Ketchup and coffee and blazing heat

I had a few realizations today. They seemed big, but don’t sound like much perhaps.

One of them is that everything I feel of myself of those times that relate to the girls are in between being abused. In a relative sense, those were my happy times.

I’ve realized a few things that seem to connect very strongly to those times. One of them is coffee. It can be any kind of coffee. It can be shitty coffee. It can be delicious, high-quality, perfectly brewed coffee. Coffee cheers me up.

I suspect this has a lot to do with staying up half the night. I suspect we drank an awful lot of coffee, probably most of it 7-11 coffee. Or taco stand coffee. I suspect it paired well with things that have ketchup on them.

I have a thing about ketchup.

Also, for being blazing hot. The thing to do if I’m in a state is freshen the hot water bottle, get under the blankets, and warm up to the point just below breaking into a sweat.

Russians like the heat cranked up. Or so I have been told.

Getting out of an anxious state is therefore best accomplished via all of these three things from my trafficked childhood coming together: burning up, coffee, and French fries with ketchup. Which seems totally contradictory. Those are reminders of being trafficked.

No, they are reminders of the moments of safety that came in between.


Shirts and road permits

Two good things happened today. Sort of.

First, yesterday evening I got a text that my extension was approved at long last, and I dutifully printed out, signed, and scanned the very last piece of paper. That felt good. One more piece of certainty in my life, which I do really, really need.

Then a package came. It’s for C, and I thought it might never come. So I went and picked it up from the post office. It was a shirt and some other things. The shirt came from a long conversation I had with C in October, about never wanting thing because nothing is ever hers. Well, the shirt was completely wrong. Too small, wrong colour, wrong fabric. Oh, well. You try, I guess.

I showed it to her on the assembly ground inside a sack still and knew it was wrong. And I guess I just felt so sad. This is life with feelings it seems.

Later, I called her into the staff room. I was alone, eating my lunch. I had vague thoughts of checking notebooks or I don’t know what. I was sad and wanted to be alone. Anyway, I think it makes a difference, the kind of C I get, whether she is alone, or feels she has an audience. At least if I figure into things.

So I said I’m sorry it’s all wrong. I reminded her of the conversations, and I guess she hadn’t connected it. It’s a fault I have, actually, she remembers these things, but they don’t come immediately to mind. They do for me. I see her, and I think immediately of the last conversation we had, the last interaction. The activities in between fall away to some extent. I pick up where we left off. A conversation we had 2 months ago comes immediately to mind as soon as there is a reminder of it, but it’s not like that for her. Probably because she is still only 13. Probably also I’m far more single-minded than almost anyone else on earth and she’s, well, maybe average.

I got a smile when she remembered. I showed it to her. I said it’s completely wrong. She said, “It won’t fit.” No, it really won’t. I made her try something of mine on to see how much bigger she was than me, but at that point we were deep in the midst of C having mixed feelings about me because her whole grade was saying we were dating (a rumour I have not reminded her that she herself may have started). She wouldn’t allow me to come to her house, she wouldn’t come to mine. The whole figuring her size out thing was very difficult. Not a huge surprise, I guess, that I got it wrong. But I got a smile from her when she remembered the whole series of conversations about the shirt. That was nice.

I said, “I wanted to get something special for you, because you are special to me.” And I got this kind of flip. I don’t know what it was: a smile, and a downward tilt of her head, a laugh, and something she did with her foot. Like a skip standing in one place. Something like that. It was cute, but it also told me she got something of the intention of the shirt, even if the shirt was wrong.

Then we talked about going to the Capitol City, because I talked to the logistics guy in the morning and he said we could do the road permit stuff in the Capitol City. It didn’t need to be done ahead of time. At the moment, it doesn’t matter whether C goes to football camp for the holidays, or if she goes to her village or to stay with her evil stepdad. I only need to know if I should buy one bus ticket or two bus tickets.

I said maybe we’ll go on the 22nd. She said it was okay. She’ll go to her village from 19th = 21st. “Just for three days?” They are having a 3-day annual festival. Oh, yes. That would be a good reason to go. “When do you want to go, C? It doesn’t matter.”

The 25th.

Let’s see. She’ll ask her mom.


The thing is I want to take C with me to the Capitol City. I want to take her with me and then drop her in P-town where her aunt lives and to do this, I need a permit. I don’t need a permit to travel to the Capitol City—they would like us to leave and that’s how you get out of the country. Not directly, but you have to pass through it. But I need a road permit to get to P-town.

And I need to apply for a road permit 1 month in advance. Now would be a month in advance.

I need to get my shit together and do it.

Departures are hard.

Life is weird. It is almost like I live with the Wizard of Oz. People with more integrated experiences have no idea what their brains are doing. They just get the bit spit out on the other side. I get all of it. The weird detours, the connections, the meanders. Because my detours and connections and meanders are LOUD. They are intense. Mine come with suicidal ideation, with despair about whether life is even doable, with immense and breaking loss.

