Breaking the pig

The story, and the story behind the story | Alphabet Audio Soup

When I was five years old, a family friend who lived overseas came to visit, bringing gifts for my siblings and me. I don’t remember what my brother and sister got, only that of all the packaged presents, mine was the biggest. When I tore off the wrapping and opened the cardboard box, I found a smiling, pink, porcelain pig.
I thanked the friend politely, but I have to admit that I was a little dismayed: what could you play with a porcelain pig? Seeing the disappointment on my face, the man asked if I knew why the pig had a slot in its back. He explained that it was a piggy bank: “Every time you want to save,” he said, taking a coin from his pocket, “drop a coin into the slot, and in the end all the coins will build up into a lot of money.” I was pleased that the smiling pig could be put to use, but my happiness faded when I learned that the only way I would be able to get the money out was by breaking the poor little pig.
I remember that moment when I understood that this innocent creature was going to end up in pieces. I remember the tears I held back, as I had many times before. I remember the pain of realizing that the world was not the decent, fair place that my preschool teacher had promised. And I remember something else, too: myself looking into the pig’s enormous eyes and feeling incredibly close to him. It was a closeness that, at the time, I had trouble explaining. But today I think I understand it: as the son of a mother who’d lost her entire family in the Holocaust, and a father who’d survived the war by hiding in a small pit in the ground for more than six-hundred days, I knew from a very young age that my parents had suffered enough and that my job as a child was to make sure I didn’t add any more pain and sorrow to their cup of grief, which was already full to the brim. And so every time life dropped another coin of insult or sadness through my slot, I knew, unconsciously, that I had to spare my parents from it. And that just as the coins piled up inside the piggy bank, that sorrow would keep amassing inside me forever, with no way to get out, until the day I shattered into pieces.
The porcelain pig lived a long and happy life on a shelf in my room. Everyone who picked it up and shook it over the years could hear a single coin: the one from the day we’d met. As I grew up, I kept swallowing back my tears. Even today, almost half a century later, I don’t know how to cry. But if someone took the trouble to pick me up and shake me, I promise he wouldn’t hear even one coin rattling inside me. Because very early on in life, I discovered a different way to offload the disappointments and fears that build up inside me—a way that doesn’t require me to break anything. All I have to do is write.
Translated by Jessica Cohen


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