The laundry bucket is green. I have a lot of buckets. I have really more buckets than I probably need, but I have found a way to make them all useful. There are buckets for water storage and a bucket to keep the rice in (rat-proof) and a bucket for the laundry or a bath or whatever and a spare one just in case I want to soak laundry and mop the floors at the same time. Which I often do.

All of the buckets are red except for two. This is mostly because I went to the shop to buy buckets and the buckets there were red. Also, I like red and so the spare bucket which I bought much later here, in Y-town, is also red. It is red and white. Even though they had green buckets and blue buckets too.

There is a toilet-flushing bucket as well, which has turned out to be mostly unnecessary given all the other buckets, but it is awfully cute. Also, it holds exactly the right amount of water for a fully flushed toilet. No waste. Nothing left behind. So that’s nice. It’s pink.

But the laundry bucket is green.

Green was Verka’s favourite colour. After Natalya died, it no longer was. Verka wanted everything to be black after that. But when Natalya was alive, green was the colour for Verka.

This morning, I was scrubbing the laundry and looking at the green bucket and thinking about this, thinking too about Natalya’s death, about holding her when she died. And a connection popped into my head.

Verka is determined. That’s home base for her: fierce determination. It’s been watered down in a way, because she has had death to hold onto as well and so often I have experienced her determination as more a lifeless kind of shuffling forward. Nonetheless. That’s one kind of determination.

The green is about that determination, it is about a life force, and so Verka is there in my memories playing games with Natalya not because it was her job to play games, but because something happened in those moments that had to do with the future and how to get there.

The connection makes me remember something: It makes me remember advice.

You go to school and you study and you work hard and you get out of this life. You be someone.

I think she probably said some version of this about once a week. At least. Especially when I was little.

And so I went to school. I studied. I worked hard. I got out of that life. Then I waited. I studied some more. I kept working hard. I have kept working hard. I went on waiting.

It’s interesting, because even within a single part, life was so fractured, there was no integration even between those two central concepts. There was no way to resolve the advice—study, work hard, be someone—and the fact of her death. I worked hard, I kept working hard, and it was like then I waited for her to show up. To be reunited with me, or at the very least to tell me what to do next. And she didn’t. She went on being dead.

But I have finally seen what the next step is. I have finally figured what “be someone” means to me. It’s not what Nata meant—she meant be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or anyone educated, anyone with a profession and I have done that—but for me it means reconstruct my personality.

Be a person. One person. So that’s what I’m doing.

The hard thing about this for me is that it’s another milestone in my life, and every time there is anything like that: any special moment, any occasion, any ceremony, any big step forward in my life, I am reminded that she’s not here to see it. Or that she is here, but not as someone alive. Not in her body, the way she ought to be, the way I want her to be.

And so, while the progress I can see in myself is heartening, while it is wonderful and cheering and I am proud of it, it also rips open the grief again. I want to be Sammy, I want to be two years old and drum my feet and pound my fists and say, “I want Nata.”

Integration means I don’t just tell myself, “Grow up. Cut it out and get on with things.” It means I don’t keep my chin up or a stiff upper lip. I let the lip do all the wobbling it wants to. I lower my head and weep.

It means that I recognize this pain is neither imagined nor inconsequential. I let it be there. I bury my face in the shampoo-scented hanky and I cry a lot and I rub the broken earring between my fingers. I give myself a self-service hug—a few of them—and I write a letter to her.

I write a letter because, although I believe Nata is here, that she will always be here with me until the day I die, and I can therefore talk to her whenever I feel like it, writing is somehow very powerful. There are times when writing is more powerful than speech. This is one of them.