November 26, 2014 by Katia
“Today I lost my great aunt, Dr. Nina Mikhoels, my Ninulya, who helped raise me as though I was her own and it feels like one of my protective battlements is down.”
I wrote on my Facebook wall. And it felt feeble.
Ninulya is my first and now I know what it feels like. A battlement is down and I am slightly more exposed to the elements for it. The wind blows colder against my skin, harsh words penetrate deeper.
Then Tali emailed me and said:
“It’s hard for me to imagine this. Dying is the opposite of her. She’s all fire and pillars of smoke”.
Fire and pillars of smoke. My auntie – perfectly summarized
Then Anya added:
Despite living through events that could’ve turned anybody into a skeptical human-hater, Ninulia had the largest heart and the most generous spirit. She had an immense ability to be positive, to believe in the good of people and her heart was full of kindness and acceptance. She was very funny. Her art was her passion and she worked hard well into her 80s. Anyone who met her couldn’t help but feel respect for, and awe of her. She will be missed by hundreds of her students, and by all her friends.
And once again my closest friends captured the essence of her and THIS so much better than I did.
I’ve had numerous imagined conversations with her in the last few days when she was slipping in and out of consciousness and one actual conversation, if you can call the one-sided choked up transatlantic-via-cellphone-speaker uttering of a few sentences a conversation. So many things I said to her in my mind that I could never have said out loud because they sound too much like ‘goodbye’:
Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me – big and small, as there is no real distinction between the two categories anyways, right?
(and in my head you respond with that cheerful, high pitched “Haha” laugh which is actually a statement of pure conviction that life can be good if we just decide to make it so.)
Thank you for taking it upon yourself to play soccer outside with Petya, who was two years younger than me and teased and taunted my ten-year-old self as our house guest for a month, and I was genuinely convinced that it was his sole purpose on earth to mock me and drive me insane, and you, a woman well into her late 50s, were my ally and when things got too tense, you’d challenge him to a game of soccer. Against you.
Thank you for playing the eternal optimist to our pessimism and cynicism. It must have been exhausting at times.
Thank you for holding rehearsals with your students in our apartment when it was your turn to watch me while my leg was broken during that summer of 1989.
Thank you for trusting me with an orchid.
You got that for me for my university graduation.
Thank you for remembering my wedding anniversary and sending flowers and thank you for continuing to do so by sending them to my mom after I moved countries.
Hey, remember how when I was an undergraduate student you bought me that double CD of the Phantom of the Opera? Could you hear me singing the famous duet you loved so much when I was walking home from work after being released earlier today?
I remember childhood summers spent in your apartment – home to rescued furniture and cats – and drinking water with sugar through a glass straw with a tiny spoon that had a hole at its end that you used to stir the sugar in with. I remember the magic trick you would perform for me when you inhaled from a cigarette then blew the smoke into an empty bottle of alcohol (was it dark green?) and a smoke ring would form and slowly make its way up. I never did ask. Too late.
Do you know how much I enjoyed writing down your student assessments for you? It was a chance to experience you talk about a subject you were an expert in. No, I’m not referring only to theater, I mean people.
I never told you how amazing I found your ability to look at someone’s photograph and provide a spot on analysis of their personality. I’m sorry that talent was used up mainly on a slew of photographs of New Kids on The Block during my teen years.
There is so much I’m going to miss about you and if I talk about it it will all sound like a horrible cliche and would probably make you shrug in embarrassment, but I just can’t believe that no one will ask me ever again: ну, как нашы герои? (“well, how are our heroes doing?” in reference to my boys).
You would probably find something comforting and pathos-deflating to tell me in response to that.
I bet you would so much better enjoy an obituary that said: survived by a bunch of stray furniture items and one (black) cat, an adoring niece, grand daughter and adored sister.
I think you would be happy to know that I am sad but not devastated. You used a lot of proverbs unapologetically, never worrying that they may sound cliche. I will do the same. I am sad but not devastated. The part of my soul which is you is still there. Yes, that soul is a little bit more exposed right now, but it will look ever more intently for affirmations of you. And it will find them in Ben’s intense facial expression and passionate stories. In cats and certain words like “dramaturge”. In stray furniture and blue bear.
You are a part of me forever.