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I never thought that writing about your own life can be so difficult. You might think that you’ve certainly got all the facts right, and yes you know the story, since umm you’re the lead character in it. But looking back into the past requires a certain level of objectivity and worse yet… deeper introspection, and for those that didn’t have a perfect childhood, it means facing your… demons, that you have successfully buried for a long time, in the distant past.
Having spent almost 10 years being clinically depressed, I haven’t yet had a moment to sit down with myself and dig through the piles of dirty laundry on my own accord. It’s been more than 5 years now, since I completely recovered, and when that happened I closed the door into my past. And no, I didn’t just close it, I shut it with a bang.
And here I am now, looking at the blank screen of my computer, ready to introduce you to the girl that has been. To find the root causes of my lifelong trauma, I’d have to take you back to the very beginning. It won’t be easy, so please just bear with me.
* * *
The story you’re about to read actually comes in two parts. You see, my life has been spent equally in two different Worlds – Ukraine and the United States.
Alright, so let’s begin.
I was born in Boryspil which is located in the close vicinity of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and is pretty much defined by it. It’s like – cooler than your average Ukrainian village, yet not cool enough like the heavyweight big cities, such as Kiev, Lviv, or Odessa.
At the time of my birth Boryspil had a total population of about 50,000 people. I heard that it is much less now. The town is basically divided in two parts, separated by a wide road in the middle. The tallest building in the town reaches 9 floors. The average height is 5, and those ‘medium-sized’ buildings have no elevators in them, not that anyone complains, really.
In addition, Boryspil has several lakes, one main cemetery, and a number of schools that you can count on both hands. They all have their own numbers, ranging from 1 to 8, but some are actually missing. Not sure what happened to them. My own, one and only, school was numbered 8.
A bit about my family.
Let’s start with the most important person of my life – my maternal grandmother, Olga.
She was originally from Belarus (for those not sure – it’s a different country, which is on the border with Ukraine, as well as Russia, and Poland).
As her cruel destiny had it, she became an orphan at the mere age of 6, due to the raging World War 2 conflict, and hasn’t really spoken of her early life since. We only knew that she had two sisters, both living in another country. She didn’t much mention them either. It seemed that she had completely crossed off that early part of her life. But now that I think about it, she never really spoke about the past per se.
She held a very deep trauma inside her whole life, but she never shared it with us. She grew up to be a very strong, hard-working, and determined woman. She also had a lot of charm, and really knew how to make friends. She raised me with an iron hand when my mother left for the Unites States, but more on that later.
My maternal grandfather, Vasiliy, was born in a small village, not far from Voronezh, a city in Russia. He studied in an air-academy where he first learned how planes are built and then how to be a pilot. Some years later he switched to flying commercial airplanes, and has worked with Aeroflot (the Russian airlines) for more than 40 years.
My grandparents met in Yalta, a beautiful town in the Crimea region. They fell in love, got married, and few years later their two daughters were born – my mom Svetlana, and my aunt Irina.
My paternal grandmother, Raya, was born in Saratov, Russia. She used to work in the Boryspil airport as a sales clerk her whole life, pretty much. Her husband, Volodymir, was born in Ukraine. He was a handyman. They had two sons – my father, Mikhail (Michael) and my uncle, Alexander.
My mother has married my father in quite an old age, by Ukrainian standards anyway. She was 26, he was 27. My father had previously been married, rather unsuccessfully to a woman that cheated on him with another man. He learned about this affair, when he walked in on them one day in bed. It was a very heartbreaking moment that left a deep scar for the rest of his life, and managed to slowly turn him into a very bitter, lost man. He started drinking heavily, and later on completely gave up on life.
When my parents got married, and 9 months later had me – my father was already hooked on alcohol, and has steadily increased this habit to severe binge drinking which let to my parents divorce 5 years later.
After the divorce, my mother and I moved in to live with my maternal grandparents, into a very small and crampy two bedroom apartment. It wasn’t the best solution but unfortunately there was no other at that time, as my mother’s tiny teacher’s salary would not afford her to rent an apartment. The solution came two years later, when my aunt, who was a flight attendant, met some friends in the United States that helped my mom to obtain a visa.
She left for the United States with mere $50 in her pocket, some spoken English, no friends or connections, and no real plans. Her only aim at that time was to provide financial help to her family back home, that was struggling for survival. She quickly found a job as a babysitter an at American family and has been steadily employed by various families since then. It’s been 24 years. And she’s a proud U.S. citizen now.
