I came to believe that I deserved this treatment. I was so lonely. I wished I was a «better» girl to have some friends to play with like other kids did.

The girl I met a week ago in the park is my friend. But, I told her that we can only be friends «secretly». I played with her today. Mother does not know I made a friend. Thank God.

I lost my bike because I was so happy to play with that girl at the park that I forgot about my bike. Then, when my friend had to go home, I looked around. But, the bike wasn’t where I’d left it. Someone had stolen it. I hope mother does not find out I made a friend.

Mother kept on hitting me. She dug her nails into the flesh on my arm. She did not stop. I was in pain. I must act as if I am in even greater pain to exaggerate my suffering. My mother gets satisfaction from my pain. The greater the pain she thinks she is delivering, the greater her satisfaction.

Mother liked to see me crawling away like an insect, clutching and rubbing the places on my body that are aching, burning from the pain. She enjoys this. She called me an «INSECT, dirty, worthless insect, little bitch, dirty whore, disgusting shit who will amount to nothing good in life.»

I believed that. Why wouldn’t I? I have heard it so many times. In fact, I heard it every day. I was not expecting any other message at. I hate myself for being like this. I don’t deserve any other way. I was born into mother’s family, born from mother, born to stay with her and bear everything she decided to implement a plan to make me «a better girl».

I was born to live this way and to belong to mother. I was resigned to being her property for the rest of my life. This was my life. All I had to look forward to is to the day when my suffering would end, the day of rest and peace where I was not alive and, consequently, no longer would I have to live with mother and her rules and the pain I carry.

I learned to dream of DYING. I had fantasies about death. They’ve been with me from as early as six years of age.

Life should not be this way, I know — at least not for kids. I watched other kids. Their relationship with their mothers was different. They were happy and loved. But I was stuck with mother.

For years, she had convinced and programmed me that I didn’t deserve anything good in life, as I was the worst «IT,» pathetic, weak, ugly, terrible creature, not a human being! I felt sorry for who I was. I wished I were different, that I deserved some love and hugs.

I was jealous of the girls from the next door. I saw the bastards, almost every day, holding their mommy’s hand, happy and smiling, always playing and cuddling up to their mom. I was so jealous. The mother next door always kissed them and hugged them. She was all over them, idolizing her kids.

Bloody bitch! Why can’t you be mine and take me as your daughter?

No! I told myself. I would not leave my Dad for any mom, I loved my Dad. But, I longed to be part of someone’s family where I could share the hugs and kisses, where I could be loved too, just like those two girls from next door.

They never looked at me. They were not allowed to play with me because I am the «child from hell», the child who is from a dysfunctional family, the child who should not have been born.

That is what their mother told them to keep her kids away from me. I hate her for treating me like this. I would give everything I have if she could be my mother and I could be her daughter. She hated me. But, she loved her girls. Nobody would ever love me.

I sat under the table, sobbing and begging mother to forgive me for the bike, promising and screaming it will never happen again. She crawled under the table and dragged me out by my hair. I screamed and wriggled like a worm. I regained my posture as she shrieked into my ears. I felt her spit on my ears. I tried not to move. I couldn’t stop shaking. I acted timid, nodding to her at her threats.

Mother grabbed me by my hair again. Bunches of hair fell all over me. But I tried not to worry about losing so much hair. What’s more important? My hair or my life? The most important thing was to survive.

«You will find this bike, you scum, bastard child. I hate you, you ugly monster, you fucking, dirty whore, shit girl, just like your father. I hate you, you would be better off if you’d been hit by a car. You will find this fucking bike, or I will skin you alive. Do you hear me scum? Do you hear me??»

Obeying her command, I ran as fast as I could outside. Deep inside, I knew that the bike would not be found. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Nobody knew that it was vitally important to me and would save me from punishment, if the bike was returned.

To my horror, Mother ran down the stairs, chasing me with the belt from Dad’s uniform. She was still yelling at me. I screamed and begged her not to beat me. I didn’t want any other kids outside to watch us. I would die from embarrassment.

«No! Please, not here,» I begged. «Not in front of other kids and neighbours. This is so degrading.»

«Please, mother,» I begged. «Don’t do it in front of people. Don’t humiliate me like this.»

Everyone observed us. I could hear people lining up to watch, pointing their fingers.

Mother laughed sarcastically: «Why not? Let everyone see how you get punished. I am sure people will enjoy watching. You are a fucking jerk. You are a clown, she screamed. «What are you hiding for? You were born to be a clown to entertain others, I will make others see how pathetic and disgusting you are,» she accused. «You’re a monster, a child who should not have been born. You are an evil, scum beg. Everyone is laughing at you, anyway. Nobody likes you. Don’t you get it? Nobody can stand being around you. You are a LEPER, a worthless, shameful piece of shit… you are IT… you were made to be ridiculed. You are shit — not wanted in this family. Is not she pathetic, my daughter?» mother asked the few people who were near the tree staring at both of us.

«Yes, mother, I am pathetic,» I whimpered. «I am a bad child. I am a worm. I am an insect, a flea. I am less than that. Perhaps, I am an „It“. Maybe I deserve what I got.»

Chapter Four.
My Courage

You remind me of my pain.

You remind me of my past.

Why can’t you go away?

Don’t let this torture last.

The darkness surrounds me.

It’s getting so cold.

I’m all alone

With no one to hold.

My childhood is so empty.

All that’s left is pain.

No sunshine to light my way,

Just never-ending rain.

I drown in tears.

My heart is crying.

No one seems to notice

My soul is dying.

When mother beat me at home I bit my lips and tried not to scream. I didn’t want anyone to hear. I was ashamed to let the scream out, to let others see my pain or suffering. In time, this grew into an adult habit.

Everyone outside always heard mother screaming and calling me names. Other kids stood below our balcony and laughed at what they heard. This was an unbearable humiliation. I hated to show my face outside because everyone would mock me, using the words they heard mother calling me.

As soon as I went outside, children threw stones at me. Sometimes, they threw eggs; sometimes they’d throw rotten tomatoes. Mother made sure that no punishment went on without other people listening or watching. She made sure I was humiliated and degraded publicly, and then she was satisfied.

