It seems like I finally caught up to last Tuesday and I have moved on to Wednesday.
I was in a group. I didn’t feel part of that group. They seemed to feel more or less a part of the same group though, just without me. That’s what happened last Wednesday.
So I started thinking about groups.
And they were homesick, a lot of them were. Homesick and lonely. Well, I am homesick and lonely all the time. I am homesick and lonely in Los Angeles even when I am in my own house. I was thinking about that. I have felt for as long as I can really remember—all of my adult life—like someone in exile and it used to be entirely mysterious. Now, it’s only kind of mysterious. Mostly, it isn’t.
But when I really start to grasp it, it is shocking, because I start getting memories of what it was like to be with the girls.
I took a nap today, and I felt that when I woke up. I felt their absence very distinctly. It was terrible. It was lonely and frightening, really, like everyone had died while I was sleeping. And that made me think more of what it had been like to be with them.
It was loud. There was a lot of laughter and shouting. No one ever really seemed to be trying to quiet, but it felt safe to me. All the familiar noises, the friendly loudness. If people were that loud around me now, I would be terrified. It wouldn’t feel friendly to me or safe. I would feel assaulted by it.
I remember always touching. Not just Nata, but everyone. Everyone was always touching me. They were always touching each other. Someone held my hand, someone had an arm thrown around me. Someone held me cuddled up on her lap. This wasn’t just when I was little. They did this when I was 13 too. It gave me an intense sense of being wanted and necessary, of being a part of a group.
I think the kind of trauma bond that Nata and I had was what everyone had. Everyone who had settled into a friendship with other girls. That’s what everyone felt, and so my trauma reactions were normal for them. It was normal to need to feel that the others were safe and that they were all there and accounted for. They were in one piece. It’s a kind of reassurance people outside a situation like that don’t need. They don’t need to hold hands to remember that no one is being hurt just then. They don’t need to be so relentlessly, physically close.
And we were. We were physically close. There was absolutely no sense of personal space. None whatever. Not even much sense of privacy or a need for it. We had all seen each other’s bodies anyway. We had touched them in the most intimate way. We had witnessed the worst moments of weakness, the greatest pain. A few garments one way or the other seemed immaterial.
I remember never being alone—mostly, I was with Nata. It might be just the two of us. But you didn’t do anything alone. Why would you want to? And so often it was the group of us, especially in the kitchen. Ten of us, maybe, all trying to cook. Practically standing on top of each other. That’s what I remember.
Compared to that, the world now seems very lonely. Cold and lonely and impersonal and like I am not really wanted, like everyone is trying to hold me at arms’ length because they don’t really like me or maybe they find me disgusting. I don’t know. Something.
Of course, that isn’t it. It’s just that my normal is not anyone’s normal. It was the normal that emerged in a brothel, among traumatized teenage girls. And it might have been somewhat closer to their normal—Russian girls touch more than American girls do. But it was like their normal on steroids and crack cocaine.
So that’s one part of it, just the group. The feeling of being in a group and of being wanted and needed—a necessary part of everyone’s well-being, as though everyone could relax a bit more since I was there. Then the group was complete, and when I wasn’t there, a piece was missing for them, just as a piece was missing for me when one of them was gone.
There’s one more feeling I have about it, and maybe it’s a more minor one. Or maybe it’s a bigger deal, but it’s more worked out. I’m not sure. But it has to do with sexuality.
Half of them had girlfriends, or were between girlfriends. Maybe more than that. Maybe it was nearly all of them. It wasn’t any big deal. I think it was to Yuri, but he wasn’t around all the time. He wasn’t even around most of the time. A girl might love Lena or Lana or Tasha, but it’s not that she loved girls. She could have posters all over the walls of her favourite male singer; she might talk about how hot he was, even while she slept in Katya’s arms every night. There was no contradiction.
Outside of that group, sleeping with another woman is an identity. You can be gay or you can be bisexual, but it’s an identity. It wasn’t for them.
It was different for Nata and me than maybe it was for them. It seemed permanent to us, our relationship, something that was meant to outlast our enslavement. But Nata loved me. She wasn’t a lesbian. She might never love another girl. She loved me. That’s how she thought of it, as something individual, personal, not a way of being.
It’s jarring to think about this: the difference in the perspective on sexuality. Inside that group, it wasn’t an identity. It was, in a way, more normal than an identity, as though falling in love with a girl could happen to anyone, at any moment. It might even be inevitable. Outside that group, it was transgressive. It wasn’t normal at all. It was something I had to fight for, something that needed a name, that had to be discussed and explained.