I stood at the edge of the window in my family’s fifth floor apartment and wondered if I could fly. Just a few hours earlier, after enjoying yet another dream with my beloved and beautiful brown
eagle, I made up my mind that today would be the day. Today I would finally be brave. Today I was going to fly away.
Most of the time I considered Sundays to be my favorite day of the week. I would spend them alone watching over my baby brother which I felt was a wonderful way to spend a weekend. I always cherished Sundays the most because unlike the rest of the week, we were left alone and we were able to do the fun things that we weren’t allowed to do on any other day.
Even though this was the fifteenth day in a row I hadn’t been allowed to go outside, I still felt strangely happy and joyful from the moment I woke up that morning. In fact, I somehow knew that this day was going to be different and unique even though I hadn’t yet figured out what it was that made me feel that way. After all, I was only a little over eight years-old, and I did not understand everything in this world so easily. Despite my predicament, and despite the distractions of my one year-old baby brother who was needy and quite a handful, my mind was still so full of hope. I yearned for brighter days.
It was now 11 a.m. and my regular morning routine was finished. It usually took about three hours to complete my chores, but on Sundays they always took longer because I would pause to play with the baby and have fun. It felt better to be doing things around the house at my own speed without the pressure of adults watching over my shoulder. And now even my baby brother was happy, sport- ing a set of fresh, clean clothes and rounded belly full of food.
I looked down from the window and could see my friends and classmates playing outside as they usually did on the weekend. I, on the other hand, couldn’t go outside. It wasn’t just because my parents had forbidden it, but it was also because I didn’t want to leave my brother alone. So all I could do was watch everyone from my balcony window and enjoy the bright summer sunbeams as they shined through the glass and warmed my face.
There are definitely advantages living on the top floor of an apartment building — the strong heat from the sun and the breathtaking views are two of them. For some reason, looking out at our great view always made me feel calm and at peace with the world. The front yard of our building was big — at least five acres — and had all kinds of interesting things growing on it. There were many different varieties of fruit trees, colorful flowers, pretty bushes, and an endless carpet of thick green grass. There were also manmade features like playgrounds, swings, tables with chairs, and other interesting things for kids to play on. There was even a section set aside for personal gardens that our neighbors created for themselves. These little gardens produced an amazing variety of fruit and greens that helped folks save money and avoid the high prices found at the stores and bazaars. Unfortunately for all us kids, their gardens were fenced in, and we couldn’t get any of the fruit or vegetables out of them. (Except of course about once or twice each month when some- one would forget to lock their gate!)
There were ninety apartments in the building that housed at least thirty kids of school age and their families. The building’s big front yard was important for so many of us. On any given Sunday, especially in the morning, you would find at least fifteen children playing there at one time. It didn’t matter how warm or how cold it was, or even what season it was, because all I knew was that I loved living here and didn’t want to be in any other country or city on Earth.
On this particular Sunday, since it was summer vacation, there were even more kids scattered around the yard than usual do- ing all sorts of fun things. And just like most Sunday mornings, I was right there with my nose pressed against the window watching them play and have fun. Even though I couldn’t physically be with them, no one could stop me from imagining that I was. After all, it seemed like that is exactly what children should be doing on a sunny Sunday during summer school vacation. Some of my friends were on the swings, each trying to fly higher than the other. Some were climbing the fruit trees, probably trying to get the bigger, juicier apples, pears, and plums that grew at the top. A few others were drawing hop- scotch patterns on the driveways with colored chalk. And a couple of my closest friends were resting in the thick green grass with their hands spread apart wide, probably enjoying the warm and shining sun just like me.
None of the kids called my name or asked me to come out because they already knew the answer they were going to get. Since the day my brother had been born, I hadn’t been out to play. Every time they came up to my door to ask me to come out and join them, I wouldn’t be allowed. In fact, I would be punished if they shouted my name from the yard too many times, and then wouldn’t feel like going outside anyway. My friends got the point after they tried to get me out a few times, and now they just went about their business and acted like I didn’t exist. What else could they do?