Mother shamed me to people to turn them away from me. She claimed it was so I could become a better girl. She said that if I was, people would accept me. She said «evil» must be exposed and therefore she «revealed me» to others so parents they could protect their children from me.

I had given up trying to make friends because I knew that, sooner or later, mother would make sure no one would hang around with me, the «evil child», unworthy to have friends.

My mother humiliated me everywhere to «protect» other «good» children and keep them away from the «evil girl»: ME.

She humiliated me on the bus, at the school, in the shops — anywhere outside in front of people. She said she was trying to save the mass of people from ME…. She said that people needed to know as much as possible about my inadequacies. I had so many. I bed wet. I smelled. I was dirty and ugly.

She never washed me, so I stank. She had no time for my personal hygiene because she needed to be there for her son who was always walking on the edge of jail time. She was busy with him as he needed lots of money to dress well and afford a lifestyle most Soviet people cannot afford and are not allowed to have. Mother, therefore, was too busy for anything else or anyone else. She had to make as much money as possible to be able to let my brother have what he wanted so he could enjoy his life. She said he needed to be happy as he was the misfortunate one in our family — due to her divorce with his father.

For my mother, my brother was and is the centre of the universe and the sole meaning of her life. Her life and ours revolved around him. Moreover, she believed that was the way things should be. Her mind focused mainly upon him and whatever he wanted. To her, my brother is her number one priority, the yardstick that measures her life, the reason for breathing.

In her mind, my brother’s crimes, his deceptions of innocent people in order to gain money was not «criminal». It was just a sign of his unhappiness. We were all supposed to acknowledge this and feel sorry for him and help him to be happy.

She made us all do everything possible to make Zhenya happy. In fact, she forced us all to make him happy. She was so pre-occupied settling his life, happiness, and crimes with police that she often forgot I even existed.

This is why I always smelled so bad. She never had time for me… «You are in the way,» she’d yell ....in her way to be there for Zhenya. She called me «IT». That was because, she’d insist. «It is not a human being. It is less than that. It is a worm,» mother said to me. «People need to squash IT,» Mother would threaten. She told me that I didn’t deserve to be around normal people and I should be kept in a cage.

My mother always forbade my friendships with anyone. She always made sure I was alone, having only my own company and my home chores.

«You are a yaki,» she’d shout at me. «A shameful creature that turns people off,» she’d shout. «Therefore, you don’t need to have friends.»

Loneliness was the bitter reality of my existence and I accepted it. I learned to make something out of it. I read books and talked to myself, pretending I was a princess or someone else, acting in front of the mirror, when I was alone at home.

Acting can be a refuge for those who are emotionally broken. You can act like you want and no one can judge you. Once in a rare while, when I was lucky, I’d get outside to play. It didn’t happen often.

However outside was a dangerous place for me as well. All the neighbours and children around avoided me because mother had instructed everyone she could to keep rejecting me. For some reason, everyone shunned me in order not to mess with my Mom.

At home, if the balcony door was open when mother beat me, I tried not to scream. I held it in to retain a sliver of dignity. I couldn’t stop my eyes from watering up with the pain. But, I found that, if I just clenched my teeth and stared at my mother, I could stop myself from crying.

In fact, it made the beatings worse because it drove mother mad. She thought the punishment was not working and should be increased to teach me a lesson. She, therefore, kept on going with the belt or invented something more «effective».

Her methods varied, fuelled to heights of cruelty by her imagination. I never know what to expect next. Every day was unpredictable. All I knew for sure was that every punishment and every day of my life was a painful battle to survive. Mother never ran out of energy and new ideas for how to punish me «effectively».

Some of my crimes led to a repetition of punishments. I could be punished — for instance — a few days in a row for the crime I did previously. My bike was an example of this.

«Your bike MUST BE found, you little scum,» mother yelled the morning after it had been stolen. She grabbed me by my hair and yelled in my ear. “ You need to find the fucking bike, scum shit,» she shouted. «Don’t you get it? It costs fucking money!» My mother’s spit sprinkled on my face.

«Find the f…..ing bike!» she yelled. «Find it…!!!!»

«I will!» I cried. «Just let me go.»

«Let you go? You rotten bitch… You’ll have to be punished!!!» mother

yelled, twisting my ear as roughly as she could.

Tears blurred my vision and blood spurted out my nose.

Mother grabbed the belt. «THIS» will teach you to look after your toys…»

My whole body writhed in pain. I crawled away, trying to escape. But she grabbed me tightly by my hair. The agony of pain burned my body. Mother kept on striking me with the belt. The pain was unbearable. «I must hold in my tears of pain. I must not scream,» I told myself. I kept on biting my lips.

«Just hold on in there,» I kept repeating to myself. «Just don’t scream. The windows were open deliberately so other kids could hear and laugh. And this was exactly what mother wanted. She wanted people to laugh at me. She wanted me to feel degraded…

«I must NOT SCREAM…» I kept repeating in my mind. «I MUST NOT SCREAM………»

«Scream, louder, louder,» begged my mother hysterically while hitting me with the belt. «When are you going to scream???? You are a fucking dirty bitch,» my mother repeated screaming in my ear.

«Scream so everyone could laugh at you!» she continued.

I kept silent, still biting my lips and wiggling like a worm under her massive body. She had me pinned against her to keep me still while she struck me with the belt.

I felt no air circulating. The pressure was unbearable. I was in an agony of pain. I couldn’t stand it another instant. Suddenly, I let go the scream of pain. It came from the depths of my soul. I sounded like a wild animal, dying in the agony of pain…

That night Dad did not come home. Mother whipped me brutally with the plug from the stereo. After the punishment, I went to bed, praying that it was over and the night would hide me from my mother. Darkness was my shelter.

In bed, I could not find myself a comfortable spot. My whole body was aching, burning, and stinging. I closed my eyes praying God would hear my pain and end my life.

Could He really hear me «the child from hell»? The «monster child» whom my mother said deserved this life? Could He really hear my suffering??

Suddenly, I thought to myself: How lucky am I now? I am still alive and in bed. I felt relieved that the punishment was over.

«Thanks, God,» I said. Today is one day less for me to live on this planet, I thought. Today is over.

