Once again, thank you to Christopher Kai, Union Rescue Mission, and a big thank you to Rosangela Rossi. Rosangela, I truly admire as a girl your strength, your endless beauty and your intelligence among your countless other qualities that will carry you into being an unstoppable woman this world better reckon’ with! Very proud of you! You can achieve and be anybody you want in this world. God made you perfectly and has placed within you talents that you will never stop discovering. I completely relate to your story. Although I never self mutilated myself, I have friends who have, and my mother did. I had my own ways of self destruction because of trying to be “little miss perfect”. I will share those with you and the world very soon 😉
Keep dreaming, work very very hard, and never give up.
You are so beautiful just the way you are 😀
“My bedroom was lit in a soft red glow. I had draped a red men’s dress shirt over the dresser lamp so my room wouldn’t be so bright. I didn’t like bright lights. I was sitting at my vanity set in my bedroom at 3 a.m. and my family was fast asleep. It was deafeningly quiet. We lived in a house that was at the end of a cul-de-sac in a suburb of Boulder, Colorado. On my desk was a box cutter. I stared at it for five minutes. Should I or shouldn’ t I?, I thought. Right before I pressed the metal blade into my skin, I breathed deeply. Slash, slash, slash, slash.
We lived in Florence, Italy when I was a child. One evening when I was about two, my father took me to a local park. I was wearing my bright yellow floral-print dress, short white lace socks, and formal shoes. He stopped suddenly as we reached a shallow part of a pond and told me to walk by myself to the edge of the water. I skipped over to the pond and leaned forward, careful not to step in the water. ‘Cosa vedi nell aqua?’ he said. What do you see in the water? I replied that I saw yellow sand that looked blue, green plants that looked like hair, and tiny fish darting in the water.
Then he said, ‘Guardami!’—look at me. When I turned to look at my father, there he was on one knee, holding his black Pentax camera, angled at me; I heard the clicking sound of his camera as I stood perfectly still, just like he had taught me over the months.
My father had a passion for photography and I was his Little Miss Perfect model. In his photography, he could transform any ordinary portrait into a thing of beauty, just by changing the angle of the shot, the lens, the lighting, and the camera he used. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I think he believed that he could apply the same exacting approach of manipulation and control over his photos to manipulation and control over me.
By first grade, I was living near Boulder, Colorado. My father had moved my entire family to the States for what turned out to be a failed business venture. I remember coming home and handing him a graded English assignment. He became very serious as he saw my grade. He looked at me and said, ‘You got a B? Why didn’t you get an A?’ I stood there silent. He said, ‘If you don’t get good grades, people are going to think you’re stupid. If people think you’re stupid, they are not going to like you. They will treat you badly. Now, be a good girl and get good grades.’
That was the extent of my conversations with my father. He always seemed busy with his own work, or like he preferred spending time with my younger brother, Antonio. He rarely talked to me—except to criticize my behavior or lecture me about my grades.
When I was eight years old, my father abruptly disappeared from my life. In Italy, he was a respected businessman. In America, he felt lost. He couldn’t speak English well, so very few people understood, respected, or related to him. This deep cultural shock ledhim to a psychological breakdown. He was experiencing increasing paranoia, and felt that people might take his family away. My mother noticed his erratic behavior, and couldn’t trust him anymore. She told him she was going to leave him. When he heard this, he got extremely angry at her.
When I was at school, my father drove off with my mom and my three youngest siblings, all under five. In the car, he threatened to crash the car and kill her if she didn’t promise not to leave him.
She was eventually able to reach the authorities, and they arrested my father. Before he was set to go on trial, he fled the country. The judge, police department and social services all agreed that it would be safer for our family to stay in the States because they feared my father was going to harm us.
His physical departure ripped open my life and our family. When he left, he took with him a dozen large boxes filled with hundreds of family photos. All my childhood memories—playing with porcelain dolls when I was a baby, visiting a castle in Italy when I was three, or playing with seashells at the beach when I was four—were all erased. It felt as if I had never existed, as if I was never his picture perfect model—as if I was never his daughter.
Long after my father had left, I held onto his unrealistic expectations of me as a person. If I didn’t do well in school, I was a failure. When I returned home and my mother criticized me for not doing my chores, I felt shunned by my family. I was always alone. I felt like I was choking and had an unbearable pressure in my chest that lingered for days or weeks.
I remember coming home on the school bus one day when I was 13. I was sitting next to my classmate, Erica. I saw that she had a few horizontal scars on her arm, so I asked her, ‘Do you have a cat?’ Erica replied, ‘No, it’s what I do when I get stressed.’ I didn’t understand. I kept asking her, ‘Why don’t you just read a book, or watch a movie?’ She said, ‘It just works better. It’s faster.’ I was still confused how cutting could relieve stress. But then, more than a year later, I needed a release. I tried it.
