As you can tell, I’m here writing these chapters, and everything did not play out how I had planned.
With my choice made, I acted extra cheery to not raise any suspicions.
I had decided to finish my senior year of high school because of the important Senior Project. The whole school made a huge deal about it. Teachers, advisors, you name it. The project had to be presented to faculty, where each person graded the senior according to a rubric. It was an important speech for me, not just because all the seniors were nervous and frantic about it, but also because I wanted to leave a triumphant memory of me.
After my presentation I received the scored rubrics and glanced them over. As expected, all sections were highly marked except for the proper attire. Apparently shirt and jeans wasn’t considered professional. Great, now I’ll know. What caught me off guard was the comment section of each paper. Each faculty member wrote something. Some of the sentences were:
“Overcame adversity and language barrier and never gave up. This young lady will be able to accomplish anything!”
“Will be a good adult. Trust yourself to be able to do good things.”
“You can conquer anything you set your mind to.”
This was so much positivity all at once that I decided to entertain myself for a minute. What would I actually do? What dreams would I pursue? I thought of a class project that occurred a few years prior. Mrs. Wright was an elderly lady, always smiling, and made each student feel like they actually mattered. She gave an assignment to make a bucket list for our life. It took up a whole class period, so students had to think creatively and bounce ideas off each other. I thought of a few items from that list.
Go to the moon.
Learn to speak French.
Run a marathon.
Be a cartoonist.
Climb up Mt. Everest.
Go to college.
Ride a horse.
Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to think about that. It was distracting. I came home and searched through my box of letters and photos until I found what I was looking for. The bucket list was titled “50 things I want to do B4 I die.” Hmm. Well, for sure graduation was coming up, so that would get checked off. I read the list through.
Get a job. Check.
Go snowboarding. Check.
It seemed appropriate to get a few more items taken care of. Some of my cousins were always up for spontaneous adventures so I called and asked if anybody wanted to go for a limo ride? Or go on a drive to California? A California road trip was planned for a weekend, there and back, switching drivers and driving all night. It was a fun trip: people were nice, it was warm, and the palm trees were beautiful. It turned out to be a brilliant way to get away from reality for the time being, so lots of these road trips took place.
Then Linda shocked us. She was engaged! Quiet and shy Linda. She was my best friend, who I could share my secrets with, and somehow, with me being preoccupied about my own life, I missed how her life was going. I knew she had a boyfriend. What I didn’t know was it had gotten serious and they wanted to get married!
I did not anticipate something like that happening so early. I felt betrayed. She was supposed to figure her life out after I was gone. With the tables turned it made everything more complicated.
They didn’t want to wait years to have a wedding. Plus, in our community if one got engaged, the wedding had better happen within a few months. So be it. The hustle and bustle of wedding preparations took over. Grandparents teamed up with Uncle John and urgently inquired of my wedding plans.
“Your younger sister is getting married before you! How sad. Why are you waiting?”
“Maybe go to California more often, perhaps you’ll find somebody there?”
“We can plan for a double wedding, it’ll be just like your parents!” My parents had a triple wedding, in fact. Three sisters had gotten married in one day. They all wore identical dresses and saved a lot of money by having one gigantic celebration instead of three separate ones.
It was getting a little bit frustrating. Why wouldn’t they leave me alone?
The big week came where family from all over the country arrived. It was a reunion of all the siblings. After sitting in class and working late, I came home to greet the aunts and uncles. Since I wasn’t sleeping much at night due to last minute wedding preparation details, I was tired. My contacts made my eyes dry, and it didn’t help that they were bloodshot. It was a perfect opportunity for some aunts and uncles to take one look at me and make it a subject of their juicy gossip.
“Poor Galina, she’s not doing well at all. Did you see her eyes? And how she acted? Poor girl, she must be on drugs.”
It felt so wonderful to see all my siblings. We hugged and laughed and smiled during the day as we tied the wedding ribbons onto chairs and placed favors by each plate setting. We discussed vague subjects such as school, or remembered memories of when we used to all live together. When I asked how each sibling was really doing, the answer was usually a quick, intense “Good!” with backward glances at the host parents. That’s exactly the answer I gave when they asked me, so it made me wonder. I would need to ask later.
