I remember being 4 and 5 years old living with both my parents on the bottom floor of an apartment building on 23rd Street. I spent a lot of time playing outside in the warm California sun.
Adopting the Neighbor’s Cat
At my house we had one cat who would put up with me only to a certain degree before hiding from me. Therefore, I was forced to begin looking for other animals for me to play with. So, when I found a very friendly cat with a scratch underneath her eye, I instantly went into a panic. I begged my parents to help me take care of her. My dad cleaned her scratch and gave me some cat treats to feed her. I was thrilled.
For a long time this cat would come back to me each day and I would feed her food. My young mind determined that she was homeless and I needed to adopt her. So I named her “Sweet Cheeks”.
Then one day, I saw my Sweet Cheeks entering a neighbor’s house across the street. My heart was crushed – she wasn’t really my cat. She belonged to the neighbors.
The Neighbor’s Number Tattoo
My upstairs neighbor (also our apartment building owner) was an elderly lady by the name of Maria. Maria knew how to sew very well and often made me costumes to play dress up. Every year for Halloween, she would make my costume.
One year in particular when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, I went up to her house for a fitting of my princess dress for Halloween. She had me try it on and she realized that she had made it too long. As she was pinning the bottom of the dress, I noticed that her arm was not wrapped in it’s usual bandage. As she continued pinning the bottom of my dress, I noticed a tattoo. The tattoo was nothing but numbers.
I innocently remarked that her arm was “healed”. She looked at me puzzled for a moment before I pointed out that she was not wearing a bandage on her arm. She then looked nervous and kept her arm close to her body.
Unknowingly, I asked what her tattoo meant. As I asked the question, she poked me with a pin. Then she told me to go home. I began apologizing, although I didn’t exactly understand what I had done wrong. I had seen tattoos before – my dad even has one. I had always been told that tatoos meant something to the person who got it.
That night, my parents explained to me that Maria had a very different case. Her tattoo reminded her of something bad and terrible that had happened to her, which is why she always had it covered up.
It wasn’t for many years later until I was told more about Maria’s story. Maria was only a young girl when she was taken to a Nazi Concentration camp because she was a gypsy. The numbers on her arm were a form of identification to the Nazi’s. It was only her and a sister that survived. At the end of the war, they immigrated to the U.S.