Category Archives: Memoir

Using Photographs to Teach about The Holocaust

Jewish women and children from Subcarpathian Rus, Ukraine, who have been selected for death at Auschwitz-Birkenau, going to gas chambers. Photographer unknown.

When I was in school, we never learned about the Holocaust. Not in grammar school, not in high school, not in college, not in grad school. Despite all the schools’ and teachers’ claims that we students were being prepared for “the real world,” they neglected to tell us some of the most important parts of world history. Granted, I spent most of my life attending Catholic schools where the nuns and priests never mentioned Jews except to say that “Jesus used to be one.” Those nuns and priests certainly never mentioned The Holocaust, the concentration camps, or even the Nazis.

My great-grandparents, Aloysius and Stella (née Lili) Hirsch were trying to protect the family from anti-Semitism by sending us to those Catholic schools. It didn’t help. Despite the fact that all of us inherited my grandparents’ strawberry-blonde hair and green eyes, I got called “Kike” and “Yid” and lots of other racist names from the time I was in first grade. When I asked my Grandpa why we couldn’t talk about being Jewish, it was my Grandma who interrupted us, telling me that I must always say, “I was baptized and I go to Catholic schools.” Since I was only 8 at the time, I did what she told me.

My great-grandmother Stella (née Lili) and great-grandfather Aloysius Hirsch on the day of my First Communion, 1962. Photo © Alexandria Szeman.

It wasn’t till I was an adult and able to research the family genealogy that I learned the source of my great-grandparents’ fear: during the War and the Holocaust, they’d lost all their family members in Germany. All those German members of the Hirsch and Wekesser families have their dates of death listed as “1940-1945?” with no places of burial. I have few photographs of my great-grandparents, and none of their family members who remained in Germany. That saddens me, not only because my great-grandparents feared telling us any stories about them, but because we have nothing to recall them to us.

Photographs are an important aid to history, even if we do not know all the names of the people in the pictures. Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has several videos resources to help people learn about the Holocaust, and to teach it, using photographs. I have included them all in this post for your convenience, but these are all Yad Vashem videos.

Part One:
Teaching The Holocaust
Using Photographs

Child survivors at Auschwitz, 1945. (WikiMedia)

In the first video of the Yad Vashem, Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs, Franziska Reiniger, staff member for the International School for Holocaust Studies (ISHS) at Yad Vashem, discusses some of the important things to bear in mind before using Holocaust photographs with students.

  1. Who is the photographer?
  2. Why was the photograph taken?
  3. Was the photograph staged?
  4. Where was the photograph found?

Photographs, like all historical documents, have limitations and are open to interpretation. These things need to be taken into account before using photographs to teach others about the Holocaust.

Part Two:
Photographs as Propaganda

A group of Jews escorted from the Warsaw Ghetto by German soldiers, 19 April 1943. The photo was part of SS Gen. Stroop’s report to his Commanding Officer: introduced as evidence of War Crimes trials in Nuremberg in 1945.

In Photographs as Propaganda, the second video in the Yad Vashem series, Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs, ISHS staff member Franziska discusses the Nazi photographs and films that were made to promote their anti-Semitic ideology. In fact, she states, the Nazis used the camera as a weapon against their Jewish victims, starting in Poland in 1939 where the soldiers first encountered Jews who were not fully assimilated into their non-Jewish society.

Part Three:
Documentation of Atrocities

Three U.S. soldiers look at bodies in an oven in a crematorium in April of 1945. Photo by unidentified concentration camp in Germany, at time of liberation by U.S. Army.

Official Lodz Ghetto inmate and photographer Henryk Ross and his photos make up the third part of the Yad Vashem Series Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs. In  Documentation of Atrocities, Ross demonstrates how he surreptitiously photographed the Ghetto Jews and then secretly developed them. Later, Ross served as a witness against Adolf Eichmann in his trial for Crimes Against Humanity.

