Other kinds of men

I did not feel very rational yesterday. Today isn’t looking good either. I feel deeply wounded, as if my feelings have been hurt. There is no readily identifiable cause for this. I am not sure what to do about it, or how to make sense of it.

There is this awkwardness with C’s dad, because of his dream about being a happy family of three. Dad, mom and C. I think there is an element of pretend to this: what if my life hadn’t been the way that it was, and I wasn’t 16 when I knocked C’s mother up and I had been able to marry the mother of my child?

I think there are real feelings involved too, though. He gets worried about C, and I feel worried about the same things and we discuss it and find a solution. And what I felt before was that I couldn’t share my worries about her with anyone, because people either did completely unhelpful things or told me I was imagining things and all would be well. He may have felt the same way. There is a real feeling of being supported.

Anyway, if you recall, at that point he said he didn’t want to call me sister anymore, and he called me mom, which confused me. Since then we don’t call each other anything–just you. It doesn’t feel good to me. I have lost my way of expressing warmth and affection to him, which came in the package of calling him “brother.”

So yesterday I asked him about this, and he said I could call him father or dad. He said he would call me mummy and I could call him whatever I wanted. I don’t think this is as weird to him as it is to me. In the languages here, mother and wife are the same word. I think I have heard women call their husbands “dad.” It has a larger range of meanings than “dad.”

But it immediately made me aware of all kinds of “dad” feelings and associations, and that I can’t actually think straight about what he said until some of that is worked out. I have managed to get by in life by never putting certain pieces together in the same box in my head. Some men feel protective of their daughters and some exploit them. Those are two pieces I have managed to never put together, because those feelings are too painful.

I think I grew up believing all men used their power in society to exploit women and girls and if they didn’t, it was because they couldn’t. If I start thinking other kinds of men are possible, it was not inevitable that I have a father who murdered women and girls and was obsessed with cutting up their bodies, then it becomes very painful.


If I hurt you, you do not bleed….

Fonagy talks about individuals reverting to developmentally earlier forms of mentalization or non-mentalization entirely under stress and he also talks about entire systems remaining in non-mentalizing states. He talks about teleological systems, in which only concrete actions can be understood. In this kind of system, individuals become coercive: aggressive means are used to force behaviours which mimic the appearance of care. (I know you care about me, if you do want I want you to do. Hystrionic behaviour can stem from this motivation: if I make you feel uncomfortable enough, then maybe I can make you things I recognize as caring.

Another system he describes is one called psychic equivalence: thoughts are seen as real, and so thoughts must be carefully controlled. Results are equated with intention. There are no accidents.

Finally, he describes pretend systems, and this one strikes a deep chord with me. Only one’s own thoughts and feelings are real. Other people have them, but they are not experienced as “real,” leading to feelings of isolation and emptiness as well as intense selfishness. Lack of sense of reality to feelings “permits interpersonal aggression,” because their emotional impact has no importance.

It also permits acts of self-harm, because psychological existence is seen as being decoupled from physical existence. (I can destroy myself, but only kill off the bad or unwanted part of myself.)

That was also my dad, who could kill animals and people, because their deaths were not felt to be real or to have importance.

They were real to me, and I felt pain and fear when I witnessed his violence towards others. It was decades before I understood this as normal. I grew up seeing only self-interest. I didn’t know I put myself in the place of corpses, because that is actually natural for people to do: not just I could be next, but I tried to understand what it was like to be them, to be dead and to be chopped up into pieces, because actually that is what people do. Imagining the experience of others is natural.


I think I can live without Natalya if I don’t have to live without the memory of her, if I don’t have to live without the need to still feel she is with me in some way. I can live without her if that doesn’t need to be total.

I remember her blood still this morning. I remember how much of it there seemed to be. I remember it was on my face and in my hair. I remember my shirt was as wet with it as if I had been standing in the rain.

I remember I did not want to let go of that either. I don’t like blood now. It scares me and when I see it, I feel a horrible sense that things are wrong—something that belongs inside has gotten outside, and it worries me in an overwhelming way. But her blood seemed to be the last thing I had of her. It was the last thing of hers I touched. Even after I laid her body as gently as I could on the asphalt, I still carried her blood with me up the stairs.

But then I had to wash it off. I had to bundle up the clothes that were wet with it so that they could be washed clean of it too. I had to let go.