In my cold and dark room, I cried silently, making sure no sobbing or sounds came out…

Mother suddenly opened the door and jumped on my bed, grabbed me by the hair and slapped me across the face with indescribable strength… It was not over. My relief had been premature.

The blood gushed from my mouth as well as from my nose.

«Listen you,» she hissed. «You have made my life a living hell,» she sneered. «You are making me suffer. Now, it is my turn to show you what hell is like.»

Mother dragged me to the bathroom by my hair. «Spiders and rats are here,» mother indicated. «So, stay here with them till the morning. No light. Understood?» she threatened «This will teach you a lesson to take care of your toys.

«It’s too bad,» my mother grimaced, «your drunken old fool of a father is not here to help you.» She laughed. «And guess what? He does not give a fuck. If he did, he would be here to save you.»

With that, she shut off the lights and slammed the door. Inky darkness descended.

«It’s too dark,» I protested… «I am petrified!» I cried.

«Well get used to it. This is what your life will always be like,» my mother yelled through the door. «Dark and gloomy. You deserve it. Your life will be a long dark road of hell and torment. Nobody who will save you. No one wants you. You turn people off. You are less than a worm. You are IT, the child from Hell. The daughter of the Devil. You are possessed by Satan. I am an unfortunate mother. God punished me with a child like you. What have I done to deserve you?» My mother started to cry….

«Do not think you can escape me? I wish someone would take you off my shoulders… But nobody will ever even marry you, you dirty SHIT… It means I am stuck with YOU forever. YOU DON’T deserve anything good children have. Can you hear me??? Repeat this!» she ordered.

«Yes, mother!» I cried. «I deserve this. I am the child from hell, the child from the Devil. Nobody can LOVE me. I will stay here and learn my lesson…»

«Good,» my mother replied, «THEN LEARN! We will repeat the punishment tomorrow.» She left the bathroom door locked.

I was all alone in the darkness. I was so scared. «Please God, dear God, please,» I cried on my knees on the cold floor in the bathroom. «Why can’t you take me away or kill me or do something to end my suffering?» I begged.

«What have I, a child, done to you that You gave me this kind of life?

What have I done, God?» I pleaded, sobbing.

I banged my fists on the door, trying to break it down. But it was too strong. I could not break it.

Amid my sobs, I heard mother’s laugh echoing from far away. «Suffer, you little shit, DIE if you want. Just let my life be. Set me free,» mother kept on yelling form the corridor.

«Do you want me to give you a knife?» Mother asked behind the locked door

«What for?» I cried.

«To kill yourself, you dumb bitch. Cut your wrists,» mother suggested.

I dropped my exhausted body on the floor, shaking and trembling with fear. I cried and cried. But she didn’t care.

«You don’t deserve to live,» she jeered. «Life is only for good kids who deserve it.»

When Dad came home, I was rescued. He put me in bed, kissed me and told me he loved me. I saw the tears in his eyes. For a moment, I thought how lucky I was. But, I could not sleep. The punishment was all over for the night. My whole body was aching from being beaten. My father was there. But the next day he’d be gone and there would be no one to protect me from my mother’s beatings.

I could hear Dad fighting with mother. He threatened to break her arms if she touched me again. I was not heartened. You see: Dad made these same threats every single time mother punished me. But mother never took them seriously. Dad was always trying to stop mother from punishing me and every day he was saying the same thing all over again. He threatened to put her in hospital. My Dad always pleaded mother to treat me better. He begged her to stop beating me. But unfortunately, his efforts only made things worse for me the next day when he was at work.

Every effort Dad made to help me always led to a grandiose argument between mother and him. They ended up breaking dishes. Then, mother physically abused Dad. He had no choice but to slap her across the face or push her hard. Mother called this PHYSICAL ASSAULT.

She ran out on the balcony and yelled to attract neighbours, «Somebody help!» she cried. «Save my life. My husband is killing me.»

Her goal was to ridicule and get revenge on my Dad for «interfering» in her child-rearing practices.

One-night, Dad tried to get mother to change her mind about the methods of her child rearing practices by making «deals» with her. He tried to bribe her with promises such as holidays, more money for Zhenya.

But all his attempts were useless. Mother was as solid as rock. She kept on singing sarcastically: «You can kiss my ass, you old fucking fool,» she jeered. «The child is your ugly mini version. Two fucking monsters. You are nothing but pathetic shits. I am too strong to defeat. I am too strong to convince. I am a rock. I am iron. We Russian women never give up… None of you are worth dirt.»

She kept on singing the put downs over his voice ignoring his pleas about me. I know he was trying his best to improve my life at home. But, if anything, his interfering always made it worse for me the next day when he left to work. After that, I always had to pay the price for «making parents fight against each other and poisoning their relationship.»

My mother never lost a fight. She would never give in to Dad’s pleas to stop punishing me. Every night, they’d fight about the same issue «ME or my brother Zhenya. Every time, mother won the fight. They fought whenever they were together.

My Dad accused my mother of exhausting their finances by letting Zhenya have everything he wanted, by paying out his debts to people to stop them from reporting him to the police. Dad said mother did not leave any money to feed us because she spent everything on my brother and his desires.

My brother didn’t want to work. He never worried about money. He has always lived off my parents’ money avoiding terrific jobs. He spent years conning people who came to our house to demand their money. They threatened to go to police if we didn’t pay. Mother always paid them out to keep Zhenya away from jail.

Zhenya refused to take any job that he considers beneath him. He had no interest in becoming financially independent. He believed every job was beneath him.

This was why mother and father fought every day. Dad did not want to take part in financing my brother.

But he could never win with my mother. Mother refused to let Zhenya suffer by being responsible for himself. Zhenya’s girlfriends were also supported financially by my parents. My mother insisted we needed to help Zhenya hold on and keep relationships with females.

Zhenya liked drugs and partying. He yelled at my mother and blackmailed her if she did not give him enough money. So, in the end she always relented. Dad begged her to stop enabling my brother and his destructive behaviours, crimes and spending.

Usually, when my parents were home no matter what the issue that would start the fight, I would soon be the object of their battle. Mother’s hatred of me was so powerful that it made her illusions real. In her own sick mind tormenting and torturing her spirit, Mother had always believed I was evil that I should change.

Often, when Dad was not home if I passed her she’d start sobbing. Knowing that I would never ignore her tears, she’d start yelling for no reason, talking to herself and begging God to «change» me.