All three of these films are part of Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Education Video Toolbox. Please visit their site for additional video resources.

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Photographic Introduction to the Holocaust

Rare Historical Holocaust Photos

Holocaust Timeline and Overview

Holocaust Days of Remembrance

Learn about The Holocaust on USHMM
(United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

For more information on the Holocaust database
or to fill out Pages of Testimony, visit
Yad Vashem‘s Central Database of Shoah Victims

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Filed under Documentary/Historical Video, History, Holocaust, Holocaust Days of Remembrance, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust Survivor Testimony, Memoir

Sleep with Me Podcast: The Best Free App for Insomnia Relief

We’ve all experienced insomnia at some time in our lives. Whether caused by excitement over good life events or by anxiety over bad ones, this sleep disorder can hit children, teens, adults, and the elderly. Our racing thoughts about an impending wedding (or divorce), vacation, cross-country move, new job (or the loss of one), or approaching exams can keep us awake long after we’ve gone to bed or keep us from falling back asleep after we wake in the night. Many life events can trigger short-term or “acute” insomnia, as can common illnesses or other disorders and diseases. Colds and sinus infections can cause insomnia; migraine, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and Parkinson’s are all known to cause short bouts or extended periods of sleeplessness. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can bring on this sleep disorder, though not necessarily for everyone: antihistamines, decongestants, anti-smoking aids, SSRIs for depression, and drugs to treat or control ADHD have all been known to trigger insomnia. Herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort or ginseng can, for some users, interrupt or prevent sleep.

In both men and women, trauma, whether physical or emotional, can have lifetime negative health effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and insomnia, while childhood trauma, including divorce or sexual abuse, contribute to insomnia in childhood and adulthood. Even the blue light in our computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions has been found to cause insomnia when the devices are used too close to bedtime (or in the middle of the night upon awakening) because, though any light can suppress the hormone melatonin, involved in circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping, blue light suppresses melatonin more powerfully.

Apparently, the brain has its own, mutually exclusive, wake and sleep cycles: when one cycle is “on,” the other is “off.” Researchers are trying to determine whether insomnia may be due to the brain itself not being able to “stop being awake.” Since both the quantity and quality of sleep affects our health, and since insomnia can lead to “decreased quality of life, increased rates of depression, and even increased risk of heart disease,” insomnia, especially when it becomes chronic, should not be dismissed. Chronic insomnia, medically defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep for at least three nights a week for three months or longer, is not just extremely unpleasant: it’s dangerous to our mental and physical well-being.

As a survivor of childhood trauma, including sexual abuse and rape, I’ve suffered from insomnia from the time I was three years old. The insomnia worsened a few years ago, however, when I was taken off a class of drugs I’d been taking for complex PTSD and panic disorder: benzodiazepines, which had been deemed potentially dangerous for anyone over age 50. While withdrawing from the medication, I was literally not sleeping at all, day or night. In the past, prescription sleeping pills had worsened my insomnia, and my usual herbal sleep aid, valerian, wasn’t helping, even when I doubled and then tripled the dose. Desperate and fearing for my mental and physical health, I turned to the Internet, where, to my absolute astonishment, I found relief for my insomnia, the strangest relief I ever could have imagined: Drew Ackerman’s Sleep with Me Podcast.

Drew Ackerman, a life-time insomniac, has dedicated himself to helping fellow insomniacs fall asleep by telling “ingeniously boring bedtime stories,” causing plenty of adults, kids, and pets to fall asleep. Of course, that means you may not ever hear an entire story, but because Drew is a writer, and a good one, he makes each episode, as disjointed and haywire as it might seem, feel complete. That way, if you really can’t fall asleep some night, as happens to me during a migraine, for instance, Drew is there “to keep you company in the deep, dark night,” as he often assures you in the episode introductions.

Drew Ackerman, creator of Sleep with Me Podcast. Photo © Natalie Jennings.