I still feel an inner conflict over this, over the need to let go. You can’t hold someone forever that way.

If nothing else, there will be other lovers. There were other lovers. I can’t figure out what to make of that now.

I start to see though that she wasn’t for me only a lover. There isn’t a single, tidy category of a relationship that I can use to understand what she was to me or what she needs to be now. It might be that nothing is actually as tidy as we would like it to be.

This is even less so.

I realize she loved me when I was only half-formed, when it wasn’t quite clear who I was going to become. When I was nine she loved me, trusting I would become an adult she could still care for. In that way, she loved like a parent does.

Natalya shared my childhood. She knew what it was to be trafficked. She knew, specifically, what it was like for me. Unlike my own sister, who wasn’t trafficked, there wasn’t a whole life that had to be kept secret from her.

She played with me too, as other children did. But she played with me holding the same knowledge I had of what we had just done or what we would have to do next. She was the only one who knew what it was like for me to grow up.

In that way, she was like a sibling, the witness to my childhood, my companion and my playmate.

Natalya was everything and I don’t just mean because she was important, but because I had no other authentic relationships. She had to love me for everyone who didn’t and couldn’t. Our relationship had to fill every gap in my life left by all of the people who didn’t care or who didn’t know.

If I don’t want to let her go now, it’s because I don’t want to be so completely, utterly alone. I don’t want to belong to no one at all. I don’t want to have only tenuous, half-strength ties to other people. I want the one person who loved me entirely and unconditionally. I want a tribe still, even if that tribe is only one person.

A fistfight and a dance: another Madame Kay lesson

There was a dance party last night. This was to raise funds for some kind of shrine in honour of the former king that the teachers want to put up in our school. I went.

I thought I wouldn’t go. I was very, very tired in the afternoon after lunch with Maths Madam. But I had to go to do some work—I was supposed to help with stage decoration. In the end, we did nothing to decorate the stage. I had no work. The music started though, and my friends were all there, and so I stayed.

I stayed until it closed.

I missed dancing with my friends from back home, and I danced at some points the way I would have danced with them, which was perceptibly not Country X-style.

Also, Madame Kay had an altercation with her husband. I saw this. They were not far away from me—this was during the very last song of the night—and as it became physical, I intervened and pulled Madame Kay away from her husband. I say “pulled,” but Madame Kay is stronger than me. She let me pull her away.

Then her husband went and punched someone in the face.

Oh, so that’s what they were arguing about.

But for me it was all instinct. I’ve broken up a few fights in my classroom or tried to, and I did exactly what I would have done if she were a student—who are also usually bigger and stronger than me and yet will let me keep them from fighting if I act quickly enough, before the violence takes on a life of its own. Just as Madame Kay did.

I came home at midnight feeling very disturbed. Disturbed, first of all, because I felt lonely and also in some way rejected and unwanted. And then I also felt disturbed because I wondered if I had made the wrong decision with Madame Kay and if she would be angry in the morning because of it.

For a while, I cried. Then I slept, but I woke up feeling the same way: disturbed, lonely, and wondering if I had made a seriously wrong decision.

Madame Tee. W.’s son was at the dance. Schoolchildren were not supposed to come, but he came with three friends and a large bottle of beer. Why someone let them in or sold them beer, I can’t fathom. But I suppose there are ways. Anyway, during third period the next day, Madame Tee called me to find out exactly what had transpired. I called her back at lunch and filled her in. He had not gotten into too mischief, so I told her that. His friends were drinking, but I could not see that he had.

Then during last period, when Madame Kay and I were both free, she came and sat at the next table. She wanted to know exactly what her husband had done. I guess her back was turned at that moment, and she was not very sure what had transpired. So we talked for a while. She wanted to know if she had done anything wrong during the evening. I told her no. She went off again.

So that was the day. Sort of. Everything but the teaching part which, of course, was most of the day.

Now, I have two thoughts about this. I felt lonely because I was missing friends who are not here now. That is based on reality. But my sense of being rejected and outside of things was not entirely accurate. In larger group situations here, there will always people who know me well and people who have never spoken to me before. New people will see a foreigner and someone completely incomprehensibly different as well as (usually) exotic. My friends will see Ashana M. People who know me but not well might see me in some intermediate way.