I would sit down near her on the bed while she sobbed and sulked. She would lean toward me, her lips close to my ear and hiss how much I had fucked up her life «Everything was good until you came into this family. I could sense you were from Satan,» she would sob, «You and your father are the reason your brother went on drugs. You both adore each other. But, my son lost his own father. You bitch have taken the whole lot. You have a natural father, but my son’s father abandoned him. My son is better than you,» she’d accuse. «He was too good too kind. He became bad because you were born, and all the attention was given to you by your elderly fool of a father who was blinded by his love towards you. My son was neglected because you took it all. I married your father and he adopted your brother and promised to be there for him. We all were so happy up until that day when you devil was conceived and then born. Your father stopped loving us. He switched to you and became obsessed with the love for you. You took it all from us. Zhenya became unimportant for him. He would not leave your cot. He would not show you to anybody up until you were two months old. He cherished you. He adored and admired everything about you. Nobody else mattered to him. He would sleep sitting at your cot. He was very possessive about your care. It was as if you were born to her majesty royalty „Romanovs“. At that time, he stopped loving me and your brother. All the love and affection were given to you, bitch… You were the centre of your father’s thoughts, life, and love. Since you little bitch were born, I lost my son and husband. You always demanded too much attention. You were always sick, always cruel to me. Poor Zhenya was left to himself. Everyone was too busy with you. Zhenya was left behind to grow on his own. And now my boy is on drugs and on the street. I am a broken-hearted mother. You took my son. Then, my husband. Then everything else I loved and enjoyed. You bitch! You ruined me and my whole life,» mother finished, wiping her tears.

I watched my mother’s tears and pain, devastated. My guilt was overwhelming. My heart was broken for her I asked what is that I could do to make her happier.

«You are so ugly. Oh God. You are so pathetic. You are evil! Do you understand that if you don’t change, you will never be able to have a family and be happy? With the character like yours you will never be amount to anything good in life. You will never marry. You will never have any relationship. You will never be respected by anyone. The universe never accepts people like you. You are just like your Dad,» she accused. «Evil, pathetic, ridiculous, stupid, smelly, messy, dumb, yucky and ugly. You and your Dad turn people off. People are disgusted by you. It’s all about people, Olya,» mother continued. «They hate and despise you and your Dad. You must become like, so everyone could like you and respect you. If you become like your Dad you will inherit his karma and bad luck.»

She went on, «People talk about him behind his back and disrespect him. You and your father have so many things in common. You both have nothing to be respected for. Olya, answer and chose who are you going to be like HIM or me? The older you become, the more inadequate, bad qualities I see in you which are identical like your Dad’s.»

«I have these conversations with you every day and, you bitch. You still don’t want to change,» she’d lament.

I tried to tell her I’d change. «CHANGE,» she said. «I BEG YOU, mother cried and threw herself on the floor banging her fists. «Let God cast out the evil spirits from my daughter. Give me a good daughter instead of the evil one.»

I ran to my room, tears are running down my face. I couldn’t breathe. There was not enough air for me to inhale…. I took the knife and cut my wrists.

I cut to block the pain out. I cut to punish myself. I hated myself. As I watched my blood running, I looked at my reflection in the mirror and yelled out loud, «I hate you!»

I believed I hated myself all my life without even realizing it. Where I got the courage to go on in the face of these daily verbal and physical attacks.

When I was a child, my mother never liked anything about me. She would slap me across the face. My laugh, she claimed «sounded demonic». She believed I was evil and it was her responsibility «to cast the evil spirit out» of me.

Even today at forty-two, I am criticized for my laugh by my mother. Mother still gets very disturbed and inconsolable when she hears my laugh — while many others find it charming.

I think the worst and most difficult thing for me is to block those ingrained feelings of inadequacy and the feeling that I am «BAD», unworthy, unlovable. This was always a challenge that was so hard to overcome. I’m not sure that I’ve ever really believed I was worthy. Too many years of abuse have done their job on my sense of self-worth. But they’ve never broken my spirit. I had the courage to continue in spite of little hope of a brighter future.

Chapter Five.
Independent Girl

I remember, one day, my mother decided that I should go to kindergarten by myself. «You are not a queen and I am not your slave,» said my mother. «From now on, you must go to kindergarten by yourself. Grow up and be independent. Other children are independent and so you must be, too.»

Mother explained how to get to the school and warned me to lie to the teacher. «Tell her I dropped you off, but I did not want to go inside,» she instructed me.

I was petrified to walk on my own. I did not want to lie for my mother. But, mother made it clear that, if I didn’t do the right thing by her, I would pay the price for my disobedience.

I cried bitterly, asking what would happen to me if I got lost.

«If you get lost,» replied mother, «then you are one dumb fucking bitch and you deserve to get lost.»

When I protested, she said, «The kindergarten is very close by. Only a stupid dumb bitch like you could ever get lost. If you do get lost, then a maniac serial killer will kidnap you and kill you. He will chop you into pieces and then drop your remains to rot in the dark forest,» mother threatened.

Terrified of the outcome and picturing the scenario mother had so clearly painted, I was determined not to get lost. I kept walking fast, sweating with intensive fear. Paying God to save me from the serial killer, I walked the route mother had explained.

I was petrified to get lost and very determined to find my way to the kindergarten. In my mind, I kept picturing the maniac who would kidnap me and cut me into pieces.

The pedestrians passing by seemed to me one potential hidden killer after another, waiting for me to get lost, so they could catch me and take me to the forest. Walking in the fear, trying to find my way I noticed that my pants were wet. The humiliation and guilt were burning inside me. But, I had to keep walking towards my destination.

The journey seemed interminably long to me. But, in reality, the kindergarten was only ten minutes walking distance from home. I had to cross at one set of traffic light and then turn left and right and the next street was my kindergarten.

With the relief and happiness, I found my way. I stood for a while smiling to myself, thanking God for keeping me safe. I felt uncomfortable because of my wet clothes. I decided to wait behind the tree until the other children, with their moms, went inside so they didn’t see me there by myself and suspect something was wrong.

I tried to «protect» my mother so no one knew that I was alone. Following with my eyes, I watched moms who kissed and cuddled their kids. I tried to battle my jealousy.

