I’ve had another nice memory lately.

Natalya and I were in a park. It was daytime, for once, and we lay in the grass holding hands and looking up at the clouds. You know how kids do, imagining shapes: I see a flower just there. Do you see it? Look, a giraffe…

I don’t really know when this was or even where it was, but it was a beautiful warm day with a blue sky and clouds. And we were in love.

So, being kids, we ended up kissing. And some other stuff. Which was also wonderful.

And then Nata rolled onto me and looked at me very intently. She said, “I will always love you.” She kissed me after that and we got up and did whatever we needed to do. Which was probably solicit and probably considerably less wonderful than the little bit we spent lying in the grass together.

But I remember what she said very clearly: the unexpected future tense. Not lyublyu, but lyubit.

It pulls a few things together in my head for me, this memory. One of them is just the reality that I could never have saved her. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I had perhaps the means—I had access to adults, I had a phone, I wasn’t constantly supervised. There were so many things I could do. But I didn’t know.

I didn’t know how to rescue her. I could call, but I didn’t know who to call. I could ask for help, but I didn’t know who to ask. And I had a kindergarten. I had all these little parts too afraid to speak, too afraid to trust anyone. And no funding, either. No way to pay anyone off who needed to be paid off. I could not have done anything to save Natalya for a very long time, and by then she might have died of something else. Or been sold somewhere that I could not find her again. Or…

A million things.

I couldn’t have done it. There was no way.

And maybe it’s a case of too much hindsight, but it seems to me that after the baby was taken away, Natalya understood something she hadn’t quite understood before. She understood something about the state of her captivity and about the future, and she knew she wasn’t going to get out. This was going to be her life.

There is a sense in what she said of being prepared for this, and that she told me because I might forget later. But again, maybe I think this because that is what happened. I don’t know. It comes through for me, though, in many things she did—just that she wouldn’t always be there, and I was to remember how much she loved me and how special I was to her and how much she believed in me.

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