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Cage of Secrets

Last week when I was out to dinner with my brother, he mentioned the last story I wrote about the young boy who did not know how to read Roman numerals. He said, “I wish I could have done something.”

I deal with that a lot when I think about the past. There are several regrets I had while growing up, and they all revolve around the idea of doing more. My brothers and I were immobilized by the horror we experienced within the grip of our father. It was not that we did not try to get help, we just did not know the best way.

My whole life, I have dealt with health problems. Once a month, I used to go to UCLA Harbor General Hospital in Torrance for check-ups. On one particular month, I was at the hospital with my mother, my younger brother Victor, and my father. I was about 14 at the time and Victor was 4.

I should take this time to point out that I have a certain talent for understanding toddlers. When they talk, where other people hear gibberish, I can make out what they’re saying and have a conversation with them.

Anyway, on this particular visit, the doctors felt that I was displaying signs of depression, and they sent me off to meet with a child therapist. I refused to talk, so they decided to send Victor in with me in hopes that he would somehow calm me down enough to talk.

I wanted to tell the therapist that I lived everyday in fear for myself and my brothers, but I just could not bring myself to do it. Meanwhile, Victor had grabbed a sheet of paper from the therapist’s desk and started to roll it into a small cylinder. The therapist said to Victor, “You certainly are having a good time with that paper there.” Victor responded, “I’m rolling a joint.” I bursted out laughing from the irony. The therapist either did not understand him or chose not to, but he said, “Katerina, at least Victor can make you smile. Can you please tell me what’s going on with you?”

I wrung my hands and pulled at my fingers. I knew I wasn’t getting out of there until I told him something, so I said, “My Dad has a problem with drugs, and I worry about him and his health.” I thought that if the therapist could handle that little bit of information properly, I would trust him with the rest of it.

The therapist smiled and told me everything was going to be okay. He told me it is best to get these things out in the open. He then called my parents in and said to my father, “So Katerina says you have a problem with drugs.”

My father looked me dead in the eyes and yelled, “You said what?!”

I panicked. I jumped up and ran out of the hospital and through the streets of L.A. I was so frightened my father would catch me. I don’t know how long I ran, but eventually I ended up at my brother Desi’s apartment seven miles away. My parents had already been there and were expected back. Desi told me that my parents weren’t upset. My mother managed to talk my father into blaming the therapist instead of me.

When my parents picked me up, my father said, “Don’t trust anyone. Don’t tell anyone our business! Never ever snitch!” I don’t know what happened with the therapist, but I never saw him again.

I learned in many ways that you never tell anyone what’s going on under your own roof, and aside from that therapist, no one ever asked. Our family was trapped in a cage of secrets. We knew of no way to get out. Sometimes other children, children that I considered my friends got trapped in that cage with me, and I have regrets about that. I learned the hard way never to invite girls over to spend the night. But that’s a story for another day.

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