I dreamed about Ksymcia last night. I didn’t have nightmares for once, but I did dream.

We were in the US, riding a bus. I was explaining the route to her, that it looked straight on the poster of it, but it is actually nearly a loop. That was all.

When I woke up, I thought maybe I had dreamed of C, but then I realized they don’t look exactly the same. Ksymcia has a slightly narrower face than C, but the eyes were same colour. I have wondered about that, because sometimes I think Ksymcia must have had blue eyes, but I can never see them in my mind. I never have a picture. But in the dream they were the same colour as C’s—a light brown. And maybe they really were brown.

I don’t know what the dream means—if anything—except that in the morning, when I remembered it, I felt so sad to be without her. I have been thinking since last night how these girls I loved never got to grow up or, if they did, I didn’t see it. Their futures were cut off, and I never saw what kind of people they were able to become. It is not like watching my students begin to become less wobbly dough and more clearly their own special selves, or become different people. The school captain, who was sometimes arrogant and too talkative in class has become obedient and quiet this year and C is more assertive and commanding. So that is one thought, just that I didn’t get to see this when I was a child. I didn’t get to see how all of us turned out and what became of us, because for most of them, that’s all they got. Just those years.

My other thought has to do with culture shock. I experienced it as a child first when Ksymcia died and then when Nata did and I never went back to Yuri’s place. I hadn’t fully appreciated—I hadn’t wanted to appreciate—how much I identified with the girls in that place and how much it felt like home to me. And although I spent most of my time in mainstream culture, it was not my home. I know as a foreigner a part of how you cope is to spend a certain amount of time retreating from the new culture, and carving out a space where you are in some way surrounded by all the old things. It is why foreign enclaves exist and why there are ethnic neighbourhoods. It is not just out of fear of what is different, but a necessity. It helps us cope with the stress of being “other.”

So I had that. I had this place I could retreat to and be comfortable in my own skin again, where I didn’t feel like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Then I lost that safe place to retreat to. Of course, in so many ways, it was not safe, but in that way it was.

When they died, I stopped having any place to return to. In so many ways, I no longer had any home to go to and this has been a massive part of the trauma memories I have, this sense of being uneasy in my own skin, and as if I can’t breathe.

The third thought I have had has to do with the survivability of everything. It seems to me I have had the idea that I could not survive any of the things that happened to me, and that it simply not possible to have them there as a part of me. Nothing good can come of that. It’s as though they could either be consuming or disappear into nothing. Well, that isn’t true. I have flashbacks about something or other almost every day. It’s not as though it’s all behind me now, and I can move on. I still have to deal with it. And that may not last forever, but it is how things are now, and I am mostly doing fine. I have to carve time out to process it, that’s true. I can’t live like other people at least appear to, who mostly are trying to cope with the day-to-day stresses and not murder and rape and trafficking.