Since I was little, I knew I was different. Somehow, inside of me, there was a whisper, a hint of knowledge that told me I would have an unusual life. In the end, it seems to have come true. When my father abandoned my mother and me, my world was shattered. I never saw my father again. From then on, watching my mother put her life together and provide for us was a crushing reality that left my heart hollow and unfulfilled. Like a dream that someone woke you up from, right in the middle of the best part when everything seemed perfect, and you discovered that you couldn’t fall asleep again and go back to that beautiful moment ever again.
The fact that my father had betrayed us in such a cruel way was also combined with the sad history of our country. The Soviet Union collapsed the year father abandoned us. Right before our very eyes, Ukraine was turned upside down. The massive default of the currency, the starving population and unbelievably long lines for basic foods and necessities left my family desolate and scrambling for survival. Needless to say, growing up with such a ruthless betrayal and in such an unstable country left me deeply scarred and questioning many things in life. In the end, I was unable to trust any man, or rely on anyone. The bitter question of ‘why’ and how to avoid such cruelty from ever happening to me has tormented me ever since.
The hopes and dreams I might have had growing up were crushed before they could have ever developed. The aching hole in my chest seemed to eat at me more and more with each passing year as I grew older and turned into a cautious teenager. I hated the fact that no matter how hard I tried to cling my hopes on a few happy couples that seemed to exist, I was never able to conquer the quiet doubt whether they were really happy in their marriages. And the raging fear of the answer to that question was always there inside of me, eating away at any hope I might have harbored.
It feels strange remembering the past and thinking about it all now. All of it had happened so many years ago… Still…
Sighing as I mentally traced an invisible finger through the pages of my childhood as if it were a diary, I looked up from my papers that were scattered on my large mahogany desk. The wind had picked up outside. The warm, yellow hue of light coming off from my lamp made me feel drowsy and sleepy. It was getting late. In the warm wooden colors of my home office, I felt safe from the intense weather building outside. In my childhood, I had never felt this safe.
Now, I can provide that comfort and security for myself, my mom and grandmother. Mom had done everything she could for us to immigrate to the United States when father had disappeared. Everything seemed to have turned against us in Ukraine. The country, the people, the world. Then there was the constant, nagging question of why father had abandoned us…
“Looks like it will rain soon.” I looked down at my Persian kitten that was nestled comfortably on my lap.
The life I used to have was now in the distant and almost forgotten past. And yet, it still haunted me. What still hurt me was the fact that my mother and grandmother had spent so many years of their lives in a hard and impoverished country. They were the real-life heroes; not some caricatures of dramatized theatrics that the mainstream media feeds the ignorant masses nowadays.
I was so grateful to my mother for her strong spirit. She never gave up. In the end, she taught me those same traits. Sometimes resilience was more important than physical strength. And the power of the spirit was more important than having food or water or a shoulder to cry on. Stretching my legs as I got up from behind my desk, I thanked goodness that everything I was recollecting was now behind me. It was a closed chapter of my life.
“Let’s look more at this paperwork tomorrow. I think I did enough for tonight.” I told my little kitten as I picked her up from my lap and headed upstairs to my bedroom. The curved wooden staircase twisted up in a circular motion in the center of the first floor. I had the house designed specially to my liking. It was artistic. It had top-notch security. The doors were made of solid and dense wood. In my mind, it was a gift I built for my mother and grandmother. They loved my home and stayed here often. We never talked about my father. I often wanted to bring him up, but watching my mom and granny finally settle into their new lives made my throat dry. I didn’t want to ruin the positive mood that was beginning to build in our lives.
Back in the day, when we moved to the United States, my mother had done everything on her own to get us settled. She did her best to provide a stable and comfortable lifestyle for me while she worked long hours at various retail stores. Being a teacher by profession, when she had a moment to spare, she taught Ukrainian and Russian to anyone who was interested in learning. Sometimes mom was so busy and tired that I barely saw her. At least, I knew she was safe. I knew I could relax and feel safe, too. But usually, I felt panic. It crept up my spine when the night began to settle in. I knew there was no reason to be anxious, but I was powerless before the tormenting force of my emotions. Now I realize that all that anxiety was probably due to the drastic life changes we had gone through to survive.
The evenings were still the worst part of the day for me. That nagging, dull ache in my heart seemed to spread like cancer through my body as the sun began to set. It has happened every day for many years. I never told my mother about it. She already had a lot on her plate. I dealt with my demons on my own. At night, I often woke up remembering things that I tried desperately to forget. I wanted to understand the past. I felt as if I had left my pain back in Ukraine, but somehow the tormenting shadows stretched long across the ocean, still haunting me.
Knowing what real life was like encouraged me to do well in school. It had been tough at first when I had to learn the English language from scratch. I felt isolated. Everyone seemed to look at me as if I were a beautiful alien who had come from a different world. It was hard to communicate with the kids, and most of them seemed to have had such different childhood experiences compared to mine that there was nothing in common between us. I felt like an overgrown adult stuck inside the body of a young teenage girl. I had lived through a lot of personal trauma and harsh disappointments; the collapse of a country and nation as a whole; the immigration to a new land with no knowledge of the new culture and the language. My family was broken and separated into pieces that were spread across the globe. I had no father to ask about boys. I had no father figure, period. I often wondered where he was. Was he still alive? The kids around me, with their silly and irrelevant problems, seemed to be on an entirely different level from me that I could hardly feel any connection to them. I didn’t snob them or envy them. I wished I could be like them. Their lives were much more straightforward than mine in every way.
