Photography © Ira Joel Haber
Ego Sum Eam
Society is constantly evolving with their way of describing life. Some refer to it as a carousel or cycle. Some say it’s a wave of ups and downs. For her, it was a pendulum or even, a wrecking ball, forced to sit and hang on as life held the controls that made it swing. She came into the world on a hot, summer day fighting, completely unaware as a babe that she would be spending the rest of her life battling day by day.
It was at the beginning of her twentieth year that she had made the biggest mistake of her life. She believed for one second her life was “perfect” and relaxed. After that moment, her world came so swiftly crashing down she didn’t even get a chance to fight back. She grabbed on to the pendulum and closed her eyes.
After two attempted arrests, a long trial and even house arrest, her father was sent to prison in 2016. A pain that day filled her chest and chills up her spine as if the ice from the March storm outside had replaced the walls of her small East Village apartment. Her mother on the end of the phone screaming, “ He’s gone. They took him. He’s gone.” She kept trying to grip on to her dining room table but it was no use. The tragedy of it all was that she was completely unaware of just how much more there was to come. Poor child, no, poor woman, was thrown into a war she had nothing to do with, will fight battles in someone else’s name, and suffer horrendous wounds she did not deserve. However, the pendulum must swing.
Five months later, it swung with a force greater than anyone could have predicted. Her love, her heart, woke up one morning and decided his life was not worth living. He got dressed that August morning, made her breakfast, and kissed her goodbye. She would never again have the chance to tell him in that one moment of heaven that she loved him too. He was found in a forest outside of Journal Square, wrists and arms slit, covered in blood and dirt. Somehow he miraculously survived this ordeal but the man who they brought to the hospital was not the same man who kissed her goodbye that morning. He abandoned her and after being at each other’s side for almost five years, she didn’t even have the words to say goodbye. She had no words at that point. However, passerbys would have told you a different tale. On 11th street, they would say in that moment, they witnessed her collapsing to the ground in tears holding on to the gate of the school in the corner of the block, desperately trying to breathe and keep her composure. She refused to show him any pain but the whole world saw it. Even if he did, he wouldn’t have cared. He could have heard her screaming and crying all the way to Connecticut and would have just scoffed the vibrations off as the wind.
Eight months later, it swung again. The girl who once walked the streets of NYC full of life turned into a mere figure, completely depleted of all emotion. She had reached financial ruin. Affording her NYU tuition or rent was a reach for only miracles. Snow was tumbling down and she had holes in her shoes, one pair of ripped pants, no money for food. Living several days at a time on only stale crackers or one dollar pizza till she got paid again, with no government money to help her. There was no helping her and why would they? For a poor 23 year old shadowless figure. Universities don’t give out scholarships for kids with “daddy problems.” Food Stamps aren’t given to those who actually need the help. Rental assistance? Is that even a real social program, especially for someone who was struggling to live in a $4,000 apartment in the East Village. For weeks, she walked with snow seeping into her shoes when the final blow came. Homeless.
Her family home was destroyed in a massive flood, everything she had was gone. Few days later, with nowhere left to turn, she went to the one place as a child she ever felt safe – Queens, NY. With 3 garbage bags, she began her journey. Tears flooded Grand Central station as she got on the 7 train to Corona, Queens. There she hid in a room and slept on a broken air mattress on the floor with 2 other people and wept. She could have begged and prayed to God as much as she wanted, no one was going to hear her. In a matter of months, she lost absolutely everything.
One night, sleeping on the dirty floor, she finally saw them. She saw the gates of hell and realized what had happened with her life. There was only one way out of hell and that was to claw and dig until eventually the darkness was behind you. So, she began. For four years, she clawed and fought, never taking a moment to breathe or stop. Everyday was a new battle, a new journey the
pendulum forced her on, but this time she didn’t close her eyes; she reached. After four years, she made it out. The pendulum was hers to control.
If you ask her today how those years affected her or how she got out, she could lie to you and say, “ I simply got over it as time went on and gave myself motivational speeches in the mirror every morning like, “Come what may, slay all day” but in reality it was much more poetic.” She was in every sense of the word, destroyed. So many moments, she pondered whether she would make it, even questioning herself whether she wanted to. Then she remembered her childhood days in Europe. She was like a child swimming in the ocean for the first time, bravely taking her first dip alone and beginning slowly to create a new life.
For many, she stands as a reminder to society that it takes a special person to not only land and live in hell but to come out shining brighter than the sun. So many people believe that when life turns we are stuck but one doesn’t have to be. We are never stuck. We are not defined by the chains that have been placed upon us. Allow hell and life’s difficulties to become one with you, and you will find the gaps where to claw out the light, just like I did.
Iva Cvjeticanin was born in Zagreb, Croatia. She spent the majority of her life growing up in Queens, NYC. Although she was always an avid writer at school and University ( NYU ), her passion for it really began as a way of therapy. “This short piece is the beginning of my journey and a small amount of the struggles I faced to get through to where I am today. I may not have had money for food but I somehow always managed to find pen and paper. Through writing, I gained not only clarity but an ability to muster the right words to respond to situations. For me, it is about creating art and allowing my readers to feel what I have felt and imagine what I have seen, not to have myself understood better but so that they could understand themselves better. Today, I continue to write my story from my small Jackson Heights apartment.”
Ira Joel Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn. He is a sculptor, painter, writer, book dealer, photographer and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in the USA and Europe and he has had 9 one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum,The Albright-Knox Art Gallery & The Allen Memorial Art Museum. Since 2006 His paintings, drawings, photographs and collages have been published in over 230 on line and print magazines. He has received three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two Creative Artists Public Service Grant (CAPS), two Pollock-Krasner grants, two Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grants and, in 2010, he received a grant from Artists’ Fellowship Inc. in 2017 & 2018 he received the Brooklyn Arts Council SU-CASA artist-in-residence grant.