Chapter Two: Transition
Vera is the name which I will forever remember as our Angel.
Vera was Luba’s mother. She was a kind hearted woman, patient and friendly. She was an amazing cook and she loved to make people happy, to cook and invite friends to share her wonderfully made food. People in church adored her. She was incredibly caring person and I don’t know what we would have done without her help. God Bless you Vera! May you rest in peace. I will always be grateful to you and remember your kindness.
She was the reason we are here now. First with immigration, her name was on the guest visa for us to come and visit.
Of course, I could probably write another book just on the logistics of our immigration process and how it all went down. But for now, I’ll try to keep it short.
Sometimes we went to church on Sunday. I have never been to that kind of church, in Estonia they didn’t really exist. So, it was all very new to me. Of course I couldn’t understand anything pastor said, but I liked the singing and the kindness in the eyes of the people there. I felt love.
We enjoyed our outings.
This was Easter. We went to the service, Luba, Vera , Angelina and maybe Luba’s husband, I can’t remember now. As the service finished and people started leaving or gathering to catch up, we made our way to the pastor’s office. Vera insisted on speaking with the pastor. At a time I didn’t understand much, but I gathered the sense of urgency. Vera wanted to talk about us. She was a good standing member of the church and this time she came for help. She told them that my mom was a single mom with 2 kids and that we just came from Estonia. She said that we had nobody else and really needed help to get on our feet.
As we left the office and were walking down the hallway towards the exit, Vera suddenly fell. She fell on the ground and her eyes were closed. I don’t remember much after that, I was just in shock…She was taken to the hospital and later that day I was told that she left us.
I was so sad that I would never seen this wonderful lady again, just when I was just getting to know her. I sat in her apartment, her husband was there. I couldn’t believe that I was in her apartment with her smells and things and that she wouldn’t be coming back here.
The church honored Vera’s last wishes. They rented us an apartment and paid rent for 3 months, along with food and bills.
We were beyond happy! It felt like a victory day. Our own space! That old tiny apartment which wasn’t in the best area was such a happy place for us at that time. New beginning!
The great part was that it was near the shops. I remember we ventured out on our first walk, went to a grocery store! It was truly surreal, as we have never seen anything like that in our lives.
Mom and I worked with Luba at the flower shop for a while. I remember it was Valentine’s day and we worked for over 16 hours. I was delirious from standing on my feet for so long, yet so happy to be working, making money and smelling the roses! Ha ha, when the boss paid the compliment on my work, I felt like I was on a 7th heaven. Plus, we were treated with fried chicken, also a first and it tasted amazing.
After a little while we received our work authorizations and I marched by myself to the clothing store TJMaxx to get a job. By that time we became familiar with the stores around and I really wanted to be there, it seemed like a magical place. I still didn’t speak English very well, but I was polite and very enthusiastic. Boss hired me for a minimum wage and I was assigned a task of putting up clothes back from the fitting rooms and keeping things straight. I took my job very seriously and worked very hard. Soon after my English continued improving and I was able to run a cash register.
I was such a late bloomer. I remember when guys, especially younger ones would come through my register I could hardly function. My hands were sweating and shaking, I felt my face being hot and flushed and I could hardly speak a pick directly in their eyes. I was very nervous around the opposite sex, for many years.
The job was fun! At least in the beginning, when I could still appreciate it because the newness of it hasn’t worn off and because at that stage of my life it was an accomplishment.
I truly felt a sense of achievement, maybe for the first time in my life. I mustered enough courage to go and ask for a job, by myself. I figured there wasn’t anything to lose and the worst thing that will happen is that I will hear no.
It helped me in many ways, I can see it much clearer now. It wasn’t just a paycheck, it was so much more to me and I learned many valuable lessons there.
School was fun at first, before I faced the reality of public schools.
When we first came here, a lady from church, Sharon has gone out of her way to help us, me in particularly. Her 2 sons went to a Christian private school and somehow she was able to arrange so that I could go as well without paying a dime. I only spoke a few words in English, but I was allowed a great opportunity to go to school and observe, sit next to someone and copy their notes. It helped me to learn English tremendously! Sharon, wherever you are – Thank you! I will never forget your kindness!
She came every morning to pick me up and take me to school with her sons.
It helped me more than I ever had a chance to tell her! It was such a nice experience. Most people treated me with kindness and compassion, for the exception of a few students who kept asking me about my father and how come I didn’t have one. I found it infuriating but I didn’t let it show.