When it was safe to go inside, I opened the door and walked into the centre. I told my story exactly the way mother had instructed me to say it. Nobody noticed the suffering and fear on my face. Nobody even knew that, on that day at age five, I had made my way to the kindergarten, all by myself.

The day in the kinder ended up, as usual, with new trouble. I got myself into trouble for bashing and hurting those kids — the ones I had observed in the morning near the gate whose Moms were making a fuss over them, kissing and cuddling them.

I hit them because I wanted to see them hurt. I was longing for the love they had. I wanted to be loved, too.

The teachers separated me from the group. I was placed in the isolation room for «bad» kids. My teacher, Zinaida Ivanovna, protested my being placed in that room on my own. But those days, the Russian Communist system did not make adjustments for troubled kids. The kids were to adjust to adults and their system. The children were to be seen, not to be spoken to. But we were to listen!!!

And I did not listen. It seemed like the rules were against me or I was the one against the rules. I rebelled and opposed everything and everyone around me: rules, people, teachers, kids, activities and even toys. At home, I was evil. In the kindergarten classroom, I was evil too.

At kindergarten, I was often smacked and put in the isolation room. These punishments were like a holiday for me compared to the punishments at home. It should come as no surprise that punishments at kindergarten never worked on me. They never taught me anything. Instead, I continued bashing the kids, breaking things, and creating a nightmare for the teachers who wanted to run away. They hated me for making their job a living hell and impossible to cope.

At the end of the day, when all the kids were collected by their parents, I was the only one left. The teacher was trying to call my mother but no one at home picked up the phone.

I suddenly got frightened. I imagined that my mother had decided to leave me here forever as a punishment for my evil soul and spirit. My terror grew stronger. I was picturing Dad. I was scared that I would never see him again. The tears were rolling down my face with the thoughts that I would never see my dad again.

My fear of being abandoned grew into a panic attack. I jumped out the window. This time, I knew the way back home. I had come to the kindergarten in the morning all by myself and logically I worked out the way back home.

Without thinking twice, I ran towards my house. I crossed the busy, dangerous road safely. When I came home, the door was closed. I tried to reach the bell, but it was too high. I tried to bang on the wall with my feet. But my quarrelling parents were so loud that they could not hear me banging the door.

We lived on the second floor. The bell was too high to reach. I quickly went outside and collected brick after brick. I carried them up the second floor until I made myself a trampoline to stand on higher to reach the bell. I then reached the bell and rang it. The screaming of my parents suddenly stopped. Maybe they thought that it was police but when they opened the door their jaws dropped.

Mother panicked straight away. «Oh my God!» she yelled. «This bitch is going to get me into trouble. Who the hell gave you the right to leave the kindergarten class and come home by yourself??»

The next day, mother took me to kinder and brought presents and «bribes» to the kinder teacher begging her not to blow the incident out of proportion.

While my mother was talking to the teacher, I noticed a young boy sitting at the table sobbing. His Mom was wiping his tears, kissing him all over his wet face.

I went to sit at the table with them, fascinated by his Mom. As I sat there I noticed how young and beautiful she looked. There was so much kindness and warmth on her face. Her bright energy was lighting the place where she was sitting. She had long, black hair. Her head was bent toward her son. She was smiling and hugging and kissing this boy. I kept looking at her in admiration. She kept his hand in hers. Her voice was so soft and enchanting. She noticed how I looked at her and gave me a hug too, asking if I wanted to play with her son.

I told her, «I will look after your son.» She gave me another hug and kissed me on the forehead. Then, she took her head band off and gave it to me.

«Here,» she said, «you can keep it.»

I took her hand and kissed it. She looked a bit shocked. I guess she could not understand why I was so affectionate to her for something so small. Maybe, in her eyes, it was small. But, for me to have affection from a woman, from someone else’s mom, was a miracle. I longed for this with all my heart. I will never forget how this kindness, so small, made me feel. I felt like I had suddenly grown two wings and I could fly. I felt like I was in seventh heaven. This feeling was so foreign to me. I was filled with so much happiness. It was a beautiful feeling I would never forget.

As I kissed her hand, I felt like I wanted to kiss her more and more. So, I tried to cling to her. She looked more lost and confused. She tried to free her hand from mine. But I was determined to cling to her, and hug her that I grabbed her arm and started pushing myself onto her, trying to hold her as tight as I could. I started crying and raving like a wild animal.

At that moment, the teachers and my mother too saw the scene. They all came to «rescue» this boy’s Mom from me. Mother grabbed me by the hair trying to pull myself from this young beautiful mother of that boy whom I did not want to let go. Mother tried to drag me out from the scene, yelling into my ear, «Let go of her. Let go I said. Let her go, you piece of disgusting shit. Let go of her, monster child.»

After this incident, mother took me home and beat me soundly with the belt for «embarrassing» her in front of others. I was whipped and sent to my room without dinner.

That night I wet my bed again. As usual, I was belted for that crime and punished for two weeks by being forbidden to go outside.

I always craved love and attention. This is not to say that I accepted love willingly — quite the opposite, in fact. If someone decided to like or even love me, they would have to pass through an obstacle course, being pushed pulled and tested at every corner. Only then, upon arrival at the finish line, would they gain my acceptance. This eliminated a number of potential friends and partners. I often found myself lonely and disappointed.

My inability to accept love easily stems back to my childhood. Growing up with my mother telling me that she hated me and felt no love and was ashamed of me made me desperate to be the perfect daughter. I would go to any length to prove myself worthy, even following her to see my brother in jail with her as a way of connecting.

I disguised my pain with unruly behaviour at school and everywhere else I went. My life continued like this for many years. I hated myself. I was terrified of letting anyone in. I wanted to have a chance at life, to meet someone and have my own children that I could love and be proud of.

I realized, then, that this would only happen if I stopped treating myself the same way my mother had. Instead of testing people in my life, I let go and granted people access. I decided that, even if someone let me down, I could handle it. I also decided to be open with new people who came into my life. I didn’t scare them off at the first encounter.

As relationships began to develop, I would explain how my past affected me, and how I’d chosen to move on and be happy. Almost everyone I opened to was completely supportive. Openness became a two-way street. I learned that most people had experienced their own struggles. Our confessions strengthened these new relationships.

