Morning

The morning is really difficult today.

Our principal has asked us to conduct remedial classes after school for half an hour, which is not really a big deal—he wants us to do it once a week. Except that maths is supposed to be on Wednesdays, and there is also club on Wednesdays. The day is shortened by this, but club is an hour, and the day is shortened only by half an hour. So the day runs until 4:30 anyway. Then half an hour of remedial class. It’s hard to teach until five. It’s hard to be “on” for that long, and it’s hard to do everything that needs to be done when I get home when I’m exhausted. It’s hard to soothe all the parts. It’s hard to process the day and put it away.

So when I wake up in the morning, usually this hasn’t really happened. The parts aren’t soothed. The day hasn’t been processed. I made dinner, I went to bed, I calmed down enough to sleep, but everyone is just waiting for morning to tell me their problems.

They do, but the morning isn’t long enough to sort everything out for them. Lana has this problem with her friend. There was an enormous spider in the kitchen that had to be taken outside, and she’s afraid of spiders. This one is literally as big as the palm of my hand. Anna notices the date—that it is almost May, and it will be Mother’s Day soon—and the grief of the miscarriage surfaces all over again.

The morning is just not long enough.

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The friend

I have a friend who seemed to have stopped talking to me. I might have mentioned this before. We haven’t been in very close touch since I came to Country X, but she hasn’t entirely fallen off the planet. There are these sporadic emails.

But then I wrote to her to say a little bit about some of the things that were going on in my life when we were kids and her reply was really condescending and I told her as much in probably not a very nice way. Then she never responded to that. Not to say, “I’m sorry, ” or even, “That was totally uncalled for.” That was, I think, in October.

So finally I wrote to her again—what’s going on? Nothing again.

And it’s really painful. It’s painful in a totally unexpected way. One piece of this that I hadn’t realized is that she was Lana’s friend. I had an idea about this, because a few years ago this friend sent Christmas presents completely out of the blue. We haven’t exchanged Christmas presents since we were children. But anyway one year there was this package with five or six things in them, and one of them was a shirt, which was a decidedly Lana kind of shirt. I mean, no one else would like it. No one else at all. It made it clear in a very visual way that the person my friend remembered was Lana. Other parts must have been around, but Lana had to have been very much a part of this friendship.

Lana is five. I’m looking back on kindergarten and on my experience in college as an assistant in a kindergarten class, and one of the most devastating things that can happen to a little girl is to have her friend stop speaking to her.

But also I don’t think Lana ever had any friends. The social scene was not her realm. She was intent on keeping everyone alive, on controlling the little parts so that their instinctive reactions didn’t jeopardize our collective physical safety, on practical matters like cleaning up cuts and blood.

Somehow, this friend connected with her. Maybe, they had something in common. My friend was busy raising her younger siblings. Lana was trying to keep Sammy and Hannah and Ruthie all in one piece. I don’t know. I don’t know what it was.

We were close in the years when everything seemed to really happen: when Nata died, when I had a miscarriage, and everything became simply hopeless for me. I have an idea that, in those years, Lana’s stoicism became hard to maintain, and it became really difficult to stay focused on keeping everything together.

It helped to have this friend, to have someone to talk to about at least some pieces of it, and someone to help with the feelings that were breaking through from other parts.

Then, as now, the friend stopped speaking to me. The silence lasted maybe three years. It might have been four. And then a mutual friend gave me her phone number. She wanted to talk again.

For Lana, this is a replay of this. It’s devastating for her now, just as it was then. She’s five—that’s one piece. She’s had exactly two friends in her life: Nata and this other friend. That’s a second piece.

Maybe a third piece is that Lana is beginning to understand she can have feelings about things. She can be devastated. She can grieve the loss of both of her friends. At the same time, there is also this surprise about it. Do I really feel this way? She does.

Lana

There is never really any rest, I have found. I just move from one crisis to another. Sometimes, there are maybe two or three days when things seem calm again, and I can get some things done a little more easily and then usually I begin to hope that maybe this will go on for perhaps a few weeks, or that this will become the new baseline. Then it doesn’t. Then it becomes subsumed in crisis.

I’m starting to accept that this is just life for me now. Life is just going to be a crisis. It is nice that the crises are mostly a little bit easier than they were before, but they don’t stop. Sometimes there is a break of a few days, and sometimes one rears up as soon as the last one is over. And this is just how things are for me.

Things start to seem a little wrapped up over the miscarriage—not entirely, but quite a lot, and before that is even fully tidied away, we are onto something else.

First a bit more about the ritual abuse, and then straight-up sexual abuse: what my dad did to me and what one of the elders of our church did to me, which was actually trafficking.

It’s not mainly about what they did. It’s what they said. It’s the whole dynamic. There is a soundtrack now. There are words. They are both crazy as loons, which I knew before, but now I know the specifics of it.

Hannah seems to know the most about this, and we talk, and she seems to feel better. Then it all gets lost again. Which happens. New knowledge or understanding is always lost under stress, but I can’t figure out why it’s happening. Hannah seems to feel it’s coming from somewhere else, that she is the conduit for it, but this is not really her thing.

So I check with Katya. Hannah thinks it’s Katya, but it’s not Katya. Katya is just mad.

I’m flummoxed, but I know it has to be a younger part. This is all young stuff. It went on for a long time, but it started when I was very little. Lana?

It seems to be Lana. She’s not kicking up the emotions Hannah is having—not the guilt and shame and compulsion to be punished so that something worse doesn’t happen. But fear. Lana is afraid, and that’s setting off the other stuff.

At first, Lana doesn’t want to come out. Her head is a very dark and scary place, and being out seems like it’s going to intensify it. But then it ends up feeling better to be out. Then she can some of the things that make her feel better. She can hear the Russian songs playing, and Russian helps her a lot.