Each Sleep with Me Podcast episode begins with an introduction, where Drew explains that you don’t really have to listen to him and that it’s perfectly all right if you fall asleep while he’s talking, and then he usually wanders off onto some tangent or other topic, just so you begin to wonder what he’s talking about… if you’re still awake. After 7-15 minutes of an introduction that is often as entertaining as the story which follows, Drew, performing as “Scooter,” tells a bedtime story, which lasts about 45 minutes, making each podcast episode approximately an hour long. “Your goal is not to get your listeners to stay with you to the finish,” Drew told The New York Times: “[Your goal] is to lose them [to sleep] along the way.” It’s this combination of slow, lulling delivery, seemingly pointless introductions, and rambling stories that make Sleep with Me Podcast such a success with its listeners, who download episodes about 3 million times each month.

Drew Ackerman. Photo © Chris Duffey

Most of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes feature original stories written or improvised by Drew. To stay creatively motivated, Drew writes and tells various types of stories, some of which are developed into multi-episode series, like After the Glass Slipper, about Cinderella’s stepmother Agatha after Cinderella’s marriage to Prince Charming; Big Farm in the Sky PI, about a private investigator, Simon, working to solve mysteries in the afterlife; and SuperDull, about a group of superheroes sitting around waiting for their chance to save the earth whenever its greatest hour of need arrives.* (Links to the episodes mentioned here appear at the end of the article, for your reading ease.) Though some of the original series are comprised of multiple episodes, each episode of any series is independent: you don’t have to know any of the previous sections of a story to understand — and be put to sleep — by any current episode. And really, since the point of this wildly popular podcast is to make you fall asleep, it probably helps if you don’t know what happened to any of the characters in previous episodes.

Some episodes of “the podcast that puts you to sleep” are stand-alone stories, improvised stories based the social media trends, or re-caps of movies or television shows. During an episode of Sleep with Me Podcast, Drew has been known to open games and try to figure out how to play them without reading the instructions,* give you the entire chronicle of seltzer / sparkling water,* and tell you all about the history, the rides, and the food of the New York State Fair.*

In his Real Time Recipes,* which are among my favorites, Drew metaphorically walks you through grocery-shopping for all the items necessary to make the meal, and then talks you through preparing the meal. In his on-location* episodes, Drew talks while he’s actually walking around some public place (he has permission to record there). Initially, when I listened to these, the ambient sounds, though faint, prevented me from sleeping. Then I noticed I was waking up after having been asleep for a few hours despite any faint ambient noise. Now I love the on-location episodes, if only because Drew doesn’t perform these as Scooter: he simply tells us what’s going on as he roams around. Guided Meditations* are some of the most sleep-inducing episodes, if only because Drew slows his sleepy delivery even more than usual, and these are among the most popular episodes.

Photo © Drew Ackerman

Drew sometimes reveals some personal details about his life that were painful or especially exciting for him, and these episodes are some of the most endearing. You might think that listening to someone talk about his personal life and some of its painful events would keep you awake, but, because Drew’s delivery makes you fall asleep, I’ve often had to listen to these episodes several times to hear the personal information (and Drew sometimes hides these tidbits in stories that don’t seem to be autobiographical.)* And in case the changing seasons or the holidays give you insomnia, Drew has plenty of Halloween* and Christmas* episodes, too.

Some of the Drew’s bedtime stories are suitable-for-all-ages recaps of television dramas*. Though the shows themselves might deal with adult topics or include violent scenes, Drew soothes them all into all-age-appropriate bedtime tales. Of all the television series that have been recapped on Sleep with Me, I have only seen Game of Thrones, though I’ve happily been “bored” to sweet dreams by all of Drew’s recap-podcasts, including any episode of Game of Thrones / Game of Drones,* Breaking Bad, Star Trek: The Next Generation,* and Dr. Who.*

Drew has many stellar stand-alone episodes* that make me sleep better than any prescription or natural sleep aid ever did. I wish I could tell you what happened to the residents of the Lost Village when they discovered that the geography around their village had changed overnight,* or how to assemble a wall-bed,* but I’ve never managed to stay awake through either episode. And Sleep with Me Podcast retrospectives* cover the content of hundreds of previous episodes, if Drew can remember what they were about.

