Virgins and Whores: On Selling Big Russian Novels.

My Someone isn’t going to finish his big Russian novel.  Each year when we trace back to my sister’s attic and exchange the books we read this year for the books we intend to read in the coming year, he picks up his big Russian novel.  He turns it over and makes a declaration.

“I’m going to read this big Russian novel this year,” he says.

“Do you want to read it?” I ask him.

“I should read it,” he says.

“Do you want to read it?” I ask him again.

“It seems like something I should read,” he says.

“Are you going to read it?” I ask.

“Maybe next year,” he says.

Each year he puts it back in the box for the next year.

“Next year, I am going to read this big Russian novel,” he says.

My Someone and I are recently learning how to get rid of the things we believe to be true about ourselves that are maybe not true, and are working, after we get rid of those things, to believe we are still good and whole.  This includes, but is not limited to, my following ambitions to become:

  1. a yoga instructor.
  2. a car mechanic.
  3. a park ranger.
  4. a person who loves sunsets without feeling sad or stressed out.
  5. a person who can sit with a hot cup of tea and sip it while watching the snow fall and not believe that I should, instead, be cleaning or cooking or writing a novel.
  6. someone who writes a novel.

The things we are getting rid of are not all bad things.  Having enough know-how to tell the difference between an oil leak and a transmission leak is fun, but does not destine me to become the only mechanic for miles around in a small town in Wyoming.  This also doesn’t mean that I can’t change my mind.  But like my Someone and his big Russian novels, sometimes keeping that intention around only makes me angry with myself that I am not yet the thing that I’m not sure I am or want to be.

Giving up my dream of chewing my gum really hard and polishing my ratchet while giving a bad estimate actually makes me enjoy the work of changing our tire on the side of the road instead of kicking myself for not seeing it needed changing earlier.

“If you take this Big Russian Novel, you have to put back these other three books you actually want to read,” I told him.  It was true.  We have limited space in the camper, and a Big Russian Novel is more room than we could afford.  “It’s your choice.”

“I am selling my Big Russian Novel,” my Someone said.


“That’s it.  I’m not going to read it!” he said, a little louder than he intended.

“If you want to be someone who reads a Big Russian Novel, we can always buy you another Big Russian Novel,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “but now, we need gas money.”

And that is how my Someone shed his guilt and sold his Big Russian Novel and put our first tank of gas into our truck for our third year living wild and free.

But then there are these things:

“I want to know,” he said to me, “if you were actually innocent in all of this, or if you were some sort of teenage vixen making part of this happen.  Because I don’t want to be with someone who was anything but innocent in this.”

This was the man who felt he had rescued me from the man who had been abusing me.  This was one of our last conversations, and the moment I realized I was not only alone, but also needed to keep quiet so that no one else could tell me to be ashamed of the years I spent with a Bad Guy who did bad things to… and with… me.

It’s the “with me” part that’s so hard.  In the years after the Guy Who Thought He Rescued Me asked me this question, I’ve been spinning it around.  I ran myself into other bad situations when I leaned toward the part of me who believed I was the Teenage Vixen.  I circled back to create a wholesome looking life that wasn’t really mine to make myself the more Pure Version of the dichotomy.  The Virgin or the Whore.  Innocent or Guilty.  The options are so limiting.

And I have been so scared to pick a side.  Or to admit that I was anything but a doe-eyed victim.  But this Thing I Believe About Myself finds me in sweltering attics and dark basements.  This Thing I Believe About Myself carries with it an expectation of Who I Will Be or What I Deserve.

I am learning that no matter who I was then, it wasn’t my fault.  No matter which way you spin it.  And I guess my gut knew I wasn’t so interested in someone who demanded I be the kind of person who reads Big Russian Novels or says that being sexually abused as a 15-year-old makes me a vixen.  Even if it is a Guy Who Thinks He Rescued Me.

I am learning to not put this thing I was told to Believe About Myself back on the shelf for later.  Virgin or Whore.  I don’t want to pull it out of dusty boxes in the attic and wonder if this is who I was or who I am always going to be.  I am taking a lesson from my Someone and burning this one down to fuel for later.  And all the guilt that goes with it.  Let that get me a few miles down the road, and I will gauge whether I’ve made the right decision.

One comment

  1. Reminds me of part of the chorus of “In Color” by Jamey Johnson:
    “If it looks like we were scared to death
    like a couple of kids
    just trying to save each other
    you should have seen it in color”

    Maybe you shouldn’t be so hard on your former self.
    Maybe you should let yourself be rescued.
    Good on you for burning this one down and rescuing yourself from the guilt.
    No one is completely innocent in life. We all exist somewhere on a spectrum between virgin and whore or guilty and innocent. Where we lie on that continuum at any given moment is a matter of our own capacity to forgive ourselves.
    You cannot earn the right to be rescued. It is at the sole discretion of the rescuer.
    But if someone is throwing you a life line in this tempest sea of pain, hold on and don’t let go.
    He wouldn’t be braving the stormy tides if he had any doubt you were worth saving.
    Maybe by rescuing you, your someone will be rescued too.
    Maybe by rescuing each other, you will rescue who.

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