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I feel now I can engage with the past, that the past is in some way part of me and I can use it to make decisions about the future. But I don’t really know how.

As the last event of the school day, we listen to a kind of religious lecture delivered by our eldest National Language teacher who knows a lot of other things too, like about our state religion. I’m sitting with the other teachers at the back of the room, not understanding anything, and I realize I have no particular plan for my future.

I have applied to stay here in Country X for another year, but I have no thought about what to do beyond that. Which is perhaps as it should be. I am in a period of radical internal transition. Any future I chose now might later become something I did not want. And so it is better to wait.

Still I wonder about it because I also have the sense I have lived for a long time as if I needed to live for two people—as if I needed to live for Natalya as well as for myself. I don’t know exactly what this might have meant for me in the past, or if it’s good or bad to go on thinking in those terms, or what kind of future thinking in that way would give me.

It’s hard for me to understand and feels in some way like something that still exists a little bit on another side of a wall. Nonetheless, I feel like trying to sort it out. And this seems like a good idea, but as I am writing, I am overcome with sadness. I can’t seem to do it or even think about it in a meaningfully way.

I am too sad that Natalya is not with me to think about anything.

I keep wanting to be analytical, to think in a conscious, clear way, and to organize the pieces that have been tossed around in my head these last few days only to discover that mostly I have to feel. That I have to go on feeling. There’s not really any kind of break in the need to feel.

I have a friend who understands some things. She reads my blog and now has her own blog, but our friendship began outside the blog.

This friend has helped me recently in a way that feels really significant. When I write about how Natalya spoke to me, she understands what I mean. She says it would have been like a warm bath. It was. That is exactly it. I want a warm bath again.

And it makes me think I can’t really understand what Natalya was for me without understanding something of her culture, that some of what I remember about her was particular to her and some of it was simply about where she came from. It’s just that she was the only person I knew from that place.

During that time in my life—from 9 to 13—all the other girl and women were from what were then Soviet countries. I don’t know precisely where they were from because I didn’t talk to any of them. We did our thing and went away again. There was no relationship, no connection, and I only drifted in and out of their world.

They were all used in both prostitution and pornography, and the pornography was sometimes with me. The scenes were sometimes female-on-female and sometimes involved two or more of us servicing one man. I do not know if my dad was still turning me out or not, or if he was only selling me to the pimps who ran the porn studio and controlled the other girls.

But the only one of the girls I formed any connection with was Natalya.

When I was smaller—from something like 5 to 8—the girls were all from Mexico and South America. I think at that point my dad had his own “stable” of small girls, but he did not have a lot of girls. There might have been only three or four of them at a time, but it’s hard to know because there was no stability. I don’t know what he did with them, but they didn’t last long. And I think in those days the pornography end of the trafficking was separate from the prostitution, although I can’t be sure. The pornography I was used in mostly featured abuse from adult men. When there other children involved, I think they were all white children. The little brown girls played with me by the hotel pool and solicited men, but I didn’t interact with them in front of a camera. I did in front of a live audience—they were the ones with me at parties, where we were passed around to be abused by men—but we didn’t interact in front of a lens.

That’s not really the point, but I thought I would tell you anyway. Just because. My point was supposed to be that almost all of the information I had about Natalya’s culture came from Natalya, and so when she was alive there was a kind of confusion for me about what was uniquely her personality and what was simply her culture: Which might not be important. Still, I think it is.

The warm bath was her culture—maybe it was both the culture and how she was. But the idea that affection could be expressed in altering the sounds of the language—that this was among the possibilities of expression—that was her culture. I don’t know that I quite knew that, but I had some idea. At the very least, I understood doing it. I understood its intent.

The extent of the affection may also have been culture. It’s possible too that Natalya was herself an especially warm and affectionate person, or maybe she just loved me a lot. However, it reminds me of my last girlfriend who wasn’t for years comfortable saying she loved me out loud. In contrast, the only word in Russian that I think I really recognize now from what Natalya said to me is the Russian word for love. And maybe also you.

The overtness of the affection, an affection expressed in words and in language, and that can be (in comparison to my own culture) almost sentimental, I think that was Natalya’s Russianness also. After her death, what I felt aside from my grief was also a kind of homesickness and displacement regarding a culture I knew almost nothing about and couldn’t acknowledge.

I think also, because of Natalya, I came to associate love with a kind of reaching across: the difficulty of communication, the effort involved, the willingness to make an effort that are part of being an “other” and of being with the “other,” these became what we did. They were a part of how we loved each other, and they also became what I did and what I thought of as somehow natural and effortless, despite the effort involved. Except hardly anyone else does this. It is not natural, and most people won’t do it.

The reaching across was Natalya. It is what she did for me—what we did for each other. We struggled through incomprehensible languages, through the exhaustion of being trafficked, and the constraints of being always watched to try to understand one another. I think it remains the reason I still want to have to reach across to others and why it’s more comfortable for me to live far away from my own country than it is to live in a place where understanding might come more easily, although it is never easy when you have my background, when you are like me. The experience of being foreign still feels like love to me. At the very least, it feels like the way things ought to be.

 

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