The DreamQuilt, from SWM listeners, which inspired Drew’s story, “The Bear with a Comet on His Belly.” Photo © Drew Ackerman

One of my absolute favorite stories is the three-part The Bear with the Comet on His Belly* which was inspired by Drew’s listeners thanking him for “curing” their chronic insomnia by making him a quilt featuring images from his original stories: the DreamQuilt, Drew calls it.

Even when a Sleep with Me story is fascinating, I can’t stay awake long enough to hear it all, and that’s one of Drew’s gifts: writing engaging stories and delivering them with a “droning” — in the best sense of the word — delivery by “Scooter” so you drift off into dreams. The first time I ever listened to a Sleep with Me Podcast episode, I didn’t even know there was a story at the end. While listening to the introduction, I found myself thinking, “How on earth am I supposed to fall asleep to something that is so interesting?” When I awoke, hours later, and realized that I had, in fact, fallen asleep, I played the episode again. I fell asleep even more quickly the second time. The next night, I put the episode on and also queued it to play a second time — and I slept longer before awaking in the night. I began queueing up 7-10 episodes at a time, so they’d play all night long. Since I live in an isolated area where the Wi-Fi connection is unreliable at best, the podcast shuts off each time my Internet connection goes down, waking me up. Now, I’ve downloaded many of my favorite episodes, rather than streaming them, so that I can queue them up to play all night long without interruption.

Sleep with Me Podcast currently has over 755 episodes, all free, partly because of advertising (only in the first minutes of each episode) but mostly because of the financial support of the show’s patrons, whom Drew calls “rebels with a cause” because we pay for a free show so that others won’t have to. I’ve been one of those “rebel” patrons for five years now, ever since I realized that, listening to SWM all night long, I was sleeping better than I ever had in my life. Patrons get ad-free versions of the shows.

You can listen to any of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on the SWM website or subscribe for your device: Apple Podcasts, GooglePodcasts, RadioPublic (listen on site or send to iOS or Android devices), and Spotify. You can also listen to all the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on its YouTube Channel. (Note: Because of the limitations of podcast apps, you may not be able to scroll back far enough to find some of the earlier episodes on your phone or tablet.

You can reach Drew — aka Scooter — on Twitter, where he is very responsive, and you can reach his equally responsive account managers, all volunteers, on Facebook.

Sweet dreams, my Lovelies.

Episodes mentioned in this article
(please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all 750+ episodes)

*Multi-episode series
• After the Glass Slipper: A Lesson in Opportunity to be like Cinderella s2e4
• Big Farm in the Sky PI: The Dog That Chased the Moon 553
• SuperDull: The Siren and the Professor 508

*Unboxing
• Fairytale Gloom Game Unboxing655
• Tokaido Unboxing 747

*Seltzer / Sparkling Water History
• Mars, Moranis, Curry Seltzer: Pitching Roman 689

*New York State Fair
• As Fair as a State Fair 692
• Fun Food and Fun Houses at the Great New York State Fair 695

*Real Time Recipes
• Under Pressure [Corned Beef] 652
• Salad 537
• Stuffing and Mashed Potatoes 474

*On-Location
• Kayak Cruze 588
• Lake Ontario: Can I Call You Teri 570
• Dusk featuring Slurp and DJ Echo Bass 540
• Faux Cousteau Visits Sea Life Orlando 522
Quasi-On-Location
(recorded shortly after visits, not during them)
• On Summer’s Horseback 594
• La Brea Tar Pits (534

*Guided Meditations
• Comforting Chair 576
• Sand’s Day at the Beach 564
• Bird Bath 395

