I’m listening to Verka’s playlist and it is not really her playlist anymore, because at the end of her time “out”, I was putting together many thoughts and emotions from different parts and there are songs on this playlist that speak to all of them.
It’s different to listen to it today, because it does not draw me into the old feelings so much—although it does still, only less so—as it tells the story of most of my life. It tells the story of my childhood after Nata became a part of it and then of the aftermath that reverberated until the present.
The story it tells does not really begin until I am perhaps eight years old—there is a story before that, but it is not evoked by this particular set of songs. There is another playlist for that very young story and it is not as long: the story from those days is not complicated.
But what happens when I am eight is that I begin to understand that Nata is fragile. Before then, she has a kind of God-like invincibility in my mind. It does not quite sink in that she also feels terrified or that she is sometimes in unbearable pain. I don’t want to hurt her and I try not to because no one likes to hurt someone she loves, but it does not quite occur to me that she can’t always stand what is happening to her. It does not cross my mind that she can die.
And then one day it does. It does occur to me and I can see suddenly how vulnerable and fragile and small she is even if she is not quite as small as I am, and I understand that she needs something. She needs comfort and protection just as I do, only she has no one to do this for her. She is 12 or 13 then and there are older girls who might do this, but they don’t. And so I want to do that for her. I want to help her.
It is around this time, as well, that her body starts to respond to our performances in a different and stronger way: she begins to have orgasms, and what I see when this happens is her immense vulnerability, because it’s something that happens to her which she cannot control.
There are all these eyes and the camera and I want to protect her from them. I feel an overwhelming desire to conceal her body and what it is doing from them or to wrap her up in my arms and carry her away. And I can’t do that.
I can’t protect her, but I want to. So at the same time that I have this different feeling about her, I also feel frustration and rage.
A part of the story has always been longing—from the beginning of her appearance in my life, it has been there. Because she is the person who comforts me and keeps me safe. And I don’t get to choose when to be with her. I want her and she is not there.
When I am eight, this feeling intensifies, because now I am worried. What are they doing to her? I don’t know, but I am not there to help her, and it is terrible for me.
So as I am listening to these songs that tell my story, many of them are about longing. They are about separation and a desire for reunion, and the longing arises out of those other feelings.
But Nata is also wonderful for me. If there is nothing else terrible going on, if we can for a while just be together, then there is only pure joy in being with her. And so the playlist has a lot of happy, bouncy song, because that’s how she makes me. It is how she felt to be with me, except she is perhaps less bouncy inside and more content.
Then she died.
For much of me, this feels like the end of everything. I am alive, I feel obliged to go on living, but there’s no actual reason or motivation to go on with it. The sense of my life as a wasteland after that point is intense.
At the same time, I held her when she died. I have a feeling that lingers on from that moment: a wonder. She lived and she died and in every way she saved me. She saved me during the worst of the abuse by being there with me through it.
In dying, she did not save me the way she hoped to: she did not blow Yuri’s whole operation, but she created a paper trail that might not be so easy to conceal later and it seems to me now that it meant no one could actually murder me with impunity. She could be murdered—no one took an interest in an underworld prostitute with no papers. But I went to school. I lived in a neighborhood. I had a birth certificate and there was an incontrovertible record of my existence. There was an incontrovertible record and someone had written down the connection between my life and Yuri’s and while a squad car did not show up at my house because of it, it would if I had turned up missing or dead.
In other words, she could be disappeared, but I could not. And again, she saved me. She saved me in how she lived and she saved me in how she died.
I don’t know if I understood that then, but I understood she did it for me and her courage propelled me forward into demanding an end to every form of abuse I was suffering then.
So the other strand of the story is a wonder at her existence, her courage, her life and her death.
It is not the whole story, but it is a wide stripe of it.