After a few minutes of watching my friends play, I thought again about the eagle in my dream and wondered why he had been acting so strange. I remembered feeling a smile cross my face the moment I woke up; the dream had been so vivid! Then suddenly, all the details of that dream poured back into my memory like a roaring ocean wave.
In my dream, a beautiful brown eagle with very large wings and a bright white head, would fly over our building and across the front yard every Sunday morning. But he would always fly away be- fore noontime, as if he had to fly off to some other child’s dream or back to that wonderful, happy place he must have come from. Every time he visited, I would notice that our clock read 11 a.m. and it was always Sunday. I had never seen this beautiful eagle in real life, although I looked for him many times while watching other birds fly above our play yard.
But this time, instead of just cruising past me through the air on his large, powerful wings like he usually did, he flew right up to my fifth floor balcony window. And every time he made a circle in the air he would come a bit closer. Even though I was standing behind the glass window, I could still feel the gentle wind blow against my cheeks as he flew by. I know it made no sense that I could feel the breeze through glass, but in a child’s dream, I suppose anything is possible.
I also could see his head in much more detail, and I was captivated by his eyes and the way he looked at me. His eyes were round and looked human, not what you’d find on any normal bird. He looked at me like he was a real person who was lost in deep and serious thought. I always wondered why I only saw him in my dreams on Sunday mornings, but I knew that one day it would all make perfect sense — either in my dreams or in real life. After all, every story I had ever read or movie I had ever watched at that point in my life always made perfect sense at the end.
But the most significant thing I remembered from the dream was what the eagle said to me, in a human voice.
I know you’ve been thinking of flying away, and I know that you’ve been in terrible pain. It is now time for you to fly. So please, come and fly away with me, this morning — today!
With all the details of my dream now fully settled into my consciousness, I realized that I may have finally found the answer I had been looking for. Flying away was how I could end my pain and misery. I had thought about killing myself before, but I wasn’t brave enough to come up with a way to do it, nor at just eight years-old did I fully understand what dying really meant. But now, with a clear mind and encouraging words from my trustworthy eagle guide, there was no better time to try something so hopeful. It was a beautiful Sunday morning just like in my dreams, and it was 11 a.m., right when the eagle would visit. It was time. It was meant to be.
All of my chores were done, no adults were around, and no one would be coming home for at least a few more hours. I looked around to see if my baby brother was still lying on my parents’ bed where I left him. Sure enough, he was there and deeply asleep, covered up with his favorite thin blanket.
The enclosed balcony that I stood in was right next to my parent’s bedroom and only a few feet away from where the baby was sleeping. When I looked at him, I suddenly felt the need to walk over and give him one last goodbye; so I gently placed a long kiss on his warm forehead and whispered softly into his ear, “I am ready my little baby. I am going to fly away now!”
I know I was only little over eight years of age and my life should have been carefree and happy, but sadly, it was far from it. The only happiness I ever felt was when I practiced playing piano — my favorite musical instrument — or watched over my little brother. It was so hard to say goodbye.
Although both of these things were beautiful gifts to me, it was not enough to override the terrifying life I lived day after day. The constant suffering, neglect, sick games, and sadistic torture I was enduring had become unbearable. I just could not find the courage and strength in my tired, little body to continue to endure the animalistic abuse any longer.
Understand that my life had not always been so horrible. In fact, it had been pretty great up until the day my baby brother was born. I tried to understand what I had done wrong to deserve such mistreatment and neglect. I thought I had obeyed everything I had been told to do, and did it in a timely manner, too. I never wanted anyone to be upset or disappointed in me.
But nothing was good enough now, and I prayed that the torturous treatment wouldn’t get worse. I needed to know when it would end and worried that perhaps it never would. And now I was simply too tired and needed to go somewhere and get away from it all, somewhere where there was no pain, no suffering, and no one who could harm me physically or emotionally any longer.