One of the most painful moments of my life was on that early morning when my mother boarded her flight. I open my eyes and looked at an old clock that was standing on top of a wooden closet. It was 6:55am. I knew that she was gone, and won’t be back for a very long time. I was only 7 but I knew that this was goodbye. A sharp pain struck me deep inside my heart, like a thunderbolt. This single moment would later haunt me for many years in my personal relationships. And I never even realized it, until I healed.
I ended up living with my grandparents until the day I finished high-school and moved to the Unites States. Both of them were retired since the time of my move-in, and had all the time in the World to spend on me. I was truly blessed.
September 1st bells are ringing. Off to school we go.
I started school when I was 7, as is the custom in Ukraine. My school was located on only a 5-minute walk from home. We had three groups of incoming students – two were taught in Ukrainian, and one in Russian, it was completely up to the parent’s choice. Thankfully, since we spoke Russian at home, I ended up in the Ukrainian group, and in ten years of schooling I perfected my Ukrainian language skills.
In my very first class, I met a fellow student, Luba, who quickly became my best friend for almost the rest of my school career. We had a lot of fun together – from throwing snowballs in the Winter at the older students when were 7, to skipping classes when were 14 and going through our rough teenage years.
You can say that I was a good student, mostly due to my strict grandparental upbringing but also due to the fact that Luba and I discovered… books, and quickly started competing for the number of novels that each read, and consequently, our grades. It all started one August afternoon, when Luba came by after a long Summer break that we spent away from each other, and brought with her an old, greasy copy of the “Gone With the Wind”. She had that striking excitement in her eyes when she presented the book to me, and completely infected me with it, to my core bones. To this day, for that insatiable love of books – I blame her.
In the meantime, my father had remained in his mother’s house, which was divided in two: one half that belonged to him and the other to his parents. Both had separate entrances. I visited him many times and had spent many weekends staying with my paternal grandparents. Some days I would find him sober, able to hold a meaningful and interesting conversation, as he was a very widely read and educated man. Otherwise, he would be completely incomprehensible, barely capable to stand on his two feet. I loved him truly and completely regardless, I never judged him by his sins.
Through my whole childhood I was a very happy, curious, and optimistic child, I always thought that my future would be good. The dark clouds started gathering over my head when I was 15. It all went downhill from there.
The hardest goodbye.
I was 16, visiting my mother in New York, when the man she was dating came in through the front door, sat me down on the couch, and asked me:
“Daria, do you believe in God?”
“Do you believe in life after death?”
“Why do you ask me that?”, I mumbled, staring at the television.
“You father is dead”.
It took several seconds to process that statement, before I collapsed screaming on the floor…
The weeks and the months that followed were some of the worst. At first I couldn’t stop crying hysterically for weeks. And then, I developed a complete apathy to everything that was going on around me. I would come in after school, drop my backpack as far away from my sight as I could (who cares about homework), sit down in my wide armchair and read. I read the thick classical Russian novels and short stories that were abundant in my family’s private library. It was a painfully long and slow process, but the books somehow helped me heal.
Shouldn’t all high-schools come with a note: Danger Ahead?
I was never really bullied or teased in school, that is until the last two years before graduation. Sometime after my father’s death, I got some monetary gifts from my mom and her friends for my birthday. When I came back to Boryspil, I bought a cell phone, and some new cheap shoes and clothes, with that money. Not for the purpose of bragging, but as a mere statement of fact – I was one of less than 10 people who had a cell phone at that time, in Boryspil. It was a big freaking deal. In fact, it was huge.
Once I brought the cell phone to school, and hanged it on my belt (what else do you expect from a 16 year old?) all hell broke lose. The vast majority of girls turned completely against me, started bullying and persecuting me, I hated being in school.
It’s easy to see my actions from this high point where I am now. I was an insecure teenager, and to make up for my ‘deficiencies’, I had to dress them up. I can’t speak for other high schools, but unfortunately ours was very materialistic. It mattered greatly to us who was wearing what. I’m not sure if it’s the small town mentality, or is it our particular circle to blame, but it was a zoo.
Fortunately, my misery lasted less than two years, as right after our graduation, I moved to U.S.
I packed all my things, boarded a plane, kissed my old life goodbye, and never looked back.
Little did I know that what awaited me next – were some of the most terrible, miserable, and soul shattering years of my life…
You can continue reading about my life in the United States, in Part 2. Coming soon.