One of my thoughts that is tied up with the grief for Nata is that the outcome was really the best one possible. I am not saying this in the optimistic sense that things work out for the best—they don’t always work out the best, but we make the best of them. But given the realities of our lives, it was the best we could do.
I used to feel guilty that she saved me, but I never tried to save her. I understand this better. I had an immense amount of fear to overcome in order to tell anything to anyone—that’s true. But I also had no expectation that anyone would care enough to intervene on her behalf.
I think now that was fairly accurate. Our lives had a differential value to society, and that is just one of life’s hard realities. I was a middle-class white child from the suburbs, and someone in authority would intervene on my behalf. Maybe not effectively, but they would try. When I was a toddler, and landed in hospital from my parents’ abuse, it’s not as though when the doctor made a call, no one bothered to come. Someone did come. Someone tried to do something. But if I had said there is a trafficking ring at the Oceanside Travelodge and a lot of those girls are underage, they would said, “Oh, yeah. That’s under investigation right now.” It would have been non-news. I was important as an individual, but they were important only as parts of a larger investigation of organized crime that they were only pawns in.
They became important as individuals only when they were dead, because homicide crosses some kind of line for us as a society. In death, at least, we are all equal. And that is why, although her murder was not concealed from view, her body was.
That is one part of the grief for me. Natalya fell outside of what the larger society could be trusted to be concerned with, and that is a part of the frame that had to be worked within. She mattered immensely to me, but she didn’t matter to anyone outside our little world. I think some things have changed now, but that’s how they were then.
One of the hardest parts of the grief is being able to believe that accepting this reality does not mean I agree with it. Natalya could save me because society is unjust and my life had more value within it than hers did. Not at a personal level, perhaps, but at an institutional level. And it’s not that I couldn’t have saved hers, but I needed access to more resources to do it. I needed to be grown up, with an adult knowledge of how the institutions of my society work. I couldn’t have done it when I was 13 or even 17, as she was, and that’s a part of why things worked out the way they did. What I wished I could have done wasn’t possible for reasons I have no control over and don’t approve of. I don’t believe some lives should matter more than others, or that some should have greater access to a system of justice and protection from lawlessness and violence than others. But that is how things are. It is how things were.
And then there was the accident of my pregnancy. Nata did what she did then not for my sake alone, but because of the baby. The baby didn’t live—I miscarried, but she had no way of knowing it would. I was healthy. I don’t think she probably knew how often pregnancies end that way. It’s not something adult women used to talk about very much. And a chance came along somehow. I don’t know the details of it all because she didn’t tell me. After she died, the girls discussed it in front of me, but my language skills fell apart under the trauma and I didn’t grasp everything I might have.
So there were these parameters: this frame within which we had to work to make the best out of our lives. There was the unjustness of society. There was the idea that if you are being trafficked heavily for sex, sooner or later, birth control is going to fail and it happened to fail when I was quite young. There was her past experience of what can happen to babies born into trafficking rings and her knowledge of what might happen in my family and the urgency this gave her in making a decision.
And all of these things came together in her death and, ultimately, my freedom. Both of us did the absolute best we could, and what happened was the best possible outcome. What hurts so much is that “best” is very, very terrible. Best is unthinkable, really. Best is horrifying.