I was dead but not truly gone.
|Revolution. That word feels like venom in my mouth but it was stuck on the tip of my tongue all night as I dreamed of my life and my death with Tchaikovsky acting as a soundtrack to the nightmares.
There was nothing revolutionary about the war back home that began in 1917. It was brutal, bloody, and displayed to me the most grotesque sides of humanity. It was driven by frustration and the belief that a new political system would fix something that could not be repaired without the two things everyone was unwilling to give; patience and time.
I saw boys who were barely old enough to be called men become permanently disfigured. Men were wounded so deeply that even when their bones healed and their stitches became scars, I knew their hearts would never recover. The smell of blood stuck in my nose and I felt the pains in my stomach when food had to be rationed. I watched the colour gradually drain from the faces of my family members, and the light in their eyes slowly burn out with each passing day. We were not ignorant enough to have been surprised by the war, but I certainly hadn’t anticipated that it would claim my life as one of its casualties. The day we died had been rather unremarkable, and I had no indication that it was to be my last one alive. My family seemed unaware of our impending deaths too. I sometimes wonder what we would have done if we had known. I wonder if we could have done anything at all.
I always thought that getting shot in the head would be an instantaneous and painless way to die. I know now that neither of those assumptions were true. It is a quick death, and for that I am grateful, but it is not instant and those last milliseconds of consciousness are not pleasant. I will always remember the unbearable pressure building in the back of my head surrounded by white hot pain for the fraction of a second between the trigger being pulled and the last bits of life being pulled from my body. I didn’t even have time to recognize that a gun had been fired before the searing metal bullet sent me into absolute nothingness.
The next time I opened my eyes, I was laying on the ground. My Mama, Papa, and siblings all lay dead on the floor. I stood up and when I looked around me, I realized that none of the men with guns could see me. I watched, horrified, as my body was dragged outside along with those of the people I had given my heart to. We were tossed aside with less dignity than we afford animals. I watched our murderers, unseen, unheard, and terribly unaware of what was happening to me. They ate our food, took our money and valuables, and worst of all, they laughed. I tried to wish ill upon them, but my grief and horror were too great to truly wish on anyone. Not even on the people who so mercilessly and brutally killed us. How could I, a woman who had spent her whole life believing in the goodness and righteousness of God, hope to condemn anyone to a fate as filled with terror and pain as my own?
I don’t know how much time passed between the burial and my realization that I was dead but not truly gone. It was daytime. I remember seeing some sun peek through the trees. Was I a ghost? Was I stuck in some sort of purgatory? Was there really a god and, if so, why was I still here? These are questions that took me many years to get answers to, and even now I’m still unclear on some of the details. I tried in vain to wake my family members up in hopes that maybe they were like me. They weren’t. The realization that they were dead and gone to a place I could not reach awakened parts of my soul I didn’t know existed with such tremendous despair that I can’t even begin to describe it. I grabbed a few toys, articles of clothing, and photographs that fit into a suitcase that I dragged around with me, though I didn’t understand why I could interact with the material world and not any of the people living in it. I had hoped that I would find solace in some familiar places, but that was not the case. Everything was different and no matter where I travelled, or where I tried to seek comfort, every single piece of Russia began to hurt my soul. It was empty. The people who had made my life so extraordinary, and so full of love and light were gone. There was chaos everywhere and death on every street corner. I passed the gravesite of a man I had once hoped to marry. He died fighting for what he had been told was a worthy cause. For the honour of a woman. For me. For someone who was already dead.
I truly cannot say how long I stayed in Russia before deciding to leave. I didn’t have a plan really, and I still didn’t know what I was, but I needed to leave. By chance I happened upon a train one day and sat in an empty seat until we left the country. I spent a few months making my way across Europe, until one day someone spoke to me. I was in a small town in France, sitting alone by the sea when a woman approached me and asked a question. It had completely taken me by surprise and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, someone was looking me in the eyes. I was grateful then for all the French lessons I had received in my younger years and managed to choke out a response and a slew of my own questions. She had recognized that I was dead, but she herself was not. It was then that I learned psychics, or mediums, were in fact real. The simplicity of human interaction after all that time shook me to my core, and I cannot express what I felt; some mixture of relief, joy, confusion, and shock.
She seemed taken aback that I was still in the dark about my existence, and took me to her home so we could speak freely and privately. She explained in vague terms that yes, I was a ghost. She couldn’t tell me why some people remained here as ghosts, but she did tell me that if I hadn’t seen anyone else with me on the night of my death, the rest of my family had managed to pass on. I stayed with this woman, Sabine, for over a month. She taught me many things about my own abilities and helped me to grow stronger. Sabine then told me about the Abbott Hotel. Many similar hotels exist across the world, but as it turns out, Mr. Abbott had been vacationing in France that same month and she knew him personally. We were introduced, and he was highly impressed with my English skills so he offered me a job as his new receptionist. Of course I had no formal training in a role like that, having really only worked as a nurse during my life, but he assured me I would pick up on it quickly and that his current receptionist would be delighted to show me how things worked before she formally retired. Considering my limited options, and limited knowledge of what I was, I felt almost an obligation to accept the offer. At the end of the summer, I got on a boat with Mr. Abbott and travelled to the United States of America for the very first time. It was what people nowadays call the roaring twenties, and I must say, the name is appropriate. Everything about America did seem to roar; the music, the clothes, the makeup, and the colourful words that started to make their way into my vernacular. It was a time of rebellion, and while it was loud and bold, it was so much softer and more liberating than the rebellion I had witnessed in Russia. Tatiana in Russia was collateral damage, but Tatiana in the United States was ready for some jazz and a turn at the ballot box. At least, I would have been if people could have actually seen me.
It didn’t take long for the Abbott Hotel to begin to feel like a home. The guests were fascinating and I always felt like I was living a history lesson when any of them spoke to me about their lives. They were certainly eccentric, but it would be hard not to come across as a little odd if everything you knew about the world and everything you experienced had happened a century ago. While I struggle with the idea of computers and internet, some of the guests struggled with electricity. Mr. Abbott said some had even needed to be taught about indoor plumbing when they first arrived. We were, and still are, a strange collection of personalities and experiences that make this place feel more like an interactive museum of world history than a hotel. I am grateful for it all, but on nights like these when I am plagued by memories and flashbacks, I wish that my exhibit was only a temporary one.
Tomorrow I intend to find out what brought Mr. Ivanov here and to uncover how a living man could have walked in and reignited a hundred years’ worth of sorrow within my heart.