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Susannah and Margaret were close. It was a real friendship and a work friendship. They talked four or five times a week, every week for the last 18 years.


We would start talking about some work piece of business, and then we would digress into combination of motherly advice from her and gossiping, which would last for 30 to 45 more minutes. She had a lot of advice and she didn't mince her words about what I was doing wrong. She also was very loving and there for me.


Margaret died on Tuesday. Margaret Riley is her name. She was somebody who managed screenwriters and directors and actors, too. She was 58. Susannah is Susannah Fogel, one of her clients. And she says, the remarkable thing about Margaret is how up until the end, she kept hidden how sick she was and that cancer had returned. It was a secret from nearly everybody.


Even if you pushed and asked, she would not divulge that piece of it. Like, I had texted her and said, hey, I feel like we just talk about trivial stuff and can we talk about your health? And she said, I actually love to be distracted from talking about my health.


Let's talk about you.


And she would do that a lot.


Margaret didn't want to get into it. She wanted to engage with people the way she always had. She liked working. She wanted to keep at it the way she was used to. And that continued, literally, until the day she died, Tuesday this week. Doctors had already told her that she didn't have much time. She was getting hospice care at home.


And so on Monday and Tuesday, she had a series of Zoom meetings. Notes, calls, calls with writers, calls with executives, and she refused to let anybody cancel them, and she refused to let people come and see her when she was booked into these professional meetings, which she attended.


In fact, the day Margaret died, her mother was flying to LA to see her.


So there was a race for her to get from the airport in time to say goodbye. But in the meantime, that same day, Margaret was confirming and insisting that she be part of these Zooms. She didn't want to cancel any of that. So at the very end, her assistant had to lie to her and tell her that the meetings were canceled so that she wouldn't try to kick people out of her room so that she could zoom about a project. It could have prevented her from saying goodbye to somebody that needed to see her.


Susanna was in a bad situation because just a few days before Margaret died, somebody in Margaret's inner circle confided in her just how bad things were, which Margaret very much did not want her to know. And Susanna couldn't just rush to see her because she was at a film festival at Sundance showing a film that she and Margaret had spent five years trying to get made. Saturday was the premiere, and so I.


Was engaging with Margaret throughout the weekend. Every time we texted, I wanted to stop this performance, that things were fine and just tell her that I knew what was going on and tell her everything I wanted to tell her, even if it wasn't a text message. But I also knew that she had really wanted to engage as those things were normal. So there's a series of text messages we sent to each other where I'm kind of poking around the idea that I want her to let me know what's really going on. She's refusing.


Do you have the text there?


Yeah, I do.


Can you read them?


So I texted her a few hours after I got this tip from this friend of hers that she was at the end, and I said, hey, how are you feeling? She said, today's been good. How's Sundance so far? And I said, fun. I'm nervous. A couple hours later, she texted just before my screening. Good luck this afternoon. Can't wait to hear three exclamation points.


It continues from there. Susanna sends a picture of her outfit. Margaret hearts it. Then the film screens.


Then she knew the running time of the film. And the second the movie was over, she texted me again.


How did it go?


Three question marks, three exclamation points.


Susanna sends pictures and a review. Her last text to Margaret on Monday, seven six p. M. Is about how she's going to come over as soon as she gets back to LA, gossip and tell her all about Sundance. This was Susanna laying the groundwork to just show up at Margaret's house Tuesday, whether Margaret liked it or not, and get more real. Margaret never answered that text. Susanna's found herself thinking a lot about what you wanted to say to her, ideally in person, or even in some last texts that you could have sent last weekend when you still had the chance.


I think what's interesting is when I think about what I would have said in a final text message to her, I probably would have said, I don't even have the words. I don't think I would have been able to compose a text message that felt like it covered the depth of my love for her or the words would have failed or they wouldn't have been enough or something. I would have talked about how words were inadequate, which she would have been very disappointed in because I'm a writer and she was representing me.




That's your job.




She would have said, come on, you can do it. Don't be a quitter.


Words can be so puny sometimes in the face of feelings.




If I was in person, I probably would have just ended up holding her hand.


I have to say, I have a lot of sympathy for her friend Margaret's position on all this. I totally understand that feeling of, what good is talking about this going to do? What can words possibly do here against the enormity of this awfulness? Or on the flip side, how can words possibly capture all I feel for you today on our program, people who find themselves in situations where the words really do not seem to capture what's happening. From WBZ Chicago, this is american life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us. Speaking part. So this is a story of a woman who ran out of words. Just stop talking or close to it. It took 72 days. Exactly 72 days. Hana Jaffi Walt tells what happened.


