The afternoon meeting ends around three—it’s not a topic I need to pay much attention to, and I mostly space out for two hours. Then we visit a former teacher who is visiting during her holiday from graduate work. So I get home around 4:30 or so.

I’m exhausted. But I sit for a while, I drink tea. I’m a little refreshed. I still feel paper-thin though. Still like the walls in my head are back up and I don’t know why. Nothing really went wrong in the day. There were no obvious triggers.

Only when I finally turn in for the night at 7:00 pm does the sadness wash over me. In the day, it became more clear to me that I am here. I am in Country X. I survived the first year of it. I am starting the second.

Milestone.

And it calls up all the other milestones in between that brought me here. It calls up the graduations Natalya could not see, the awards, the first professional job, the first hellish year of teaching in a low-performing public year, the first day of every year which is always a little bit special for teachers in a way that the first of anything in another profession never is.

I realize though that it is not just painful because she is dead and I miss her in those moments, but it is also painful because they echo the separation when she was alive. She could never leave that part of my life where I was trafficked and enter into the other parts of my life. She could not go to the school carnival with me and eat cotton candy. She could not go to the library and look at books with me. She could not go to the zoo. She could not do anything that I might typically do with another friend. She was more important to me than anyone, but she could not go beyond this one piece of my life. I could not even call her up on the phone. We carved bits of “normal” out of that life—we still played—but we could only be trafficked together. We could never just live.

That’s what the heartache is. I was never quite so utterly captive as she was. I lived in a box, but it was a bigger box. The grief yesterday is for her complete captivity, and the pain is partly the echo of my childhood longing for her to be with me outside that captivity.

I am free, and I wish she were here with me—in body and not just soul—but I was always a little bit more free than she was, and I always wished she was there with me.

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