I remember going to church with Natalya.
But I don’t really remember this. Instead, I remember sitting in a different church a few years later. My mother’s friend had helped to put on a Christmas pageant and so we had gone for a service to see it. And what I remember is sitting there with the intrusion of a different church popping into my head.
Those were the only two times I ever saw the inside of a church, unless you count the old Catholic mission buildings left from the time of Spanish conquest and colonization (or, more often, rebuilt after they had been forgotten about and melted away). I don’t count these. They were historical, and I was allowed to visit them.
Being inside a different church was like blasphemy, and so that is why it stood out to me, and why the memory was strong enough to intrude.
I don’t have any idea why we went to a church or really even what we did there. I have a vague memories of candles and of Natalya wearing a lacy-looking navy-colored skirt. This happened only once. I don’t know what church it was or even what kind of church, what city we were in, how we got there, or who was with us.
But it reminds me that Natalya believed in God. Before leaving the house, when I am just about to go into the bathroom and take a bath, it occurs to me that according to what Natalya believed, she is in Heaven now. It is not my belief, but that was hers.
For some reason I can’t explain, this thought overwhelms me with sadness. I sit down on the bed instead and begin to weep.
I grew up believing in Christ, in the virgin birth, crucifixion, and the resurrection, but I feel I never was a Christian—that the 2×2 version of Christianity is not really Christianity and there are certain doctrinal points of the whole thing that are so unfamiliar to me as a whole that I can’t properly grasp them.
After I stopped believing in what I had been raised with, it didn’t cross my mind to turn to a different Christian denomination. I thought about whether there might be a God at all, but not whether to go on believing in Jesus. There seemed no particular reason to do that.
But Natalya believed. This is something else that doesn’t entirely make sense to me, given what I think I know. In 1986, a Russian girl ought to be an atheist. She wasn’t. Belief connected her to some kind of past, to her grandmother, and to a memory of having been loved—and I think she was loved. I don’t know what happened to her parents, but I think her grandmother loved her very dearly.
And I suppose it’s something else I need to make sense of. There are pieces jumbled together now that I will have to tease apart.
I’m thinking of it today because she is dead, because I want to mark her death—having a date in mind is like having a grave. But I don’t know how to mark it. I cannot mark it in the way I would mark it. I have to mark in the way she would mark it—that is how you show respect.
But there are too many things I don’t understand.
There is still a suicidal voice in my head. Sometimes the voice speaks out of a void—I am too shut down to feel anything. And sometimes I feel something in my gut that I can’t identity along with it.
So there is still that to deal with. I am not home free, and although it seems so many of the pieces have been shaken loose now, and that now I can see them and start to put them in their proper places again, there is still a piece that is half on the other side of a wall.
I felt intensely suicidal for years after Natalya died. I might have been suicidal when she was alive, because the nature and the sheer quantity of the abuse was simply, utterly too much.
I didn’t have any idea why I felt that way and proceeded to make things up. I attributed it to a kind of hysteria, an over-emotionalism, and a temperament that led me to have exceptionally dramatic reactions to ordinary, unpleasant events. I have to go back and revise that view, but it’s an oddly stubborn one. I can’t seem to shift it. It is stubborn despite the superior logic of something else.
I think this is why I keep remembering the suicidality and why I feel it so intensely sometimes. I am trying to revise that view of myself, and I need to keep seeing the evidence that necessitates changing it. I need to understand very clearly why what I thought about myself—and probably what others thought then also—was never remotely true.