Those thoughts and needs battled inside me because at the same time, I loved my baby brother deeply and was afraid to leave him there alone without me. He was the only reason I had not tried to do something to stop the abuse and why I had been putting up with the sadism and neglect for so long. He held the biggest place in my heart and to me it felt like he wasn’t my brother at all, but more like a son. Since the day he came home from the hospital, I spent nearly every moment, day and night, caring for him just like a real mother would.
With all that conflict inside me, I knew that if I didn’t fly away at that very moment, now that I felt ready, then I might never be able to; that I might never be free. I knew I could not continue living this way, and felt that I would not survive much longer if I didn’t do something about it right there and then.
At least that was my belief at that moment. It would be some time before I would understand and discover how much inner strength and willpower I had in me — a power I would use to fight and survive the unimaginable, horrific treatment and sick games that would get much worse as I grew older.
Unfortunately for me, Russia had no child protective services department, no police who wanted to become involved in what some people would simply call “discipline,” and no neighbors who would come and check on me. Even when I would scream, beg for my life, beg for forgiveness, and bang on the thin walls of our apartment pleading for someone to come to my rescue, no one in our building would even bother to ring our doorbell.
I thought about just running away many times, but I always realized and understood that I couldn’t do it. After all, where would I go? Even if I did leave the house, the only person I would consider running to was my favorite human being in the world — my guardian angel Grandpa. And if I did run to him, my mother would simply go and get me since he was her father, after all. I knew my punishment for running away would be much harsher and far more painful than usual. So what was the point in going through that? In my mind, learning to fly was a very logical alternative. I honestly saw no other way to free myself from this torture other than to fly just like the birds did; they were completely free.
Every time I saw them in the sky, freely flying through it, shooting up and down and riding the waves of air, I sensed they were so happy and cheerful. When not soaring, they would sit on the tree branches whenever they felt like it and sing their favorite melodies to whoever was listening. They would come down to the ground to drink from small, refreshing puddles, and fly back up under the control of nothing but their own free will. They would jump from branch to branch on the trees and check to see if the fruit were ripe and ready to be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And most importantly, they could fly away every fall to warmer, safer places of their own choosing, and not worry about anything. When thinking of escaping the hell I lived in, flying away just like they did seemed to be a perfect and peaceful way to escape.
On most Sundays, my parents wouldn’t be home during the day. My father was an ER doctor who worked 24-hour shifts most of the time, with random days off. My mother was a piano teacher but was still on maternity leave, which in Russia at that time meant she received 36 months paid time off from work. Although she was not working at that time, she was rarely home on the weekends anyway, especially during the day. She would spend this time with her friends doing manicures, pedicures, facials, hairstyles, and other things to make herself look better. It seemed to me that ever since she had a second baby, she had become obsessed with her body and her image. It was something that I hadn’t noticed in her before.
I knew that no one was coming home for at least a few more hours. My baby brother could not really talk yet but did know a cou- ple of simple words I taught him that he used with me every day. He was not able to tattle on me or get me in trouble even if he wanted to. Everything seemed to be in place. I thought again about those car- ing and special words the eagle had told me in my dream the night before.
I stood on the balcony next to the window and looked through the glass to reassure myself that the decision I was about to make was the right one. This was it. To succeed, I knew I had to collect together all the courage I could muster and stay brave.
I hoped I would fly off to some secret place that only the good and kind people knew about, and where everyone is accepted. I wanted it to be a place where I would meet a new, good family and kind, new parents who are there waiting for a good little brave girl, like me, to join them. Maybe those parents also had an unfair, terrible and painful life, which made them fly away too, just like I was about to do. And maybe, just maybe, they had succeeded and are now just wishing for a little girl to love them so their family could be complete. If I succeeded, I would have a new, happy, and loving home, with parents who would say that they love me and who would never even think of hurting me.
I was becoming anxious and a little nervous. I looked back to make sure my baby brother was still asleep because I didn’t want him to see me fly — just in case I didn’t succeed on my first try! Sure enough, he was still in the same spot where I left him, laying there on his belly with his cute little head turned towards me. He looked so calm and at peace, and had a smile on his face, with his chubby, rosy cheeks shining from the sunbeams that were covering him. He looked like he was having a happy dream and it made me feel warm within just to know that he was safe and pain-free.
