Katya does not appear very often. When she does pop up, there is often this kind of rootless, unattached thought: You don’t love me.

I remember saying this over the dinner table to my mother. Who then gave me a good hard whack across the face. Which pretty much confirmed things for me.

Increasingly, I’m getting the sense that my actual relatives were, for me, like roommates you don’t particularly like. They were there. I had to figure out how to get along with them. There were occasionally some moderately good times and the appearance of warmth.

But they weren’t family. They were people I lived with. They sometimes took care of me because they had to, but there is very little real connection. Even my sister, who grew up with me, had an entirely different childhood. She wasn’t trafficked and she has blocked out the real, dreadful shit she lived through because my parents were really and truly insane—and not in a wonderful, creative, out-of-the-box kind of way, but in a homicidal, these are dangerous people to let loose in society kind of way. So I don’t have that sibling connection of a shared history, even if two people always see the same things a little differently and a history lived in the same place is never entirely shared. Our history is not in any way shared. We lived in the same house as if we lived in entirely different worlds.

Katya, I realize, had to come to grips with that. For years, most of us will grieve our mentally ill family members, hoping they can function and become capable of love and authentic, nurturing interactions with others and then after decades realize this is never going to happen for them or for us. For children of parents who are mentally ill, this grief often lasts, unresolved, for decades.

Katya was grieving this at seven years old. She had to somehow face the idea that, no, they did not love her. They could not. In that regard, they were fundamentally, permanently broken.

What they knew how to do was use her. And that is what they did.

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