AN: So…this chapter is a bit of a ramble, a complaint, a revelation and a release for me. It's very controversial, or I guess it can be depending on who is reading it. All I want you guys to know is that everything I have written here is true, it came from my heart, and it took a lot of personal courage to do. I don't mean to offend anybody; I'm just calling it as I see it here.
As a kid, getting mail was exciting. Who would be sending letters to a child? What were they for? Was I winning some sort of prize? That's what you wonder when you're young. Then, as you progress into the high school years, getting mail becomes tedious. All the colleges and universities pestering you and asking you to spend boat loads of money you don't have on them because they're so special. Because of this, I stopped looking through the mail.
So when my mother came down to my room with an envelope for me, it was strange to say the least. It was from my friend Katya, and I was eager to open it, but annoyingly, school came first. So it lay there on my desk, forgotten, and eventually I remembered it and was going to open it. But like many teenagers now these days, I checked my Facebook first to see if anything had changed from a few hours ago, in a monotonous habit that had formed over the months.
And as I scrolled down my page, and saw a new picture posted by one of my friends, I didn't have to read the letter to know what it was.
It was a hand, splayed out for all to see. On the fourth finger was a sparkling clear diamond, and you didn't have to see Katya's face to know that she was beaming with joy. My heart fell to the ground; for what caused her immense happiness caused me great sorrow.
I met Katya in my freshman year at high school. We were in the same orchestra class, and I was surrounded by people I didn't know, or people I did know but didn't like. I was the awkward viola player sitting in the back by myself like I usually did, cleaning my glasses. Most of the people in that class I had known since elementary or middle school, but I saw one girl sitting in the opposite corner that was unfamiliar.
Her hair was very long and frizzy, and she wore glasses, a skirt and high heels. She looked at me and smiled, and I hesitantly returned it. After class I was going to lunch when she caught up to me and introduced herself. I was surprised to hear her accent; it was Russian, something I hadn't really heard before, even in a school as big as mine.
We sat together at lunch every day and became fast friends. Our music teacher was constantly yelling at us to get back to our seats, since we were in different sections; I the viola, her the violin. She was different, fun, quirky and foreign. She was the friend I needed; all of my other ones I only saw in the morning or at lunch.
Naturally, I was curious about her heritage. She told me she had moved to the States from Ukraine when she was in sixth grade; with her father, mother and brother. Her father had left them when she was in seventh grade, leaving them with debt they hadn't known about, never to be seen again. She told me about her culture; how every Saturday her mother made her walk around the house with books on her head so she would learn to walk straight and tall, 'like a lady'. Her mother was all about etiquette and being ladylike. I was scared to know what she would think of me, the girl who always wore jeans or sweats and was good at math and science instead of sewing.
Later that year, I trusted Katya with the biggest secret of my life. I knew it could potentially break our relationship apart, but I didn't care. I needed it off my chest and she was really the only true friend I could turn to. Funny, since I had known others since elementary school and her only half a year.
So one day, at lunch, I told her that I was a bit confused about my sexuality, something I had been fighting against for a while; nobody in my family would understand so I didn't have anybody to talk to except her. Then the amazing happened.
She didn't care. Her religion was highly against it, but she loved me for who I was, not what the Bible said I should be. It wasn't the focal point of our relationship, but it was what established a new sense of trust and kinship between us.
But our days together were short lived, because in tenth grade, after the first trimester of school was over, she left and went to online school because her mother had sold their house and bought a cheaper apartment instead. We kept in touch, but drifted apart like people normally do in those situations.
So when we were talking on the phone one day, I was more than surprised when she told me what her mother was presently doing.
"It's part of the whole Ukrainian-Russian thing. My mom's pretty traditional despite moving to the United States." Her mother had started looking for 'suitors', or potential fiancés for her daughter. In fact, she had started a few years prior to that day. I knew arranged marriages still went on around the world, despite fading out of style in the past century, but it was stunning to know that one was happening just a few towns over.
