I don’t know where to start, so I am starting here.
I was raised with the idea that some classes of people were mattered more than others, some classes of people were more than others, and really that some classes of people experienced the world in a way that was more meaningful and significant than others.
Children did not really matter.
Women did not really matter.
Sex trafficking victims did not really matter.
The last bit of what I said earlier: the belief that these groups did not really matter seemed to come from an idea that they experienced the world in a different and less meaningful way. Children, for example, had shallow, short-lived feelings that could be shunted aside. Adults had important feelings, but children needed to stop making a big deal out of nothing. That was assumed, anyway.
The parts give me these little snapshots of what different developmental stages were like for me: not just what I thought at that age, but how I thought. What my cognitive abilities were like, what the limitations of my internal resources were. The parts change as they are out more, but they start out purely the age I was.
And it suddenly makes it clear to me that there is no difference in how I experienced emotions as a child and how I experience them now. I couldn’t regulate them—I had fewer tools and less cognitive control. But they felt the same.
The difference in tools is why children’s feelings can seem shallow and short-lived. They are the same emotions as adults have, but children can’t regulate them as well. As soon as an adult steps in and helps with the emotional regulation process, the emotions calm down just as adults’ emotions do when they aren’t that intense. The child’s emotions can seem very intense in the meantime because the child has no brakes of her own.
So I look back at my past and, in some cases, I can’t believe how I felt because I think children don’t feel that way. It’s right in front of me: I’m reliving every single damn day. But I think it can’t be.
I do believe in many of the feelings I had: the terror is not difficult to accept. It’s harder for me to grasp the intensity of my attachments or the reality of the losses for me.
I was just turning 12 when they took Veroushka. Why do I want to scream, I want my daughter back?
She was my wife’s baby. That’s why.
Another question: How is it she felt like my wife?
Because I fell in love with the person I had the strongest attachment to. That doesn’t usually happen. In childhood, we usually attach to close relatives that way. And then we don’t fall in love with them, not just because of the societal taboos but because our bodies seem to know.
Natalya wasn’t a relative. She felt like family, but not in the same way.
Romantic attachments develop gradually over time—you start to fall in love with someone you are only just getting to know—and young adolescents haven’t been alive and capable of romantic relationships long enough to have strong attachments to the people they have those feelings for. The attachments they form are weak because of that, and the bond doesn’t usually survive the turbulence of all the changes young people go through at that age.
But my attachment to Natalya was already there. And it was durable and strong. In that way, it’s not like the experience of young people the age I was then.
My feelings then were adult-like because the experience was adult-like. And children’s feelings are not different from adults.
I can’t talk about my losses. I can only tell my closest friends I lost my family. And it’s also very complicated to explain so that I don’t want to really do that with everyone. But they count just as much.
My experience counts.