A young 33-year-old woman stands before a Florida judge to whom she has been summoned because she peed on someone's lawn. She is sentenced to a year in prison for violating her parole. She weeps.
A young 7-year-old girl stands before me 26 years ago enthusiastically nodding her head when I ask her if she would like to be in my theatre piece. She says yes. She smiles.
Her name is Sera, short for Seraphine. Sera is 33, she is 7, she is my friend's daughter. She is beautiful, alive, a luminous soul. She is an addict. How did Sera arrive at such a frightening posture, humiliated, terrified before a judge?
I met Sera when she arrived one night with her mother, Sylvie, at my rehearsal in New York City. They had left Nevada, where they were living, in the middle of the night. Sylvie suspected her partner, with whom they lived, of inappropriate behavior with Sera. Without hesitation, she gathered hers and Sera's belongings and left with whatever money she had in her pocket. She repeatedly asked Sera if anything had happened and after denying any bad behavior on behalf of her stepfather, Sera refused to talk about it. A friend in New York City offered Sylvie a temporary place to stay.
They settled in Park Slope, Brooklyn, an Irish working class area transformed into an upscale neighborhood. When Sera was 14, I noticed that she had become an all knowing, surly teenager. At the time I assumed that her behavior was the result of being 14 and of raging hormones. Sylvie was alarmed, however, and sent her child to therapy, but to no avail. She also found a therapist to help her try to understand Sera's personality. One thing that caught my eye, though, was that Sera loved horror movies. She laughed at them. One day she told her mother that she wanted to leave home. She was done with her mother, with urban life. Her biological father lived in New Mexico. He agreed to take her. Sylvie let her go. That broke her heart, but Sylvie thought that it might be good for Sera to get to know her father. Sera would be away from an environment that clearly troubled her.
Sera never returned to Brooklyn. It would be many years before she saw her mother again. She began her descent.
At 16, Sera pressed charges against the man with whom she and Sylvie had lived in Nevada. Sexual abuse. That was when Sylvie learned the truth. She was devastated.
Sera's stepfather was prosecuted. He pled guilty and apologized in open court to Sera. He had raped Sera from the ages of 4 through 7. Sera initiated the prosecution and stayed the course.
Sera returned to New Mexico. By this time, Sylvie was frantic to reconnect with her daughter.
Sera became heavily involved with drugs. She got busted several times. She was never violent with anyone but herself. She went into rehab several times. Sylvie would pay the bills, although she had a modest income herself. Finally, Sylvie moved to New Mexico so she could reunite with her daughter. Slowly they reconciled, but Sera was now an addict. She sold her sex to pay for drugs. Sylvie was desperate to help her daughter. She bankrupted herself financing Sera's frequent stays in rehab. Friends tried to help. Professionals tried to help. But nobody could stop Sera's ascent into shadow. She was traveling at the speed of light. Even in the middle of darkness, Sylvie recognized that incandescent child to whom she had given birth. She profoundly opened her heart to see through her grief.
Imagine your daughter lost. You do not know where she is. You haven't heard from her in days. You frantically search the streets, driving everywhere, acquainting yourself with the invisible that is alien to you. The shadows are overwhelming, day and night. You see bodies sprawled in front of tormented souls, buildings and you need to be close only to discover that that body is not your little girl. You are relieved and numb. There were many days and nights that Sylvie did this, searching for Sera who had fallen into life's sinkhole, hidden from the sun.
Sylvie never gave up. Sera never surrendered. Held aloft by her mother's love and determination, Sera went into rehab, found employment, attended classes, only to tumble back towards her destruction controlled by her addiction. A hideous roller coaster caused by post-traumatic stress.
Finally, Sera moved to Florida. With the help of a new rehab program, a loving boyfriend, she began to reclaim her life. She maintained close contact with Sylvie. Then, one night she was coerced into a van by a man with a little boy. She was taken to a secluded area and raped and beaten in front of the child, the man's son. She was left to die. Bloodied, hardly able to breathe, Sera crawled to the nearest road and flagged a car which brought her to the local hospital. Her attacker has never been found. He stalks through life, a monster educating his son.
Yet again, Sera regained her footing followed by the inevitable relapse.
I think you know how this beautiful, 7 year old child arrived, at 33, in front of a judge.
Our children are abused and we turn away. We do not wish to see the mirror of misery in their grown-up faces. We have our own problems. Nevertheless, when a child is violated, whether sexual or not, this is violence that reverberates within us. We may not know the details. We may stare at a prostitute smiling behind her mask in a dimly lit alley, as we would at a car wreck. Look deeper. See breathing rubble, for this crash has rippled through our bodies, percolating to the top of our collective consciousness when one egregious act of violation hypnotizes us as we gaze at our high definition televisions.
Sera presently lives in prison with an undying cacophony ringing in her ears. Her soul lights her body. She begins studying for her degree in prison. She wants to be a therapist. She will be an outstanding healer of souls. She may be free in 9 months. She is giving birth to her new life. It is a painful pregnancy. Her child reemerges through life's debris. This child, this woman is now. She is returning from hell. She has much to say. The heart never dies.
You may write to Sera c/o the author at Jack_Schimmelman@yahoo.com.