Part 5. Past.

We are put together from the tiny moments that have shaped us through time. These little moments carry different meanings for us at different stages of life. And there is no point in pursuing any truth or universal understanding. It does not exist because it is always different.

Who gave me the greatest example in life was my grandparents. I’ve often thought back to this time as time that gave me an understanding of what normal family life means. Of course, “normal” is a relative term, but in this sense here I would put it under the terms of childcare, stability, and a certain division of roles. Sometimes children are forced to leave their childhood behind much earlier than they really should by age. Sometimes it happens that children become parents to their parents instead. But with my grandparents, I could always be a child. I didn’t have to worry about whether or not we could eat today or about other things than cleaning, be obedient, and do schoolwork.

School-life at my grandparent’s place was also different. In old Soviet times, the world was divided into two parts – those who were occupied and those who occupied. I was mixed blood. Or a “poluvernik”, as we called ourselves. My grandparents were divided in two political views as well. My grandfather was a hot Russian supporter who had fought on the Russian side during World War II. Although my grandfather was not from Russia, he always spoke only Russian. My grandmother, for this, was an ardent defender of her homeland, always spoke only her mother tongue, although everyone also had to learn Russian, and she always kept her soul in the traditions of her homeland, even though Russian traditions had to be followed. Their views were so different that in the evenings the living room was always owned by my grandfather where he listened to the news of the USSR, “Vremja” at 9 pm, and the kitchen was taken by grandmother where she listened to the radio with the news of her homeland at 8 pm. They both spoke to each other in their own language, understanding each other very well. And they lived together until death separated them.

LOVE DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN YEARS OF HOT FEELINGS. SUCH LOVE ENDS WHEN A JOINT MORTGAGE IS TAKEN OUT. BUT ONE THING MY GANDMOTHER COULD REGRET BEFORE SHE DIED WAS THAT SHE GAVE UP ALL HER DREAMS ON BEHALF OF GRANDFATHER AND CHILDREN.

Photo by Matthew Bennett on Unsplash

I went to a Russian kindergarten and a school in the language of my birthcountry. I call it the birthcountry because I was born there, but I never felt like I had ever belonged to a certain country. When I started speaking as a child, I did it in two languages at once. When I have been later asked if I feel more like a citizen of one country or another, I have replied that in peaceful times I feel more like a citizen of my country of birth, and if there are difficult times, a Russian fighting spirit comes out. It’s definitely sure per today that I won’t let anyone step over me, and if I have something to say, I’ll do it. However, getting here has been a journey rather than being born that way.

Communist time passed for me when I was in my early childhood. I managed to be an October Child at school, which meant that in addition to the school uniform we had to wear the October Child badge on the chest and set a good example for other children. I also remember that I really wanted to become a Pinoer Child with red towels around my neck, because a pioneer child was an even more important role model for others, and if I remember correctly, one had to earn that status. Not everyone who wanted could become a pioneer. I remembered that time as time when looking out for each other and being a good role model for others was one of the main topics.

Unfortunately, I never got my chance to be a Pioner Child. The Soviet Union disintegrated, and we became fragments of the Soviet era. Neither. No meat or fish. The school system was changed, the textbooks were changed, most of what we had learned so far had now been declared wrong, and we began to learn a new truth. The school uniform was abandoned and suddenly it became visible who was from a poor family and who was rich. There was also a big difference between who were Russian and who not. One would have thought what children had to do with it. But children also started to fight. I remember when kids from the Russian school were coming to fight at our school, and other times we went to fight at their school.

I, as always, did not belong here or there. I had friends among both sides. And bullying also happened on both sides. It wasn’t until the last elementary school class, for example, that I learned that there was more bullying in our class than I could see through schooltime. There was one girl in our class who was especially ambitious. She tried to show her power on me too, but it usually didn’t have any effect on me. She just didn’t know that her attempts at bullying were one of my least problems at the time. I usually let myself be bullied until the moment I got inaf, and I made it clear that I had neither the time nor the will to play this stupid game. So it was in every school I went to.

My relationship with this girl was finally settled in a decisive battle after school, with some help from our fellow students who cheered on us. We fought for so long that we finally got tired and agreed to take a break. When we reached the girls bathroom, all the anger was gone, and we became friends rather than enemies. But we never become best friends. What I remembered most was that when it came to looking out for each other, it didn’t matter which side you belonged to, but rather that the forces were brought together for a common goal. One such case was when our math teacher had to be fired.