*Autobiographical
• Things I Might Have Wrote as a Kid 591
• My Life with HBO 567
• Spruce Museum (introduction) 525
• Video Games and Me 501

*Christmas
• Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers 473
• The Christmas Tree that Took a Walk 468

*Halloween
• Costume Nostalgia 609
• Lulling Analysis of The Great Pumpkin 456

*Recaps

*Game of Thrones
• The Wolf and the Dragon” 584
• 7-Hour All Night Game of Thrones Season 7

*Star Trek: The Next Generation
• Elementary, Dear Data 557
• 10-Hour All Night All Night Star Trek: TNG Volumes 3 & 4

*Dr. Who
• Dickens and Dr. Who 625

*Stand-Alones
*Lost Village 442
*• Realtime Wall-Bed Assembly 433
*• Lulling Retrospective of the First 500 Shows 502

*The Bear with the Comet on His Belly
• Bear with a Comet on his Belly, Inspired by the Dreamquilt [Part 1] 414
• Sleeping Rude Gods [Part 2] 417
• The Local Borefriend [Finale] 418

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My Childhood on Planet of the Apes

“Damn you,” cried the practically naked Charlton Heston as he fell to his knees on the beach in front of the half-buried Statue of Liberty. “God damn you all to hell.”

Summer, 1968: the hottest film in our world was the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes, where three astronauts crash-land on a seemingly deserted planet, only to discover that in this topsy-turvy world, the apes can talk, read, write, ride horses, and shoot guns, while the mute humans are beasts, herded and captured, enslaved and oppressed. The film had just hit drive-in theatres, where kids got in free. We went to see the movie with our parents, with our friends and their parents, with the kids we ignored in school and their parents. We went with absolutely anyone to see Planet of the Apes. Again and again and again.

All the neighborhood children were so enamored of the film that we’d memorized the dialogue and played Planet of the Apes every day at an abandoned construction site on the other side of the railroad tracks. Since the site was vast and filled with gigantic concrete culverts and miscellaneous construction materials, it really was like we’d landed on another planet. It was the perfect setting for our Planet of the Apes games.

The first thing we did each day was draw straws to see who’d get to be the apes and who’d be the humans. We had very strict rules on our Planet of the Apes. Only the apes were allowed to talk. The humans were allowed to grunt, point, and use sign language. Sometimes the humans would huddle together in a corner of the site and whisper, but if the apes caught them doing that, they got mad and hit the humans really hard. The apes got to be up on top of the concrete culverts, and the humans’ goal was to get all the apes off the culverts so the humans could be on top. It was a Planet of the Apes King of the Hill.

The apes were allowed to use pieces of board as weapons, but only if the wood didn’t have any nails in it. Sometimes the apes would pretend the boards were guns and make shooting noises, but none of the humans ever fell down when they did that, so the shooting was just gratuitous sound effects. Given their naturally less evolved status on this planet, the humans were only allowed to use rocks as weapons. More like pebbles, actually. The apes had only agreed to pebble-sized rocks after one of the apes hit a human hard enough to break open the skin on his knee and he threatened to tell his parents what had really happened and which ape had done it. The humans had to be extremely careful about how hard they threw the rocks at the apes, however, and on which part of the apes’ bodies the rocks landed. The apes got really violent if the rocks hurt too much.

Neither apes nor humans were allowed to hit someone on the head or face: our parents would know we’d been playing Planet of the Apes at the construction site, and they’d all forbidden it. The apes could hit the human with their stick-guns on the back or butt. The humans could throw the rocks at the apes’ legs, arms, and backs.

The most important rule in our world was that nobody had to be a human two days in a row. It was only fair.

One day, one of the apes found a long section of rope and decided that each of the humans needed to have a choke-collar and leash, similar to the leather collars with leashes the humans wore in the film when the apes were transporting their captives from one place to another. The rope choke-collar and leash worked fine for a while, though the apes got yelled at a few times for pulling too hard or wrapping the rope too tightly.

