IF I LIVED 100 YEARS AGO by Carolina Bomeny

São Paulo, Brazil
February 3, 1917

Dear Journal,

I have a voice, but I can not speak. I am a soul trapped inside an object. Yes, an object. I have no needs no wants, no opinion. I don’t exist unless floors are dirty and stomachs are empty, babies are crying and my husband is angry. I am sixteen and I’ve seen my childhood brutally snatched away from me, alongside my innocence, my dreams, my hope. Papa promised me to the most abominable man I have ever met, not that he is much of a gentleman himself. He heard my desperate cries pleading not to marry that beast, and yet he let his eldest daughter go, as if she was a mere possession, passed from hand to hand. I’ve got no purpose for living except fulfilling his desires. I clean and wash and cook and mop, but I wish that was all he demanded from me. He is a rich man, but so poor inside I can hear his heartbeat echoing through his hollow body at night. The money bought him respect, prestige, all his actions are honorful, but not at home. Lift up the hem of my sleeve or undo the back of my dress and you will see the real him. The scars that run along my once-smooth skin are ghastly, but nothing compared to the ones buried deep down in my chest, somewhere that seemed impossible to reach, and yet he did. He grows bitter by the second and apparently I can't do anything right. Every night when he comes home I can see the rage sweep across his eyes as he spots me on the opposite side of the room. Between the agonizing moments of the continuous lashes, I wonder what reprehensible act have I done this time and my mind becomes as blank as a poet's trying to process his true feelings into words. And then, I'm not even sure if he knows what he's beating me for. 
Although he is rich, our house is relatively small compared to others in our neighborhood. Besides from me, there is only one person to help out in the house, Amelia. She is an older woman (in her 50's I'd say) but I have the strangest feeling she is there to ensure I won't run away. My husband can afford other servants, but he thinks it is my duty as a female to take care of the household.
I was fourteen when we got married: still a defenseless child. He abused me despite how painful I told him it was. He doesn't hear me or care about me at all. Why did he marry me anyway? But with time, I grew smarter. He hasn't touched me in weeks, although it's just a matter of time before he realizes his nighttime drink comes with a special ingredient. Amelia gave it to me, and I'm not exactly sure what it is but it works like magic - if I still believed in that. Every night I climb in bed meticulously - afraid to awaken the monster beside me - but the drink has done its trick, and I sleep comforted by his snore. 
The faintest signs of day pushing through the crack beneath a window have me up and about. Standing in the front porch watching as the sun slowly emerges from the trees and plants a warm kiss on my face, life seems perfect. It's as if God has frozen all my memories and thoughts just so I can concentrate on the sweet melody of the birds greeting each other good morning. The street gradually gains life as men leave for work. An engine sounds in the distance and day finally begins. 
After all the drudgery, I sit in my favorite spot in the living room: a red chair so big it almost swallows me. I love how the afternoon breeze comes through the open window making the pale blue curtains dance to a soft rhythm. The cool wind obliterates the long scorching summer days. I open up yesterday's newspaper and sip on my invigorating lemon juice, while I dive into the complicated yet riveting world of politics, economy and international affairs. These topics have always sparked great interest in me but my husband is averse to me absorbing this kind of knowledge - any kind of knowledge actually. Uhm… What does he say? Ah, "women need not to meddle in men's business". With this, our daily argument is over and the "State of São Paulo" gazette is hurled into the trash. Poor man, doesn't he know I don't care what he thinks? Everyday I pick it up and read it. The thing is that I have to pretend I am not aware of what is going on. I know all about the Great War going on and how Brazil's economy is in a fragile state since the conflict has hindered coffee exportation. Hearing about how women are taking important roles across the globe fills my heart with joy and my head with hopes. I went to school although I never really finished. Papa laughed hard when he heard me saying I wanted to be a lawyer, only to realize I had not made a joke. Never in favor of my education, he forced me to quit school and become a wife. That's still my dream, as far away from possible as it seems.

