Charlie’s understanding of how it felt to touch Natashka helps me to understand something else.
It helps me understand how it felt to me when she died.
I had some complex ideas about this in the morning while I was cooking up a carrot curry—about empathy and connection and who you empathize more with. It was all very interesting.
Now, I have lost track of those thoughts.
But I know a part of what I cannot bear is that moment. Not just because she was dying and I did not want her to die, but because I felt first her agony inside me as if it were mine and then her deadness.
Which doesn’t really feel like anything.
I felt it anyway.
You don’t spend years trying to imagine someone else’s perspective, trying to see from their point of view so that you can understand them and maybe help them feel better or at less marginally less wretched, and you don’t do this with intense concentration because, first, you can’t always understand their language and second, you aren’t always allowed to speak about what needs to be said. You don’t do that for years with a kind of artistic, hypnotic precision and then stop doing it.
When you have been reconstructing your beloved’s mind in your own mind in order to understand her and then she dies what you do is imagine vividly what it is like to be her.
You imagine what it is like to be dead. You imagine first what it is like to die and then what it is like to be dead.
Not in a vague way, but as if it is happening to you.
It is like being dead while you are alive.
And so Verka (who is now too grown up in my mind to go on calling Veroushka) remembers being dead. She is not sure how it is she is alive now. It is not just that life ought to have stopped when Natashka died, and not just that she cannot imagine any other fate worse than life without her, but that death is its own kind of miracle.
There is breath and a heartbeat and thoughts and emotions and what we call a soul one minute. And then there is a body.
It is hard to imagine two miracles. First, the transition to being nothing more than a body—however loved that body it is, that body is not the person anymore. And the transition to breathing and living again. It seems a step too far.
She is trying to grasp that she is not dead. She is trying to grasp what it felt to see death, to feel that death deep within her as well. Sometimes, she does.