Sam in the night

Sam wakes up again the same way, but not thinking the same thing. Yesterday, he wanted to know where Nata was because he wanted to know she was safe. It worried him that people had stolen her and made her go away. Maybe they are still hurting her.

Now, he is satisfied that she is safe. Still, he is worried about the location problem. How will he find her when he dies? He can stand the idea of separation if it is temporary; if I live 30 or 40 or 50 years more, that doesn’t have any meaning for him. It’s just that I will die, and he can be with Nata again. That makes it bearable.

But he has to be able to find her.

He tries to reason this out. It is tough going. When he is out, I can feel the effort it requires to follow a line of logic. I am there in the background, and I can feel the strain of it for him, but he is trying.

He thinks that Nata—he’s been told she is a “sparkle” now—can find him sometimes even though she is dead. He imagines this sparkle as being something like Tinker Bell, and so it makes sense to him that she would not always be in one place. She might zip around to different places.

And it really does seem to me—as well as to him—that she is with me at times. I presume this is some kind of psychological phenomenon, where I am just very strongly reminded of her.

But for many years there has been a periodic sense of a presence. It comes at odd times: waiting for IT Ma’am to pick us up front of my landlord’s shop last month, sitting in the backyard drinking tea at twilight when I was 13 and she had just died. I don’t remember most of these moments, just that they have entered my experience of life as something I expect to happen from time to time.

Sam called out to her a few days ago and after that he felt hugged all over, in the way that he used to when she was alive. I am not surprised he thinks she comes to visit him sometimes.

So he reasons that if she can find him now, then she will also be able to find him after he dies. There is something about their connection that is like a tracking device—he doesn’t see it in those terms, he is imagining a special magnet or something like an invisible rope between them. He doesn’t know why she doesn’t use this to stay with him all the time, and I imagine that question will come next.

For the moment, however, he is satisfied. He can find her again. He doesn’t have the mechanics of it worked out, but it logically follows.

In the night though, he wakes up tantrummy because he doesn’t want her to be a sparkle. He wants to be able to hug her again, and she needs a body to do that. He can feel hugged by her sparkle still. That happens. But he cannot hug her. He is angry she doesn’t have a body for him to hug anymore. The bad men stole it from her. They made her body stop working, and now it cannot be hugged anymore.

He is really getting down to it now. They stole her body from him. They couldn’t kill her soul—he cannot bring himself to believe she no longer exists and neither can I—but they killed her body. And her body did things she cannot do without it. This is the real loss. The body and soul together is a different creature than either one separately. He loved them together. I loved them together.

It seems strange to be puzzling out an event, as an adult, that happened when I was 13 using a 2-year-old mind. The 13-year-old mind is perfectly capable of processing the event. All the cognitive abilities are there to do it. My adult mind is perfectly capable of it too. But Sam seems to need to. It’s totally inefficient.

But he’s lit on the key element of it all: the body and soul can do things together that they cannot do separately. I’m not sure my adult mind would have gotten to the core of it so well. My adult mind has too much fluff and nonsense in it to get to the core of things very easily.

I grew up in a church that tries to separate the mind and the body as much as possible. Everything about the body seems to be bad. It is “fleeting” if not actually evil.

The physical world is superficial and an involvement in it suggests a certain shallowness of personality. No one wants to be shallow. The fear of turning out to be a shallow person is as constricting as the fear of rejection or disapproval.

Worse, everything negative about the mind and the personality that really are bad—selfishness, pride, the desire to hurt and punish others when you’re angry, impulsiveness—are equated with the body. They are “flesh.” It’s metaphorical, but spirit is good, flesh is bad.

The body and everything to do with the body is bad. At best, it is meaningless. At worse, it harms others.

But the body and mind do complex things together that make our experiences rich. I am not going to be able to explain this well—and it is new to me, but probably not to you. If I were merely sitting next to Natashka, something happened inside my body that created an emotional response. I felt safe. Being away from her does something equally powerful and mysterious: I feel a sense of longing and uneasiness.

I was safe with her. But your body—I am sure of this—responds to the physical proximity of your “people” in a way that motivates you to stay close to them. This is not just about a cognition—this person makes me safe—but is chemical.

It has to be.

It’s oxytocin. There are other things going on—we are a complex species—but one piece is completely in the body. And the result for us, the attachment, comes from the interplay of body and soul together.

That’s just one example.



Moving the boulders again

I can’t move the boulders because it involves too much weeping. Earlier, I was in the staffroom. Everyone was there filling out forms. I can’t move the boulders without crying in front of them.

I can’t move the boulders because the sense of helplessness I have about Natalya’s death is too great. It is too great not to cry over.

We cry when we want help, and I wanted help when Natalya died. I wanted to help her. I wanted help to come from someone her. I wanted her to be saved.

I want someone to give her life again. I want to give her my own life. I want her to have life in any way I can get it to her.

She was so alive when she lived. She ought to have gone on living.

I didn’t need to live. I was already half dead anyway.

You can’t do tradesies with life like that. She, who knew how to live so well, died. And I, I lived. It’s hard not to see life as a duty now because of that. I lived. I had better learn how. I had better learn to live as well as she did. I had better learn how to love the way she loved.

But duty feels now like another kind of prison to live in. Duty feels like another way to remain dead. Duty feels like a rejection of life as the gift it is. It seems like a way not to give it either, and a way to ration it out rather than share.

Duty seems like a way of never saying thank you.


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.

That she…

I wake up angry.

It is not Vivianne’s frightening, overwhelming rage, but Katya’s childish, ineffective anger.

I am angry at Natalya.

I am angry at Natalya for things that are not her fault.

I tell myself that it will not hurt her for me to be angry, that anger is a part of the process of grief, that I can feel this way and nothing will happen.

I am angry at her for being unable to protect me. I am angry at her helplessness.

I am angry that she loved me, but she could not refuse to hurt me.

I am angry that she hurt me so much.

I am angry, more than anything, that she left me.


This morning, I woke up thinking about Natalya’s body over mine as she did something to me she did not want to do. I woke up thinking of looking into her eyes while she was doing this.

I don’t know when this happened. It happened more than once, and the memory I have of it is not so much of any specific event as it is a symbol for every event like that.

She always did that. Looked into my eyes, held my hand. Something, so that I would not feel alone in my pain and in my humiliation.

I don’t know how she retained so much of her humanity in the midst of our dehumanization. I don’t know how she maintained so much dignity in the midst of our humiliation. I don’t know how she took care of me when they were hurting her so much. She was just a girl, but I have never again met anyone with so much grace. I don’t expect to.

I wonder these days what will become of me. I wonder who I will become and how my memories will lead into who I am in the future. I wonder if my past will become something like the pasts of other people: there, present, but vague now and becoming vaguer.

And then I realize my memories are not like other people’s. They are not memories you can leave behind or allow to fade. They are full of grace.

In the midst of horror, there was beauty. In the midst of depravity, there was love.

I lived through things I do not want anyone to know. I do not want anyone to have to see, even in their own minds, what I saw.

I saw things you will never get to.

I would not trade my life for anyone’s.