"Are you okay with that? I mean, you're always talking about love, don't you want to find someone for yourself?" Katya was a hopeless romantic, and loved chick-flicks or romance movies. I was shocked to learn that she was resigned to her mother's actions, and perfectly okay with them. I guess it was a culture thing, but I still can't get over it to this day.
So when I got that invitation in the mail, and saw that picture on Facebook, I wasn't surprised, just sad. Katya's life and mine were very different, and she knew I didn't approve of hers. I respected her culture and understood some of it, but I had never thought it was okay for someone to choose who their children would marry. I believe in choosing for yourself.
His name was Ruslan, or Bruce in English. Don't ask me why that's the translation, but it is. Attached to the invite for her bridal shower was a picture of them together, their backs to a tree, holding hands. He had a good foot on her in height, and compared to her bright, ever-smiling face, he looked like a Stooge.
I couldn't understand why she had chosen him. She had some semblance of choice when it came to choosing her suitor, and I knew her well enough to know that if this man was like how I thought he was, she didn't want him enough to marry him.
I made plans; I asked my mom to drive me to their rented church, where the shower would be held. I dressed up and bought a card and put some money in it, since I really didn't know what a sixteen year-old would want as a bridal party gift. Nervousness coursed through me as we approached the church; it was a Lutheran chapel the local Russian group rented out for a few hours every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday so they could do their own services. I had been there only once before, and if that was any consolation, I was in for a very awkward experience.
And I was right. The only person close to Katya I got to talk to was her mother, who didn't speak English very well. Some lady from their church was commandeering the bride-to-be's attention so everybody but me got to speak to her. This lady had seen me before and didn't like me simply because 1.) I wasn't Russian and 2.) I was as American as can be. I didn't understand this; I wore a skirt, heels and a shirt that covered my shoulders, the requirements for Russian women when in a church. I was polite and nice, but a little shy, yet exclusion on my part was still ever present.
In the end, I simply called my mom, asked her to pick me up, slipped the card into the designated box and left.
It was very disappointing for me, and I actually cried when I got home. Katya was my best friend, and some vain woman had the nerve to keep me from her just because I didn't share the same beliefs as them? And she was only guessing at that; I wasn't religious but she didn't know that. It was discrimination at its finest, and it made me even more depressed when I thought about the upcoming wedding.
The days passed by and a few months later, I found myself staring at the picture of Katya and Ruslan, waiting for my mother to finish getting dressed. I was in heels, tights and a skirt, preparing to watch my friend get married at the young age of seventeen. Her birthday was weeks before her wedding, so she would be considered of 'consenting age', and the honeymoon wouldn't be a problem. I shivered at that thought as we left for the church again.
Though we had only known each other for three years at this point, Katya and I were closer than most friends were. We held all of the other's secrets, fears, passions and wants. We both knew the other inside and out. It was a different kind of kinship than I was used to, but I missed it now that it was slowly slipping out of my grasp.
Everybody was already there by the time we arrived. We waited for the ceremony to start; jealousy flared when I saw Katya's friend Angi waiting at the doors to the chapel. She was the bridesmaid of this whole shebang. Katya was going to make me the bridesmaid, something I was very excited for, but then her mother and Ruslan's butted in and requested it be someone closer to the culture. So as a result, I watched as Angi walked down the aisle holding a bouquet of flowers, starting the ceremony.
Ruslan stood tall and proud at the altar. His army uniform was very formal and neat looking, though I couldn't help but be intimidated by it. I could tell Lelia, Katya's mother, was as well as she sat next to my mother and me.
Music rang throughout the building and we all swiveled in our seats to see Katya in a flowing white dress turn and stand at the beginning of the aisle. She was radiant in her joy, and the white suited her. The dress was full-length, with beaded flowers on the skirt and V-necked bodice. Fluttering short sleeves made of chiffon covered her shoulders—a requirement I loathed and had deemed ridiculous—and a long white veil trailed behind her. She slowly walked up to the altar and despite her happy mood, I could tell she longed to have her father walk her down the aisle, like every girl's fantasy wedding.
