Updated: Jun 27, 2020
| This is the 356th story of Our Life Logs |
“Love carries us in the darkest times of our lives, reminding us to have hope.”
1 | In the Streets of Leningrad
I was born in 1925 in the Soviet streets of Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg, Russia. I loved the snow, the way the warm daylight would glint off the ice, and the smell of biscuits baking in the oven. I remember the days when I would hide in the bathroom, smoking cigarettes so my father wouldn’t catch me. I remember the nights of my mother brushing my hair until it framed my face, soft as silk. I remember my parents’ smile during dinner, while my younger brother would tell stories from school, and we would later go to bed with a full stomach.
That all changed in the summer of 1941, when the Second World War hit our snowy streets. Slowly, food became a luxury. I’ll never forget the families that stood in line, waiting to buy groceries from the few options we had; bread, milk, or potatoes. Those years shaped me though. I never again will say that I’m starving because starvation is not missing breakfast or lunch or dinner—it’s missing the taste of food for days on end.
Being Jewish during Nazi propaganda led to girls at school glaring at me and muttering “Jew” under their breath. I never knew the word could sound so dirty. Yet, I was never ashamed of my Jewish blood, because even in the face of death and poverty, I still had love. My family was still my family and that would never change. I kept the love I felt for my family close to my heart in all that I did.
2 | But I Never Left Again
Years later, love continued weaving itself into my life. When I was a late teen studying at Leningrad Institute, I fell in love. I had hung a painting in my dorm above my bed, and just as I was adjusting the frame, a man named Solya Gugaravich barged into the room. He told me that he oversaw dormitory order and that hanging anything up was against the rules. I smirked at him. “I’m not the one who doesn’t like it,” I said. “If it bothers you so, then you take it down.”
And that’s how our story started. Solya told me years later that he would never forget the blueness in my eyes, and the curls of my blonde hair that day.
In 1945, we became each other’s forever. Solya and I never fought in those early years. I often thought of our love as an eternal fire that even water could not dwindle. He was gentle, sweet, caring and told me he loved me every day. In 1946, we gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Ira, who looked just like my mother.
Of course, like many couples in love, we had our disagreements. Solya was often jealous and would worry that I was accepting numbers from other men. This led to me briefly leaving and returning later upon his promise that he would work on trusting me. I was still so young and fretted at the first sign of trouble. But I never left again. I’ve since learned that love doesn’t just happen. It takes time, effort, patience, and understanding. If love knows anything, it’s that home doesn’t have to be a physical place. Home is in the people we love.
3 | Blooming with the Flowers
In 1974, Solya and I watched our daughter fall in love and find her home. She took a dance class in town and met a man named Sasha who walked her home after class each night. I watched them talk for hours in our garden. Soon, I’d see Ira get flushed about what outfit to wear to meet Sasha outside of class. I was doing the dishes one day and when I peered out the window, I saw the two kissing passionately in our garden, their love blooming with the flowers. Soon enough, it was her turn for a love story to unfold into a forever.
Ira and Sasha getting married meant the world to Solya and me. We could see their hearts were as open to each other as ours were. Ira was a beautiful bride and Sasha cried when they were made man and wife. I cried too. Those were the moments I now wish I could hold onto for just a little longer.
4 | An Omen
One fateful day a couple years later, however, brought tears of a new kind. Ira was losing a lot of blood as she was giving birth to her son. The doctors injected donated blood into her—blood that unfortunately contained the yellow fever. After her son was born, Ira became ill with a sickness that was yet to have a cure. It was an accident that changed my life forever.
A few months later, in 1976, my daughter passed away. Sasha cried over her grave and I cried in Solya’s arms. Love, I learned, can easily shake its hands with tragedy and make it all the more intense in its pain. Flashbacks of Ira surfaced—her first steps, her coming home from school, her hugs, her sweetness.
Sasha’s love for Ira matched his anger, and it then overpowered the love for his son. It turned into contempt for a little boy who, in Sasha’s eyes, killed his wife. Sasha wanted nothing to do with the child and suddenly, Solya and I found ourselves in charge of raising a little baby who could never fathom the circumstances he was born under. I felt a new love wash over me for my grandson who I now needed to treat as my son. Seeing my daughter reflected in his sweet face pushed me to tears more times than I thought possible.
At first, I was angry at the world’s cruelty. Why did the world have to take a life right after bringing us a new one? It was unfair and heartbreaking. But in the midst of tragedy, we must look at the goodness that remains in the aftermath. In this moment, its shape was my new son.
We named the baby boy Boris and we loved him with the whole of our beings. I thought of Ira every morning and every night, wishing she could see his first steps, his first laugh, and his first words. I wished Sasha would look at Boris will love instead of contempt. I wished that he could see how in a world of love and tragedy, we must look at the positive. But sadly, Sasha only saw Boris as an omen.
5 | Utterly Broken
Just as I felt love overwhelming me with joy once again, tragedy struck. In 1984, I was playing with Boris in our garden when I heard my husband gasp. Solya fell to the ground and I rushed over, dread filling my body with each step. An ambulance took my husband away and devastation returned.
I visited him later that night and held his hand until he fell asleep. He looked weak. Tears leaked violently from my eyes. I randomly woke up that night, alone in my bed, with a gut feeling that my deep love had stolen another person from me. I called the hospital and they informed me that my husband did indeed just pass on in his sleep. Boris, in the other room, slept peacefully as I held my pain and anguish. My heart was utterly broken.
6 | Just as It Began
Time heals, however, as it always does, with the lesson that we must always persevere—we must remember the love and goodness we feel because that is so much stronger than the tragedies we each face in our lives. I am 94 years old now, living with Boris who has a family of his own, a love of his own for both his wife and children. Sasha, over the years, reconciled with Boris, which has warmed my heart.
The older I get, the more I wonder why tragedy often found me. In fact, I was recently admitted into the hospital when I had sharp pain in my leg. During my stay, I finally understood everything. Sasha came to visit me, and when I asked him if he ever thinks about Ira, he said, “Every day,” with conviction. And that is when it really hit me…love is love and life is life. No matter what happens, we have to choose to believe in the goodness of life’s moments when love is there, because life can so easily take it away.
When I think of love and of positivity and happiness, I think of my parents’ warm faces at dinner, I think of my own self-love during times of duress, I think of Solya’s unconditional devotion, I think of Ira and Sasha, I think of my grandson who reminds me that life goes on. I may have lost those dear to me, but I was given so much too. No matter what tragedies and hardships come my way, I will end my story with love, just as it began.
This is the story of Emma Mayzel
Emma Mayzel grew up in Russia during the Second World War and watched her life unfold with shades of love and tragedy. When faced with trials of her husband and daughter passing away, she knew there was one thing she had to hold on to: the good. The “good,” in her case, is her grandson, Boris, who is now like a son. Emma now lives in Brooklyn, New York, just forty minutes away from her grandson that taught her to see the light in the horizon. Sasha, now back in Boris’ life, goes to his grandchildren’s birthday parties and buys them gifts. He hugs his son and supports him the same way Emma once did and still does. Emma writes poetry in her free time for her home attendant, her great grand-children as well as for her doctors. She loves red lipstick and never tires of watching Russian television on her rocking chair.
This story first touched our hearts on June 5, 2019.
| Writer: Laura Zaks | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |