My family had been in the country for about two years at this point. I was finally mastering the English language, so much so that I went from being in ESL (and storming out on my fun hating teacher) to being in an advanced reading level. I was fascinated with all things Holocaust. This is the year I read Diary of Anne Frank – it made me feel grown up and wise – neither of which I was. I really identified with the feeling of not being able to escape a horrible fate. Not sure why I gravitated towards the subject matter, maybe because it was such a taboo back in the USSR or maybe I felt guilt. When, at the age of six, I posed for an Israeli newspaper at Warsaw Ghetto photo exhibit (a trickle of Holocaust information permeated USSR from Israel in the early ‘90’s), and ended up smiling next to an image of a dead child probably the same age as me at the time. The guilt of that automatic smile used haunt me and I used to berate myself for a simple reflex. This photo, used to give me nightmares for many years:
|Children in the Warsaw Ghetto from Yad Vashem archives.|
Anyway, at the age of eleven I knew way too much about gas chambers, kapos, and Lebensborn. I was the life of the party as you can imagine.
I was also changing. Being the tallest girls in my class, with a five year past due date wardrobe, and a weird name did not endear me to my classmates. Looking back at photos from that I year, I was in desperate need of a training bra, something which my Soviet mother did not pick up on, which left me most of the year feeling slightly exposed without finding exactly why. To say I felt awkward would be an understatement. This would also be the year of sex ed. and my classmates going on dates for the first time. I had a serious crush on two best friends Josh & Mike – a pattern of falling for slightly cerebral funny men who wouldn’t give me a time of day began.
One of the most vivid times of that period was when I went to a friend’s house after school and never let my mother know. My school was on the other side of town and my mother didn’t drive. My friend’s father drove me home; blue and red lights of police cars greeted me outside our home. All I remember besides that image and my immediate panic was my mother sitting at our kitchen’s table with an officer standing over her and comforting her, a warm arc of light around them – and the sinking feeling that this was entirely my fault. As a child I used to go off by myself often, usually without telling anyone, never learned to be better about communication to this day. I still dislike telling people where I’m going.
This was also the year my mother’s parents finally emigrated from Russia. Our little family was finally all in America. We lived on the second floor and my grandparents on the first floor. It was great going downstairs and getting all the ice cream and cookies I wanted. I remember missing their warmth when they were back in Russia, especially when my parents would be mad at me. I always believed Babushka and Dedushka would side with me and understand me. I miss their warmth now.