Illustration by Sveta Dorosheva
I was always told to ignore my emotions, to shove them down, to think about the emotions of others, to make sure other people were happy before me. Partly it was the Soviet rearing of the loyal citizens devoted to the state as the state always came first, partly the grooming of a female to fulfill a servile role in her future patriarchal family, and partly the upbringing of my parents and other parental figures in my life who themselves were either emotionally crippled or immature or both, or lacked the skill to express their emotions for one reason or another, and so were unable to process their own feelings and to teach a child how to process them.
Of course, I couldn't shove down what I felt. It was impossible. My feelings always found a way out. But I learned early on that reaching out to an adult with my pains or joys rarely produced desired outcome. Most of the time it was ignored or shrugged off, and sometimes it resulted in bitter scolding or yelling or disciplining that could escalate to plain old-fashioned violence of child-rearing, the kind when they tell you, "I'm doing it for your own good, it's hurting me more than you," while your ass is on fire from the belt whacking it full-force.
I'm writing this to pour out what I'm feeling at the moment, to understand it, to process it, be okay with it, and to let go. Without being taught how to do it, I had to learn it myself, and I learned it the hard way. I wanted to take my life to rid myself of the pain that collected inside me. I couldn't bear carrying it anymore. Then I decided not to die but to write instead.
Yesterday a big thing happened. In a curious round-about way I have found my sister's art online, stumbled on it by chance. Remember I told you she's drawing comics? Well, I got to see them...before she blocked me. It happened very quickly. I was checking my Instagram and saw that my step-mom has joined it. You know how it tells you your Facebook friend just joined, blah-blah-blah? Well, I got excited and followed her. And then I saw that she follows only one person. My heart skipped a beat. I clicked on it, and sure enough, there was darling sister, albeit under a pseudonym, the name of her comics character, but I have recognized her drawing style right away. I marveled. I scrolled through her art. I loved it. I cried. And I didn't follow her, respecting her privacy, her wish to stay away from me. Because that's what makes her happy. Not long later, I told Royce about it, and wanting to share her art with him, refreshed the page. And hung my head. I was blocked. I can still see her art through other sites that repost Instagram pictures, or through my friends' logins on her Facebook page, where she also blocked me and where she posts her art through Instagram. It made me very sad. I think what happened was, she and my stop-mom were on the phone or on Skype, and she was probably helping my step-mom start her Instagram account, and my mom probably said, "Oh, look! Someone followed me!" And she looked, and there I was. Presto.
Polinochka, if you're reading this, please know, I'm very proud of you, you're doing amazing work, and I love you no matter what, even if I never get to see you again for the rest of my life. I'm very sorry that you're afraid of me hurting you or somehow shattering your happiness. I want to connect, but I will keep waiting until you come to me and keep watching your art from the sidelines. At least I got that, and for that I'm grateful.
After this little episode, naturally, I decided to go check up on my father, and from his Facebook page and his Amazon account I found out that he has published two new books, one in 2015 and one in 2016, the latter a novel, a thriller. And then I wept, long and hard. I wept that I can't share my writing process with him, can't talk to him, discuss ideas, ask him questions, about his writing routine, plotting, researching. And I wept because I can't talk to my sister, can't ask her where she gets her inspiration, how long it takes her to do a comic, what her plans are, what's next. None of it. At first I wept alone, then I came down to see Royce and he held me and I wept into his shoulder. I'm still hesitant to tell him I need him when I'm in pain. See, I'm trained to endure it alone. But of course I can't endure it alone, so I write.
One thing keeps bothering me. The message is clear. These people don't want me in their lives. Why do I keep trying to connect with them? Why do I fail to get it through my thick skull? It was my father who brought me into his new family against his new wife's wishes, and she and her young daughter had to endure a tacit moody teenager who did weird things like hiding food under her pillow and getting lost on walks and forgetting things, losing things, and worst of all, tormenting her young sister in more ways than one (I'm so very sorry I did this to you, Polinochka, it's one reason I want to talk, to ask for your forgiveness and to explain why, if you'd be willing to listen).
It's hard to let go of your childhood wishes, isn't it? They're persistent bastards.
In the middle of all this my good friend @veragolosova from Moscow sent me a link to this article that is quoting sexual abuse stories as told by Russian women on Facebook with a tag "I'm not afraid to say." It made me feel better. Things are changing. More and more women are speaking up about the unspeakable. It gives me hope, and it made me both sad and happy to see it.
Then a thought crossed my mind. Yet again. Lately I've been thinking about going back to therapy and picking up from where I left off 7 years ago (or something like that) and dig deeper, remember the actual incidents of abuse, pull out as many details from my memory as I can, so I have evidence, not the circumstantial evidence, but the real hard facts, so I stop doubting myself and putting myself down, which is draining and doesn't help my writing. Not at all. So today I called my Medicaid thing, and guess what! Therapy is covered! I'm going to start the process of looking for a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse survivors. And in the meantime, I will continue to write.
Writing is my therapy right now.
A lot of this pain is finding its way into Tyubik that started out as a fun freaky story about an American train killing Russian ballerinas on tour across US, and ended up as a dark slap-in-your-face tale of a girl overcoming the ghost of her abusive father to allow herself to fall in love for the first time. Wow. Quite a departure. On top of it, I'm doing something new with Tyubik. I'm daring to reject the traditional linear story points, the kind that prevail in most traditionally published books, the kind that we grew up with and learned to emulate, the predominantly white-male patronizing moral tales that have little to do with the emotional depths of the characters and a lot with gaining power. We see the results in the news every day. Just yesterday another shooting tragedy unfolded, and again we speak of punishment and gun control and all kinds of other things that have nothing to do with love but everything to do with fear. And look at the stories we read and hail as masterpieces! The stories about heroes who conquer evil. What exactly are those stories about? About gaining power. We've been preoccupied with the idea of domination for centuries, neglecting love, bashing it, scorning romance novels as though love is something despicable, for weaklings, for sissies, for children, not for grown adults who aim to be warriors. It's about conquering, you see, not about loving. How many times have you heard a love story called a poor attempt at literature or no literature at all? How many times have your friends admitted to you that they're ashamed to read romance, that they hide it, avoid mentioning it, blush if caught reading it? I don't need to give you more examples. You've seen plenty yourself.
And that is what I want to change, or, as they say, die trying. I want to write love stories. I realized it when reading the third draft of TUBE and getting disgusted with it. Why was I disgusted? Because I was lying. I wanted to write a love story and I was scared to. That's why I'm rewriting it. My own philosophy and belief in giving love to everyone doesn't reflect much in my books, and when it does, it's unconscious. Now I know what I want to do. And it feels fantastic. I believe that every human being deserves love. Yes, even the killers. Janna will be a love story too, you'll see, a love between a serial killer and the detective trying to catch her, a tragedy, because of course they can't be together.
The things we do out of love are the most important things, the only things worth writing about, so those who read it get the courage to love more. This is the true revolution. This is where the change will come from. I invite you to join me. Share, share, share. Make art from your pains and your joys and everything in between, and give your love to people around you by sharing it. If all of us did it, imagine what would happen. The world we want. The dream. The people free of fear and full of love.
I love you. Thank you for staying with me on this crazy ride. Onward.