March 25, 1917

Dear Journal,

Sundays are the best day of the week. We drive across town for the weekly family lunch in my parent's house after church. My husband, Papa and Uncle Sebastian sit in a corner taking long drags from their cigarettes while Mama, Aunt Mary and I gossip over cookies. It's nice to hear how cousin Peter has entered medical school, but as soon as I can, I run to my sister and then I'm all hers for the rest of the day. My sister is called Julia and she's thirteen years-old. Oh sister, how I miss you. How I miss going to school with you, talking about boys, climbing trees, going on adventures, helping you with homework, dancing to our favorite songs on the radio… We laugh and talk about life. She is too young and naive to know what I endure and I hope she never has to know. God willingly, Papa will grow some sense into himself and let Julia marry whomever her heart desires.
After lunch, Julia and I head over to the next door neighbor, a good friend of mine. It's always exciting to see Laura, know what she has been up to. This time, she told me she's secretly dating an older man, since her parents don't approve. She seems very happy and I'm glad for her.
"Don't be so dramatic, I'll see you again next week." Julia makes a statement as I hold her almost too tight for her to breathe. I want to hold on and never let go of those little thin arms and bouncy golden curls. The tranquility in her voice is soothing but still doesn't take away the fact a week seems like an year. I say my goodbyes and get in the car quickly. I do not want my sister to see the burning tears running down my face. As the house gets smaller, I prepare for another week of my life.

November 12, 1917

Dear Journal,

A lot of things have changed since I've last written. I no longer think about the misery in my life as someone has taken up every single thought of my day. His name is Gabriel Pereira, he has moved here from a small town in the south and he works at a local market during the day to be an actor at night. He is just pure perfection… there's no other possible way to describe him. He has a tall and strong structure, but not the intimidating type. His charcoal-black hair is always free in a beautiful mess, not slicked down to his head like other men. His cheeks are covered in freckles that make his slightly green eyes pop out. His jawline is as sharp as a knife and his walk is confident, full of dignity, but he's not the least bit arrogant.
I met him in one of my weekly runs to the town center with Amelia for groceries. I first saw Amelia as an enemy, but we've grown pretty close. She's the only one I can talk to since all my neighbors are too stuck up to hang out with a seventeen year-old girl. Anyway, she lets me shop alone for a while so that I can have a few moments with Gabriel. Aside from being prepossessing, he is a bright and open-minded young man. His father left when he was just a youngster and his mother raised him and his two brothers all by herself. He understood first-hand society's prejudice against women since his mother was highly condemned for working and being single. Now, he has come to the metropolis that is São Paulo to try and succeed as an actor and support his family.
What I love most about him is his respect for me. Not just for me, all women. He values us as human beings and listens carefully to every little thing I say. We get into deep conversations about topics from our families to our dreams to global issues. Gabriel finds it absolutely amazing that I want to become a lawyer someday, and encourages me to reach my goal no matter what. He makes me feel strong and powerful, he makes me feel worthy.
We would make a fine couple, and I'm sure Amelia agrees with me on this one. Apart from being true soulmates, our age difference is ideal. He'll be nineteen in January and I'll be eighteen in April. But I'll add this fictional romance to my enormous pile of hopeless dreams because the only way for Gabriel and I to be together is in another life.

December 20, 1917

Dear Journal,

It's holiday season and my husband is working until late in his fabric store. I would usually enjoy these rare extra hours to myself to visit Gabriel, but I've been noticing women whispering things to one another while glancing at me in the store. I don't even know their names and yet they are criticizing and judging my life. I have to be careful, if word gets out I am cheating on my husband (which I am, except mentally) he will strip my soul out of my body. With this, I'm left wondering what exactly is Gabriel doing. The thing is, I can barely picture him without wanting to run my hands through his hair while our lips touch in a gentle but fervent kiss. I imagine what his grip feels like around my waist, pulling me close to his body, so close we are almost one. I get goosebumps just from thinking about his fingers running across my hair strands and pulling them backwards softly. And then when the moment is over I can see him kissing my forehead and telling me the three words I'm desperate to hear: I love you. 
I laugh at my own silliness, but I can't help it if I am completely besotted with the boy. His effect over me is so tremendous I fear my own feelings. I cannot feed this illusion any further but it has already reached its maximum. He has become my sole purpose of life and this weakens me. Time goes by lighter and quicker with him in my mind - I'll open up a smile automatically sometimes - but as the moon replaces the sun, I am left with a feeling of utter desolation. It is in this moment that I realize I'll never get to see him after a long day and cuddle next to him in bed, that I'll never attend one of his performances, that I'll never be Ms. Pereira, that he'll never truly be mine.