I remembered whispering to him, “If you only knew what's going on around you, you would not be such a calm and a happy baby. I did everything I could to shelter you from all the bad, negative, and painful things that this house has to offer.” I thought it was sad that I had to endure all the pain and abuse just to be able to provide him with that peace.
And with that thought, I turned my head away from him and stood up onto a small chair which was next to the short dresser right below the window level. As I took my first step up, I felt strangely happy and accomplished within, but I had to stay focused to complete what I started. Otherwise, all the work I did to work up this courage would be for nothing.
I took another step up and onto the dresser which was firmly pressed against the wall right below the edge of the window. I stood straight up. The only thing separating my whole body from the sky outside was one thin layer of glass. A fear of heights took over and I started to shake a little, but I managed to stay focused and stayed absorbed in what I was doing. I now had to open the window, without making any noise, so as not to wake the baby.
The windows we had were very old fashioned and were framed on the top below the ceiling, and on the bottom, to hold the glass in place. They were called sliding windows which meant they literally had no handles anywhere on them. The only way to open them was to slide them in opposite directions from the middle of the window to the sides by pressing your fingers and palms firmly against the glass. Let me just say that most of the children I knew would not be able to slide them open with such ease and would need the help of an adult. But since I was not physically weak at all, I could open and close those windows with just a little more than a usual use of strength. After all, I had good training doing all the daily household chores, carrying heavy grocery bags up to the fifth floor, and holding my chubby baby brother for a hundred different reasons throughout the day.
I pressed both my hands down on the glass at face level and slid the glass windows open, away from each other. As soon as there was a small opening just a few inches wide, a fresh and strong wave of warm wind rushed in. It came right at me and I tried to inhale it all. I instantly felt its freshness and warmth rush deep into my lungs and it felt wonderful, but at the same time, it made me feel a little nervous. The opening I made went all the way from the bottom of my feet to above my head near the ceiling, and it was at least three feet higher than I was. For some reason my shaking stopped, and I felt even more brave and ready. But I knew I had to slide the windows open even wider.
I was so eager. All I could think about was that I was just a few seconds away from freedom and a new, painless existence.
I pressed my palms harder against the glass to give my body more leverage so I could slide the windows wider. As I pushed the glass panes further apart, I realized that the opening was now big enough for my whole body to slip through. I don’t know why I didn’t stop at that moment since I had plenty of room, but I wanted to open the windows even more and I pushed the glass apart. Now the only things that held me from falling over the edge of that window and into the summer air were my two small hands that were firmly grasping the glass at the left and right sides of the opening.
With both sides of the window now open, I could see everything and everyone below much more clearly. It surprised me a bit that no one looked up and saw me standing there. Although I was still inside upon the dresser, it was at the same level as the edge. Still, it’s funny no one noticed a fully dressed girl standing on the highest floor of the building, her skirt fluttering in the summer wind like an unfurled flag.
On the other hand, who would think of looking up towards my window and who would consider that a little girl would stand there in the first place? Plus, they seemed so busy playing and having fun with each other to notice or think of me at that moment, not that I really wanted them too anyway. The last thing I needed was for them to see my try to fly and to fail. How embarrassing! I was already a big failure, or at least that’s what I was told daily at home. So with that on my mind, I put aside any ideas of screaming and shouting “hello” to any of them, and said to myself, “There is no way I will ever let anyone see me fail! They will not remember me as a failure!”
Now I only had one more important step to take, which was to move my feet off the dresser and onto the window’s edge. Even though it was literally only a couple inches away, it was thin and sharp and didn’t look very comfortable.
