The papers say that you are probably dead, and it’s hard to believe that they’re wrong. I’m happy for you. I know you won’t understand this, at first, because you were only ten when you died, Zahra, and ten is just about the last good year that TRAST (tortured, raped, and stripped) children have. I say “good” only in the sense that your life was about to get worse — a lot worse. You never actually had an age that almost anyone else alive would call “good,” but you and I know that even the smallest kindnesses, displays of friendship, or even begrudging smiles are like sips of water to a person dying of thirst. You get those at ten, and even the tiniest sips almost make the thirst bearable, and merely bearable is “good” to someone like you and me.
A teenage girl who was doing a school assignment asked me, one day, what I would do differently if I had my life to live over. I knew the answer immediately, of course, but I lied to her. The real answer was that I would have kept swimming out into the Atlantic that day on Wrightsville Beach when I was eight years old and nearly didn’t make it back to shore. I wish I hadn’t been such a strong swimmer. It would have saved me decades of pain. But I didn’t know that, then. And you know what, Zahra? I’m one of the lucky TRAST kids. Most of us never have the hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to buy the therapy needed just to function normally day-to-day. I’m seven-eighths cured, Zahra, and if I still wish I had died young, what must life be like for most TRAST kids like us, eh?
Though only ten, you already knew some of what we TRASTs share. All of us know about hiding the marks from a very early age. In my case, I wore long pants and shirts, even in the brutal Virginia summers, to hide the bruises, welts, and burns. Bruises on my face and lumps on my head could be explained away by boyness and the things boys bump into. Luckily, most parents of TRASTs try to avoid the visible places when they haven’t completely lost it, so I only had to explain away the really egregious stuff maybe once a month or so. I could hide the rest.
It must have been tougher for you, being a girl and not having but one leg. Did you use your deafness as an excuse? Did you say you didn’t hear that bicyclist behind you and that was why you got hit and knocked down? Did you pretend that your prosthetic leg made you clumsy at everything so that the bruises you got from being such a klutz would seem more believable? However you handled it, I’m sure it was clever. We TRASTs get to be accomplished liars. The thing we’re most afraid of is that people will find out how bad we are to deserve such treatment from the people who love us most. We get really, really good at hiding that badness.
What you didn’t know is what you were in for had you lived, so I’ll fill you in on that. At around 11 years old, your peers would have started to look around to try to figure how they measured up against each other. They’d have started playing dominance games, and the first people they’d have looked to dominate are those who were clearly weaker than they. I don’t mean those who were physically weaker, or even intellectually weaker; I mean those who would be easily hurt by meanness on their parts. We TRASTs have absolutely no defense against that sort of thing. We’re already convinced that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, Zahra, so we readily accept it when our peers tell us we’re ugly, stupid, malodorous, slow, weak … well, any and all pejoratives will hurt us. We can’t laugh it off, because we believe it to be true. In your case, you probably would have been called a cripple, and kids would have taken advantage of your deafness in a number of ways to humiliate you. In many cases, teachers might even have reinforced that kind of behavior among your peers. That’s a pretty common thing, you know.
You would have had no safe place to hide from this new torture, and no one to talk to. Your kind of parents would have blamed you for the way you were treated by other children, and that would just have reinforced your feelings of fundamental worthlessness. Of course, the home beatings would have continued, and they would have gotten worse and worse as your pain tolerance improved. That’s another thing about us TRASTs. We can endure a lot of pain. To this day, I’ll find amazing bruises on my body and have no idea how I got them. I just don’t notice physical pain. Parent like yours will beat and beat and beat until they see signs of substantial agony, so your early death spared you that.