Then Bobby Webster, who was human at the time and who fancied himself a young Charlton Heston, decided that humans had evolved sufficiently to develop speech and to have an intelligible language. In fact, according to Bobby, humans had become so evolved, they understood English, which was known to be the apes’ language.

“Take your dirty, stinking paws off of me, you damned dirty ape,” said Bobby as he ripped off his choke-collar and leash, shoved his ape-guard down, and raced up on the few apes already on the culverts.

The rest of us humans got so excited that we immediately learned to speak English and pretty soon had all the apes defeated. We shouted a thundering victory song as we stomp-danced on top of the culverts.

The apes were furious.

They insisted that humans weren’t allowed to talk on this planet. Ever.

Bobby Webster pointed out that Charlton-Heston had talked partway through the real movie, so we, too, should be able to talk. Sometimes. Of course, the rest of us humans agreed.

The apes didn’t.

That day, the fighting on the Planet of the Apes was real.

When we got home, cut and bruised, bleeding and crying, our mother was livid.

“You’ve been playing Planet of the Apes again, haven’t you?” she said as she knocked us each on the side the head. “How many times have I told you to stop playing that? Somebody’s going to get hurt.”

None of us was allowed to eat any supper that night — or for several nights after — and she refused to let us clean our cuts with anything but our own saliva, saying that’s all we’d have on our Ape-planet. Two days later, when my little sister Amy cried and begged not to be forced to go to our father’s house for her scheduled weekend visit, complaining that she didn’t like sleeping in his bed with him, our mother said Amy had to go: it was her punishment for playing Apes. After my little brother Jimmy Lee tried to hide from his own father — Amy’s and my new stepfather — in the basement one afternoon, Jimmy Lee came up to dinner with bruises on his face and neck, worse than anything he got on the Ape-planet. When my stepfather crept into our bedroom that night and hurt me more than usual, I wanted to say, “Take your stinking paws off me,” but I couldn’t. Afterward, he said it was all my fault, for playing Planet of the Apes when we weren’t supposed to.

Of course, none of that stopped us from playing Planet of the Apes.

After all, on that planet, sometimes we got to be the apes.

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© 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

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Filed under Documentary/Historical Video, History, Holocaust, Holocaust Days of Remembrance, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust Survivor Testimony, Memoir

Glue-Boy

His real name was Daniel David Davison III, but nobody called him that except Sister St. James and the principal every time he got sent to her office for disrupting class. He used to make fun of his own name all the time, saying, “3-D. I’m 3-D,” erupting into uncontrollable laughter. Since we were only third-graders, we didn’t get the joke at all, and he didn’t like to be called Daniel David Davison III, so we called him “Glue-Boy.”

First graders had to use paste spooned out of a communal tub. Second graders were allowed to have individual containers of paste that had to be stored on the shelves when not in use. As third graders, however, grown-ups that we were, we got to have our very own bottles of Elmer’s glue, which we were allowed to keep in our desks, and Daniel David Davison III could do amazing things with Elmer’s glue.

All day, every day, he’d paint elaborate glue-tattoos on the back of his hands and forearms. The glue was his paint, starkly white against the perpetually darker canvas of his skin. He created dragons and gargoyles, knights and castles, vampires and werewolves from his fingers to the edge of his stiffly ironed, short-sleeved white shirt. I sat beside him, in the last seat of the third row, and every day, he hunched over his bare desk, concentrating so hard on his fantastic designs that the tip of his tongue stuck out while the rest of us watched in silent admiration.

Sister St. James would be writing our lessons on the board or gazing out the windows at the river on the far side of the church next door, or sitting at her desk with her eyes closed while we did our reading assignments, and Glue-Boy would be covering all the bare skin on both his arms with swords and sorcerers, dinosaurs and treasures, pirates with ships flying flags with skull-and-crossbones. After he finished, he’d put the bottle of Elmer’s down on his desk, hold his arms out in front of him till all the glue dried, then turn and show us his creations.

