Fear. He is a tormentor, isn't he? A sort of invisible thief who cruelly swipes all security from his target only to replace it with a terror that literally chokes the freedom from life.
What a quandary. The enemy of fear loomed heavily, yet there Lydia sat. I wondered when she had mustered the strength. I questioned where her resolve had come from. And I hoped she was preparing to face fear and to once and for all put the thief away, outside the bars of her heart.
While Lydia occupied a part of my mind, reflections of Natalie consumed the much larger part. Oh, how my mind raced with thoughts of Natalie.
The first stop along my remembrance path was at a Russian orphanage when I saw Natalie for the first time. You know, it's funny.....I expected to be drawn to her that first moment. Looking back on it, I believe I expected a bit of magic. But the truth is, I wasn't drawn to her at all. Sure, I felt sympathy for her. Who wouldn't? But I was taken aback by my lack of compassion.
She entered the room whose light was gifted by bulbs topped with old dusty lampshades hanging from the ceiling and whatever trickle of sunlight could wiggle it's way through the heavy curtains donning the narrow windows. Chappy and I had been seated upon a 1970's velour couch blossoming with burnt orange, mustard yellow, and muddy brown flowers. By all accounts, it looked like a very ordinary room. The walls were painted a hospital color of cream, the floors a laminate grayish brown, and a few toys were lying around alongside a child sized table. The most noticeable quality was the overwhelming stench of cooked cabbage mixed with urine. The scent made me queasy.
We were told this was the "adoption room" for new parents, a place set aside for the few lucky children who are being inspected by prospective families. Natalie would enter the room for the first time this day. She had never seen the room in her three years at the Vidnoye baby orphanage, because she had never been lucky enough for a visit from a prospective family. She had never had a visitor at all. Until us.
"Chappy and Melanie, meet your new daughter, Natalia". The little Russian girl wore a very bulky sweater stuffed beneath denim overalls. The words of introduction came with a big smile from our beloved Susha, the translator who was with us every day during our three week stay in Russia.
The orphanage worker standing beside Natalie in the doorway gave her a nudge, spoke something in Russian, and called her Natash.
I turned to Susha: "Is her name Natalia or Natash?"
"Oh, her given name is Natalia, but a common nickname is Natash", she answered.
"What do we call her?"
"Ha! Ha! She is your daughter now, so you may call her anything you want!"
Chappy and I giggled along with Susha, but this was a bit much for me. The orphanage was proving to be a quite horrible, and this little girl looked very much like a boy. In fact, our driver (Vitali) asked if we wanted to inspect her to make sure she was a girl.
"Uhm, no, I think we will just trust that she is a girl."
She walked gingerly up to Chappy, as if every step was a difficult one for her to take, and then she put her hand upon his knee. That was the first touch. I can still see her little face looking up at him. It was dirty, but not in the sense that most parents think of as dirty. She was three years old and had never been bathed. Her face was really really dirty. Her hair had been shaved close to her head and the inside of her ears were black with something crusty. She kept her eyes focused on the floor, head down, until the orphanage worker left the room. Once she heard the door close, she looked up at Chappy and spoke a single word very softly, almost in a whisper: "Papa".
My heart literally leapt up into my throat as Chappy answered her with a bright smile: "Yes, I am your papa." I think I must have used my hand to shut my mouth; it had dropped wide open. This was actually happening.
We had brought her a few gifts and immediately began giving them to her. We played together, laughed together, and made a connection. When our time was up, the door opened to show the orphanage worker again. She showed no emotion whatsoever and did not speak a word. She simply opened the door and stood, but her presence permeated the room. In response, Natalie hastily transformed from a little girl into a solider of sorts. She gently reached out and gave a dutiful hug to each of us, turned with head down, and marched out of the room.
I was astounded. And at once, I was full of compassion for this child.
My mind then drifted to how my own feelings for Natalie grew over time. I recalled our trip home to meet family members and friends, of our teaching her the English language, introducing her to different foods, and tucking her safely into her bed each night. I reminisced about her first splash in the swimming pool, her first glance at a Christmas tree, and the way she cuddled her first teddy bear.
Throughout the stream of memories, however, my accusers continued to invade. Those are the ones who have, in one way or another, sent the message that I am a terrible mom for sending my daughter away, and that Natalie's issues arose because I had not loved her enough. Their allegations rumbled as intensely as the butterflies in my stomach. I considered my own failure and silently spoke to God: "Forgive me for the times I fell short with Natalie. Forgive me! For...give... me!"
My introspection meandered away from Russia and settled upon the time a teenage Natalie carved words deep into my dining room table. She later admitted she had used a knife that day and hoped those words would forever remind me of how much she despised and hated me. So as the car passed by the sleeping fields dotted with rolled up heaps of hay, I went back to the moment I rubbed my fingers over the jagged edges of the grooves she had left upon the once smooth surface of my dining table and demanded she explain why she had destroyed it. I saw the room, me standing on one side of the table and Natalie on the other with Lydia looking on, wide-eyed, from the hallway. I remembered how angry I became when she seemed pleased with my exasperation, how I had swiftly grounded her for the behavior, and how she didn't seem to care. My accusers were correct in this instance. I hadn't shown her love or mercy or grace. What she saw that day, in her mother, was bitterness.
I then remembered how days later I found the same markings on an end table in the great room. How when I turned to look at her with disbelief, she quickly said with a grin: "Oh, that was an accident. I must have been bearing down too hard with my pencil when I was doing my school work."
"You're going to test me, Natalie? Really?" I thundered, "You've made up a lie to see if I will give you a consequence for what you are calling an accident?"
She replied flatly: "I'm not lying. It was an accident this time."
I saw myself standing over the end table as I spoke to Natalie who was seated at the table in the kitchen: "The same deep groves with jagged edges, written haphazardly all across this table could not have been caused by your writing too heavily on your notebook paper. This was caused by a knife or a screwdriver....what did you use? and why did you do it?....again?"
She answered with no emotion: "I'm not lying. It was an accident this time."
I knew it wasn't. It was obvious it wasn't. It was even obvious that Natalie knew her marks could not be misinterpreted. So again, my daughter....the one who had been deeply wounded in an orphanage the first three years of her life...found no mercy and no grace from me. Instead, I judged her and lengthened her time of being grounded.
These incidents were followed by so many others. The incidents began to occur daily, carefully and strategically plotted and planned by a teenage girl who seemed ever determined to prove she would rather be an orphan than my daughter. I recounted them all as the SUV rolled ever onward. I have recounted them, every single one, for months. And as I think of them, the faces of those who have accused me pop into my head. I see their looks of utter disgust. I feel the cuts from their daggers of judgment. And I lie down beneath them, rolled into a ball, and I cry out: "You are all correct! I have not loved her deeply enough!"
A tear escaped my eye...and then another. I immediately brushed them away, making my best attempt to appear I was scratching a bothersome itch on my face so Chappy and Lydia wouldn't notice.
"Wow, how much further 'til we get there?" I ask, pursuing a way to re-direct my thoughts to something else. To anything else.
(continued tomorrow)----Thank you to all who have ordered The Loyalty Lock from Lydia. She is giving a portion of the proceeds to the therapeutic boarding school where Natalie is residing. The school is wanting to build a gym for their 20 female residents, and Lydia is determined to help make that happen. To order your Loyalty Lock, visit: http://www.loyaltylock.org/ They are $14.99 with a flat $2.00 shipping: