Chapter 6: New Name, New Life

I arrived to America alive and healthy. I couldn’t believe it. I really did it! I escaped! 😄😄I could start new life in new place with new people and with a new name. I could start all over. I left Klara in Europe and I came to the US as Barbara. 😉

Are you asking why I´m called Barbara? Why did I choose this name? Well, I needed a name that would be the same Slovak and also in English so Americans didn’t have problem to pronounce it. Typical Slovak names like Lucia crossed my mind but in English it would be Lucy, or Zuzana=Susanne, Veronika=Veronica, Mária=Mary, Katarína=Catherine, Viktória=Victoria…

One day I was in Greece at Andreas´s apartment and I was supposed to study for an exam. Instead of studying, I was just bored, lying down and watching  Friends perhaps for the millionth time. My escape plan was already in my head but I still hadn’t made up a new name. While I was watching Friends, I was thinking about potential names. “Hmm, what about Monica? No, in Slovakia it is Monika. Rachel? No, that would be Rakel. Phoebe? We don’t even have this name. Suddenly, there on the TV show they said something about one of the character´s (Richard) ex-wife, Barbara. Of course! That was is! In the US, it is Barbara, and in Slovakia, it´s also Barbara. It´s perfect!” 👏 That evening I infected myself with hepatitis and the rest of my plan you already know (see Fall to the Bottom, part 4).

The guy, who was supposed to arrange a room and a job for me, was waiting for me at JFK Airport in NYC. His name was Paul. He gave me a room in 4-bedroom house where he lived. Paul (Czech guy) lived in one room with his girlfriend (Slovak girl) and their small daughter. Another room was his brother´s who lived there with his wife. An old polish lady was in the third room, and the fourth room was mine. This accommodation reminded me of old times in Italy (see What happened in Italy) since there was a mix of nationalities here like in Italy. Czechs, Slovaks and an old polish lady living in one house. Pretty funny. But I couldn’t be picky. I needed to be grateful for what I had because I was still escaping so the worse hole I lived in, the better. 🤷‍♀️

My new home was in Trenton, the capital city of New Jersey. I lived in the part of the city that was built by Central-Europeans. Would you believe it? Little Europe in US. 😯 There were Slovak and Polish stores that sold our national products. We also had a few bars, churches, travel agencies, and even a bank. You could communicate in Slovak or Polish everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. From the beginning I didn’t feel like I came to America. But only a few streets away was a “ghetto” where mostly black people lived and it was better to avoid that part of the city. Shootings were a common thing over there. Another interesting thing was that only black or Latino people worked in the stores close to our area. The first time I went to the store, a black shop assistant said something to me, and I didn’t understand her at all. I came to the US speaking English well enough but I really have a problem understanding black people and also some Chinese. Sometimes I feel like an idiot. Hmm, it´s interesting that here in America you can meet different people with different pronunciation and different accents.🤔😀

Paul arranged me a job in some cleaning service. I was a bit disappointed about it. 😒 I found out that I couldn’t work with my kind of visa, and if I wanted a better job, at least something in my field (after all I had a Bachelor´s degree), the employer had to sponsor and apply for a visa for me. I didn’t dare go through that process since I wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible 👤so that Andreas wouldn’t find me.

I had to take a job with a Polish lady only on a handshake. That´s how it worked here. There were Slovaks, Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians in our community. Most women worked as cleaning ladies, shop assistants in the local stores, or bartenders in bars. Men worked in construction. Those were our only job opportunities. If you liked or not, you worked hard 💪 if you wanted to earn money. And I can tell you that it was not easy work. From the beginning, my muscle strained, my body hurt. Every morning, I had cramps in my hands, and I couldn’t move my fingers. I went to the work at 7 AM and came back at 6 PM. I was definitely not used to working so hard and for so long. Until that moment I only sat on my ass and studied. From time to time, I worked a bit as a bartender and that’s it. Suddenly I had to vacuum, mop, clean up bathrooms and kitchens for the whole day. I never thought I would end up as a cleaning lady. 🤦‍♀️ Me? I was the best pupil in my primary school. 🥇 High school was easy for me. 🤙 I finished high school with a high GPA. 🔝 I have a Bachelor´s degree in Economics. 👩‍🎓 I still needed 2 more years to finish my Master´s degree and “thanks” to Andreas I didn’t do it. 😤 I had to escape. I didn’t finish school and I ended up as a cleaning lady. 😥 I couldn’t believe it. I have to admit that I earn much more than I would have earned in Slovakia, even if I had finished college. But what kind of future could I possibly have here? 🤷‍♀️

Days, weeks and months passed. 🗓️Time seemed to fly by. Every day was exactly the same. Work, dinner, sleep, work, dinner, sleep. And what about weekends? I went to the store, cooked, did my laundry, cleaned up and read a book. I deleted all my social media profiles so I didn’t spend much time on the Internet. I didn’t go to bars either because I wasn’t interested in socializing. I didn’t want to connect with anyone. I didn’t trust anyone and I avoided people.

As I found out, it was dangerous here. Besides the ghetto that I avoided, there were dangerous and weird people even in the Central-Europeans community. Every other was either drunk or addicted. Even Paul belonged in that group. So I lived in that house with Paul and the rest of those people only until my first Christmas there. I saved some money, and a few days before Christmas, I moved into one-bedroom apartment. I spent all the money I saved on furnishing the place. I needed to buy things for the kitchen and to furnish the bedroom and living room. It was a struggle financially because even my rent went up. It was double in comparison to the rent I paid for a single room. On the other hand, I had my privacy, peace and quiet.

Christmas was sad, New Year´s Eve was sad and I fell asleep before midnight. Everything was sad.😥 My life didn’t make sense. It was all about work, work, work and nothing else. Nothing interesting happened. No fun, no friendships, no relationships. I was scared of everybody. I wasn’t even confident about myself.

From the beginning, I had a problem reacting to the name, Barbara. For example, when a work colleague said my name and started to talk to me, and I had no idea that she was talking to me. I felt like an idiot later when I realized.🤦‍♀️ Sometimes a work colleague or a neighbor saw me in the store or on the street and would call my name. I didn’t even move my head because I didn’t realize that Barbara was actually me, Klara. They probably thought I was a weirdo. 😵🤦‍♀️

I was sore, and everything literally hurt me so much. Andreas mentally destroyed me. The situation about my dad´s divorce destroyed me. I couldn’t bear it in home anymore. Everything fell apart. I was happy that I had a chance to escape from all that. On the other hand, I was completely alone in a strange world. I had nobody. I wasn’t in touch with anyone since I didn’t use any social media. I was afraid that Andreas could find me if I did. I thought that if I died, no one would even know. No one would care. I felt like crying, and actually I cried many times. I was depressed. I even considered suicide. I told myself, “It would be better to die. Nobody would miss me and I would finally have peace. My own useless existence wouldn’t bother me anymore. There would be just one less person in the world. No big tragedy. It would be great! I wouldn’t even feel anything. No sadness or empty space. I would sleep and I would never wake up. I wouldn’t remember anything. It would be soooo amazing! I would sleep like Sleeping Beauty. Like a princess. Yes, princess. Andreas called me that. Princess.”

By the end of April, I had been in the US for 8 months already, and no progress happened in my life. I didn’t even dare kill myself. I was too much of a coward, but I was glad I didn’t do it because I was about to live out a fairy tale. Not Sleeping Beauty like I thought previously, but about another princess. I was going to live in a fairy tale like Cinderella.

To be continued…

Word to the wise: When you feel down, don´t give up! Find the reason to stand up and keep going! 👣💪

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