I took a deep breath and looked back at my little brother one more time. I just wanted to make sure he was still asleep. I then slowly stepped up onto the edge of the window, with my right foot first, and then the left. My heart started to beat so hard and so fast that I felt light-headed. I quickly closed my eyes and tried to keep myself balanced. I wanted to open my eyes and to scream to the whole world, as loud as possible. I wanted to tell everyone that I was a uniquely strong and very courageous girl. If I was really a failure, as my family thought I was, I wouldn’t have been standing on that edge, high up, and unprotected.
I felt unstable and had no choice but to open my eyes back up, even if it was just a bit. I started to focus my mind and look for whatever was left of my strength to open them wide. I did and to my surprise, the scary feelings I had a moment earlier, all went away. My nervousness wasn’t there either. To my disbelief, I actually found myself smiling into the summer air. Maybe it was because the sun was warm and felt soft on my face or maybe it was because I felt that I finally was doing something right, as well as important — something for my own good.
A warm feeling came over me inside and out, and I became so happy within that my body felt physically lighter than usual. It felt like I was in heaven, which I had pictured many times in my head. I knew from reading different stories that heaven was bright, warm, kind, loving, and accepting. And I figured maybe that’s the beautiful place where birds flew every fall.
All of a sudden my face changed. I realized that if I did this, I would be leaving my baby behind, alone, with no one to care for him or to protect him from anything or anyone.
Being a mother at seven changed a lot of things in my life. But mostly it changed my feeling of responsibility not only for myself, but also for another human being. Knowing that he could not protect himself, if faced with the same situation as I was in, really bothered me.
A second later, I felt my heart fill with sadness and feelings of guilt. It was the kind that a real mother would feel if forced to leave her only child behind. I tried very hard not to think about it because I noticed that I was getting carried away in those thoughts. I was afraid that if I thought about it too much, I might change my mind. I stopped myself and took one last deep breath of fresh air.
It was time to let my hands go so they could turn into the little wings I would need to fly out of that window.
As soon as I let go with one hand I became very unstable. Without second guessing myself, I looked up for strength and guidance. The endless sky was clear and blue, no matter which direction I looked. The only thing I saw other than blue sky were two small, almost see-through, white clouds. They were both shaped like puffy hearts which made me believe they were placed there as a sign that everything will be OK.
While my eyes focused on those hearts for a split second, I noticed something else far away, in the air. Whatever it was, it was coming at me in a fast and steady manner. At first I thought it was someone’s kite, but as the object got closer, I became confused and somewhat curious. I opened up my eyes as wide as I could just to make sure I was seeing it clearly.
It was him! It was the beautiful brown eagle from my dreams! And he looked exactly as I remembered, with powerful large wings and a big white head. And he was flying straight toward me!
A few seconds later he was not more than twenty feet away. I stood there in a numb state of mind and without moving at all. It looked like he was going to fly right into me, then right in front of my eyes, he made a wide, smooth turn. But he did come close enough to give me a moment to look right into his eyes. It was almost like he wanted me to. What I saw in them was the same deepness and seri- ousness as I would see in the eyes of someone who had lived a very tough life, like someone who had survived a war or had seen terrible things happen in front of him.
The eagle started to groove the air in steady circles right in front of my window. Every time he came closer, he would make a sharp turn to start a new circle. It almost felt like he was trying to tell me something — like not to be scared, like not to doubt myself, or like flying away with him was OK and safe. All of a sudden, a terrifying thought raced through my mind. “If I don’t hurry, he might fly away! Would he just fly away without taking me with him to that beautiful place that he and other birds must have come from?”
Without a second thought, I shouted out to him just loud enough for him to hear, “Eagle, please wait! I'm coming with you! Don't fly away without me! Take me to my new home!”
The eagle heard me and turned his head my way, just as he was flying away to start another circle. When I shouted, he almost came to a complete stop, right in the air, and turned his whole body to face me. Looking straight into my eyes, he started to move his powerful wings back and forth to be able to stay in one spot. That’s when I realized it was time and he was waiting for me to jump. I was ready.
I slowly closed my eyes and took my last deep breath. I let one hand go and was just another second away from letting my little hands become a beautiful child’s wings. I let go with my second hand and smiled.