What’s in a Name?
To start with, I had a rough childhood. Multiple step-fathers, step-mothers, step-siblings. Some were users, some were abusers. I was knocked around my fair share. More than my fair share, probably. But I made it, right? That means I won. Or so you would think. Coping mechanisms for people with childhood PTSD are erratic at best, erroneous most usually, and I had my share of bad relationships myself.
I survived with the help of books, to be truthful. Books that would take me away from whatever sordid reality I was in. Books of fairy tales were my favorites, books of wicked witches who lived to punish those who trespassed, but still had a kernel of kindness for those in trouble or fleeing a bad situation. I wondered where my fairy-tale Baba Yaga might be, for I never longed for a fairy godmother. My Baba Yaga never appeared for me, much as I yearned.
Books were my forever friends. When we moved (again) my mother fleeing abuse or poverty or something else I didn’t understand, we had to start over in a new place with no friends, only my siblings and my books. I clung to both like they would save me, and in a way they both did. Other than brief respites with grandparents or aunts and uncles, the shit-show of our childhood was trying for us all. We kids were occasionally separated, but always we stuck up for and protected each other. I can’t count the times I took a beating meant for someone else, but who I thought might not stand it as well. I didn’t mind confessing to a crime I never committed, I could take the pain better anyway.
Books were my treasures, my dragon hoard. I had so few, I took them with me on the visits to relatives, all of them, leaving me with little room for clothes, but I feared (with reason) the inevitable purge of toys and belongings if I left them behind. The fairy tales I read to myself and my siblings, and I, at least, believed every word. It might have left me a little bit spooky as a child, but I had no friends anyway, so what did it matter?
Somehow, we survived, grew, intermittently mocked, or praised, bullied, or befriended through all of the schools and teachers and temporary friends. Somehow, we all learned to do better, as adults, because, as the fairy tales taught us, for every monster was a knight in shining armor, and for every evil knight was a kindly monster to help. Knight or monster, we could be the change we wanted to see.
I remember my younger self with fondness and a dash of pity. Very naive, but well-meaning. Trusting, though there was no reason to have trust. Kind, though there was no reason to be kind. All those virtues you would think would have been beaten out of me by the time I was twenty but were still clinging to life somehow. I credit all the tales and books with much of my self-upbringing, and the fact that someone had to be there for my younger siblings. I like to think I have survived to now with a few of these virtues still intact, jaded as I might be these days. I confess I will still give money to a hobo that looks like my brother, regardless of his actual need.
I survived my broken marriage with my kids safe and well. We got away and started anew, and they might have some troubles of their own, but I think at least they know they are loved completely and unconditionally. We got by with fairy tales and hard work and constant care. And we didn’t move nearly a quarter as much as I did growing up. Little steps, right?
I survived with a sense of dark humor and little trust for those around me until they proved themselves to my liking. After that, I was loyal to them until death. Still am. Unless they prove themselves to be bullies or users; then it is over forever.
I survived and eventually found a soul mate with a similar dark sense of humor, and we tease each other in cruel ways at times, but we both laugh and that makes it okay. I tease that their food is poisoned; they tease that they already took the antidote. They tease that they cut my brakes; I tease that I’d rather die anyway. That’s normal, right? But then, I don’t care if it’s normal, it’s what works for us, and that is what everyone needs: something that works for them.
Then, one of my kids had a kid. Knock me over with a feather. So, I asked if the little tyke could call me Baba Yaga instead of Granny or whatever terrible name they came up with, like mimi or gaga, and you know what? He does! He is a toddler who can say the whole thing, Baba Yaga, all four syllables clear as day, and I love it.
Strange thing, though… The more he calls me Baba Yaga, the more I understand my favorite Russian witch. Yes, he flies into my arms with a happy cry of Baba Yaga! But when we sit at the computer to look at pictures, more and more I show him the darker side of myself… and I think to myself, this is probably not a great idea. Kid’s going to have nightmares for sure. So, I change to music, but inevitably, it, too, is dark and has a haunting melody. The more he calls me Baba Yaga, the more Baba Yaga I feel.
When I close the laptop, I imagine I begin to feel the house move under me and settle in a little. And when he runs off to play, and I imagine the house is getting bigger on the inside, making sure he will be safe and warm. When he is peacefully dreaming, I imagine the armor growing outside to prevent harm from approaching.
Yes, my laugh is becoming a cackle, but I refuse to let my back bend into a hunch. Yes, there are wrinkles and lines, but I refuse to let them make me bitter. Yes, I sometimes imagine my room walking about on chicken feet, searching for my latest cause, some wicked person’s nightmare on two scaled legs. The kernel of Baba Yaga’s love blossomed into vengeance untethered.
I wonder how many of us there are, now. How many Baba Yagas, untrusting, unruly, unsympathetic to fools, cruelty, and bullies. How much we are changing the world. Or changing the nature of the children we love, teaching them not to blindly trust, but to find worthy people. How much we move the light and frivolous aside to make room for angry, wounded women’s work. How much we can and will destroy those who cross the paths of those we love. How much we can and will nurture other wounded souls in need of comfort and care. How little we have to lose. Yes. We Baba Yagas are quietly changing the world.