Friday, March 1, 2013

Tosca ...and a happier outcome

I could see the fear in her eyes as they approached her.
“Hi there!” “How old are you?” “You’re adorable!” “Look at those eyes.”
She shrank back as far as she could under the shade of the stroller.
“Renee*, can you tell them hi?” I said gently, smiling at the little two-and-a-half-year-old that was under my care for the afternoon.
She simply stared, frightened, wide-eyed.
“She’s a little shy today,” I told my friends. We chatted for a little bit and soon they had to go.
“Goodbye, Renee,” they said.
“Tell them bye?” I coaxed the timid little girl. I gently touched her arm and her muscles relaxed just a little bit.
“Bye,” came the barely audible reply.
After my friends had left, I sat down on the park bench across from the stroller and looked thoughtfully into this scared little face.
Why so shy, little one? Maybe it was because her older sister wasn’t with us this afternoon. Just separation anxiety? Maybe playing at the park would help.
I wheeled her to the playground at the other end of the small town of Aspen and stopped under a tree next to the busy playground. Dozens of happy children ran all over the equipment.
“Want to join them?” I asked.
Her muscles tensed up- I could feel the weight in the stroller shift, and then she adamantly shook her head.
“Okay, you don’t have to,” I assured her. “It’s okay.”

A little later we were back at her mother’s apartment and Renee was happily playing with her sister and her dolls. “How was she?” Katrina* asked.
“A bit shy,” I said. “But we got along fine.”
Katrina lowered her voice and told me the harrowing details of her adoption. “When we got her, she was severely neglected, very malnourished and had 25 fractures when she was just under a year old. She was completely afraid of people because of what they had done to her.”
No wonder she was so scared, I thought with horror.
“Six months I could never have hired an outside babysitter; she was just so scared,” Katrina told me. “She’s doing much better now but with new people she takes a very long time to warm up.”

Earlier this semester we had to watch a film version of the opera Tosca. While Scarpia is the “bad guy” of the opera who makes everyone’s lives miserable (i.e. kills them), Tosca’s jealousy- and I think, her fear- actually instigates the tragedy. In the first act, Cavaradossi sings one of the most beautiful arias in the history of ever as he gazes at the face of the Madonna he just painted, saying basically, “You are beautiful, Tosca is beautiful, you remind me of Tosca, when I look at you all I can think of is Tosca and how much I love her.” Ah! Il mio sol pensier sei tu! I can only think of you! (P.S. the climax of this aria is just about the most amazing music ever written)
Then what does Tosca do when she comes in? “You love someone else, I just know it!” “Who is that woman? You love her and not me!” You can hear the fear dripping from her lines, in her voice. Her rhythm is hurried, contrasting with Cavaradossi’s long, assuring lines. Even as her lines get longer, her keys get more and more unstable as Cavaradossi urges her to leave so he can get work done (and help a runaway prisoner escape, the real reason the door was locked).
I wonder if anything happened to Tosca before the storyline of the opera began to make her so fearful of someone who loves her so much.  Did some other lover abandon her for another woman? Did Cavaradossi even cheat on her once?
Before viewing this film, I never thought of Tosca as a fearful character, but digging more deeply into the music reveals otherwise. Like frightened little Renee, soothing Tosca requires lots of reassuring words and phrases- only in Tosca, these are in the form of soaring melodies and stable keys. Like Tosca, the little girl needed stability, which she was getting from her wonderful adoptive family. Tosca also tended to assume the worst, which is what this little girl had been trained to do because of the horrible abuse she’d endured.
It would be pretty tempting to get discouraged at this point for the little girl. The story of Tosca has a pretty tragic ending. Tosca is never really offered any real healing for her fear. In fact, her last moments are filled with terror.

However, for this little girl, quite a different story seems to be unfolding. One of the next times I got to babysit her, I took her and her sister Charlotte* to the pool for the afternoon. While her sister took to the water like a fish, swimming right along with a pack of kids her age, Renee clung to me for the first hour or so. I played with her in the shallow end, making sure she knew I wasn’t going to leave her. Soon she was following her sister and even going down the small slide by herself. At the end of the afternoon, we were all wrapped in towels and heading to the bus stop to take us back into town. My mind was preoccupied with tons of other things- like making sure Renee didn’t pick up a used cigarette butt like she did at the bus stop coming here, and hoping I didn’t forget to put anything back in the massive diaper bag hanging from my shoulder. We sat at the bus stop and I let out an exhausted sigh.
“Yvonne?” Renee tugged at my towel.
"What is it?" I asked, hoping that she wasn't about to say "I need to go potty". 
“I wuv you,” she said, eyes shining.
I smiled and hugged her and inside I thought my heart melted a little. “I love you too.”
Charlotte grinned. “You should come and live with us!”
“I think my mommy and daddy would miss me,” I said.
“You have a mommy and daddy?” said Renee. “I do too!”
“They’re great, aren’t they?” I said to the girls.
Both girls nodded.
“Yvonne?” Renee tugged on my towel then snuggled up against me. “I wuv you. Wots and wots and wots.”

*Not their real names

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