I also learned that not everyone was someone I could open up to. But, the more I did it, the better instincts I had about who to let into my life. Taking risks with people is essential for happiness. After all, it is better to have experienced at least some loving friendships than to sit alone, fearing heartache. By loving myself, I allowed others to love me.

I love myself because I am still here. I can see my life changing around me. When I have moments of insecurity, I read through my journals, speak to friends, or throw myself into tasks I enjoy, like singing. Since changing my outlook, I have formed a number of great friendships.

The only thing I can give my mother credit for was making me courageous and independent. She didn’t intend to do this but because of my resilience I became a risk taker, willing to reach out to others in spite of the way she treated me.

Chapter Six.
Evil Girl

For some children, school might have seemed like a kingdom of joy and heaven where they played and socialized. But, not for me. My home life made me feel insecure, vulnerable, and anxious. This made me an easy target for bullies. They quickly smelled out my fears and my vulnerability. Bullies have radar for the weak link in any pack and I was it.

The first day I entered the school, I knew I would not fit in. The teachers saw me as a child from a dysfunctional family and quickly picked on me for all sort of things. In no time, I became unruly at school because I was unable to stay calm and tolerate the bullying and abuse from teachers and peers. They bullied me for all kind of different things, for anything they could find «odd» about me. They picked on the shabby, dishevelled way I looked. They picked on me because my mother sent me to school dirty. My parents could not afford «appropriate» clothes — or my mother chose to spend the money on my brother’s fine clothes. Everyone laughed at me and stated that I looked horrible and that my clothes looked too old, worn out and too «Soviet».

The «trendy» and «popular» girls wore clothes that were imported from other countries. «Olya, you look like a fucking shit,» my peers sneered, giggling at my embarrassment. «Your parents can’t afford to buy you „imported“ normal dresses,» they accused.

I would often see other girls in my class playing in our neighbourhood with others wearing pretty tops, real girly shoes, or nice trendy girly little dresses. I had nothing like this this. My mother and Dad and the whole family was always and forever focusing on paying my brother’s debts, the money he owed to people whom he was ripping off.

My mother insisted that I was entitled to nothing due to endless «hardships» and sorrows caused by my brother’s lifestyle. I always felt that I didn’t have the right to demand anything because my family’s life revolved around my brother’s life and problems.

I never felt like I fit in school. I was singled out. I attended school but did not listen and I behaved in an unruly fashion. It was a vicious circle. The teachers made me feel bad and inadequate because I was the «odd one» in class, the one who rebel1ed at everything. My behaviour was getting out of control. I rebelled against a system where I did not fit on.

Because I did not fit in and because I rebelled, I was treated badly by my peers and my teachers. This only accelerated my rebellious behaviour.

Mother was often invited to the school to discuss my «bad» behaviour. This infuriated her. At home, I was beaten and punished for this. But nothing helped. I continued to be unruly and the most terrible kid at school.

Public humiliation as a punishment was legal in Soviet Union schools and during the time I was raised. «Humiliation» involved being picked on and mocked and publicly shamed in the presence of our teenaged peers.

Also, teachers encouraged «good students» to publicly ridicule badly behaved students or academically weak students. Teachers encouraged good students to avoid playing with bad ones. The bad or weak ones were condemned to be outcasts, so they could feel it and suffer it. The moral point they tried to instil in me and those like me was that, if we want to be accepted by «normal» society, we must be like the «good» students.

The Soviet Union system of education believed that public humiliation would make unruly or weak children behave and study well. Their punishments had no positive permanent effects that we know of. Their punishments had many negative effects. It teaches violence, disrespect and degrading as an appropriate solution to problem solving. It teaches this lesson to the child being beaten or humiliated and to his or her peers even when the beating or humiliations takes place outside their presence. They feel it in the next room or down the hall. Cruelty is not mitigated by distance; the psychological harm is done to everyone in the class. Those lessons of violence are unfortunately well learned.

This kind of attitude adjustment — spare the rod and spoil the child–does not achieve the stated purpose of maintaining discipline. It treats the symptoms, not the underlying causes, of unruly behaviour.

This was a vicious circle with me. Each time I was humiliated publicly by teachers at school, the next day the form of my rebellion and protest was increased. As punishment escalated, so did my degree of acting out. It was always endless process of increased violence with no end and no beginning.

My behaviour was a cry for help. I wanted to scream out a message to the system I tried to fight. I just simply wanted to bring the point, so the teachers would come to realize that the use of corporal punishment, humiliations emotional ad verbal punishment was a failing practice.

The child displaying unruly behaviour is a child crying out, «Help me! Help me!» He or she may be ill, hungry, or physically or emotionally abused at home. This is exactly what was happening in my life. I just simply could not bring myself to behave better at school. I was never given any motivation to do so. What was the point?

Nobody believed in me. Nobody wanted to hang around me at school. Teachers and students practised abuse. The whole point was to make me feel unwanted and rejected for my bad behaviour. I simply had no logical reason to behave better.

The child like me comes to school and we ask him or her to be quiet, curious, and excited about learning. Unfortunately, such behaviours are foreign to the abused child’s. Unruly behaviour is a cry for help. My cry was never answered or understood by teachers. The law supported their psychological abuse inflicted on «bad» children.

As a teacher or parent, you cannot whip the hurt out of this child. His or her behaviour continues and worsens and leads to failure after failure. He or she grows to adulthood and becomes another of our modern and enlightened society’s losers — miserable, often criminal, and a burden to society.

I always knew that the teachers of Soviet Union schools — particularly the ones in my life — failed to control classroom behaviour.

Their use of abuse upon children was protected by the system. As the protest to their poor teaching methods and poor discipline strategies, I made myself a promise. One day I would become a teacher. I would take a stand against their primitive ways and prove them wrong by showing them that there are alternatives to the use of corporal punishment — alternatives that maintain classroom discipline and provide an environment for learning, a place for effective and rewarding teaching.

I grew up abused by my mother and in the unhealthy climate at home. I suffered non-stop violence. The next day I would come to school unruly. Instead of paddling unruly child like me into temporary submission, why could Soviet Union teachers not be trained to recognize a child with problems and have at their disposal the referral sources for psychological help or family counselling? Why couldn’t teachers be trained to recognize the withdrawn child as a young human being in need and have at his or her disposal the resources for saving that child’s life?

