Innocence

English: A bit of barbed tape behind some chai...

She is six years old, and it is her first day of school. Some of the children cry, but not her. She is not afraid, at least not that she can remember, even though it is all so strange, and even though she barely speaks their language, and looks different, and wears different clothes, and a different hairstyle. She isn’t afraid. She goes in, trusting.

The girls mostly disregard her. The boys laugh at her hairstyle and dress though, and at her unusual name, her strange quietness. They chase her. She climbs the chain-link fence to escape, and her panties get stuck on the top, and tear. It’s funny, to them.

Sometimes, it is the teacher that stuns her. The first time, it was a picture of a clothes iron with the word IRON printed in bold letters beneath. The teacher asks who knows what it is. The strange and not-yet-timid five-year-old raises her hand, then remembers that she cannot read the word after all—it is in English. The word in her mind—Bügeleisen—will be incorrect, she knows suddenly, so she retracts her hand. Mrs. B. calls on her, after she has retracted her hand, tells her not to play games, and to step forward please, to the front of the room and extend her hand.

The child does as instructed; the teacher pulls out a large heavy leather strap. It comes down hard on the palm of the child’s hand. She returns to her desk. She will not speak of it to her parents; her shame has already determined this. She will trust many, many more times after this experience; her shame permits it, demands it, and she knows, though not in words, that she is resilient. If she is good, her shame says, she will be safe.

She isn’t always safe though, and eventually must work hard, very hard, not to let fear contract her completely. And sometimes, without being conscious of it, she’s frightened and angry, and shuts out good things, good people, because it feels safer.

 

 

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