Any time that Sister turned around from the board or her reverie at the windows, or woke from her afternoon nap and saw us all watching him instead of doing our work, she’d rush back to him, her ruler slashing the air. Glue-Boy protected his creations by bending forward over his desk, stretching his glue-covered arms beneath as Sister beat him mercilessly with the ruler. Then she’d march back up to the front of the room, collapse in her chair, and order us to put our heads down on our desks as punishment. After a few minutes had passed, we’d surreptitiously look over at him, and he’d smile, his head and forearms held high, not a single one of his glue-paintings destroyed.

One day on the playground during recess, I complimented Glue-Boy on his art. He nodded without even looking up at me, so I feared I’d annoyed him. Occasionally after that, however, he would find me on the playground and show me his latest work. As the year progressed, the colors got brighter and the designs became more complex. I thought all of them were beautiful, even if I didn’t know what they were.

Even when he started using paint instead of glue, covering his face and arms with gorgeous colors, he never lost the name “Glue-Boy.” Though Sister St. James ordered him to the Principal’s office every single time he came in with his face painted, though the Principal called his parents and demanded that all his paints be confiscated, though his desk in the classroom was finally isolated in the corner so that no one could be close to him, nothing stopped him from painting. The morning he came in with his hair dyed a multitude of colors, we gathered around him in awe while all the teachers and the principal ranted and threatened.

He was wonderful.

He was our hero.

I suppose we all suspected that, eventually, his body would not be a large enough canvas, so when he pulled a box of colored chalk out of his coat pocket during recess and began decorating the playground itself, no one seemed too surprised. Even the teachers had long since stopped trying to control him: we heard that his parents had threatened to withdraw him from the school and send him somewhere more exclusive.

And the teachers didn’t try to make me skip rope or run relay races with the other girls: they accepted that it was my job to hold Glue-Boy’s colored chalks while he worked. By the time the Monsignor came over from the church to watch, everyone had accepted that this was just the way of the world: this was Glue-Boy’s purpose in life. The principal and the Monsignor stood by in silence, watching as the colored chalk covered the exterior walls of the elementary school, in ever more fantastic and elaborate designs, as high as Glue-Boy could reach.

On the day I told Glue-Boy about my father and my divorced mother’s boyfriend, about what they did to me in the basement, in the garage, in my own bed late at night when my mother was asleep, Daniel David Davidson III offered to pour endless bottles of glue down their noses and mouths and throats and to keep pouring till the glue dried and hardened.

“Then,” he said, “they won’t be able to hurt you anymore.”

Glue-Boy was the first person who ever offered to protect me.

That made him my first love.

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© 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

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Filed under Documentary/Historical Video, History, Holocaust, Holocaust Days of Remembrance, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust Survivor Testimony, Memoir

O Coward Conscience

Trigger Warning:
This post, though not graphic,
discusses childhood sexual abuse.

O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me…
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.


William Shakespeare
Richard III, 5:3:194, 208-210

In the middle of the night, in the middle of the closet, I pulled down all the clothes from the shelves and the hangers and covered myself with them. As my younger sister Amy slept in the bed next to mine, and our baby brother slept in his crib in the corner of our room, I dragged all the clothes, shoes, and toys over my legs, body, and face. Then I waited. I never knew how long it would take, so I just had to keep on waiting. Though I kept pinching my arms and legs to stay awake, I eventually fell asleep.

My stepfather’s cursing woke me. When I heard the noise of squeaking bedsprings, I knew he was in my empty bed. The lamp got knocked over, and my stepfather cursed again. His footsteps came toward the closet. I put both hands over my mouth to prevent any sound from escaping.

The door opened. His huge hand groped among the toys, clothes, and shoes. My heart was thumping so loud in my ears, I was sure he would hear it. I couldn’t see Fred’s face: just the dark silhouette of his head and body.

