The Confession

January 19th, 2017 by elaine

This is a true story.  The details are fuzzy, having rested a very long time in the attic of my brain.  There is no question, however, of their validity.  This really happened.

It was in primary school.  I could not have been more than eleven years old, but more likely I was ten.  I had come to school early for an extra-curricular activity – something to do with  music. Later I was in my classroom when I was called to the principal’s office, I could not imagine what for; I was a model child, good grades, good behaviour, with, however, a tendency to think the worst of myself; the youngest in a very large family, I was frequently corrected and/or criticized and/or teased, rarely praised for fear it would “turn my head”.

The Principal, Miss Colbert – yes, I remember her name – said to me, “You were tardy this morning.  You must stay after school today.”

Quaking with horror and fear, my voice full of tears, I rightfully (I was NEVER tardy) denied the accusation only to be scolded for lying.  Miss Colbert had proof – my teacher’s attendance report had marked me tardy.  “But I was there”, I insisted, the tears now flowing freely making Miss Colbert lose patience with me.  Did I question my teacher?  “No, but I….”  I couldn’t get the words out, I was not tardy….Or  was I?.  Did the teacher at the music thing keep us too long? Did I not walk fast enough to my classroom?  Did I not hear the bell? I said nothing more.  My tears and sobs, that was my confession.  One doesn’t cry if one is not guilty.

Big deal, you say.  These things happen.  Yes, of course, all over the world in every culture.  Literature is full of such accounts – I’ve been trying desperately to find the one I barely remember from French literature – a child and a comb, but who?

Here’s another story, also true, not so fuzzy as the last one.  I was fourteen, working in a candy store owned by a friend of the family. It was a very busy Saturday and people were waiting to be served.  My customer ordered a quarter of a pound of candy raisins (not raisins at all, just made to look like them), and a quarter of a pound of glazed almonds.  I weighed each item, told her the cost of each  and then the total.  She gave me some money and I gave her back her change and the two little packages.  And she left.

A short time later she came back into the store and I saw her talking to the boss who then called me into the back room where I was accused of stealing twenty-five cents.  The woman was working for the company whose little sign was on the store’s front door – a warning to all, This store is protected by…….agency.

The confrontation was long and ugly and I was, of course, reduced to tears.  I did not steal, I perhaps made an error.  The lady was not leaving until I wrote by hand a (dictated) confession and signed it, witnessed and signed by my boss who was very uncomfortable – he paid for this service after all – and finally, very near the end of my shift, with my confession in her purse, she left.  And so did I.

My parents, who rarely picked me up, miraculously were there, in the car, waiting for me.  I got into the back seat and proceeded to try to tell them through my tears what happened.  My father, a man of very few words, opened his door, said Come with me!, and marched me into the store, confronted the boss, and said, My daughter does not steal! The boss tried in vain to mollify my dad who would have none of it.  Close your register and count your money! he insisted.  There were customers in the store, the boss was not so inclined.  He assured my dad that he did not think I was a crook.

Whatever he said, whether he did what Daddy demanded or not, I was fine.  I had seen a quiet man I loved turn into a knight in shining armor on my behalf.  If anyone could have played that role, it would have been, according to my expectations, my mother, the gutsiest role model of my existence – and yet  it was Daddy, not needing a word from the warrior-mom, who told that man where to get off and defended his little girl’s honour!  And that of the whole family, of course.

One more story, this one is also true.  It happened not so very long ago.  A young woman, a Canadian citizen, was traveling from Canada to the United States with her American boyfriend.  The two had met some time before in a place where young people go to work these days, like planting trees in the mountains or building homes for people in Haiti – I leave some of the details fuzzy for reasons that will become obvious.  The young woman had applied to an American university to do graduate work and had been accepted.  She would be starting in some months and the couple was going to look for an apartment for them to share in the same city.

They were stopped at the border where they presented their passports and were invited “in” for further questioning.  They were kept separate at all times.  The young woman was “questioned” for  more than four hours – every time she opened her mouth she was told, Shut your mouth!  We don’t have to listen to your lies.

She was accused of planning to live illegally in the States.  It had been noted that she and her boyfriend had crossed the border frequently, together or separately.  When she insisted she was going to study for a Master’s degree, she was asked for her student visa, which, since it was now still several months before her courses were to start, she had not yet received.  The examiner never once looked at, in fact refused to look at, the documents she had with her from the distinguished university that had accepted her.

The examiner repeatedly spoke to the young woman in the same manner as I have already described.  He continually threatened her with incarceration, and for more than four hours he told her she would not leave that room until she signed a confession, which, finally, she did, sealing her fate:  she would not be going to that university, she could not, in fact, enter the United States of America for any reason for the next five years.

The family and friends and acquaintances – even people who don’t know her personally – are devastated by this true story.  Her father, no less than mine, is a devoted loving hero of no small measure, as is her own warrior-mom.  They fully supported her “appeal” for which they were not permitted a lawyer.  The appeal was denied on the basis of the same “facts” that had condemned her, unblemished by supporting information by the university and a host of others. There is a next step for which she may be represented by a lawyer.  No one has mentioned the cost – one can only imagine.

The couple, twenty-somethings, are strong and beautiful.  They are making adjustments.  They are good people.

When I was a child, Hollywood made it clear that only cowards confessed to deeds they had not done.  Neither torture nor a deal, nor anything in between, could force a person of integrity, a hero, to confess. I’ve seen and heard a lot of true stories more compelling than my own since I was fourteen.  But somehow this beautiful young woman being locked up with a beast who called her names and threatened her relentlessly with jail and worse for hours, triggered those little tales of woe that were so huge to me.  I need to tell her through the world wide web that I embrace her courage; I deplore her experience at the border, and I honour her for the border crossing she has made — from being a beautiful human being with great courage to being an exceptionally beautiful human being with courage, integrity and a great future ahead of her.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2017

Posted in Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Uncategorized, Your character is your fate


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