Being a girl, you would have turned to makeup, eventually, to cover the bruises. You still would have been ridiculed for them, of course, but the makeup would have hidden some. You probably would have worn foundation every day so that no one would notice on those days when you really needed your concealer. Other girls’ parents would have looked askance at you for wearing so much makeup. It’s possible that, if you had been lucky enough to make a friend (unlikely), her mother would have discouraged the relationship. You might have gotten an undeserved reputation. Who knows? It wouldn’t be at all uncommon for someone like you to look for the slightest kindness from boys, trying to fill your loveless life. You might have become every boys’ sexual partner, and even knowing that they called you a slut, cum dumpster, and whore behind your back — and made much of having sex with a one-legged girl — this might have seemed an acceptable trade-off to you. Even the fact that the girls would have hated you even more than they already did might have seemed better than being utterly alone.
If you’re like me, you would have found a way to stop the beatings at around 16 or so. By that time, you would have been able to just stand there and take it without making a sound, no matter how hard they hit or what instrument they used. I used to just stare at my parents while they were belting me, which unnerved them. There was no pleasure in it for them, anymore, so they stopped. If you were being raped, then that might have gone on. I was lucky. My mother stopped raping me when I was around four or five, but girls are often raped for much longer than that. You might have run away, though your one leg and deafness might have made that difficult, or even impossible. If you had run away, you would have most likely ended up on the streets as a curious plaything for your clients.
Zahra, even if you had gotten amazingly lucky and managed to reach adulthood by becoming invisible in school, blending into the background so thoroughly that no one even knew you were there and avoiding much of the ridicule, your life would still have been extremely difficult. First, you would have PTSD, and I’m not talking about the country-club, over-diagnosed PTSD that’s so popular these days. I’m talking about the real thing. You would have been nervous all the time because you would have trusted no one. Having never had a safe place to go, you would have never felt safe. You would always have been on guard. You would have felt distanced from others, and have had a great deal of trouble ever feeling anything but the most tepid sort of joy or love. On occasion, something resembling what happened to you would have cropped up in your life, and you would have become physically unable to function, throwing up, trembling, or even losing control of your body as your head felt like it exploded.
You would also have hated yourself, Zahra, because you would have been convinced, deep, deep down inside yourself where only years and years of excavation could get at it, that you were bad, inferior, not worthy of living. You would have wanted to die, and you might have tried to kill yourself. If you had continued to live, it most likely would have been a sort of fearful, gray, quarter life more like Purgatory than life.
Worst of all, though, Zahra, might be the fact that you would have seen what others don’t — know what others don’t. We TRASTs know what people pretend to be, and what people really are. It would some day have occurred to you that what your parents did to you was very, very wrong. If you were lucky, you might even have discovered, intellectually, that the way you felt about yourself was inaccurate. It wouldn’t have done you any real good, of course, since torture at such an early age rewires the brain in ways that mere intellect can do little to alter, but the realization would still have changed your outlook on people.
It would have occurred to you that no one ever bothered to help you. You were in a very church-going part of North Carolina, and it’s quite possible that you and your family attended church regularly. That’s the way it was for me. How many of those Jesus-praising Christians stepped in to help you, Zahra? About as many as helped me? None? How many physicians, nurses, teachers, and the like helped you? Social workers? Extended family? Neighbors?
You would have grown up, Zahra, eventually realizing, like the rest of us TRASTs, that human beings make a great show of caring for other human beings, while in the end, they care very little. They don’t even care enough for children to raise a finger in their defense. You can see them on TV and read about them now in the news or in the comments sections of their on-line news sources. They shake their heads about what happened to you. They tsk tsk. But where were they when you needed them? I can tell you where, Zahra. They felt your life, your well-being, your right to grow up whole, your unimaginable agony, was less important than the inconvenience they would face by picking up the phone and calling the authorities.
It’s who they are, Zahra. It’s who people are, dear one.
And so, from someone who really cares about you, Zahra, who isn’t mouthing platitudes and who isn’t shocked, just shocked, by the short life you lived, I’m glad you’re dead. You’ve been spared an infinite amount of suffering. Until the day when people become who they pretend to be, all we fellow TRASTs can do is wave goodbye to you, give a smile, blow you a kiss, and wish we had been so lucky.