“If you’re in here, you better come out,” said Fred.
I didn’t move.

“I’m the one paying for all the food you eat, and I’m not even your real dad, so you owe me,” said Fred. “Your mom tricked me into marrying her, and I had to take you, too, because your real dad didn’t want you: you owe me.”
He leaned further in, yanking at the clothes.

“It’ll be your fault if I have to do Amy,” he said.
Still, I didn’t move.

Eventually, Fred left the closet and got into Amy’s bed. Her cry was immediately muffled by his hand over her mouth. When Fred finished, he said the same thing to Amy that he always said to me and, later, to Jimmy Lee, even though Jimmy Lee was his real son: This means I love you.

After Fred went back to his own room and Amy cried herself to sleep, I hit myself in the head over and over for being such a bad girl. For making him do Amy instead of letting him do me. I was the oldest, I was the biggest, I was the one who should be protecting Amy and Jimmy Lee. That was my job.

Sometimes, though, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

In the middle of my ninth year, in the middle of my first year with a stepfather, when I finally came out of the middle of the closet, my sister Amy looked at me with dead eyes. She never said anything about what Fred was doing: she just ran as soon as he came into a room. Sometimes, she ran so far and hid so well that it took us days to find her. When she was thirteen, she ran away and never came back.

I didn’t blame her.

I blamed myself.

While her own children were small, Amy often complained about Fred’s sexual abuse. I didn’t owe him anything, she said once, and then, one day several years later, without explanation, she simply stopped talking about it.

When I was giving an interview about one of my novels on a radio talk-show, the host asked what had inspired the “intense and unsettling exploration of violence” in my fiction. I told him about the sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my father, stepfather, and mother.

Afterward, Amy called me up, hysterical. She told me that she’d phoned every member of the family and asked whether any of the things I’d said on the radio were true. She claimed that every single person in the entire family remembered things exactly the same way, and that none of it had happened the way I said. Furthermore, everyone said that I was a liar and a storyteller, and that I always had been.

“Were you trying to embarrass me?” said my sister.
“By saying that our parents abused us?”
“Our childhood was perfectly fine and normal,” said Amy.

For so many years, I felt guilty for hiding in the closet when Fred was looking for me. Guilty for hiding in the closet, in the garage, in the basement, in the crawlspace, under the cellar door. Guilty because whenever Fred couldn’t find me, he hurt Amy or Jimmy Lee like he’d been hurting me since I was five. Guilty because even though my own mother knew what Fred was doing, she did nothing to stop him, so I thought I somehow deserved his anger and abuse. Guilty because Fred said it was all my fault for hiding.

But I simply couldn’t stop hiding from him.

After all my years of therapy, I guess I don’t feel guilty any longer. But I still feel sad that I wasn’t strong enough to take it from Fred every night. Every day, too, if that’s what he wanted. Sometimes I think I should have let him do me, and me alone, every day and every night, if that’s what it took to protect my younger siblings.

Even if they say they don’t remember.

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M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, chapters 1-6

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The Birthday Cake The first time somebody tried to kill me, I had just turned four years old. I know that for a fact because ...
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Trigger Warning Though not graphic, this post discusses childhood sexual abuse. I stood, mortified into silence, in front of my second-grade class. My teacher, a ...
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O Coward Conscience

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Continue reading
Glue-Boy

Glue-Boy

His real name was Daniel David Davison III, but nobody called him that except Sister St. James and the principal every time he got sent ...
Continue reading
My Childhood on Planet of the Apes

My Childhood on Planet of the Apes

"Damn you," cried the practically naked Charlton Heston as he fell to his knees on the beach in front of the half-buried Statue of Liberty ...
Continue reading

© 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Documentary/Historical Video, History, Holocaust, Holocaust Days of Remembrance, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust Survivor Testimony, Memoir