January 17, 1918

Dear Journal,

What is happening to me? I feel sick all the time and can't control my mood. I feel very vulnerable, like as if I was feeling everything twice as much as I should. Today is different, I am only infuriated. It is Gabriel's birthday and I passed by his workplace to congratulate him, only to find him engaged in a seemingly hilarious conversation with a woman no older than 20. How can he possibly betray me like that? Or maybe she's just a friend, or… wait…. maybe I am just a friend? Can he possibly not love me back? We have something, even if he can't read my thoughts I must not be the only one who feels a sudden rush of energy when our hands touch for the split second he hands me my bag of groceries. Am I crazy? Of course, what was I thinking! I am a married woman and he is a handsome young man who is single and free to decide his own life. You two would never work, EVER, do you understand that Carolina? You have to distance yourself from him, look at you, I've never seen you so unstable, and now you are talking to yourself! Great! Ugh, I'm nauseous again, goodbye.

January 24, 1918

Dear Journal,

My out of control mood now has a name. In fact, it will soon have legs and arms and a little face. It is currently growing inside of me as I write. My lady days have not arrived this month, and my upset stomach only confirms my worst fear: I am pregnant. Pregnant with that man's baby. Just writing this makes me want to throw up again. A baby. It still doesn't sound real. How am I supposed to raise a child if I can barely take care of myself? I don't want a child to grow up in this environment, this is not a home. No one should live with a father that beats a mother and treats women like rubbish. What if I have a daughter? Into what world am I bringing her too? Oh God, please bring me a boy, as selfish as this wish may seem, for I fear my daughter's life already. 
It's Thursday, four days left before I can see my mother and ask her for advice. Should I tell my husband? I mean of course, but, how is he going to react? We have never talked about kids, in fact, we've hardly even had real conversations. But a child is good news right? Possibly it'll warm that man's icy stone heart for once in his lifetime. 
It's no time for me to be thinking about Gabriel, but I can not stop it. To get over him, I'd have to be taught how to forget to think.

February 1, 1918

Dear Journal,

It's the first humane act coming from him I have ever seen: a smile, a genuine, joyful smile. This was his reaction to the news of becoming a father. He got close to me and touched my stomach, all the while shaking his head as in disbelief. Maybe he did want a child all along. A small part of me was relieved to see that perhaps he would be a good father. He then turned around and signaled for me to exit the room. If I didn't know him so well, I'd say his eyes were sparkling with tears on the edge of coming down. Maybe there is hope that this baby will brighten our lives.

March 2, 1918

Dear Journal,

A cloud of fury has mounted over this house. I have never seen that man so irritated before. Over the course of this month, he has beaten me up severely, to the point where I almost passed out from being choked. I frankly don't know what was going on, I thought he was happy for the baby. If he was, he is not anymore, for there is no more baby.
Yesterday morning he wanted to wear his favorite shirt, but it was stained. I tried to remove it as best as I could, but it did not surrender to my efforts. After telling him I could do nothing to remove it, he started yelling at me and telling me how useless I was. He could not contain his emotions and he pushed me with all his force, and down the stairs I went. I slowly got up and felt instantly lightheaded. I managed to get myself to the bathroom and sit on the toilet. When I looked down, what should be urine was a bloodbath. My child, gone. I felt empty, as if a great part of me had just left. My child was a victim of that man before even coming to this world. I can not lie, I am afraid of my fate.

October 9, 1918
Dear Journal, 

Oh dear God, forgive me if I am a horrible person, but I can not mourn for that despicable man who has died of the Spanish Flu. Pardon my language, but such a putrid soul deserves a special place in hell. All these people crying as the casket is descended into the Earth, and I cannot stop grinning. I'm not owned by anyone anymore, I belong to myself from this point on. I am finally free from that disgraceful man. I want to scream and liberate everything that has accumulated inside of me and run as fast as I can to wherever I want. Is this what freedom feels like? I've never felt anything as revitalizing as this, and now that I've gotten a taste of it, I will hang onto it for as long as I am alive. 
I will make my own choices from now on. I will say everything I've been silenced for, every thought that has ever crossed my mind that I could not speak of. I will first go back to school, and then become a lawyer. I am a human being as capable as any other, I am a woman, and I will fight for all my rights. It won't be an easy journey, but I am not alone. We will start slowly, like we're barely there, and as soon as you realize, we're following you in your dreams. Not noticing us will be inevitable because we will be everywhere as powerful as we've ever been, but not as we have ever shown. We, are warriors, and revolution is our fight song.