For over seventy years, corporal punishment has been forbidden in Soviet schools. Though they don’t use physical punishments any more, they will never stop abusing children psychologically.

Consider the child who is abused by parents. They are a small number, you say? Statistics indicate that almost two million children are abused in America each year. The statistic of the former Soviet Union is much higher.

As well I, personally, consider that figure to be low, low because it is virtually impossible to measure fully the emotional abuse of children. For many parents, just like for my mom, emotional abuse is a style of parenting, one probably passed on by their parents. «Oh, you are such a dumb kid. A «B»! I’m ashamed of you. Do me a favour. Get out of my sight. I don’t like you. You are a fuck dumb idiot.

You had ruined my life. I wish you never born. You are trouble. You are not normal. Look at other kids. They make their parents proud. I am ashamed to be your mother. You are more trouble than you are worth. To think of all the trouble you have put us to. Go away. I don’t like you.»

Just like I did, many of our children hear those words again and again, from toddlers until they leave home.

By the time such a child reaches kindergarten, any self-esteem has been destroyed. The most important person in this world — the parent — has told that the child that he/she is of no value. Such a child can have a significant intelligence but will be unable to learn.

A teacher is faced with an impossible task in trying to educate such a child. How can they hope to undo the emotional damage inflicted by the parent?

This is exactly what happened to me. I wasted all my years at school, learning nothing, simply because I did not want to. There was not one single motivation for me to learn. I felt bad about myself inside and out. I never believed I was of a VALUE………I behaved badly at school and drove everyone mad around. I simply wanted to bring the message to the world: I am of no value. I AM BAD. The message mother had instilled in my whole life. I had no reason at all to expend any effort.

I was convinced I was an EVIL EGG…

I simply hated myself all my life — just the way mother hated all m. Never, in all my years in school, did anyone attempt to find out what was bugging ME. What were the underlying causes of my misbehaviour?

Emotional abuse of children is but one of many conditions which inhibit the ability of a child to learn, the ability of a teacher to educate.

Former Soviet schools had proven their poor, pedagogical ways of dealing with problems student behaviour. Still, today, they believe in public humiliation as a punishment. Still, today, they are not aware that there are better ways, methods — ones that work.

Being an obedient child is not enough. It’s too temporary. A child must be taught to be responsible, to respect others, to respect herself. A child must not merely have values forced upon him/her only to abandon them a few years later.

A child must understand and respect our values. The child must internalize society’s values so they become his/her values. A child must learn that the future lies in her/his actions. We must develop high self-esteem in our children. We must give them the hope that they can accomplish, that they can succeed.

All this and much more can be achieved through positive discipline, love, and respect. Children learn what they live — at home and at school.

In public schools today in Ukraine, Russia and other countries of former Soviet Union, students are still obligated to work up to the level of the class standard in all subjects. This underlined the importance of the collective over individual achievement and abilities. Public humiliation, rather than positive reinforcement, is still considered the prime motivator and means of disciplining lazy or weak students who do not meet the class standard. No thought is given to challenging those with intelligence or nurturing those with talents in special areas. It’s all about everyone in the class meeting that standard. The collective is once again reinforced by the practice of forming a class (regardless of ability and harmony) which remains together not only day after day as the students move from course to course but year after year until graduation eleven years later.

Under the Soviet system, all students wore uniforms, suit-like jackets and pants for boys and short brown dresses topped with a white or black apron for girls. Make-up, jewellery, and fancy hairstyling were strictly forbidden. Today, most of the students, freed of their uniforms, try to make a fashion statement by the way they dress. The cult of materialism flourishes as each item of clothing or accessory indicates the type of connections one’s parents have, whether they have access to hard currency, and the ability to travel abroad.

Even during this period of extreme economic hardship, paying for an item is often the easy part. Working one’s «canals» to locate it and then create the possibility to actually purchase it can be infinitely more difficult. Hence, the acquisition of consumer goods reveals one’s station in society and consumes the attention of status-conscious teenagers.

Most striking to Western eyes is the double duty that all students, parents, teachers and administrators are called upon to perform. This «double burden» has plagued all schools, Soviet and post-Soviet, public and private, elite and ordinary. It is the ultimate mixing of manual and intellectual labour. The children are more than just students. They are the school’s janitors and gardeners. They wash walls, scrub floors, and prune bushes. Every day, two students from each class are «on duty». This means that they are responsible for cleaning the classroom, washing the blackboard, and running errands. On any given day, little girls with pompom pigtails in white aprons and boys with their sleeves carefully rolled up can be seen dipping a tattered rag in a steel bucket to scrub down the stairwell.

It is not any easier for parents. They work a second shift as repairmen, renovators, and contractors. They often provide with their own money the supplies needed to maintain the building and grounds and furnish and decorate the classrooms. Each summer before the new school year begins, teams of parents flood the schools to give it a new coat of paint, put up wallpaper, make repairs, and hang posters and plants.

A teacher’s job is never-ending as well. Teachers often double as the director’s secretary, messenger, or errand runner. They spend hours not only writing but also typing worksheets, and texts, page-by-page using carbons. In each instance, those associated with the educational system are frequently called upon to do unwanted, menial tasks well below their training and job description simply to keep the schools functioning.

Schools are operating today amidst vestiges of Soviet structures, ideologies, and habits. The new values are «cowboy capitalism». With all schools running on dwindling state support, the responsibility for basic maintenance falls increasingly to parents, teachers, and administrators. This burden, of course, fuels the system of bribes at all levels of public and private education. When a student wants to enter a particular school, one of the first questions asked of his or her parents is, «What can you help us get?»

