I am dreaming about airports again. Last night, it seemed I was going to China. It might have been Japan. I was in the Philippines, and I was leaving for somewhere further east.

In the daytime, it occurs to me that when people died, it was a little like leaving a place. I knew people in pockets, in clusters, because they organized themselves that way. They formed groups along linguistic and ethnic lines. I think nearly everyone spoke Russian as a common language, but that wasn’t the language they always spoke with me.

But I should explain about Miwoshchka. I think I didn’t before.

All the loneliness and anguish of the last few weeks coalesced into something specific—a definite memory.

I think her name was Maxima. I think we called Ksymcha. I am not very, very sure. But I think so.

It’s the memory of her death, because I found her body. She wasn’t murdered. I am not entirely sure of this, but I am mostly sure. She committed suicide, and I found her hanged to death in her bedroom one day when I was maybe three or four. As an adult, I can understand this.

Earlier, it seemed to be that someone inside said she was 21. I don’t think this was true. I think she was 12 or 13. Possibly 14. And I can understand from my adult perspective how life would have become unbearable for her—the future she could see ahead of herself, the horror of what was done to her and of what she had to do to others, and the absolute inescapableness of it. And I can see that suicide might have seemed like a viable option.

But I was 3 or 4. All I saw then was that she had left me.

So that’s one piece, the abandonment of it.

I am also realizing, though, that left me in another country, in a sense. It seems now also that Stecia and Magda were already dead. Probably there were other Polish girls—there might have been, there is a compelling reason to think that there weren’t any. But they weren’t my particular friends, and so when she died there was no one to really talk to. I mean, literally, I could no longer communicate.

There was no one left who could understand my broken, baby Polish. I don’t think I knew much Russian at all, if any. And the Afghani girls had not yet taken me into their group. And so I could not speak. I was in emotional anguish, but the people I could tell about it didn’t care or could not be told, and the people who cared could not understand me.

I have been listening to Russian a lot lately, and it makes me realize that, although Russian became the language of love and belonging and a sense, it didn’t feel that way to me when I was little. Russian was instead the language of loneliness, because it is what most of the girls spoke to me, but I didn’t know it. I could not speak it. I could not understand it. And it sounded much harsher to my ears than Ksymcha’s tender Polish.

So what I remember from Ksymcha’s death is this muddle of loneliness and fear and abandonment and also a sense of being in exile—of suddenly being a stranger in a strange land. These girls had always been there, but I had been busy cuddling in Ksymcha’s arms, or in Magda’s, or in Stecia’s, and they had not entered into my emotional landscape before. Suddenly I needed them. I had no one else. But I could not speak.


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