So I went to this wonderful private school, full of tidy, smiling children in their neat uniforms for about 4 months or so. It amazed me when I first started to actually understand what the class was talking about.
That’s how it usually happens, you start understand more before you speak; next you force yourself to speak starting with putting together a sentence or two.
But I felt like I was making progress and I liked it there.
But…next year I was in for a rude awakening…to say the least.
When you immigrate to US, you’re integrated into the school system through a program called ESL – English Second Language. It helps students to study English while also taking other classes with ESL teachers. Those classes helped me tremendously and I am so grateful to those teachers. Immigrant kids were kind of unruly and it took extra care and attention to teach those classes, I am sure.
In Charlotte, NC there was only 1 high school that offered ESL Program, it was in West Charlotte High School. That meant that it was my only option for school.
In Estonia schools are very different. You kind of stay with most of your classmates throughout the whole time you go to school. For most classes teachers came to our class. There weren’t any lockers. Lunch time – meant you were going to eat with your whole class, seating was arranged, our meals and drinks were already on our tables when we arrived. This eliminated a lot of awkwardness, clicks and separation to some degree.
My first day in school was hectic and scary. I have never seen so many buildings, trailers and so many students! In Estonia our school was one large building. I had no clue where to go or how to get there.
It was beyond confusing. I stopped in the bathroom and a few seconds later 3 black girls came in and one of them pushed me away from the mirror. By that time, I was well aggravated, frustrated and my patience just reached the end of my rope. I kind of lost it. I started yelling at them in Russian. After about a minute of silence and obvious shock, their expressions have quickly changed to reflect a friendlier demeanor. They started asking me where I am from and I think they even helped to direct me to where I needed to go.
I barely made friends. There were a couple of other Russian girls I started hanging out with. Until one day, when another girl got off the same bus stop I did, she started talking to me, a lot, like a whole lot. I didn’t mind, she seemed weird, but she was also an immigrant, at that time from Ugoslavia. I guess that bonded us, we were both kind of like a fish out of water.
She was kind of loud and obnoxious, I also suspected that the stories she was telling me were lies, but she lived in the same apartment complex I did and I guess I was glad for her company. I did found out later that she made up a bunch of fibs to make herself into someone she wasn’t. I didn’t understand it, but I never called her out on it. I just chose to let it go.
At one time I called her my best friend. Our parting wasn’t on the best of terms years later.
So, Daniella and I became friends. She did most of the talking.
During this time, I wasn’t very talkative. It was when things at home already turned ugly with Alex.
I remember waking up in the morning with regret. Regret of being alive in this reality. Stuck!
I think I cried every day from 17 to 18 years old.
I hated everything and everyone. Even myself…probably mostly myself for feeling this way…I really did not want to live anymore.
Sometimes days slowly morphed into weeks and I would go to school transparent as a ghost, not talking to anyone for long periods of time. Just going through the motions.
School bus was the worst.
This school I went to was what you would call in the not the most desirable location. It was overwhelming and a complete culture shock. The first day of school I witnessed as the chair was frown across the cafeteria.
There were fights on a school bus almost every day. I have never seen such violent people and they seemed to be so much more developed and mature than me. I couldn’t really call them kids. Lots of girls had children and already a very active adult life. I wasn’t kidding when I said I felt like a fish out of water.
I felt like I was from another fucking planet.
Daniella would later tease me as she loved to rehash the stories of the school days. Her lack of understanding and compassion infuriated me beyond belief, I felt betrayed by her, each time she would tell the story of how I would always sit in the front, next to a window, staring out the whole time, with the headphones pulled over my ears. But it’s true. I did. What she failed to realize is how bad of a shape I was in. I was standing at the edge. Looking down. Considering the idea of jumping…
Everyone around me seemed completely mad. Their obnoxiously loud laughter pierced my insides with sharp pain. I couldn’t stand to see anyone happy…it caused me so much pain I felt like crawling out of my skin. And the worst part is that I felt completely and utterly alone.
I had a little cassette player which I cherished. It was a little tiny bridge to something beautiful, away from the warped reality I was living in.
My first tape was Enigma. I listened to this tape thousands of times, over and over, every day, every school bus ride. In my mind it sounds terribly theatrical to say that music saved my life, but in this instance that beautiful, haunting music saved a piece of my sanity and brought much needed beauty to my soul. It was my only escape.
I went to West Charlotte High for a year, I transferred to a nearby school East Meck next year, despite still having a huge language barrier. I couldn’t take it anymore. Not the 5:30am bus rides, not the bus altogether. I walked to East Meck the following 2 years every day.