The vast shortage of goods has chased the very word «buy» from education speech. It has been replaced with «get» or «obtain,» suggesting the «canals» and contacts one must tap into and the Herculean effort one must make to procure goods. Parents must state their occupation or position. Most administrators are savvy enough to evaluate the likelihood of a parent’s access to hard currency, deficit goods, or officials in positions of power based on their profession. Parents have the right to choose a school for their children. Technically, a school is obliged to accept all students in its district. But, legal obligation and ability are de facto no longer sufficient criteria for admission to any school. In some instances, the greed of directors or teachers drives the process of negotiating admission. Often enough directors are simply trying to get basic supplies to keep the school functioning. The rule forbidding bribes is turning to utter fiction as fear of reprisal evaporates. Bribes and influence peddling increase in proportion to decreasing state support. Likewise, the practice of having inspectors charged with investigating and punishing greedy administrators who blatantly demand outlandish bribes has equally succumbed to corruption.

Public school in the former Soviet Union still today operate on the system that is notorious for inflicting psychological bruises and damage to self-esteem on young minds.

When I was about seven or eight, mother decided to cast the «evil» spirit out of my soul so it would not possess me anymore and so I could start to behave at school like «every other «normal» child. I came home from school to find the only few decent clothes in the world I had being burned on the balcony. I stood with my tears rolling down in disbelief looking over the pile of ashes and remains of the only few good clothes that Dad bought me. In that pile of ashes was my doll. The only doll I had in my whole childhood. It had been burned with hate like the clothes.

My heart sank. I knelt to pick up the legs and arms of the dolly, trying to find some more parts in the hope of gluing it together. My mother kicked the pile of ashes so hard that the remains fell down the balcony. The last pieces of my only dolly were gone too. For a moment, I stood in stunned silence, remembering the day when Dad bought me that doll out of the three months’ wages he saved… This was the only ever doll I had.

You want this doll?? Dad used to ask me each time we passed the colourful kiosk. The beautiful doll was looking at me from the display, charming and so elegant, like a real lady. To me it was a real treasure. When Dad bought this for me I would not dare to play with it. I did not know what to do and how to play with it. I put her on my bed and stared at her moving her from side to side, staring intently.

I was overwhelmed with grief at the loss of my beloved toy. Wiping my tears, I walked to my room, but mother ordered to come back to the scene and observe the remains of the devil’s child’s items.

«From now on, everything you love will be burned,» mother said. «It is all possessed by your evil spirit.»

The bell rang suddenly. It was Dad coming home from work. He had stood behind the door for few minutes to eavesdrop and heard part of the conversation. Dad looked at my mother in disbelief just like I had.

Then, he grabbed her by the arm and began shaking her and yelling, «You are a wicked bitch! What the hell do you think you are doing? What the fuck are you doing, mad bitch?? Ah??»

Then they fought for hours while I, as usual, hid under my bed, wetting my pants unable to control my bladder. Mother was out of control swearing and blaming me for the fight I had caused between her and Dad. My mother was yelling so loud that I had to block my ears with my fingers though I still could hear everything.

«I will kill you, you scum. I will kill you myself or your satanic daughter will kill you,» mother threatened Dad. «One of us has to die to let the others leave in harmony. She must be punished,» mother said. «I will get rid of your evil kid to bring the peace into this family».

Mother’s anger knew no bounds. She raged on while I hunkered under the bed, plugging my ears. «How long will she get away with this evil and make the parents fight?» she shouted at my father. How much longer will she enjoy our misery?» mother yelled. «Other children love their parents! Your scum of a daughter makes our live a living hell. She constantly pits us against each other.»

When nothing else worked and mother could see that the «support» from Dad did not come, she changed her tactic and threatened Dad with the Communist party, promising to expose his wrongdoings.

Tomorrow, I will write to your boss to plead him for help!» mother screamed. «I will ask him to put an end to your physical abuse and alcoholism. Your workmates will exclude you from the party for inappropriate behaviour,» she threatened. «I will make sure this will cost you, scumbag. I will tell them how sadistically you are torturing the whole family and instilling into the child the lowest quality of a Soviet person. You are a disgrace to the party. They must know this. They will kick you out.»

My mother went into my room and yelled to me, «Finito for your father. You are both in my black book.» «He can say good-bye to his work and his membership in the party. He does not deserve to carry it. See what you have done, little whore? This will cost you.»

This threat seemed to bring the desired effect for mother. For a moment Dad stopped yelling and trying to remain calm. He begged mother, trying to reason with her, asking her to love and care about me. This really fed her ego. She went on threatening Dad even worse. He then cried and begged her not to go to his work as the Communist party is the only thing that keeps us going and survive. He reminded her that his position was what fed the family.

Dad then tried to kiss her legs. But, she kicked him.

My tears ran like a fountain down my swollen face. I felt for Dad who was stripped of any dignity by my mother. Dad was devastated, and mother pushed the line as usual.

My father got up from the floor and broke the furniture, throwing it into walls. Then they both yelled. I remained sitting under the bed, my shelter, shivering with fear.

Dad kept on yelling demanding and begging mother to wake up and LOVE me. Mother would not give in. She continued threatening and swearing, convincing Dad that I am the Devil’s child, not hers. She told him I’d never change. My spirit is EVIL. Nobody would ever love me.

Crying under the bed I kept on talking to myself: «Stop Daddy, stop. Let it go. I am unlovable. I feel sorry for you. It’s pointless, Daddy.»

No matter how many times I promised mother to study and behave well at school, I never was able to.

I told my Dad that when I grew up I would become a circus girl and work in the circus with animals. But after the first few years of primary school, I stopped dreaming about anything. My agenda and mission were to get through the day and to survive at school and then survive at home.

Things got even worse later when I was excluded from pioneers, an honourable and compulsory part of schooling during the Soviet regime. The «proper» children were selected first to become pioneers. They were given this honour to reward their good behaviour and good marks. The «imperfect» children were taken last. The worst punishment — which was very rare — was exclusion from the pioneers. This was a form of psychological torture inflicted on «unruly children». That’s what happened to me. This form of punishment was invented by the Soviet pedagogical system to degrade the «bad» children publicly by taken off them the red tie, the sign of being a pioneer and formally excluding them from pioneers in front of the whole school for the list of «crimes» announced by the principal publicly so the school knew and accepted their mission to avoid and ostracize the excluded, «bad» child.

At the same time, practically all school children assessed as falling below the norm and those who were excluded from pioneers «required» referral to a special school. This judgement of traditional pedagogical Soviet evaluation ultimately required a doctor’s clinical verdict but a verdict based on the teachers’ perception of that the child’s class performance and behaviour was problematic.

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