I’ve had two thoughts recently.
One of them has to do with the severity of what was done to me. I am in pieces because of it. I could not grow up and develop in a normal way, it was so severe. I could only develop as someone in fragments. If I really accept the parts, I have to see that—that it was that bad. I have to see that some people are capable of hurting a child that badly. The parts highlight the horror of it, because the abuse I suffered was never personal.
I was abused more than my sister, that’s true. On the one hand, she was abused severely enough that I think she is probably in pieces too. She was still abused horrifically, even if it was less horrifically than I was. On the other hand, the abuse I suffered was never really personal. My dad wanted someone to torture, and I was there.
So I have to accept the full extent of the horror to accept the parts. I have to see someone—many someones—were willing to harm a child so much that she could not develop properly. And it’s really, really difficult to do that. It’s hard to accept that human beings are capable of so much evil. Yet some of them are.
My other thought has to do with Natalya, and how she saw me. I had been thinking about her suffering, and that the way she suffered had to do with societal injustice. I felt the injustice myself, because when I was with her, others assumed I was like her—that I occupied the same place in society. But I also saw that the injustice went well beyond Yuri. It included other people who weren’t involved in trafficking. It included the drug store checkers and people on the street. They saw her as belonging to a class that had less right to dignity than they did, and that view worked together with the criminality she was in the midst of to strip of her societal protection. And I wished I could make her count. She was special to me, and I wished that I could make her a special, worthwhile human being to others who couldn’t see that.
She saw me differently than I saw her, and she saw the nature of my suffering differently than I saw hers, because they were different. Natalya’s captivity had to do with the way society is structured, with a differential access to justice and protection in the United States, and that her home country was in some ways close to lawlessness and still is.
But my situation was more individual, more personal. I was affected by flaws in our justice system and our child protection system—by things that are maybe loopholes or poorly conceived designs. It wasn’t because of systemic problems that gave me less protection than other children. What happened to me, in that sense, could happen to any child.
More importantly, I was affected by my family. I saw Natalya, and I saw systemic injustice. She saw me and saw family neglect. The people hurting me were my own family, and there was no one in my family who protected me from that. So it was this more personal kind of injustice. And I think she saw that.
I think when I was five years old, and she saw me for the first time, that was a part of what she saw. She saw there is this child among us who has parents who don’t look after her, whose own father is turning her out instead of protecting her, whose own mother is allowing this to happen. This is a child who needs love, who deserves love just as other children do, and her family isn’t giving it to her. They aren’t even providing basic protection. They are instead sending her out to solicit on the streets in the middle of the night even when she is supposed to go to school the next day. I mean, they aren’t even making sure she sleeps.
I think that was part of the bond between us—not all of it, by any means, but a piece of it: We saw the kind of injustice the other was facing, and we wished we could rectify it. I wished society could how special she was and wished I could make it value her, and she wished my parents could see how special I was and she wished she could make them value me.
I probably didn’t see the injustice she faced until I was older, but I think she saw the injustice I faced from the very beginning—that was a part of why she took on a protective and nurturing role in my life in the first place. She saw this lack, and it hurt her, and she wanted to rectify it in the way she could.
It means that when I remember our being together, I remember this sense of specialness. I remember how special she was to me, and I also remember how special I was to her. And at the same, I remember this pain about it, that she was not special to others in the way that she ought to be, and that I was not special to my family in the way that I deserved.