The whole ceremony was in Russian, and my mother and I were the only ones in the entire crowd that were listening to the service translator through the headsets we had been given. I felt like a dork and could feel the condescending stares of those behind me as I struggled to understand what was happening in front of me.
Contrary to what I had expected, it didn't last very long, maybe forty-five minutes. They said their vows, signed a formal looking scroll and kissed. Cheers and claps resounded through the chamber as people stood and praised the newly wedded couple. I smiled, but that was it. I was happy she was happy, but I couldn't bring myself to congratulate her for something I considered a horrible life-sentence.
My mother and I waited until everybody else was gone before we approached Katya and Ruslan. They were talking to the priest and Katya squealed when she saw me waiting to talk to her. She embraced me and bounced back, absolutely euphoric.
"I'm so happy you came! You're the only American friend of mine who made it." I just smiled in response; I had seen all of her other American friend's pathetic excuses on Facebook. "Sorry about the whole bridesmaid thing…"
"It's okay, I totally understand. Besides, Angi looked better in that dress than I would have." I decided to joke it off, and not let her see just how much that had stung.
We conversed for a bit before Lelia came back in and urged us to join the rest of the crowd in the dining area. My mother snapped a quick shot of me and Katya standing next to each other, an arm around the other's waist, in front of the altar. As Katya, Lelia, Ruslan and my mom joined the rest, I looked at the picture on the phone. It was hideous; next to Katya's tiny frame, I looked like a Mac Truck. The fact that she was in all white and I was wearing a dark purple skirt with a black shirt didn't help hide that either.
Pouting, I made my way to my table, knowing I wouldn't be able to get another picture with my friend today. I probably wouldn't be able to speak to her again for a while.
Everybody gave speeches; Katya, Ruslan, both side's parents, Katya's brother Vlad, friends. I couldn't because I didn't get the chance and because I didn't speak Russian. Katya and her mother both teared up when they spoke and it was heart-wrenching to see them this way. Everybody was blubbering and hugging and being happy. Meanwhile, over in the corner, people are ignoring my mother and I, while I am sitting there wishing this wasn't happening.
It was about five o'clock and everybody was eating cake and drinking Russian soda when it happened. My mother and I were talking to some of Katya's friends, Tanya, Anya and Yana. They were sisters who had moved to the States five years ago and were already 'Americanized'. I knew them from Katya's birthday parties. I went up to go get some more soda when the lady from the bridal shower stopped me.
The minute she looked at me with one eyebrow raised and a haughty look on her face, I knew something bad was coming.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. There was a sickly sweet tone in her voice that I knew was nasty and condescending all at the same time.
"Well, Katya's my friend and this is her wedding." I motioned to all the evidence around us.
"But you're not Russian; you weren't born there, you're from here." And there it was. The real reason why she had been hating on me from the very beginning. My teeth clenched and my fists curled, my fingernails digging into my palms. I have a very short temper that is usually well-controlled, but I'd had enough of this bitch and her snotty attitude.
"And you're not American but here you are." I picked up my glass and went over to sit in my chair, not looking in her direction again.
After a few pointless minutes passed by, I went up to go the bathroom and came back to my mother gathering our things.
"What are you doing?" I asked. She looked up at me and there were unshed tears in her eyes.
"We're leaving." She pushed me out the door without letting me say goodbye to my friends and we left, just like that.
That night was horrible. I stayed awake, thinking about the whole event, what my mother had told me and what was probably happening at that moment.
I was disappointed with the whole thing. I put in effort that I didn't need to; I went out of my way and made my mother go out of hers just so we could go, and end up getting shunned in the end. The dragon lady who had been pestering me had also harassed my mother when I was in the bathroom, and that was the reason why we left in such a hurry. It was all such a ridiculous concept, I had a hard time believing it had really happened.
And on top of that, I couldn't help but think about what was going on between Katya and Ruslan at that moment as I lay in my bed. I didn't want to think about that…but I couldn't help it. Katya and I had shared a secret; when we were young, we had both been the victims of sexual assaults. We only confided in each other, nobody else knew, but I couldn't stop worrying about her.
