Shadows of the Past

Shadows of the Past


I am 8 years old

I am a little girl

I am waiting outside my classroom

I am at small private Catholic school in Denmark

I am curious, adventurous, and precocious

I must have talked back or asked an improper question

I don’t remember

There are two nuns at the school

One is very kind

The other one

Not at all

She slaps me across the face

That is all I remember

She did not really see Me


I am at my uncles home

A family party 

Everyone is dancing

All the adults are drinking

They are drunk

I am having so much fun dancing


My uncle slaps me hard across the face

Accusing me of spitting

But I did not

I was dancing and having fun

I am scared

We leave

I feel bad


I am 10 years old

I am at my house

Friends of my parents are visiting

We are all outside


Having fun

They are drinking

My mother’s best friend hits me across my face


What did I do?

Am I bad?

Photography by Holly Andres

Photography by Holly Andres

I am 14 years old

I am at a small, rather empty restaurant with my dad

We are eating dinner

But not talking

He is so quiet

He is stressed

He does not see Me

I feel invisible

I know that his business is doing poorly

Things are falling apart

I feel sorry for him and wish I could help

I wish I could save him

I am keeping myself together


I am holding on so tightly

As things are falling apart

Slowly, slowly

One day at a time


I am 18 years old

I feel small

No one really sees Me

Who am I?

I barely see myself

Through all the barriers

Submerged and hidden


I leave for France



Photography by Elina Brotherus 

Photography by Elina Brotherus 

I am 21 years old

I am working as a bartender in LA

A man in his late thirties is at the bar

He is always looking at Me

I am flattered

Am I special?

One day he leaves me an envelope with $1000

For my independence


He knows I am married

That I am depressed

I become entangled, I lie

I lie a lot, I break my husband’s trust 

And heart 

The Man becomes my mentor

He believes in me

He manipulates me

He also owns me

He controls me


I am in an elevator

With two other people

It is Friday

Late afternoon

Offices are closing down early

After a few floors

I am alone with Him

He is furious

He knows I am leaving

My heart is beating fast

I feel stronger and stand up taller

Before I can turn my head 

He hits me very hard

My heart stops

My mind stops

Time stops

The elevator stops

I exit the elevator

I walk away

Photography by Anna Leppala

Photography by Anna Leppala

I am 23 years old

At a gas station, walking back to my car

I am approached by a man in his mid-thirties

He tells me he sees beautiful colors around me

He sees Me and more of Me

I am no longer invisible

He becomes my spiritual teacher

I become one of his disciples

He is my Guru

I learn about meditation, chanting, Tibetan Buddhism

One Saturday afternoon

A small piece of paper is placed on my tongue 


I have no idea


Until I let go

I feel light, I am flying, I see colors and shapes

Later PCP

Not sure why


On my way to India with my Guru


I wake up

I change my plans

I move on


I am at a ranch somewhere in America

A ranch that has camels

A man in his fifties sent me here to recuperate

To heal

He guides me on the importance of self care

He is wise

Yet, mysterious

His best friend is an actual European Prince

He works with the Rolling Stones

Not sure in what capacity

I work on a documentary about the Dalai Lama

My Friend is a big donor

I meet the Dalai Lama, he blesses my white scarf

I practice yoga

I feel light and free


I am getting stronger and more independent

I say goodbye to my Friend

He saw Me and gave me a helping hand

Years later I am told

He is in a high security prison in New York

For trafficking drugs


I am on stage

By myself

Everyone in the acting class is looking at me


My teacher, a woman

Asks me

“Whoever made you feel small?”

I am numb


She sees through Me

I thought no one was able to see 

How small I feel

Photography by Anna Leppala

Photography by Anna Leppala

I am 30 years old

I am sitting in a room on top of a hill in Laurel Canyon

My therapist is telling me that if I stay in my relationship

I will likely get sick

He is concerned

I am concerned

He sees my depression

He sees Me

I have a 3 year-old son

His dad is an attorney

He is stable 

But he started practicing Orthodox Judaism

I don’t fit in

I am the outsider

His Rabbi tells me I have a Jewish Soul

But really…my soul has no affiliation

Our son is not considered Jewish


I am not Jewish

Does he also have a Jewish Soul?

My statues on my altar are considered idol worshipping

They are removed

Rules, dogma, hypocrisy

I am angry, so angry

Sad, very sad


I am losing myself


I leave

Reminded of the little 8 year old girl


I see Her

I want to take care of Her

Make room for Her


As I am walking on my new path

She shows me the way

I see Her


Eyes of compassion



I am home


Photography by Anna Leppala

Photography by Anna Leppala

Shadows of the Past by Birgitte Kirsten

Cover Photography by Naomi Harris