She can see that she’s not shut up in a dark place somewhere—she just calls it a dark place, but I’m not sure where it is. It might be the garage or it might be a closet.

It’s just so hard.

Puzzle pieces

There are some other bits to the whole miscarriage experience that put a lot of other things into perspective.

One of them is just that Nata knew I was pregnant. I found out I was pregnant when I was with her. I had missed a period and I told her and so we hunted around for one of those home pregnancy tests. It seems to me we didn’t need to go out and buy one, that someone had one lying around. I’m not sure about that, but it seems that way, and it makes a certain kind of sense. That if you are living in what is essential a brothel of maybe 20 or 25 women, there is always someone or other who is having a pregnancy scare and pregnancy tests are kind of like cold medicine or aspirin. You are just going to keep them around, because someone is going to need it.

I remember her reaction: she was ecstatic. That was the first, immediate reaction. And then it was like, “Oh, fuck.” Because my situation was, in some ways, even worse than hers. It was better in some ways—I got to go to school; I had access to a wider world.

But it was worse in other ways. I had two nightmares to deal with and not just one. I had Yuri and I had my dad, and neither psychopath could entirely be predicted, except they meant the life I had to give a child was not going to be good. It was going to be nothing short of hell, in fact. There was no real way around this.

I remember talking about this with her, but not coming to any particular conclusion about it. Then it was time to go and it was very soon after that that she died. It may have been the next time I actually saw her, or the time after that.

She made me write my proper name in English and my address and some other details, and that came in between the pregnancy discovery and her death, but I don’t know when that was. It might have been the same day she found out about it. It might have been the next time I saw her, and then the time after that, she died. But it all happened very quickly.

It puts her death in a different light, because she wasn’t just thinking about me when she decided to tell something to the authorities. She was thinking about a baby that was going to grow inside my body. I was her family, and this baby was going to be her family, and this was the part she could help us with. My pregnancy made it all feel incredibly urgent. She wanted to protect me, but nothing new or different or worse was going to happen to me in a year from then. She could put off taking that kind of desperate action for quite some time. She could be indecisive or just reluctant to act, but a pregnancy has a time limit to it. You cannot just keep putting things off.

I know that there was also an element of luck involved in this: she didn’t head down to the police station. I don’t know that. I have no way of knowing that. But I feel certain of it anyway. I don’t think she would have even known where it was. I didn’t.

Anyway, someone came. Someone came asking questions and she had an idea that they would come—officers had been coming from time to time, doing this, because there had been so many murders of prostitutes that year—and this time she was prepared. She had a plan. She was going to try to save her family. It left a lot up to me—I still had my dad to contend with—but she did what she could.

She didn’t tell me because I wouldn’t have let her do what she did, because I didn’t quite have her strength and I couldn’t have let her take the risk she was taking. But I can see now that our relationship didn’t stop being a partnership: we both had roles to play. We both had our share of responsibilities. She was protecting me, but she was also being a parent. She had no way of knowing the baby was just going to die, that nothing was actually going to come of the whole thing, and so she was protecting a child she perceived as being ours.

Magic

Something wonderful happened today.

Anna was out, a bit unexpectedly. She wanted her baby. I hadn’t realized she was involved in her pregnancy. I hadn’t realized she was the one heartbroken over it.

“Charlie did everything else,” she said. “But I gave birth.” To the fetus, she means. She doesn’t mean it lived. “A miscarriage is like a funeral,” she says too. And it was, because the fetus was already dead when it happened. It usually is.

She says she wants to try something, and she makes up a bag of rice that’s about newborn kitten-sized, that’s about the size of the baby that didn’t make it. And she holds it for a while.

Things often happen too fast, she has realized. You don’t get a chance to take anything in. After Nata died, Ann didn’t get to hold her long enough to take in the fact of her death. She didn’t get to hold the fetus long enough either.

She knows it is buried. She knows it is dead and buried under the peach tree. But there wasn’t time to take in all of that. There were bloody sheets to attend to, there was not wanting anyone to need anything from her, to look for her and see what she was doing.

So the washing of the body, the burial, the whole homemade kind of “funeral” was hurried, and there was no time to take it in properly. There was no time to let the grief come out.

Now she makes up a little kitten-sized sack of rice and holds that, not because she thinks the baby is the sack of rice, but because it brings back that moment of holding the fetus in the bathroom, where she cleaned it off in the sink, and it extends that moment long enough to be taken in. It gives her time to take in the fact of its death, the little sliver of the life it had inside her. It gives her a chance to take in that it died, that it was buried, that prayers were said over it, that it died and the right things were done for it.

She could not do them—she was too much in shock—but Charlie did them. Charlie took care of both of them, because that is what he does. He takes care. That is his role. It is always really just me but, in spite of the trauma, I have found ways to take care of the people I love and ways to take care of myself. Charlie has been one of them. And so even after the shock of my miscarriage when I was 13 years old, that I had to conceal from everyone in the house, I took care of my baby. I took care of my own need to mark the death of my baby appropriately.

This makes everything better.

Not just because the right things were done, or because it allows her to string the whole sequence of events in her head instead of being stuck at the one she could not take time to register, although those things are important. but because it’s a sack of rice.

Because it’s a simple solution. When she feels this incredible grief for the loss of the baby that never properly became a baby, she can hold a sack of rice, and she can remember that she did hold it, that there was a moment in which she could acknowledge the fact of its life and of its death. It did happen. The moment was not long enough, but it happened. It means she is no longer stuck at that moment of unresolvable grief, buried in it. She can do something about it. She has found a way to relieve it.

Not that she isn’t sad, but she no longer feels crushed by the grief. And so all of a sudden, there is hope. This can get better.

I get up after that and make blini. They are heaven.