Given that I had the life I had. Given that I am alive and still breathing. Given all of that, I think I’m doing pretty well.

I just need to get a fucking road permit.

Three kisses

I have so much work left to do. It’s so much easier now, and yet I still have so much more work ahead of me. Integration is really not easy. It’s not as easy as just dealing with the major traumas or even as easy as recognizing you are one person. It seems to me it’s a matter of learning how to think again, and learning how to think as a traumatized person: I mean learning how to think when pretty much everything trips through the wires of a trauma memory, which just really isn’t something everyone has to figure out how to do.

I went to C’s house yesterday. Her mom and the neighbour—one of my student’s mothers—were sitting outside pouring beer for the local schizophrenic who is in a semi-psychotic state these days. I sat with them for a few minutes: the schizophrenic always talks about the foreign teacher they had here when she was very young. I guess it must have been in Class 2 or something. She sees me and automatically is reminded of her and begins to talk about her, sometimes in coherent terms, but mostly not. Then C’s mom called her and she came to the door looking startled. I went inside, and C made tea.

It was kind of a pained visit. I am not sure why. I wanted to talk to her about what she would need to take to school with her next year and what things she needed.

That was on the surface. Inside, I suspect there was a lot more going on. I suspect there was too much going on, because I am considering a departure and a separation and both are so immensely painful. I will be away from C for nearly 2 months. I have to go to the Capitol City. A separation and a departure.

I know it triggers so many other separations—separations that were permanent. So many small departures and then the last departure, after Nata died.

But it no longer surfaces as one complete trauma. It comes sort of in bits and pieces. When I leave, C comes to stand in the doorway to watch me leave. Every time she does this, it hurts. It hurts because I don’t kiss her. I know Nata is really dead, because I don’t kiss anyone anymore. There is no one I kiss three times anymore. It doesn’t really hit me then, as I am standing there telling her to study for science, not to watch too much TV, not to play on Facebook too much. I kind of preserve it in my head, as a moment to think through later.

I suppose I am reminded because there is a family feeling to C, and yet it’s so clear it’s a different family. I can bring who I am into the present—I don’t have to leave every part of myself in the past. But we interact differently with different people. There is always something of an “us” we create together with whoever we are with, especially if we are close to that person. So I cannot be exactly the same “me” now as I was with Nata.

It’s such a small thing—the three kisses—but it seems to have so many layers. So many of them hurt.

I don’t really know what to bring of myself into the present. I don’t know what is me and what is merely the past, what is just something that happened. That’s the hard part of integration. There is this period when you really don’t know. It seems to me that way, anyway. That’s my experience of it.

Sometimes, the unfairness of it really hits. Nata was such a beautiful person, and she was only nine when the trafficking started. Why didn’t anyone take care of her? Why wasn’t she protected? I won’t ever have the answers to that. I didn’t know to ask those questions when she was alive.

And I also just miss her.


I need to catch up somehow. That seems to be what is happening at the moment. I got behind. There’s a bit of a processing backlog. It’s not enormous, but it’s enough to make me a little stressed and distracted—I keep arriving at school late. Not really, really late, but later than I mean to, because my morning routine doesn’t seem to be nailed down.

Friday was the big Conversation where C’s mom agreed to let her stay here and I agreed more or less to give my right arm in exchange. I mean, I said I would pay for everything for her. I said I would make sure she behaved. All true. All a huge life-changing commitment.

All things that mean to me I have power. I have the power to protect and take care of someone I love.

It’s huge.

I was proctoring in C’s exam hall this morning. There was a point somewhere in between stapling papers and giving out answer sheets when I had a second to realize she was sitting there, deeply engrossed in her National Language exam and she was fine. Absolutely no one was hurting her or intended to hurt her. She was in absolutely no danger whatsoever. It flashed through my mind that this never happened with the girls. There might be the illusion of safety—a brief reprieve from danger—but never any time when that safety was so real or so complete as it was for C in that moment in the exam room.

She was safe because I had almost complete control over what happened, because no one had any wish to harm her, because nearly everyone else in the room had an instinctive wish to help.

Life was so different with the girls.

I don’t know what to make of that exactly. Actually, it’s hard to grasp: the absolute contrast. It is not that C is always safe or that I can always keep her safe, but that the girls were never safe and other children are safe. At least sometimes. At least with 95% certainty.

Complete lack of safety was my normal. It was normal for me to feel unsafe. It was normal for me to feel that the people I loved were also unsafe. It is so obvious and yet so shocking to feel that at a gut level, and I think when I get home and I have time to really take that in, I’ll get to feel a huge wave of grief.

We can keep the children in our society safe—I think it is actually possible. But you have to care a lot. Everyone has to care. Children have to be a priority for every decent human being living within that group. And it isn’t. I don’t know how to change it. I know I am not changing it. I am helping one child . I am making difference for a few more children so that they have a bit better chance at life. Children are so vulnerable. They are more vulnerable than anyone in our society. They are more vulnerable than almost any class of adults anywhere in any society that I can think of. The choices that adults make about them make all the difference between life and death for them, safety and terror every single day, resilience or unmanageable fragility.

