A number of small things came to light over the last few days—we had a holiday on Monday, and I meant to do some other things, but it came down to just processing.
There were roses on the table when Veroushka was taken away because it was the day before my birthday and Natalya had bought them for me. The coincidence of the date somehow deepens the wretchedness of it.
Then also I remembered something about the cross.
When I first began to think about Natalya’s cross, I had a very clear image of a cross in my mind, and yet it was the wrong cross. It wouldn’t have looked like that and I know it didn’t look like that.
I thought for a while I had an image of a generic cross in my mind: that happens sometimes. I have a symbol in my mind for the thing rather than the thing itself. But the cross I remembered was my cross. She gave it to me when I was small, and I brought it with me to see her, although I could not wear it at home. It was an ordinary, plain cross and not an Orthodox cross, because that is what she would have been able to find.
I hid the cross in between our meetings, and when we met again, she helped me to wear it. When we were apart it helped me to feel a little less scared of what was being done to me and of what was being done to her.
After she died, I buried it in the back yard, and so I no longer have it.
It strikes me how important she was and at the same time how little trace is left of her life outside of my memory. There are these little bits of her, and yet they are gone too.
I was trained as an archivist, and so I have in my mind the idea of people’s lives as processes that generate detritus: we all have trails of documents and objects and ephemera which give evidence of how we lived. And yet with her, there is so little. She lived without any genuine public record of her life. Her immigration documents were false, she had no bank account to create statements, no taxes, no social security number, no school enrollment forms, no report cards, no official record of her life after the age of 10 when she disappeared out of Russia. There are perhaps only receipts of small cash transactions, but those could be anyone’s and they are gone now too.
Her body was burned and the ashes and bones and whatever was left dumped where, I think, no one ever found it. The little things she owned—they were there, yes. The silly white teddy bear I gave her for Valentine’s Day, the book she read to me over and over again because it was the only book available for her to read, the cross she inherited from her grandmother when the old woman died. Where are these things now? I don’t know. Anywhere. In a landfill, burned, melted down to make some other piece of jewelry. Not kept as a reminder of her brief stay on this earth or in anyone’s life. There is only what is in my head. It underscores the invisibility of her life—the invisibility of the lives of all children who are trafficked.
When I was a child and for many years after, I didn’t have any idea how to grieve, or that grief involves decisions about what to keep of a person to remind you of them. I let go of everything, without considering what to keep and what not to. I didn’t know also that the past is meant to continue on into the present and the future. I only knew about amputation: we did not grieve in my house, and we did not know how to grieve. It is only as an adult that I have learned.