Xenia

I have written about this on some Russian-language sites, and have (surprisingly) received a lot of hate for it, a lot of false accusations, but also an overwhelming amount of support. The name has been changed.

This is Xenia’s life. From start to finish. It’s condensed, and there are a lot of blanks that will never be filled. There is also a lot that I can only guess at – what she was like on her own, what she felt toward her mother, had she ever been in love, what was her quest and what was her favourite colour.

What I am reproducing here is something incomplete, but nevertheless, important and precious in its own right. Please read.

Xenia was the youngest child in a family of four: mother, father, brother, and her. This family lived in our building, in Kiev. My grandmother remembers that, a long time ago, they were happy enough.

In the late 1980’s, the father left. He claimed he was “in love” with another woman, and wanted everyone to leave him alone. At first, the wife thought this was a phase. But he simply disappeared out of their lives, and after a year went by, she started to drink.

Xenia was affected the most – she was much younger than her brother, no more than 8 years old at that time, and these new developments hit her hard. Her mother was not a monster, but she could be scary when she drank. Xenia spent most of her free time outside, away from mum.

A few years later, her brother began doing heroin.

Everyone knew what was happening, because the problems were dragged out into the public. Drunk mother screamed at high son. Xenia sat outside on the bench, and rocked back and forth.

It was around this time that I first met her. She was older than I was by a couple of years, or decades, in fact. She was not at all a child – even though her performance at school lead some to believe that she was “slow.” It was very hard for her to learn or develop in any way in her environment.

At age twelve, she was appropriated by a group of older kids. They lent her stockings, lipstick, short skirts. They liked to dress her up, like a doll. She was very willing – she would have done anything for affection.

There are a lot of college students in that neighbourhood, and the men took a liking to her right away. She was desperate for any sort of attention, if anyone bought her lunch, or a bottle of Coke, she mistook these gestures for love. People said a lot of unfair things about her, she was like a “dog,” she could follow you anywhere.

When she was spurned, also like a dog, she cried horribly, loudly, so that the entire neighbourhood could hear.

She ended up pregnant at fourteen. Her mother was seeing some sort of spiritual “guru” then, to try and stop her addiction. The “guru,” some bearded old guy, said that Xenia was a “whore” and that “pregnancy is the cross she must bear.” No attempts to establish paternity were made, although this was probably a case of statutory rape – considering the people Xenia was regularly seen with.

The mother, and the people in her circle, all agreed with this. Xenia gave birth to, and kept, the baby. People said that she probably hoped that the baby would bring its father back. Who knows.

The baby was born sick. It screamed all day and all night. You could hear it even through the tough brick walls of the building. The mother screamed at Xenia. The brother spent almost all of his free time out and about with his friends and heroin. The mother’s drinking got worse. She no longer wanted to stop. She bit off a whole lot more than she could chew.

Xenia worked as a prostitute. She didn’t return to school. She was a short, skinny girl with bangs who, at fifteen, still looked like she was twelve. A lot of perverts like that sort of thing, of course. She looked very “serious,” and a lot of people liked her by then, even though they wouldn’t admit it to each other.

No one offered to help her in any way though – even when it came to helping with the baby that the respectable public did not want “murdered.” No one wanted to deal with this.

One day, Xenia’s body was found outside one of the horrible high-rises that stand near the main train station. Someone tied her up, then threw her out of the window. She was sixteen.

My grandmother says that her mother quit drinking, and took the little boy to live in some village where she was originally from. People also say that her brother kicked the habit, and actually graduated, and did something with his life.

She was like a sacrificial offering – the rest of her family was eventually spared, at least in part.

I don’t remember her very well, just a few details: the bangs, the thin legs in black tights. One day, when we were still very small, she asked me what the word “rape” meant. I had some vague ideas, but couldn’t give a conclusive answer.

“Oh,” she said. We were sitting on the landing (the same landing my cousin and I use for smoking purposes when I’m in town and he’s around). My grandmother kept her cacti there at that point. Xenia pricked a finer and began to cry, horribly, to the point where even I could see that it wasn’t her finger that was hurting her.

5 thoughts on “Xenia

  1. This story is a window on another world.
    So many “what if’s…”

    What if Xenia’s father hadn’t been such a waste of space and capable of simply forgetting his family?
    What if her Mother could have found the resources to resist her slide and somehow held them all together?
    What if the State had recognised what was going on in this family and tried to help?

    What if sex wasn’t seen as a commodity to be paid for or taken?
    What if life wasn’t so cheap?

    Maybe Xenia could have gone to London or Paris or Sydney or Timbuktu, maybe even Duke and made her contribution to the world.

    This story is a nexus of failure on behalf of society, the state, family and individuals and all we can do is look about and try to see the Xenias who might be living in out own apartment blocks.

    I’m sure we all doubt that everything went magically well for the rest of her family afterwards like a curse had been lifted but I wonder why that spin on the story went around?
    Do people just want a happy ending?
    Were they afraid to admit their own culpability in doing nothing to help her?
    Were society’s pressures on the locals to see abortion as a wrong, and by extension the decision that Xenia WOULD have this baby, so great that they told themselves it turned out to be the right decision after all?

    Sigh.
    At least you remember Natalia.
    Bangs, thin legs, black tights and a sad life.
    It isn’t much and now it’s all she ever had.

    I really do despair.

    *

  2. Very moving indeed – I read your stories frequently, though I don’t often comment. Thank you for sharing.

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