However, all of these views will be apparent to me, and I will feel it at a visceral level. Sensing that others see me as an outsider—even if it is not really the important others who see me this way—will translate into rejection in my mind, because it feels like a change of status: I used to not feel like an outsider, and now I do. It won’t cross my mind (until later) that the group has changed—not the perception of the same group I am. So, my perception of rejection is also based on reality, but not in a full way. In order to create a coherent picture in my head, I discounted indications from my friends that I was being welcomed and included, and I remembered only the moments when they left me out. That felt better to realize, and I began to remember these positive moments again, and I thought of Madame Kay coming to my table to talk to me about this personal thing and about Madame Tee W. calling me up to ask about her son.

The second thought I had was that, whether her husband was building up to throw a punch at his wife or not, if I let in the feeling of holding Madame Kay in my arms while I pulled her away from her husband, I am aware of a sense of being able to protect someone I love and who is important to me.

I know my compulsion to act at these moments comes from the memory of having been unable to protect Natalya from my father’s friends who murdered her so brutally.

I should add that, over the years, as a result of dealing with overwrought students, I have learned to apply touch during tense moments in the most loving way and calm way I can. An upset child who feels restrained or frustrated in reaching a goal will become more out-of-control. A child who can instead feel contained and safe might just become calm enough not to harm herself or others. I think this probably applies to adults as well, and so it is how I held Madame Kay as I pulled her away from her husband. If you had to put into words my thoughts in that moment—although I was not thinking in words—you would say it was this “I love you. I will not let you hurt anyone. I will not let anyone hurt you.” That thought was in every part of my body, even if it was not in my head. In tense moments, people don’t listen anymore. But they feel.

Because of that, my memory of that moment was of one where I felt a great deal of love, and where I was touching someone in a way that was very firm, but also very gentle. Consequently, when I think back to it, I am keenly aware of acting in a protective, loving way with someone I care about and that she was not hurt.

I know the memory of being helpless in the face of violence against a loved one is still there. I can see it in the way I tend to watch my friends. It was my friend who was murdered, and my friends I worry the most about keeping safe. I want to know where they are all the time. I want to make sure they aren’t dead. When I first came here, I suppose since I didn’t know anyone well, I watched everyone. I had to make sure they all weren’t dead. Now, I watch only the people I care about most.

However, if I let myself, I can feel now that I was not helpless in that moment with Madame Kay. I was able to act. I can feel that my friend was not hurt, and that I was capable of acting in a caring and protective way. If I let myself take that in, I can feel it very profoundly, because the understanding is encoded in my skin. My skin knows it kept her safe, just as my skin knew I could not keep Natalya safe, because I also held her although in a different way. I touched her, and so my skin knows.

One more bit of healing. I am grateful for it.

And I did not break

The last two weeks, I have felt a pressure inside so great, it seemed like I would break. I think now it was the literal feeling of the body’s fragility. I think it was the sensation of a body breaking.

The rest of the memory came to me today. In my mind, I saw again how Natalya died.

They dragged her down the stairs, partly by the hair, partly shoving her, partly pulling. Three men. I don’t really know who these men were. They might have been men I knew. One of them could have been my father. Somehow, who it was didn’t seem important. Only what they were doing. What they were going to do.

She was screaming in Russian.

In the parking lot, they began to beat her. First, with fists, and then with something else. Pipes maybe. I don’t know. It was getting dark then. I couldn’t see. Her teeth began to scatter over the ground.

When she fell, they went on kicking her.

And then they raped her. All three of them. One by one. “Natalya! Natalya! Natalya!” Someone was holding my arm. I couldn’t go to her. I could only stand and watch.

My father cut out her eyes. I went then and held her, so broken. I kept on screaming.

We went in the hotel after that. My dad washed his hands. I took a shower. After that, he raped me.

In the car, driving home, I said I wouldn’t do this anymore. He could kill me the way he had Natalya. I didn’t care. But I wasn’t going to service anyone anymore. I would just lie there still if he tried to force me. No one wants that.

So then when we reached home, he hanged me, the way he used to when I was smaller. I didn’t struggle. I woke up again on my own bed later. In clean clothes. In the end, he did not let me die.

After school today, between laundry and circumambulating our holy site, I remembered this. It came easily, like a movie, but full of feeling and reality, although I can’t stay in this memory. It is too difficult.

But I know what happened now. I know and I did not break.

Lately, I have also felt a struggle inside to talk, as if there were things I must say. There is no one here to really talk to. I don’t know anyone all that well. The people I am close to are all too far away. Nonetheless, I felt that there were things I must say.

This is what I needed to say. That sense of struggle is gone now. I have told someone. I have told all of you. More importantly, I have told myself. I have told myself what happened and I did not break.


I saw Natalya die.

I didn’t realize this. I thought I had only learned about it later, but the memory came popping into my head last night, the way memories do. I was brushing my teeth.

I cannot remember it very well. The memory is there, and it is very vivid and clear, but whenever I think of it, I feel like screaming. It is too terrible to watch, and mentally I turn away. I don’t want to turn away, but I do.

I remember men dragging her down the concrete stairs of the Motel 6. And I remember her screaming.

I cannot remember very much after that. Only blood.

They cut her after she was dead, with knives. They cut her as if they were not merely trying to kill her, as if they were not only murderers, but as if they were butchers. Butchers of human beings.

In the mornings, when I have time or when I am able to make time, I go to the local holy site and walk around it. I walk around it and I chant and I think of Natalya. Natalya would have wanted to come here. Natalya wanted to travel. She wanted to see places.

Natalya, can you see this? Are you here?

Natalya, in the evenings, the boys make crowns of flowers out of clover blossoms. Can you see this?

Natalya, the children bow when they greet me. “Good morning, madam,” they say. “Good afternoon, madam.” Can you see this?

The old people have started to smile at me, like they know me. “Kora?” they say. And make a circular motion with one finger. Yes, I am going to Kora. I am going to walk in circles around it. That is what they are asking. And it seems to make them happy that I do this. Natalya, I made it. I grew up.

Natalya, why did only one of us survive?

Sod Off

Worth watching just for the cinematography. It's cracking.
Worth watching just for the cinematography. It’s cracking.

After chores are done, and I’m so tired I can’t lift my head off the back of my chair, I watch TV. A lot of people do that. It’s interesting to note that in that regard I am a great deal like the rest of the human race. Very comforting, in fact.

I watch an awful lot of shows originally broadcast on the BBC (and a few shows made elsewhere and rebroadcast on the BBC).  I’m not some sort of weird Brit TV snob who believes the UK makes vastly better television shows. It just kind of happened. Mainly, I grew tired of CSI, Law and Order, and Crossing Jordan and moved on to Inspector Lynley, Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, Wallander, Spiral, Cracker, Taggart, Midsomer Murders and…well, you get the idea.

The US just does not have enough compelling shows in which people try to sort out how dead bodies came to be dead bodies. I’m afraid I was forced to look elsewhere.

Along the way, I have come across a great number of expressions and exclamations that I really wish I could work into casual conversation without sounding like a pompous twit. (Pompous twit among them). A selection of these follows, although I’m sure there are some I missed or forgot.

1) Cracking (even better–right cracking)

2) Brilliant

3) Better put my skates on.

4) Sod off.

5) Cuppatea (All one word. Usually a question.)

6) Muck about

I occasionally wander over to comedy as well. The character of Nessa on Gavin and Stacey is brilliant. She says "cracking" a lot.
I occasionally wander over to comedy as well. The character of Nessa on Gavin and Stacey is brilliant. She says “cracking” a lot.

I’m especially taken with “cracking.” All those velar consonants in a row–it really makes for a nice, emphatic sound, an even better expression than the rather unfortunately out-of-fashion “wicked awesome” or just “wicked.” (No, nothing to do with the musical.) And muck is just one of those words that seems to perfectly match sound and meaning. Muck sounds so very much dirtier than mess, doesn’t it?

Anyway, here’s an example:

Oh, brilliant! I have an appointment in five minutes. I’d better put my skates on. And, you! Stop mucking about! No, you can’t have a cuppatea! In fact, it would be right cracking if you would just sod off!

But I suspect none of my friends would ever speak to me again if I started sounding like that. Would they?

(As an addendum, upon further reflection, I think I’ll just stick to “cracking.” That’s the best of the lot anyway. So don’t mind me if I start throwing cracking into every second sentence. That’s just me, being my usual, cracking self. Well, okay, maybe me just being weird…)