WE CAN TALK AS MUCH AS WE WANT ABOUT THE WORK OF TEACHERS BEING AN UNGRATEFUL JOB. BUT WHEN ONE TEACHER EARNS THE RESPECT OF THE STUDENTS, IT IS FROM THE HEART AND LASTS A LIFETIME. THERE IS NO BETTER FEE FOR A TEACHER.

Our math teacher was a middle-aged woman known for her temperament. It was quite common in her lessons for chalks and board eraser to fly when one of the students made her angry. It was as if we were joking about her, but at the same time no one dared to make her really angry.

One day, however, she came to our class and was a completely ordinary person. She was not a fireball or a teacher, but a woman who broke down. She started crying and said that school wanted to get her fired. It wasn’t something appropriate for a teacher to share with her students, but at that moment she probably didn’t care so much anymore. After class, the same girl who liked to terrorize others came to us and asked if we would want to go to the principal with the whole class and demand that our math teacher should stay in school. She was so inspiring, so full of fighting energy, that we all went along with it.

At the beginning of the next class, we all gathered behind the director’s door. But when the door opened, no one dared say anything. We stood in silence for a moment, and then the smallest and most modest girl in our class was pushed in front of the class and told to pass on the message. Which she did! With her weak but firm voice she said:

“We want our math teacher to be left with us! Don’t get her fired!”

The principal replied that the children could not make such decisions, but that she was amaized that we had done something so big to help our teacher. Exactly what happened there between the teachers and the principal, no one of us knows, but the math teacher was retained, and our goal was achieved. Later, while in another school, I heard that our math teacher soon died of cancer. I remember thinking to myself at the time that maybe that’s why she had such bad nerves. In addition to her work, she had young children, and it could not be easy to know that death was much closer than she had originally thought and wanted. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only teacher who died of cancer at our school over the years.

THE SPIRIT OF LOOKING OUT AFTER EACH OTHER THAT I EXPERIENCED IN THIS CLASS, I TOOK WITH ME THROUGHOUT MY LIFE. I COULD FIGHT AND DISAGREE, BUT WHEN THE SITUATION BECAME SERIOUS AND THE OTHER WAS IN REAL TROUBLE, THE FIGHTS AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS WERE LEFT BEHIND AND I WENT TO THE RESCUE.

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Around the same time, in 4th-5th grade, I also did something that greatly changed my perceptions. I was on the visit with my friend, and as usual we played in her room. However, her younger sister did not want to let us play in peace this day. My friend asked her several times to go away, but her sister just didn’t care. Finally, without even knowing the exact reason for it, I exploded. It wasn’t my home, nor my sister, and I was no one to say anything there, but for some reason it seemed to me that my friend couldn’t handle her sister, and I intervened. I shouted something very horrible and bad to her little sister, something about that she must have been a real monster that she couldn’t stay away. After that, I put on my outdoor clothes and rushed away from them, leaving my friend gasping for air and her sister crying in painful tears.

But before I got to my grandparents’ home, I returned. A voice inside me said that I had done something very ugly and I had to do something to fix it. So, I went back to my friend. When the door was opened for me, my friend’s mother stood with her little sister and comforted her. I stepped into the hallway and apologized to both my friend’s sister and her mother. Then my friend’s mother and I were left alone, and she said I had done the right thing by coming back and apologizing. She said that she understands that I’m having a hard time carrying a heavy load on my shoulders because I’m an orphan.

Yes, we sometimes talked at home that neither my mother nor my father was good inaf to take the role of parent. But so far no one outside the home had told me anything about it, much less called me an orphan. I didn’t think it was so visible on the outside. As if it had been written on my forehead that I was not like everyone else. As if I should have been treated differently. Like other children should have kept away from me in order to not to go bad together with me. I met this attitude later as well in my life. The belief that going out with me badly affected other children around me was no strange to me. I never understood this. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, that it had to be that way. Even if I did something wrong, I usually tried to approve it later. But that did not seem to be enough. Something more was always expected of me without me realizing what it was.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I could not meet these requirements. And as time later showed, I was more likely to live up to the expectations of many that everything in my life had to go sideway before I could get on the right track.