And I guess I am starting to get that. I was so vulnerable. I have power now in comparison because my vulnerability then was so immense. It was immense when I was 2 and not a lot less immense when I was 13. It is not mainly a matter of physical power, but legal power and psychological power. This is why terror is so much a part of the trauma for me. Simply lacking the protection of adults—even when nothing particularly bad was happening, but knowing if something bad did happen, there was no protection to be had—that alone is terrifying as a child.

It seems as though the vulnerability was so profound that I couldn’t understand my safety now. It’s like a thought I couldn’t complete. I still can’t but I suppose that’s one step on the way towards it.


Life is so complicated. There are so many things to understand and make sense of and I have so many feelings about so many things.

I don’t even know where to start. But I think I should try, because life doesn’t seem to stop. Things just compound. Then I have a whole noodle-y mess to untangle.

I liked the way the process of talking to C’s mom came about. It felt natural—the whole exchange with IT Ma’am and Games Miss and the neighbour aunties—as if that is how things are meant to be done, and I think maybe it echoes something of my childhood, although there is nothing specific I can remember.

I also have this sense of a future: I think this has something to do with children. Children palpably make you aware of how life continues forward. I have one particular child I have made a commitment to—somewhat publically now. I mean, in front of her mother and the neighbours, I have made this commitment to supporting her and looking after her, and it makes me realize that I don’t plan to die in the very near future. I intend to live.


That’s big.

Then also, I realize that I have so much power. Not so noticeably in my life—although I do have it—but to protect the people I care about. I don’t have the power to do just whatever I want, but there is this combination of being aware of what is possible and of what tools are there with which to accomplish it that translates as power.

In other words, knowing that C’s stepdad is not that interested in her future, that Country X-ers don’t really keep terribly close tabs on their kids in certain ways—I mean, that having a child live with an aunt or uncle for a while is not uncommon—and then also having a lot of hook-ups made it possible.

The thing is I know her stepdad tears down C’s self-esteem. Other details, I am not that aware of, but I know that he treats her as “less than” because she is not his child. I hear her mother treats C differently too, but I don’t know if this is really true. But part of what I wanted was to get away from an environment where her worth is always under attack.

And I could.

As a child, I could not protect anyone I loved. From anything. I had absolutely no power. I could perhaps take the edge off their pain, but that was really all.

Now things really are different.

This week

I think maybe it was Tuesday when C told me she had spoken to her father (actually, stepfather) about staying in Y-town and he was very angry and would not allow it. I had said I would talk to her mother about it and she had said then after exams would be a good time to do that. But actually the family’s plan emerged as leaving on December 1st. Exams end, I think, on the 29th.

So I chatted with IT Ma’am about this over the next few days and talked with her some—she is in Australia. And I made her talk to C, because I couldn’t get anything clear out of her. I wasn’t even sure if C was telling the truth completely, and if she wasn’t, why she would lie about anything. C does lie to me, I have realized, and possibly lies quite regularly. She’s a puzzle at times, and language problems don’t help.

Anyway, then IT Ma’am chatted with the games coordinator, who is also close with C and with her family—they live very close to each other—and Games Miss said she would take me to meet C’s mom and explain things properly.

Yesterday afternoon, she did. It started off strangely for me, because I forgot that Country X thing, where introductions are not really formally made unless you are meeting some government official. C’s mom was outside doing laundry when we came, and we went with her into her house, but because I had forgotten this detail and no one said anything to me directly—C’s mom does not speak any English—I spent maybe ten minutes wondering about the whole thing—who she was, mom or a relative, or a neighbour, and if she wasn’t C’s mom, when C’s mom would come.

Mom prepared tea, and then the talking began. They spoke in the regional language, which I really don’t understand much at all, but Games Miss mixed in a lot of English vocabulary and also said things I knew she would say, so I could understand her. I knew she was saying I would pay all the costs for C, that I am always concerned about her, that I am always worried about her.

As they were discussing, C came in holding the baby. The look on her face was a mixture of shock and fear, although I had told her I was coming. Maybe she thought I wouldn’t come—after school I told her again I was coming. She was afraid to let me come, that her mom would be angry. And she said, “Leave it.” Maybe she thought I had left it. I thought she meant it was okay if her mom got angry: leave worrying. But maybe she meant leave coming.

She came and stood nervously on the other side of the room, and then finally sat down in the windowsill, nervously picking her feet. I lost track of the conversation soon after that, but I could see C begin to relax. Neighbours drifted in and I could hear the situation repeated. I adopted C. I am going to help her. And I could see everyone was happy.

Then they needed to leave—VP Ma’am’s husband died 2 weeks ago, and rituals will be done. These women are all her neighbours, and they were going to help prepare dinner and serve everyone. We left then, and I went down the road with Games Miss in the direction of her house. Five minutes later, Maths Ma’am called regarding the plan to go to VP Ma’am’s house.