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I wanted to post this as a reply to all those supposed experts flapping off on how resilient children are following some sort of trauma.  Anyone who feels they can provide what is called an `expert' opinion in this country has managed to slime their way toward Houston or New Orleans in an effort to grab some face time.  I mean - Dr. Phil?  Jesus H. Sebastian Christ - what in the name of all that's holy does Phil McGraw know about the mind of a child?

This is all part of what I consider the `Choprafication' of America, and it sickens me almost unto death.  I wrote this after Paula Zahn's piece on the Convention Center.  She wasn't two minutes into it, before the memories rose up before me like flies.  

My Mother was four years old when the Lusitania was torpedoed.  I have seen her there - in the documentaries - a tiny girl with a big bow tightly gripping her older sister's hand.  Her family lived nearby, in a village called Rushbrook - so she'd often stand on that hill above the harbor and watch the ships go by.  From whalers to sleek White Star luxury cruisers - everything passed by the head of Kinsale on its way to America.  So when the explosions happened, off she went, along with everyone else.  No one expected another Titanic.  Fire and water and the stench of burning oil - she never got over that smell.  Even years later, she refused to get out of the car whenever my Father got gas.  

They stacked the bodies in the town square like so much wood.  There were so many, you see, and the rescuers were overwhelmed.  Some - those less intact, or without clothing - were relegated to dirty little buildings near the docks.  Queenstown was really no more than a fishing village back then.  After Titanic, well - the big ships still stopped, but Liverpool had taken over as the preferred port of call.  Ireland was fast slipping into another wave of grinding poverty that would soon force more immigration - this one to include my Mother and her family.  So when the Lusitania went down - it was a big thing.   Everyone turned out to help and to see - no one thought to protect the children.

My Mother was convinced people were buried alive.  She heard the exhalations, you see; the final breath of the dead.  Sometimes they would move as well, shifting under the weight of those piled on top; lips moving to expel water trapped in their lungs.  I imagine Buckenvalt was like that, with bodies waiting for the ovens.  Horrible, frightening - my Mother tried to get adults to listen to her fears, but children back then were not to be heard.  As a punishment, her sister locked her in one of the sheds near the wharf.  Just a little girl, four years old, one hundred bodies bloated from the sea, and rats.  Lots, and lots and lots of rats; black ones - grown fat from gorging on pale flesh.  Do you know how big a wharf rat gets?  About the size of a terrier.  She screamed, of course - the poor little thing was terrified.  All it did was make the rats look in her direction, their red eyes glowing like twilight.  

She took me back there, years; no eons ago.  Took me to stand with her on that hill.  She was 60 and I barely 12.  I remember the wind colored her face, and it was cold.  There was no inflection in her voice, only a kind of bitterness, especially regarding her sister.  I reached for her hand, but she wouldn't allow it.  My Mother never liked to be touched.  I cried for her.  We visited the grave, that day - where they put all those bodies.  Mother wouldn't even enter that part of the cemetery.  She waited near her family plot.  Blessed soil.  Irish soil.  I stood near the largish square allotted to the Lusitania dead and marveled at how small it seemed to fit all those bodies.  They must have dug deep, I thought.  The memorial stone was discolored by lichen, weeds nearly masking the simple epitaph.  It looked abandoned and forlorn.  I stared back at my Mother, hands in front of her eyes so no one could see tears.  I wondered who she was weeping for.

It twisted her, the terror of that week - warped her perceptions.  Turned life into death; and all those fears, all that anger misdirected itself - right onto her children.  Four - she had - four children - and only two of us survived to adulthood.  Alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, suicide - all this and more stalked my siblings into their graves.  Only my sister and I were spared.  I think of that, more often as I age, and I am at a loss to explain why.  Perhaps it has to do with the relative flexibility of mind.  Like all artists, I see life as Picasso did, all angles at once.  My sister retreated into the bosom of religion, allowing her vision of God to buffer the shock.  My Mother had none of my flexibility, and she didn't believe in God, not really.  For her, the only way to exorcise those demons was to visit them upon others.

The sights and sounds inside the Superdome - running gun battles, rape, mutilation of bodies - just how do you think the NOLA children will internalize those horrors?  What about those left outside with the dead?  Watching them eaten by rats that survived the flooding of the sewers?  Will they fear all rodents as my Mother did?  The woman ran screaming from squirrels.  Will they seek to expiate their fear and anger by acting out?  What will they visit on their own children and the rest of society?  Well, I guess we all will find that out in about 20 years.

Originally posted to The Fat Lady Sings on Sat Sep 10, 2005 at 01:17 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Children... (none)
    ...always suffer the most from any disater.

    And the creeps like Dr. Phil alway make every buck they can from the suffering of others.

  •  sad.. (none)
    but great diary....

    Sometime in the last two weeks, I saw a NOLA native on the tv talking about her father who has survived the early 1900 (sorry, I don't know the year) flooding of NOLA...and she said that even in his 90's, he would revert to long, explicit stories of the flooding everytime the skies darkened or raindrops fell.  

    How do you remove images of suffering and death?  How could any human with a soul?

    You don't.  From personal experience, you don't.

  •  Children can seem like they bounce back (none)
    They get on with life, playing with toys and friends, but an experience like what these children have been through will be a scar they will carry forever. Katrina will be collecting interest payments for decades.
  •  Moving diary (none)
    Some of my maternal relatives, the last ones to leave Romania, died on the Lusitania. I am so sorry your mother bore witness to the disaster and the aftermath. I think I understand your anger at the homilies spewing from Dr Phil and the others. They don't speak for me.
  •  Hell is for children (none)
    What your mother went through no human being should. Children do not just forget and get on with their lives. Just thinking of being trapped in that shed with those huge rats and their red eyes is horrible...the worst of nightmares.

    No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war. -James Madison

    by oneworld on Sat Sep 10, 2005 at 04:16:33 PM PDT

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