I am the one who saw Natalya.
I am the one who sat on the bloody asphalt and held her while she died.
I am the one who had a chance to say goodbye.
It’s not an easy moment to have or to carry with me as a memory for the rest of my life, but it means I have a sense of peace about her death that no one else has.
I am not at peace with it inside myself. I am enraged about her death.
But I have at least a sense that, for her, death was peace and it is, for that reason, something I can come to accept. She had an appointment with Death. She went to meet him. I did not want her to go, but I did not make the appointment. I had no choice about it. I just sat with her while she prepared to leave.
The others did not. They have had their memory of her amputated and they could not cope with that. We gave them their memories back, but they have not really moved into being able to accept her death. Charlie is silent. Annoushka ignores it. This morning, she woke up and it finally began to register: Natashka is dead. And she cried for a while. Then I came and made breakfast. Sam has to be told all over again every day that she is dead. I don’t know what Lana thinks or where Katya is with all of this.
But I have a different problem. I can accept her death, but it’s hard for me to accept her life. I know she lived. I know she was with me, but it’s like something that got chopped off.
My memories are amputated too, but for maybe a different reason. I am not trying to avoid the pain of losing her. I am avoiding the pain of what I lost.
I can’t understand how much I loved her, how deeply, or how intensely. I don’t know why this is. It should not surprise me, but perhaps it’s just that all I remember of myself is that I feel dead inside. I cannot imagine having felt alive.
I cannot imagine how it felt to make love with her—I can remember it now, but it’s not something I could have ever imagined. I cannot imagine being so full of emotions that I felt I was burning alive inside. I did feel that way. I remember the feeling even. I remember it from later, when I was reminded of it by other things. But it seems impossible.
It wasn’t impossible. I was someone who loved, someone who felt, and the intensity is not really a matter of temperament. It could be, but it isn’t. I don’t know what my temperament really is. The intensity is about being trafficked, it’s about Natashka being trafficked. It’s about feeling love is the only thing I can do to try to save someone from the horror she is living in. It’s the only way I can save myself.
It was the only way to save myself.
And my feelings aren’t really all there was. They aren’t the full reality of my experience. I am a part, and my feelings are only one part of the whole. I felt rage and a desire to protect, and Charlie felt tenderness and wonder and a slice of freedom from our captivity, and Annoushka felt joy. All of those feelings together, and not just mine, are what the experience really was for any of us. We are, all of us, leaving some piece out.
I am trying to put them together again, so that I can know what it was to be alive once.
I don’t know why I can’t seem to.
I will though. I will.