Ruslan had been in the army for four years, and the first thing—and only thing—Katya had told me about him was that because of his stay in the Russian draft, he had developed drinking, gambling and sex problems. When he came back, he became more religious and that 'healed' him, but I knew better than that. Not one of religion, I knew that it takes the physical body far longer to get over problems like that.
I was worried for her because I knew she was scared to consummate her marriage. I was worried because Ruslan didn't know about this, or about what had happened to her. I was mostly worried about how he would treat her; if he really did have problems controlling himself during sex, she could be hurt, and for that, I would hurt him right back.
So I stayed up all night, unable to fall asleep. School was starting up again in a few weeks, so I needed to get my act together and enjoy it while I could. I watched as they updated pictures of their honeymoon in Hawaii, watched at Katya always had a smile around him. She was happy, and the night after their wedding night, she called and told me everything was fine. She had been scared, and he had to calm her down for an hour before they even did anything, but it was all over and done and she was excited to be a married woman.
And that was that.
Now I know some of you may be thinking 'there's no way that happened'. And honestly, I had a hard time believing it myself. I don't understand why that woman was so awful to my mother and I; or why Lelia arranged a marriage between her sixteen year old and a twenty-three year old; or how a vulnerable young girl would trust a suspiciously motivated man with her body.
That's what I thought, and that's why I didn't attend her birthday party the next year.
Or the baby shower.
Yes; not even six months after they got married and had moved into a new apartment together, she got pregnant. I watched through pictures as she got bigger and bigger, every time writing some sickeningly sweet post about how she was so excited to be a mother.
I was bitter about the whole damn thing, and I knew it.
She didn't deserve my anger, or my sadness for her.
She deserved to have a friend who respected her decisions, even if they didn't understand.
I tried, I really did, but it just…wouldn't work. I was angry, because I felt that she was throwing her life away. Both her and her husband viewed her as his property, and his wife, yet she didn't consider him her husband. There is a difference, and I knew that it was because she had been raised to feel that she was inferior to men. Growing up around the strong willed women in my family, I was severely against this and it showed.
Katya had her baby and named her Sophie. She has to put socks on Sophie's hand because she chews on them. Her favorite hat for her daughter to wear is one that makes her look like she had an octopus on her head. She is tiny, adorable and beautiful just like her mother.
This made me think, and all that thinking finally paid off. I didn't have an epiphany or any other cheesy crap like that. But I did understand something. Back in the earlier centuries, women married young, had kids young, and died young. In some traditional cultures, like Katya's, that's still true, except mothers live longer. Lelia followed this belief, and made Katya grow up faster than others, because that's just the way she thought things should be.
Up until then, I hadn't realized how…extremely lucky I am to have the life I do. I don't have to get married at sixteen, or worry about being a 'lady', wearing skirts and high heels every day, or worrying about which suitor to choose. All I worry about is my next calculus test or the paper due for CIS tomorrow. I had a childhood that lasted long, and that was pure and true like it should have been. Katya didn't. And that was why I didn't understand her and Ruslan until now.
Recently, Katya called me up and we talked. During the election her husband and I butted heads as the uber-conservative Republican and the moderately liberal Obama follower. There were fights, but overall, we are still friends, though I really don't like her husband and I know he doesn't like me.
But there is more to people than just their beliefs. Some people don't look past that; like the dragon lady. There are some who only focus on that, but fall back on other things when they are beat, like Ruslan did. Then there are people who can get past it, who love you for who you are, no matter what.
Even if your lifestyle goes against their religion.
Even if your beliefs aren't the same as theirs.
Even if you have disagreements over things that seem big. Because it all comes down to one thing, and that's love.
What I'm trying to say here is that there is more than one layer to a person. And when you're out there living life to the fullest…just make sure you have a person who sees all your layers, no matter what.
Like I do.
Я ТЕбЯ ЛЮбЛЮ КАТЯ!