I don’t really know what traumatic bonding is. I read things here and there about sibling traumatic bonds and traumatic bonds to abusers, and it doesn’t quite add up. The descriptions are always too slight.

Nonetheless, I think that one element of my relationship with Natalya—both then and now—is a traumatic bond, and the form it takes for me is a terror for her safety. I was not that concerned with my own safety. Maybe just because I have dissociated some of the terror and I’ll get to learn all about that later, but maybe also because I carry the sense of safety I have because of her with me all the time. I might have carried it with me then, even to my own house, even into situations where she was not physically present and could not do anything to help me. All would be well because Nata would make sure of that.

But I was terrified for her safety, and she was afraid for mine. We have ice cream and playing in puddles and so many kinds of joy, but only when we can see that the other is safe. So much of our relationship was that safety check. Is she safe? How do I know she is safe? Can I keep her safe? I think we both felt that—perhaps, because we could not manage our feelings when the other was not safe. The instinct to protect was overwhelming and unmanageable. It is in a lot of my memories—the most traumatic memories—as this horrible, overwhelming thing, like being caught in a nightmare.

It is there in her death, there in the memory of the forced abortion when Nata was 13, there in the memory of seeing her act with others in pornography. I cannot even begin to describe how it feels except to say if you have children, it’s the way you feel when they are small and one of them happens to dart out in front of a car. Only, in some cases, it’s that feeling of wanting to scoop them up and rush them to safety for hours on end.

The upside for me, I guess, is that those memories all have a resolution. There was always a point of reunion, when I could be with her again and feel that I was keeping her safe even if she wasn’t really safe. Even when she was dying, I held her. I heard her last breath. I could give her some comfort as she died. Every traumatic memory with her has that resolution to it, if I can just hold onto that.

Because I think a part of what has to happen for me now is to change the nature of our relationship so that is not a traumatic one. I think I need to change it so that I have very firmly in my mind the idea that she is safe. I cannot hold her and reassure myself—and this is a part of what is hard for me now—but she is beyond the reach of Yuri or anyone like him. No one can harm her anymore. She is very permanently safe.

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