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The deer that broke my heart: the story of a daughter's rebellion against her father's hunting tradition




It was Friday night and she was doing the dishes that had piled up throughout the day, maybe some dishes from the day before, because her husband always had a habit of eating late or even raiding the refrigerator at night when he woke up sweaty from nightmares.

She applied a thick layer of detergent to an old washcloth and let the hot water run over her tiny working hands. In a strange way, it relaxed her. She loved warm water, but it was one of the few things she knew she loved.

She didn't have a dishwasher and never mentioned to him that she might have one. "Eh, there's no need for us to have him," she always told herself whenever she thought about him. "It's just the two of us. Where would I put it?" she wondered aloud, looking at the faded, old and completely worn-out wooden kitchen. All the yelling, fighting, hitting her and all the angry words that fell so often were absorbed into that wood. She usually heard them on Saturday nights when he came in drunk. Even her soul was tired. But it wasn't as noticeable on her as it was on the kitchen. She was rotten from the inside.

He turned up the volume on the old TV in the living room. "Dnevnik" is especially revered. He comments loudly on every news, but only he is allowed to do that. She imperceptibly brings a beer or two on her tiptoes. And leave the room.

When she moved into the apartment, she fell in love with this kitchen. At first, she felt romantic preparing meals while looking out at the street. Today, she looks at everything she doesn't have, and only that window above the sink is her view of the world. He rubs off the remains of the oil with monotonous movements and counts the smiles on the faces of passers-by. He thinks he knows everything about them. About a boy, the son of two happy people, who carries a big, beautiful high five for his mother in his bag. About the widow in the gray coat, about the young man who keeps looking at the clock. Her thoughts mingle, the lives of passers-by and her own. I could just slam the door and go somewhere for the weekend. Across the chair, a little further away from her, lies her favorite dress. She will wear it on Sunday, even though she is not going anywhere. Over time, she realized that she would never go again, as there have been no special opportunities in her life for a long time. Then why not wear your favorite outfit once a week. But it's true that if she had another one in her closet, it might not be her favorite. Anyway. She was looking forward to Sunday. Maybe they'll go to the store together. Something was happening. Or at least there was a possibility of something happening.

"Tomorrow is Saturday again," she sighed heavily,

when she remembered to clean up. She never liked Saturday. For as long as she can remember, she has always cleaned on Saturdays. "As if someone will come," she blew ironically and washed the foam off the cutlery. "There were so many of us that whenever we sat down at the table, it seemed as if we were celebrating something. But the cleaning – it was really futile,” she reflected. Father only came occasionally and he was the only one who demanded cleanliness. He worked for us. Or at least that's what he said, and I believed him in order to talk to him as little as possible. I believed everything. I quickly learned to look like I believed. But when I was alone, I wondered when he had time to do all of us. If we are all his. I know for myself that I am, because I am as cold as he is. He was probably meeting his own needs

Image by Tran Phu

on those rare weekends when they let him off work early thinking they did a good job, not knowing my weekend was turning into hell. He came already in the morning and demanded to be greeted with a hug. He pestered his mother in the evening until she finally undressed, sometimes he probably forced her to do it. She would always obey him. She was retarded. I heard this at school when I was sitting on a bench waiting for my turn to see the school psychologist. I know they meant my mother. The story was too similar to hers. The teacher came out of the psychologist's office, saw me sitting there and blushed. Somewhere deep inside I was grateful to her. Finally someone explained to me what happened to my mother. For a long time I wondered why he wasn't like the rest. That's when I realized that all the walls are thin. And the thinnest wall was the one between me and my parents. They didn't really care. As I listened to the creaking of the bed, I wondered if dad knew I could hear it even when he wasn't there?!

She heard his raised voice from the room, he was arguing with the television, she knew that she still had half an hour for her memories. She looked out the window. The light hair of the laughing girl reminded her of her friend. She never invited her over for an afternoon or an hour. "I can't today because we're celebrating my brother's birthday," she lied twice that year. "This weekend my parents are celebrating their wedding anniversary and we're going on a trip!" she thought a second time. She told lies so long and so convincingly that her blonde friend dropped everything that had to do with her.

There was a boarding school next to my school. My classroom looked directly onto their playground. Oh, how many times I dreamed of living there! Maybe today I would become an actress or a veterinarian, or I would travel and even reach America... Otherwise, there was a person to whom I was important, my art teacher. "Wonderful, you will become a real artist!" I heard so often and I wanted to hear it even more often. When she looked at me, she smiled a warm smile. Sometimes she brought me old shoes, they were like new to me. I said to her: "Thank you. My parents have a lot of money, but I will take it so as not to offend you.” She knew I was lying, so cleverly, so elegantly, so simply. She just nodded her head. Now and then she brought me a chocolate or two, a cream or real nail polish. She always had some excuse for it, she would do it when my painting won a contest or it was hung outside the principal's office. The talking hours were the worst. I always hid my mother in the corridors. I took her around the corner to see the class teacher, just to avoid meeting the art teacher. Sometimes I had to be in these meetings called because of all the fights I caused at school. I was great at it. How could they not understand that? Mom was laughing most of the time, jumping at the teacher's words, or out of the blue, she asked if she could take that coloring book from behind her for her youngest daughter. The teacher ignored her and talked about my impossible behavior. Mom turned and said with glassy eyes, “Didn't I tell you not to beat yourself up?” She was so proud as she said it. She probably thought that solved the problem. The ending was always the same: “I'll tell her father, he'll show her.” That would make them sit there for an extra thirty minutes. Sometimes a social worker joined in to explain to my mother that violence does not solve anything. I wasn't sure my mother understood what the word "violence" meant. If she had used "whips, belts, slaps" she probably would have been more successful. She had to sign another document before leaving. Back then, I always wished I could disappear in an instant. Mom signed like a child in first grade who first feels a pencil in his hands and tries to leave a mark on the paper, hoping it will be legible: "Ma'am, how old are the other children?" asked the teacher at the end. I hated being asked questions. She couldn't answer. She shook her head, laughed, and at the end of this performance, she turned to me, and I would recite the learned list: "The oldest is 16, the younger sister is 15, then there is me, I am 13 and a half, then my brother is 9, and the other brother 8, the two youngest 3 and 4 years old". In such situations, I realized that I am much smarter than the woman they call my mother.

