My daughter is at school right now. That might not seem like a miracle to anyone else, but I know what it takes for her to walk in those doors every morning.
My daughter is my hero for so many reasons, and my only sadness is that no one else sees. She should have football stadiums full of cheering, adoring fans. Yes, she is that amazing.
My daughter was physically abused and neglected throughout her infancy. We'll never know the details, but the physical scars remain to remind us both. My daughter was abandoned by the only mother she knew at two and a half years old. By her own birthmother's account she was left outside alone, with her sister, waiting for a mother to return who never did. By this same woman's account, my daughter was later taken in by an abusive neighbor who later tried to kill her. My daughter is my hero, because she fought that day. With her little two-year-old spirit, she fought to live when some sick person placed her in an oven. She fought when 3rd degree burns covered her arms, legs, head and back. The pain must have been unimaginable, but this little soul wanted to live. According to the police reports, a neighbor somehow heard her screams and rescued her just it time. My heart sinks as I type these words.
My daughter is my hero because, after an entire year in a hospital, likely left alone most of the time and likely tied to her crib, she survived and did not choose to die. God knows she could have. God knows it would have been easier than what was even to come. What was the day like when a Department of Education official came and carried her to the car for her three hour journey to the special Care Baby Orphanage in the dark and hopeless coal-mining town she ended up in? What did she see out the window? What thoughts kept her going?
After two years in this place of relative safety, what was it like for her on the day another official came to move her to yet another orphanage - the one for older children, the one without enough food or even shoes to go around? Did she get to say goodbye? Did she have a toy to hug? Was she comforted on the ride? Was she welcomed warmly when she entered the crumbling building that housed one hundred older, lost and silent children just like her? From her recollection there were no hugs, no toys, no comfort. There was only uncertainty and fear. And yet, my daughter faced these things with the courage and resolve of a soldier.
My daughter is my hero because, when she grew older and decided not to take the beatings anymore, she fought back. She fought off the teenage girls who would steal her food and rip her hair out. She fought off the older boys. She fought the bullies who gave her the countless scars that run like miniature riverbeds across her face. She fought the beatings of staff on days she was too sick to go to school, on days the staff could care less, just wanting her out of the way. My daughter is my hero because, she fought and fought at age ten when the staff decided she was not 'compliant' enough and sent her to a mental asylum for six months. Torn from the only close friend she had without even a chance to say goodbye, driven for hours into the Siberian wilderness, my daughter fought while they tied her down and shaved her bald. My daughter fought so much that she got 'big needles stuck in me everyday' that made her 'see things like through snow, blurry.'
My daughter is my hero because even in this hell of inhuman suffering, she chose to keep living. She didn't have to. She knew plenty of people who didn't. She instead, made a friend and created a make-believe world of family with this older girl that became her safety net, her solace. At night, she still wonders out-loud what happened to this sister-friend who stayed behind. We say prayers for her as we fall asleep.
My daughter is my hero because when she was returned once again to the orphanage and the girls began to steal her food again, she came up with a plan. She ran miles through the village with her friend and hid behind the stones in the cemetery, waiting. My daughter was smart - she knew that people would leave food on the graves. She hid until the mourners would leave and she could steal the food and run home, with hunger pains soothed for the day. My daughter is my hero for so many horrific events she made it through in one piece, things I cannot even write here because they are too terrible. But if you look at my daughter long enough, you can glimpse the effect of these atrocities in the way her eyes dart and shake when she feels the slightest bit of fear. You can see them in the wall she has built up around her that we are carefully, slowly, taking down.
My daughter, my hero - how did you feel when you walked into the room filled with self-important officials and stoic orphanage directors and soulless translators, and me? I saw the terror in your eyes, and yet, you did not run. When I smiled at you, you looked at me and tilted your head, puppy-like, and just stared. Were smiles so rare in your world? You grimaced when the official snapped the elastic out of your hair (breaking it) so I could 'get a better look' at its brilliance.
'Look at her hair, look at her hair - she is very healthy.' It made me sick. 'Please, please...let her be.' I pleaded. Why were they so shocked I did not want to 'examine' your teeth or run my fingers through your hair, or have you sit on my lap? Silly American, they thought.
My daughter, you are my hero because, despite all the years of hurts and abuses and terror and silent dark nights, you took a chance on me. You didn't know me. You were told that Americans chop you up and sell your organs. You were teased by the staff that I was a 'fat and stupid American' who would 'never come back for you.' The gifts I gave you that day were stolen from you. Still, the next day you came back, smiling. I watched you run down the stairs as I walked in the door. You took my hand and traced my nervous fingers with yours as we walked into the meeting room. You did not ask what presents I brought. You did not ask for food, though you had skipped both breakfast and lunch in order to sit and watch for me by the window. You just sat by me with that curious, soulful look, trying to make sense of the words that came out of my mouth.
My dear, sweet, beautiful girl. You are the bravest most wonderful soul I have ever met. I want to call it from rooftops and sing it in songs, and beat drums down my street to call out all the complacent people of the world to witness your absolute beauty. God, you are beautiful. And every time a person walks by you, not noticing, I want to grab them and cry 'Look at this girl...look!'
You are my light, Anastasia...truly, truly my reason for being, my all.