It’s raining. Really, really hard. So this means a few things. It means the students really couldn’t do their social work. (Don’t get confused. This is cleaning the school.) We cannot have assembly either. They are in their classrooms with their class teachers.

So I don’t get to see C. It is a little like losing a pulse. I know she is there. She must be. But I can’t see her. I won’t see her until recess time. I don’t know if this is frightening to me or not. It might be.

But it also means I am alone in the staffroom for 30 extra minutes, and maybe I have a bit of extra time to think.

C is older now than Ksymcha lived to be. I am not entirely certain of this, but almost. People have posted pictures of C and now that she has a Facebook account, I see them. Last year and in February when school started here, she looked almost exactly like Ksymcha. Now she doesn’t. The resemblance is still strong, but it is no longer like peering through a window into the past.

It makes me wonder if this is a part of why I really began dealing with things so intensely since coming here. There was the bathroom, and I couldn’t avoid that. And there was C and she wasn’t a captain last year. She wasn’t as prominent. But I still had to see her. I had to see her nearly every single day. I couldn’t avoid reminders in the United States either, but the triggers then were of Yuri. They were tattooed men riding on the bus with me, authoritarian principals with streaks of cruelty, boys trying to behave like gang leaders in the class. They weren’t these more complex reminders that had good laced all through them, as the memories of Ksymcha and Nata have for me. There was nothing in those other triggers to help sustain me through the trauma. I came here and there are triggers, but there are forms of hope in those. They bring with them all the sources of strength I might have hidden away deep inside me and could draw upon through it. So I wonder if it’s the happy accident of that which has helped me through things I might not otherwise have been able to get through. I mean, I was able to carve out time here in a way I couldn’t in the United States. But there might be more to it than that.

I don’t know. I am just wondering.

Anyway, there is this feeling about C growing beyond what Ksymcha ever reached. It brings it home to me in this completely astonishing way how young Ksymcha was. When I was four or five or however old I was when Ksymcha died, I had no concept of that. She was just like my mother. She was the person who loved me most and I felt completely safe being with, even when I really wasn’t safe. I couldn’t imagine why she would leave me to go and die.

But I can understand it now. I can feel the whole thing in a very real way inside me. She must have been twelve years old and Stecia and Magda had been murdered. Just as she cared for me, they must have cared for her. They died, and she had no one anymore. She had no way to return to her home and her family and ahead of her lay a life of degradation and abuse. She broke apart.

I remember better her gentleness now. She was so tender and soft and sweet. She wasn’t made of the stuff that gets you through life with a murderous pimp. Nata was as strong as nails, but Ksymcha wasn’t.

I’m not past the trauma of this, but I’m starting to get it. This 12-year-old girl was the most nurturing person I had ever known, and she was there in my life for some extended period of time. I remember her when I was still in diapers, and really I could have been an infant and she only a little girl when we first met. I have no idea when my dad starting taking me to Yuri’s. I could have been only six months old, but being with Ksymcha is one of the earliest memories I have. I might have been as old as five when she died. I think I must have been at least four. So she was there in my life for 2 or 3 years, maybe more, and it was during those very early years when I was forming attachments. I wasn’t old enough to understand that she wasn’t an adult and couldn’t take care of me in the same way an adult could have taken care of me. I just knew she loved me.

I look at C’s picture and what I remember is kissing Ksymcha all over her face. I remember kissing her eyes. I remember that feeling of skin on my lips. It’s a wonderful memory. It must be one of the best memories I have of anything happening, ever, in all of my life.

I can’t help feeling grateful. For so many years, keeping it all shut up in a box felt like the only way to survive, but here I have had the chance to open that box up. There are so many wonderful things inside it. I have to grieve for them because they were wonderful. If they weren’t wonderful, it wouldn’t hurt so much.

I think Ruthie first played out these memories in my head for me. All that time when I was trying to cope with separation anxiety, that anxiety began with Ksymcha. It went on with Natashka, but it didn’t start there. They started earlier and now I can feel the difference in how they loved me. Nata was both more fierce and more tender. Ksymcha had a quiet quality to her that was hers alone. When Ruthie first popped out and called for “mama,” she was calling Ksymcha. She is the one I called that. I was calling for her.

There is something else this makes me think of, considering all of these deaths. This other one is that as hard as it is for me to live without Nata, she couldn’t have lived without me. She had the courage to die, but I have to find the courage to live.

I keep going back and forth about some things, trying to compare them. One of them is this idea that C is alive but Ksymcha is dead. It is proof to me in some way that life is different in a very important way. Girls get to grow up now. Girls have reasons to want to grow up. Not all girls, but the girls I know. My life is different.

At the same time, I’m also considering that I was so very, very loved, and I am still loved. Not in the same way. Possibly not as much, but I’m also not three years old anymore. I don’t need quite the same kind of love. Ksymcha loved me so much I called her my mother, but I talked to C on Tuesday. I’m worried about one of her teeth. She didn’t know what I wanted, but she was busy. She kept saying, “Wait, ma’am. Wait.” She didn’t want me to leave. And I talked to her at lunchtime, still about this tooth she refuses to do anything about. She looked at my National Dress and picked lint off of it. That is her love. She has to fix me. That is her love. She doesn’t love me like Ksymcha did, but I don’t live in a world where love is dead.

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