~ Inter American Commission on Human Rights, regarding El Salvador Human Rights in 1978
Maria’s Story: Of Trauma and Resilience
by Elena Connelly-Marrero and Lynda Styles
I try, every day, to live life as a normal person in an average world would. I want a solid, peaceful, and safe life for my family. Like most humans, I want to walk in the sun and feel the earth and ocean beneath my feet. I want to look forward, knowing there is a wide bright path before me, and though there are hurdles at every turn in this life, you become better, stronger, and wiser for each one you jump over with your head held high.
I have looked at the past and been gripped in its terror. I have been there before so often that I could describe its every black fiber. But, I chose instead to follow the path less taken. I can see the past as what it is, and cope, so that my life - and the lives of my children - might be defined by more than what has happened to me. I know that I can change the world around me, even if in small degrees, so that someone - anyone - might not suffer so much.
In the year of 1978, much of Central and South America was in a state of unrest. El Salvador - a tiny country with a civil war brewing - was erupting with violence. I was four years old.
I lived in the center of El Salvador in a small village near the base of a volcano, named San Vicente. The railroad runs close by, but it was a lush, green place, bursting with beautiful animals and many different people from all walks of life. With emerald-colored rivers and majestic waterfalls, the paradise was founded by 50 Spanish families in 1635, under the Tempisque tree, which is still standing today. But my memories of San Vicente are not of lush waterfalls. They are of the terrorists - an army of butchers - that killed my family and left me alone.
I sat on the kitchen floor playing with my most special dolls, made out of old rags by my mother. My father sat at the table, reading and glancing out the window nervously. I laid on my belly on the cool floor, chattering to my dolls. Without warning, father’s voice erupted in short bursts, telling my mother to be quiet and to quiet me as well. She had been at the stove stirring a pot mechanically, and she turned toward the window, her eyes frantic, her jaw dropped open, her mouth making small “Oh” sounds.
Mother’s eyes found mine and she held a finger to her mouth, shaking her head. I understood danger, had seen it on the street too many times to count, and I remained silent. She grabbed me by the shoulders and fell to the floor with me, hands wrapped protectively over my body.
In a moment, my father was on the floor also, slowly lifting his head to look out the window. He turned, quietly whispering stern words. “Put Maria in the floor!” he shouted through clenched teeth before gasping. In one fluid motion, my mother had the trap door open, her arms rigid around my belly, as she lowered me into the crawl space under the kitchen floor. I fell into the darkness, my heart hammering with the possibilities of what was happening, and mother stared down at me. She had told me once before that if I had to go under the floor, something bad was happening, and that I had to be quiet and wait until the danger was over, no matter what. She held her finger up to her quivering mouth, panic in her eyes, pleading with me to be quiet as she closed the door above me.
--This preview is the intellectual property of Elena Connelly-Marrero and Lynda Styles and may not be used without expressed written consent. To read the full memoir, stay tuned to Write To Happiness!