This story is not about me, nor is it mine to tell. 

This story is about the thin threads of innocuous observations woven into a running conversation, shared over a slice of fresh cherry pie on a Tuesday evening, that suture wounded hearts.

“The package only cost twenty-five euros to send.”

“It weighed four and half kilograms.”

“The post office clerk asked if packages were being received in Ukraine or not.”

 “Yes! We got confirmation that the vitamins we sent arrived and were requisitioned by the Ukrainian army.”

“We’ll send another one in a few months.”

“No, the war will be over by then!” 

“It seems strange that there is a postman just walking around during a war delivering packages.”

When the dam of association breaks there is little to stop the rush of emotion and memory. The lifeguards nearby cast their nets into the flood without asking questions, without asking for clarifications or speculations and “what ifs”. They must just listen and anchor the nets.

“The best thing to do is not to panic but try to maintain a daily routine and be normal.”

“I told my mother not to wake me with bad news; only if it was an emergency. So, after I woke up and had some breakfast my mother told me there were tanks invading the Kharkiv region. She was freaking out.” 

“I was so sleepy that my parents had to shout at me to wake me up. I just told them to leave town without me. I thought it would be over in a few days.”

A human safety net can only be spun through hundreds of micro-moments of trust; shared meals, kilometers driven, loads of laundry, translation, washing dishes, shared recipes, and fresh cherry pie. These moments of trust are the product of the deliberate effort to help preserve the dignity of autonomy for those who would struggle to protect themselves if attacked again. 

 “When we arrived in Krakow, to pick her up, it seemed impossible that there was a war going on just two hours east. Everything seemed so…normal.” 

 “I can’t believe you drove all the way to Krakow to pick-up her up . It must have been grueling.”

“It took seventeen hours each way. We made the best of it.” 

“I was so grateful when she texted me that you had already found her. She just left, all alone. No plan; had nothing with her. She just left to go west and we couldn’t talk her out of it. 

 “And you hitchhiked all the way from Kyiv to Lviv didn’t you?”

 “Yes, from just outside of Kyiv.”

Trauma trapped in our bodies and minds does not work itself out in chronological order. There is no story arc to follow. Fractured details are revealed spontaneously and oftimes involuntarily. Only when we feel safe again can fragments of our distressing experiences be broken down and sifted by our unconscious minds by size, weight and shape. Only when a piece is small enough, with the edges rubbed smooth, can it slip safely through the webbing of the human safety nets to be buried in the earth. Our scariest moments, if ejected as a jagged whole, would rip through the nets, like shrapnel, endangering ourselves and others around us.

“The rockets just wouldn’t stop that night. It is a night I will never forget. Why? Why? Why? We have hands and eyes just like theirs! It’s impossible to understand. We left the house the next day too. If we hadn’t the Russians would have been shooting right at us if we had waited another day to leave.”

When war broke out in Ukraine I ran to the front with a net – not a gun.

V M Karren is the author of The Deceit of Riches series, set in Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Romania) during the political and social chaos of the 1990s as the Soviet Union disintegrated.

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