So today I woke up at three.

Mornings are really hard right now. I hadn’t mentioned that earlier. They are confusing.

In the mornings, I am still processing what happened the previous day and I am also processing grief. I know mornings trigger the memories of leaving everyone at Yuri’s place behind for the last time—Nata’s death and then the farewells. There is that too, just what happened. Everything that happened.

The most confusing part is perhaps the sense of despair I am remembering from her death—as if everything went sort of grey then. There seemed to be no hope for anything. For a long time, it stayed like that. I was alive and life was in many ways better, but everything was muffled inside a shroud of sorrow. Nothing much good could come through. Now, the sorrow is a little bit lighter and the work of getting through the day is a bit less, and so good things can come through. I get up and I feel excited about the good things that might happen in the day ahead, and I am also remembering this sort of shroud of despair, and it is confusing. The collision of it is confusing.

That is one very big piece.

And then there is yesterday to work through. There are so many pieces of that.

In the math session with C, she sat next to me. We sit in a kind of entryway to a building that is rarely used. It is like sitting in a doorway–the space is narrow. But it isn’t that narrow. We can sit there without touching. The day before, we did not touch. And yesterday, we did. I sat next to the column, and C sat very close to me. There was a point in the middle of working through a question she had on the Pythagorean theorem when I realized almost everything that could touch was touching. Her shoulder was against mine, her hips were against mine, she had turned her body towards me so that the whole length of her thigh was against mine. She did everything to be close short of putting her head on my shoulder. We were looking at her maths notebook together and we kept passing it back and forth and we were passing her eraser back and forth—every time she gave it to me, it was with two hands, it was respectfully. But our hands kept touching. They were nearly in each other’s laps.

There is nothing much in the present to decipher about that. Students are not supposed to touch teachers. Teachers can touch a student as much or as little as they want to and they can do it out of love or out of brutality, but students are not supposed to touch teachers. C decided this was not applicable. She can touch me. She didn’t decide this consciously, I am sure. I don’t think she noticed what she was doing or thought about it. She just felt warm and safe and nice. I am guessing.

But the meaning for me is different—not about her, but how it intersects with the past. No one but a lover has touched me like that since I was a child. I would not want anyone to. I don’t know that I would feel comfortable if a different student sat so close to me. Other students do touch me, but not quite so much. But it was okay that C did. It was fine.

And the fact that she did was like hearing a language I hadn’t heard in a long time, or like a door had opened. I felt really human. I felt as though someone had said to me you are no longer a robot. You are no longer made out of plastic and metal. You now have skin and flesh and bones.

It’s immense. It’s an immensely complex experience to make sense of.

It makes me realize how jarring the cultural transition was for me on a regular basis, and how hard it was for me afterwards, because I had no way to process the experience of transition. It wasn’t supposed to exist at all. How could I make sense of it, when I couldn’t think about it? When I wasn’t supposed to believe it was even real?

And yet the people who loved me and nurtured me lived in a very different way than mainstream culture. They were Eastern Europeans for the most part. They were mostly Russian. They used language in a different way—not just spoke a different language, but used that language to communicate tenderness or disdain in ways you cannot in English. They had different body language. They had also developed their own culture around trauma, around our shared emotional needs, and around the necessities of being trafficked. That was home, because I was loved there. There was warmth and comfort and emotional responsiveness and everything a child needs to develop. There was abuse also, but I was being abused at home. Then Nata died, and I lost that home.

It was like immigrating, except all alone.

Since then, I always have this feeling about my “own” culture as being something I can’t really understand. It has these sort of indecipherable rules that I can make out well enough to follow, but never with confidence. It is always like a pair of new shoes. I like being in other cultures because, sooner or later, I generally start to feel like I do know the rules. I can learn them, and I begin to feel confident about having rules about behaviour I can follow. In my own culture, I can’t do this. The rules remain things I can’t learn—because the emotions of learning it can’t be processed. There is this hurdle of thinking that the necessity of internalizing the culture—rather than merely imitating it—shouldn’t be there. There should be nothing to adjust from. There shouldn’t be grief involved in doing that adjusting.

But of course there is. The girls loved me. Your home is where you feel loved. Not the place you sleep at night. The place you are loved.

American culture also feels cold to me. I think that is an impression I have never been able to process, for much the same reasons—it ought to feel normal to me. It would if I had never had this other, secret life of trafficking. I would just have trauma to deal, but not this other stuff.

Since I did, it makes sense it would feel cold. In comparison to what I grew up with, American culture is cold. Everyone is so separate, so independent, and the sense of personal space is so great. If you are looking at Western culture through the lens of almost any Eastern or even Southern culture, one’s first impression is that these people are blocks of ice. If you get inside it and understand it, it isn’t like that, but this impression of people as blocks of ice was one I could never process—the whole context for that impression couldn’t be understood. So I could never get past it. I just felt lonely without being able to process that either.

There is still so much more to this, but I feel like a person again. I feel safe.

It’s connected somehow to a sense that I have a body again, I have skin, I have a body that belongs to me, and I have rights. I don’t know how those things are connected exactly—this idea of having less personal space, but having more rights. But that might be a topic for another day. Just now, it’s time to get ready. I have breakfast to cook and a house to clean, and although C has been late the last two days, I cannot be late.

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