After the adults had fallen asleep, the kids stayed awake late into the night and enjoyed the unlimited chance to talk without supervision. In hushed whispers, the brothers and sisters shared with each other what it was really like to live with another family.
Somebody was being treated like a princess. No chores, no hard work, just take it easy and have as much fun as possible. Lucky!
Somebody was being treated like Cinderella. Since they became the new member of the family, all the chores and cleaning the other kids used to do became her responsibility. How sad!
Somebody else had it made clear that they were not part of the family. No extra snacks, no playing with the kids’ of the host family, stay in your room if you’re at home. Accidentally asked a guest to pass a donut? “Well, that was just not polite, because now the guest thinks you’re not being fed and are going hungry. Fine then. Eat the whole box. Every single donut. We will sit and watch you eat every single donut in that box. Good, until you puke. There, lesson learned.”
That made me sick. And here I thought my life was so bad that the only way out was to end it. The next report made my blood boil.
Somebody was getting molested. To clarify: as in, sexually assaulted.
I couldn’t breathe. This was outrageous! As the oldest sibling, it was my responsibility to take action.
But first, the wedding.
The next morning I plastered a smile on my face, since after all, that’s the job of the maid of honor, and did my best to pretend to enjoy it. It was a long day. Then came the busyness of cleanup and everybody flying or driving to their homes and finally I had a chance to talk to Aunt Jenny.
She sat next to me on my bed and with a horrified face expression listened to what I told her. My shoulders shook as I wept. Aunt Jenny put her arm around me and we sat there crying in disbelief. After a few minutes I blew my nose and wiped my eyes on my already soaked sleeves and begged her to do something. She promised she would talk to Uncle John and grandparents.
The next day we met at the same place again and I eagerly waited to hear what the plan would be. Would somebody fly over there? Confront the perpetrator? Remove the victim?
But Aunt Jenny had a completely different answer. She said it was all a lie. Nothing like that could ever happen in that family. My sibling just missed me and wanted to be with me, so came up with this clever lie to try and get away from the family.
I caught my breath.
“No!” I shook my head furiously. “We’re supposed to do something!”
Aunt Jenny looked at me with pity.
“It’s hard to understand.” She put her hand on my hand. I jerked it away. “You want to believe your sibling. But remember how they were younger? Always goofing around and making stuff up. Why would they tell the truth now? Call them once in a while so they don’t feel like you’re forgetting them. It will be okay.”
And that was it. Aunt Jenny left. I was disgusted. Who in their right mind dismisses information like this?
If Aunt Jenny and Uncle John wouldn’t help, and Grandparents didn’t believe it, who would? What could I do? I couldn’t do anything here, because this wasn’t my house.
I would have to do the rescuing myself. I would have to move out and have my own place. I would need more money.
My will to live rebounded with gusto.
Much to my satisfaction, the temp agency I contacted had some night shifts available at a cereal factory. I picked up every shift I could during the weekends.
After a particularly unfair argument with Uncle John, I decided I’d had enough. It was time to move out. Tossing in my most important belongings into a huge black trash bag, I packed up and left to stay at a friend’s house. After some time, plans were made to move to the greater Seattle area, where we could split rent and have more options.
My bank job was transferred and everything was set. Except that on the day of the move, my friend backed out so I ended up going by myself.
And here I was. Going to work and coming back to this minimalistic style apartment. There was exactly one piece of furniture, the least expensive Ikea bed in the bedroom, and that was it. Oh and some granola bars on the kitchen counter. My whole paycheck was going for rent. There was no money left over for anything else. It was terrifying for me to consider a random roommate and I had no idea what to do.
I sat on the floor of my empty living room, with my back against the wall, and tightened the blanket around me. It was a good blanket. It did an excellent job of keeping me warm. The blank walls in the room stared at me, almost mockingly. Now what? I got this far for what? And for whom? Everything I had been planning was ruined.
My plans for moving out, saving money, helping my siblings, all swirled down the drain. I couldn’t even help myself. I felt like I was back at square one.
After a few difficult months, a critical phone conversation took place with Linda. She and her husband were going to move to a large apartment with several bedrooms. I would move in with them to help pay for bills. There would be an extra room for siblings. We would take the siblings that needed to be taken care of.
I submitted another job transfer request and went to the leasing office to terminate my lease. I had a sense of purpose. I would be the person who helped my siblings.