In the last week, it has become really clear that everyone who was important to me when I was a child spoke to me in her native language. Everyone helped me write. Nearly everyone read to me. I have very intense memories of snuggling into Stecia’s lap while she read to me in Polish from her one book, and I have similar memories of Nata reading to me from her book in Russian. I have equally intense memories of everyone—Farzana, Stecia, Nata—holding a larger hand over my very small one and guiding me as I tried to form letters. Before I was seven, I was learning to read and write in four different alphabets, and those experiences of learning to read and write have a very substantial emotional resonance for me, because they were times when I was loved and protected.
This also explains one odd little memory I have from kindergarten. I learned to read in English very early. I am quite sure of that. My sister used to come home from kindergarten and try to teach me things. Well, when she was about six and a half and I was around four, she came bursting back into the house—the garage was our school room—to tell my mother I could read. The interpretation my parents gave it was that my sister had taught me to read. I think my sister was more likely noticing something that I had already been doing and no one had realized. I was reading things quietly to myself and not telling anyone. I mean, why would I need to read out loud to other people? They could all read just fine themselves.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure I reached kindergarten knowing something of how to read already, and yet I had this terribly frustrating experience of not getting to be in the reading group because I couldn’t move shapes from left to right. I didn’t know why I couldn’t remember which way they ought to move. It’s not that difficult. But I kept getting mixed up.
Now, of course, it makes perfect sense. Weekdays, I sat in kindergarten class and read from left to right. Weekends, I went to Yuri’s place and read from right to left with Farzana. The wires weren’t totally sorted out and straight yet, especially since I wasn’t looking at the letters that were cues to me for the language I needed to be thinking in. I was just looking at shapes.
So these memories of being read to and of being taught to write are immensely warm for me. They are warm and safe and the very heart of being loved. I think they are for me quite a lot like C’s play in front of me are for her. They have in them this element of there being a supportive, accepting adult who likes me and cares about me for who I am. Just as play is a core part of C’s personality, this desire to read and write were very core to mine. And when you have someone who supports and welcomes those core parts of your personality, you feel extremely safe.
I think before now I couldn’t connect to that. I couldn’t connect to the emotion of being safe, because it was tied to these people who were all murdered, that I saw murdered or I saw their dead bodies, or I saw them in the process of dying, so that the safety has always been very closely connected to terror and to a catastrophic grief. The grief is a bit more worked through now, the terror is a bit more processed, and I can start to connect to the safety. I can connect to it at least enough to recognize it in someone else when they feel that way.
It feels now quite a lot that it’s beginning to become possible to come home. Feeling at home in the world is no longer an emotion that is simply too painful to have. It is still painful: It is still excruciating. But I can kind of do it. It’s in range.