from On Life in St.Petersburg by Elizabeth Hulley

There have been many new arrivals to the orphanage this year. Sometimes if we have tea together the counselors tell me about them, but I was still missing information on several of them. Not that it’s my business, but it helps to know.

For example, why would a 17 yr old end up in the orphanage? She’s at the age where she could already be in a dormitory.

I started noticing Dasha in my favorite counselor’s group about a month ago. She kept to herself and sat quietly doing homework, or something. There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. She was quiet and serious in a way that reminded me of a child who had brought up in a very conservative household, perhaps religious. Actually, she reminded me of an adult. When she brought me her English homework to check, I saw what had kept her so busy…lines and lines of painstakingly neat penmanship. There are other kids with neat handwriting, but this was done so lovingly.

Dasha seemed eager to learn and even more excited about her grades. She was getting A’s and perhaps a few B’s. She brought out her book to show me the good marks. She told me (voluntarily) about the different subjects she was studying. Doesn’t this seem weird to you, if you picture the typical teenager?

When we started writing an autobiography together for English class, I started to wonder. My name is Dasha. I’m 17 years old. I’m in the 8th form. Being in 8th grade at age 17 just didn’t add up, even in Russia where kids might start first grade at 7 or 8 years old.

And then Dasha started to tell me about how she didn’t go to school for two years. Her mother wouldn’t let her. I didn’t quite get the details about her mother’s mental breakdown, but Dasha is in the orphanage while her mother is undergoing evaluation. Given that her mother had pulled a knife on her…I’m not sure they’ll be reunited. Was it the poverty that prompted her mother to keep her home, maybe a fear that someone would find out?

The not going to school made sense. No wonder Dasha was so excited about her pencils and notebooks; her homework assignments and good grades. She had been deprived, before this, of an education, of a basic rite of passage.

Dasha said that the scariest moment was when the police came for her. “Are you coming to snatch my child?” her mother asked. “No, we’re coming to snatch YOU,” one of the policemen said. “We’re taking your child to safety, because you are the worst kind of mother.” Dasha didn’t seem clear on whether she should be loyal to her mother or not, but she was obviously traumatized by the event. She seems calm on the surface, but got a certain gleam in her eye when mentioning seeking revenge on the woman who put her mother in this condition. She’s in a better place now, but her future fate? Only the Lord knows.