All of this seemed to have helped me focus on my education. I wanted to get somewhere with my life. I kept my priorities straight. In college, I never went to parties. I didn’t trust anyone to bring me safely home, or not to conspire against me. I was always afraid of groups of college guys who wanted me to go somewhere with them. In my mind, I only saw one outcome in the end, and it was not a beautiful picture. I never again wanted to feel overpowered or in danger. Life had overwhelmed me too many times for me to really trust anyone. The college guys all seemed to be so carefree and ignorant of all the possible ways they could potentially ruin their lives by being so reckless. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to risk anything. My being cautious and reserved attracted them even more. I didn’t mind. I liked the fact that they were drawn to me. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to trust any one of them. I only saw doom and pain in the end.
After classes, I went home. In the mornings, I went back to school. I graduated top of my class and got into Harvard Law School. Afterward, I became a highly sought-after prosecutor. I focused my life around my work. My number one goal was to live a better life than the one I had left behind. I wanted to make sure that I never needed anything or anyone; that I could always provide for my aging mother and grandmother. They were the two people in the world whom I had left.
Looking back, I felt as if I had missed on a lot of good things by being so careful. I wondered how many years it was going to take me to stop remembering the past. I wanted to be free like the rest of the world seemed to be. But the stupid carelessness that most people approached their lives with had always been so elusive to obtain for me. To tell the truth, I didn’t even think it was a good idea to live one’s life as if it didn’t matter.
Now, I had to admit to myself that my heart was still empty and my work was my entire life. The fact that most people seemed to be married to their jobs didn’t bring me any comfort. I was beginning to discover that I was an adventurous individual. I was starting to learn more about who I really was behind all the fears. It was more than I had bargained for. I wanted a life, an adventure. A full experience of love and happiness and freedom from any haunting memories. And these feelings, these longing hopes, and dreams didn’t make life easier for me. They seemed to grow stronger and haunt me more with each passing day. I was young and beautiful. I was successful and intelligent. However, I was beginning to feel as if I were living in an imaginary bubble, unknown by any man that could potentially bring more meaning into my life.
Deep down, I was getting tired of always being so alert. I didn’t want to expect the worst from people. From men. I wanted to know a man and be known by him. As I settled into my career, I began to feel more left out of the human experiences that most people seemed to take for granted. I wanted to know love; to have a man who loved and protected me, not abandoned me. I wanted to know the beautiful things that had been crushed and perverted for me as a child. Now that my life was good, I wanted to experience all the things that were supposed to be deeply fulfilling and beautiful. I didn’t want to miss out on my youth before it was gone. I felt so young inside. And the fact that I still looked like a college kid with barely any wrinkles, and 110 pounds to my small ballerina-like frame, made me feel as if I were wasting my beauty and youth.
“This is all nonsense,” I told myself as I entered my bedroom. I had to stay strong and continue going the safest way possible. Getting hurt was not an option. Frustrated, I focused on the kitten in my arms. My little all-loving fur baby who would never abandon or betray me. Getting ready for bed, I stopped analyzing my feelings. I was tired, and I had a long day ahead of me tomorrow. I needed to go to sleep and to rest my mind.
“We will help this girl,” I told the Persian kitten as I set her down on my bed. I wasn’t the best persecutor for nothing. I loved my job. I was wildly successful at it. I was desirable and wealthy. I didn’t need anything or anyone.
The little kitten was not happy about being moved from the office into the bedroom. She kneaded the soft blankets with her fluffy paws as she yawned and settled in for the night at the foot of my bed. I could not help but smile when I watched her. My mom thought it was the lack of sexual fulfillment that caused me to be so fascinated with cats. Deep down I knew that she was probably right. Still, it was the safest outlet for my affections. Loneliness aside, I loved animals and nature. The mere presence of a little kitten was enough to brighten up my day after work. It did not take away the pain I felt in my heart. That was an entirely different matter. Still, my mom was right about me being lonely. I admitted to myself that I wanted to find someone who was right for me. However, who could predict how it would go? I didn’t want to second guess anything in life.
The little kitten’s purring sounds soothed and calmed me as I watched her while getting ready for bed. The warm blankets seemed to make her feel right at home as she almost blended into the white furs on my bed. I wondered if the covers made her feel safe and protected. I tried hard not to let the turmoil I felt inside overtake me as I watched the peaceful little kitten sleep.
“This little girl deserves better,” I whispered to my kitten about my current client. “She deserves a full and happy life. This creep will never hurt her again.” Anger boiled inside of me. I was in the middle of a life or death case for a victimized girl. Her story was heart-wrenching. She was just five years old. I was tired. This case had taken everything out of me.
“I am going to put that guy behind bars for life.” I tried to calm down. Tomorrow I was going to put the last nail in his coffin.
“Good night, my little angel.” My kitten was oblivious to my talking with her, but it made me feel better. Closing my eyes, I slept deeply without any dreams.