A Siberian Memoir reminds us that leaving our Covid bubbles might be bumpy...
First, you need to know that due to both pre-existing conditions, and a propensity for anxiety, my husband and I have been deep in a Covid bubble where we go nowhere regularly and do all of our socializing online for almost a year now. We are privileged to be able to work from home and have all of our groceries delivered. So when I say we never go out, I mean we never go out. I literally walk laps in my backyard. As I was getting dressed this morning I had two simultaneous thoughts:
These striped knee socks are perfect for this dress.
Wait… when did I start to think knee socks on a 50 year old was a good look?
The swiftness with which my mind disagreed with itself reminded me of a novel I had read when I was in middle school; The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig. Don’t ask me why a ten year old would read a book about the Siberian Gulag camps. I was the third of four children and my mom was super busy and if she wasn’t always aware of which of the books in her bookcase that I availed myself of, it is not her fault. (The post about the effect on my understanding of relationships by my young mind grappling with the Clan of the Cave Bears will be forthcoming…)
Two aspects of the trials of young Esther’s time in Siberia stayed with me all these years; she worked hard to re-knit a sweater for a wealthier woman in the camps to earn money, and she used that money to buy Siberian boots; boots she had long coveted. But just as she buys these boots, her father sends word that he can bring her home, and sends the train ticket to re-unite them. She is thrilled that she can buy the boots before she leaves and is proud of them. The very first thing her father says after he hugs her, is that they must get her new clothes and out of these ugly boots right away. Though I read this book forty years ago, I still can remember the feeling of dis-connection Esther experienced in that moment- a moment that should have been the happy ending to her story, but instead was the more honest ending of embarrassment, isolation, and some anger. Underscored by her awareness that her time in Siberia had changed her. It is a reminder that separation is not a simple experience to remedy.
With the hope of vaccination and improved treatments, we can all start thinking of leaving our own Siberia-esque isolation, but we should be prepared for the experiences of dis-connection that can create. I’m sure no one will really care if I walk out of the house in my knee socks and sneakers; but it is likely that there will be more meaningful experiences of dissonance that will make me feel unstable. When I do, I will think of Esther and feel the companionship that authors in their novels so generously share.