I had interesting thoughts earlier in the morning. And that was nice.
Now, I have about three thoughts. They aren’t new or interesting. They are the same ones I had before.
Because mostly what I have now is pure emotion. Several of them together. Intense ones. They hurt.
I don’t know how to make it better. I think I can’t. I think it’s the kind of thing I just have to stand.
It is just very hard to live without Natalya. What I feel in my body is simply an intense, overwhelming craving to be with her. I want both the safety I felt near her and I want to protect her and neither are possible anymore except through the semi-magic of memory.
I have this idea that what I need is to let everything be at the same time. That I need to have the craving and the wish to protect and the happiness of the memories of her and I need to be able to stand them at the level they are at now—which is turned up way too fucking high. I have this idea that that is the reality of my past and I mainly need to feel it and be able to live with it. I need to stay “warm,” but it would help a lot of my “warm” could manage to be scalding hot. It would be easier if I could bring the heat down to something less than that, but I’m not sure I can do it. Scalding hot is turned down.
Of the interesting thoughts I had earlier today, one of them is that the feeling of being in love with Natalya is very fresh. It has not faded—other feelings were more urgently distressing and I felt them first in this process—but the romantic feeling I have about her remains terribly, terribly fresh.
It is weird to feel it now. It is not bad, but it is weird. Still, I need to be able to feel it. I need to be able to feel what my past was. It’s the only way to really know it.
At the same time, it is one little strand of my life that was at least sort of normal. The details are far from that, but falling in love is something that people do. In remembering that feeling, I am feeling something other people feel all the time. And it’s a bit refreshing.
The peculiarity about it is perhaps the mix of childish and grown-up feelings. Adolescence is always like that, but mine was extreme in that regard. I felt very settled with Natalya in a way young teenagers usually don’t. Their feelings are typically strong, but transitory—and not always transitory at the same rate for both people. There was nothing transitory about how we felt for each other. It had grown out of years spent caring for each other already, and she was very much permanent and family to me. So there was something much, much more grown-up about it.
At the same time it was new. It was wonderful. It was novel and startling and pure joy. And that’s very much what everyone probably feels the first time they fall in love. That bit is totally, totally average. Refreshing.
On the other hand, there was also the baby. The baby made everything different. I fell in love with a mother. I fell in love with how she mothered. It is different to feel someone’s love for you than it is to feel someone’s love for someone else. When you are loved, maybe you don’t think about it. You drink it in. However, when you watch that person love someone else, you come to appreciate their capacity for love as a part of the person you love. You understand their love for you is not entirely about you, but about the character of that person.
I loved Nata for how she loved Veroushka. I loved seeing Nata sing lullabies. I loved watching her rock her baby. I loved how she held her, how she magically sent her off into sleep. I loved her tenderness and her competence. She was those things with me too—or had been—but it was so much more clear to me who she was when I saw how she cared for Veroushka. And I just loved that. I loved her for herself and I loved her as a mother.
So there was that.
I had another thought. It was that the dreams I had as a child—the dreams that were broken when Veroushka was taken away and then ground to powder when Natalya died—were dreams built out of what was there. Generally, we do that. We look at what is and what could be and we consider how to build the bridge between those two things. It may not be very realistic when we are young, but most of us don’t want to grow up to be the toothfairy or a tree. We see we are human beings of a certain gender, a certain social standing, and we begin to build dreams out of what it seems to fit at least with that..
I had a wife and child—it felt to me that I did. I imagined a future in which that wife and child could live in safety.
And that’s maybe different than what people with slightly slower-paced growing up years do. You date a bunch of people—some of them seriously, some of the less so—and after a while, you start to think you might like to settle down. Sometimes you meet the person who makes you want to settle down, and you start to realize you’d like to live that way. But you start to think maybe I’d like a wife, maybe I’d like a husband, and then you go about making it happen at least in a tangential kind of way.
But there she was. Natalya was there. The baby was there. For nearly a year, the baby was was there—either inside or outside her mother’s body. I built my dreams out of that. The dream was really to bring us all to safety. It looked more colourful than that, more specific, but it comes to that.
I wanted my family and I wanted them to be safe.
When I think of Natalya alive, I imagine her as a kindergarten teacher. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s something she said. Or maybe it’s how she was with little ones.
I imagine two big furry black dogs.
I imagine a house with a yard.
I imagine an unspecified number of children.
I imagine a garden.
And it’s very much the life that made sense to build together, rather than the life I might have built for myself alone. I never thought about life without her. Natalya was always a given. And I have no idea what life I might have dreamed if I hadn’t known her.
I ponder sometimes what problems there might have been between us if she had lived. We wouldn’t have been able to stand being apart. We would have been frightened to let each other out of sight for too long. It would have been hard to internalize the idea that the other was safe and did not require constant protection.
Even if we hadn’t developed a romantic relationship—if that hadn’t been in our natures—I don’t know how we could have built separate lives for ourselves.
So the life I dreamed of was an extension of what was there. It was the past with the bad bits cut out.
And then the good bits got cut out too.
Only I didn’t have a chance to grieve. I never had a chance to grieve either the person or the future I dreamed of having with that person. It wasn’t a realistic future: I understand that now, but I didn’t know it then—that is a part of the childish-grownup mix I was. But its lack of realism didn’t soften the blow of its loss at all. It hurt every bit as much.
Now, it seems to me that the loss of that imagined future was never destined to result in a small re-direct. It was destined to be a complete change of course. Because, again, every piece of the reason for the dream was gone.
The wife and child were gone. They were the reason for wanting the picket fence to put them inside of.
A holy man came to see us today. He came last year. I like him. He says wise, sensible things and makes jokes for the students so that they aren’t painfully restless and bored. But I was sitting there listening to him—he spoke to us in English—and it occurred to me that this is my life. It is not our life. It is not the life Natalya and I might have made together. I don’t really know what life she might have made with me, but this is probably not it. At the very least, I had to make this life without asking her whether this is the life she wanted.
I don’t know exactly what I will do after this year is over, but it will be the same kind of thing. It won’t be wife and baby and picket fence. It will be what I want to do. I will have to think about it. I will have to decide. I will have to make it happen.
It is dreadful.
Or, maybe not dreadful, but the loss it illustrates is extremely stark.
But it’s not quite that simple. Because this is the life she wanted for me. Natalya, who knew better than I did what lay within the realm of possibility and planned accordingly, wanted me to be able to do whatever I chose to do.
She wanted me to be someone.
She wanted me to be free.
I am all the things she wanted. I don’t have what I wanted, but I have what she wanted. It’s a very strange mix of us and I.
I am starting to understand the choices she made. She lost Veroushka. She wasn’t going to lose me.
It is hard to give up my own dreams for my life, but I look around and I understand this was her dream. There’s this weird physical thing about it. The craving for her is in my body. It’s not an idea of closeness. It’s a monkey thing. And yet, intellectually, idea-wise, she is here. She is in my freedom to choose my life now. She is in my capacity to love. She is in my decency. She is in my strength. She is in everything she helped me to grow into and become.
I could never separate myself from her. I realize I can’t separate who I have become or the life I have chosen from her either. She’s in everything.
But there is this mammal thing, this monkey pain. I still have to deal with that. It doesn’t cancel that out.