He went to the toilet from the living room. He never closed the door behind him. She heard him peeing in the kitchen. The water washed away the shell. He appeared in the kitchen. With her back straight and her hair down, she washed the dishes, paying attention to how she looked. All the way he likes it. He went to the fridge and opened it. He took another beer and just before he left the kitchen he came back and slapped her bottom with his left hand. "You are good. Mine!” he said and left. He often did this. She didn't know why, but she remembered the fat gentleman who had done the same to her mother. Then they went into a room with thin walls. And then she understood. Mom was a whore. She didn't stand on the road. She was not dressed as a "light woman". That's why no one would have believed me if I had said that at the time. I lied way too much and everyone knew it. They would probably try to convince me otherwise. But I know she was a whore. She gave it to everyone who visited her at her home address. Home represented neither safety nor refuge. It was a hotel, a cheap place to stay, where I would sleep if I could. The sounds of dirty sex followed me for many years later. Almost a decade later, when I met my friend Remi, who grew up in a much more normal family and talked to her about everything, but never about myself, I realized that sex can be something completely different than I think, know and . .. I'm working. Remi was good as bread, I slept with her many times on the couch in the cozy living room. Bright and wide parquet, thick and soft carpet and sofa. Comfortable, even though it was "just a couch," as she told him. And books stacked on a long, narrow shelf. And some pictures on the wall. I like paintings on large canvases where the trace of paint has been left by oil. I was twenty-three years old and had big plans. That night I dreamed that I, too, would leave a trace of tempera on the canvas, or perhaps draw portraits with an HB pencil.

We worked together at the cash register, almost every day she brought me lunch in a box. During a break, we'd watch people shop at our store and she'd joke, “Hey, imagine stores don't exist. Where would we kill time?" We laughed out loud, then I thought that there would be something in me, that one day I would quit and shine.

Thirteen years have passed. She opened her own business and I met my husband. She radiated satisfaction and I was a little in love. She felt like she was at the beginning of an adventure, and I felt old. I said that he was just jealous sometimes and that it would never be a reason for me to stop working.

When Remi gave birth to her second daughter and told me that everything was fine with them, I had just finished my shift myself. I thought about how and where I came into the world. I didn't think about it poetically because I knew my story very well. I just repeated it one more time with disgust towards my mother. It was April 19, a spring day. I don't know if it was rainy or sunny, it wasn't recorded in my social worker's file. Neighbors reported another fight to the police. They drove to our address on a familiar road, knowing that they would not solve anything again, except to take their drunken father away for a day. When the social worker left the room for just a minute and left all the documents on the table, I realized that neither I nor my first two sisters were wanted. She even hid my pregnancy, and I helped her with it, since I was already skin and bones in the belly. She easily hid her belly under loose clothing. I don't know if my father knew about me. They have broken up so many times, almost as many times as we have. The contractions intensified and with each new one she became more determined to deny my existence. She went into the basement, dark and cold, and there she pushed until my eyes met hers. She wrapped me in a blanket, too thin for April, and left me lying on the rock. She did the job exactly like I used to do at the end of my shift to slide the ID card into the reader. She went upstairs to see her younger sisters, who might have been fighting over a toy at that moment. I cried there for hours and hours, persistently, until my neighbor heard me. On the same day, the police and social services met me.

For all of my next 18 years, the aforementioned jobs were almost regular visitors to my home.

"It's a lost cause, the same mother," - they whispered where I walked. But it hurt me the most when I would hear it at school. Oh, how angry I was! She would say to herself: "You'll see, I'm not the same mother. You'll see, I'll show you." Me, thin and tall, stubborn from the first breath, I defy the life I should have written, but I'm doing something completely different... My own. "You will all see," I quietly told everyone. I still feel the anger. Hot water spills over my hands. I scrub the grease off the pan where I fried chicken wings at exactly noon for the bully I share my life with. Anger boils in every muscle, burns in the stomach. My vocal cords would explode with anger if I let it turn into a voice. Everyone who said that was right. They knew.

"Come now!" I hear a deep voice calling me. I turn off the faucet and almost immediately find myself close to him. “Sit down and listen. Young people have come together and are helping animals! Do you hear that? But who helps us, jerks! Yes, to dogs! God forbid! What do these children dream about? It doesn't matter!" echoed on the fifth floor of the social housing number 58 of the gray high-rise building.

I returned to the kitchen. I look out the window. The girl is running after the ball. "Look at yourself," he says to himself. "That used to be you."

I look out the window and wish I could just do it all over again.

And if I could do everything, everything, everything, I wouldn't do anything first. I would just be me, I would be free.

The spoon fell to the floor. He shouted from the armchair, "Watch what you're doing, because you're making me hard to hear!" She bent down to pick up the spoon and saw a stain on the floor. She will clean it tomorrow, tomorrow is Saturday.

On a field of flowers_edited.jpg
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