The first time, I was in my bedroom. I casually scratched a small ‘M’ on top of my left wrist with a broken Christmas glass ornament. A thin line of blood, like from a paper cut, appeared. Over time, I focused on creating scars and that usually took months. I would re-cut myself in the same spot, 30 or 40 or 50 times, over and over again. I progressed to larger cuts: on my wrists, arms, neck or back. Eventually, the deeper the pain I felt, the deeper the cut I made. It didn’t matter what I used: broken pieces of glass, sharp razors, a box-cutter, a nail, scissors, a broken hair clip, and even a slim knife.
Every time I cut, it felt as if my skin was lit on fire and I had poured alcohol on it. But somehow the silent action of cutting open my skin came with an immediate anesthetized feeling of numb calmness.
About a year after I began mutilating myself, I abruptly stopped. I made a promise to my close friend: he promised not to kill himself, and I promised not to cut myself. I didn’t care about my well-being at the time, but I deeply cared about his.
I eventually discovered a less destructive and healthier outlet for my emotions, one that I could use frequently without the side effects of long-lasting scars and their emotional consequences—meeting virtual friends and acquaintances on the internet.
I found friends on online social networking sites like Mbzzy.com and Mobamingle.com. Both of my best virtual friends, ‘Sour Sanity’ and ‘Maya Landers,’ had gone through even more traumatic family issues. I felt like they understood what I was going through and I didn’t feel as alone.
Mobamingle.com also allowed users to upload stories, so during the course of two years, I shared over a hundred poems with my virtual friends. Each story posting had a place for responses and ratings, and out of 73 total responses I received, I had a score of 4.8 out of 5.0.
I had finally found a constructive, positive way of expressing my emotions. Not only did I write prose and poems, but I also created art and music as well. These four activities, which represented my heart, mind, body and soul in different ways, made me feel more grounded. But, then we moved again, this time to Los Angeles.
Initially, we lived in part of a house my mother rented in Culver City. A few months later, one of the most drastic and devastating events of my life happened. My youngest sister, six-year-old Leonora, accidently drowned in an acquaintance’s pool.
My mother was so distraught, broken, and emotionally wrecked by losing Leonora that she had a breakdown. She was unable to care for us, unable to care for herself. She moved to Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles. The Mission offered to house, care, and counsel her while she resolved work visa issues and got on her feet again. Until that point, we were living off my mother’s savings from her previous jobs as a housekeeper.
My siblings and I were separated into different foster homes. My two younger brothers were sent to one foster home, and my younger sisters and I were sent to another. We lived about an hour drive away from each other in Palmdale, California, and I only got to see my brothers occasionally. In November 2010, after three months apart, we were joyfully reunited with our mother at Union Rescue Mission.
Living in Skid Row has been a harsh reality check. The very first day we arrived at the entrance of Union Rescue Mission, I saw drunks, drug addicts, pimps and prostitutes on San Pedro Street. When I walked out of our car, I smelled a horrible mixture of dried urine, body odor, and cigarette smoke.
After all the paperwork was processed, my family and I went from sharing a house in Culver City to sharing a single room on the fourth floor at the Mission. Sometimes other families live with us as well, so there can be up to ten people living in a 180-square-foot room.
Despite the tight quarters, living at the Mission has actually helped my family grow closer and more protective of each other. We eat most of our meals together. After dinner, there’s nowhere else to go, so we sit in our room and just talk about how each of our days went. I am gaining a new awareness of and appreciation for my siblings.
Thankfully, countless warm-hearted volunteers and staff members at the Mission are there to support me. Chris Mason, the youth coordinator, is always there for me. When he asks me, “How are you doing?” I feel like he sincerely wants to know. One day when I was feeling really down, he cheered me up by handing me an enormous chocolate chip cookie. When he found out that I played the piano, he arranged for me to gain access to the grand piano in the chapel downstairs. All these simple acts of kindness help me stay positive and grounded.
I’m 17 years old now and after all that I have been through, I just want to stay focused on school. I am currently earning A’s and B’s at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles and in the fall of 2012, I want to apply for a four-year university. My mother is working on getting a job so that, soon, we won’t be living in a homeless shelter.
One day, when I graduate from college, I want to be like Oprah Winfrey. She experienced a horrible and hurtful childhood, yet grew up to be such a powerful business woman who reaches so many people. She transformed her pain into a way to heal others. She invites people into her life, and through her example, hopes to be a positive role model. Through my writing, painting, and music, I hope to do the same.
Life is far from picture perfect, but at least now I know that I hold the camera.”