The first time I talked to Yumna, it was a couple months ago, and we mostly talked about her four kids, the questions they were asking her and how she was answering those questions. There was her youngest jury, Juju, who had become obsessed with talking about her cat. The family left the cat when they fled their home in Gaza City on October 13, six days after Hamas attacked Israel. Juju wanted to know, was the cat getting food? Yes, Yumna said. The neighbors were feeding her. There was Mohammed, eleven years old, who, two weeks into the war, had begun pulling at his lips and biting into them until the skin tore. Mohammed wanted to know if his school was still there. Yes, Yumna said, serene, eight years old. Every time the family fled, she always wanted to know where they would sleep and would they be able to sleep together? Yes, Yumna would reassure her. We will all sleep right next to each other. The trickiest was Eileen, Yumna's oldest, her twelve year old.


Eileen is always worried about her friends, especially that she can't reach them. She tells me sometimes I don't want to call them because when they don't answer, it means that maybe they're not okay. Maybe something bad has happened to them. And I think that this is the most idea that scared her, and that's why she doesn't even try to most of the time.


I talked to Elaine a little bit about this, too.


Here, let me give you.


Thank you.


Hey. Hello.


Eileen told me she has five close friends. They're a crew.


I called them, but they don't have.


Signals, so you can't keep in touch.


So I don't know anything about them. So I have a friend. She have a little brother. He's two months. He two months. Just so. He's so baby. They are now staying in a car. In their car. I told her. So you don't have any cousins, you don't have any aunts in Rafa. You should go to them. She told me, yes, I have. But the car not have fuel, so I can't go. But after that, she didn't call me or sent me any messages or answered me to my messages, so I can't do anything now.


So she told me, maybe something bad has happened to her. What if something bad has happened to her? I told her we would have heard. Something bad has happened to her. We would have heard. I would have known.


They seemed like the right words to say, even if Yumna had no idea if they were true. With eleen, with all her kids, Yumna's strategy was to sell them on her own certainty. Even if there was no reliable information on who was dead or who was alive, she wanted them to believe there was, and she had it. Yumna would summon all the authority she had as a mom who knows things. And Yumna is a journalist. She reports for Al Jazeera English in Gaza. So she hoped Eileen would look at her, someone who has spent almost a decade tracking down records and information and believe that, of course, Yumnote would know if her best friend was dead.


I tell her, like we know by the families, when family is killed, a bombardment, the names of those people killed are all out in a report, and I would have seen the names. I would have told you.


Would you have told her?






No, I wouldn't. Definitely not. I mean, considering. The problem is that the area that Dima, her best friend, was in, that's Hamad city, there were so many casualties, so many people killed there, so many people injured. And honestly, I don't know what else to tell her. I don't want her to have that thought. Like, Aleen breaks down a lot, like, she's the eldest and she understands more.


But even the younger kids were understanding more than Yumna wanted them to. As the war went on, they were starting to worry about everything that was happening in the parts of their world. They could no longer see what was still standing. Their school, their cat, their friends. And Yumna just kept trying to convince them.


It's all still like, I don't think they really believe me, because sometimes they tell me, how would you know? And Muhammad had a friend from a family. And so he heard that the family was killed in one of the airstrikes. And he came and he asked me, do you think that Yaman was killed too, with his family, or did he survive? And I said, it's probably not Yaman's family. It's probably another family with the same name. He's probably somewhere safe. You don't have to worry about it. So I try to. And then he just stopped asking. He doesn't ask me about anything anymore, and neither does Aleene.


Oh, wow.


I think it's either they're not convinced by the answers or they just feel that they don't want to know.


The kids'fear of what might happen to people they couldn't see began to turn toward the family and apply to Yumna and her husband, too. When Yumna went out reporting, her kids begged her to stay home. And not just home, but in the same room right next to them. They wanted all six family members together. They didn't want to let anyone out of sight. Yumna told me they'd repeatedly ask a question I'd heard other parents from Gaza talk about, too. Her kids would ask her, if we die, will we die together? At first, a week, ten days into the war, Yumna would wave them off, you're not going to die. Then, after a month passed, her answer changed to, you're always safe if you're in mommy's arms. Until finally, after more than 50 days of war, Yumna landed on this answer. Yes, we will all six die together. As soon as she said it, she could see her kids were relieved. It was the one thing she could say that she could tell was actually comforting to them. That's where things were for Yumna and her family. 61 days into the war, they'd relocated five times.


The kids were asking harder questions, except some questions which they'd stopped asking altogether. Words were more and more difficult, but not yet impossible. Then there was a shift. Yumna and her husband got word that she had permission to leave Gaza with the kids, but not with her husband. Yumna's parents and siblings are in Egypt. She has egyptian citizenship. The kids do, too, but her husband does not, even though they've been married 15 years. Immediately when they got this news, Yumna's husband Sila started lobbying her.


He was telling me, Yumna, you have to take the kids out to safety. You have to take them. This is the fifth time that we have evacuated. He told me, just take the kids and leave.


Yumna told him no. She couldn't bear it. No, he said, you have to go. You have to take the kids out. It was late. They thought they were talking quietly, but Eileen, their twelve year old, was always listening.


Yes, she actually heard her dad telling me to just take the kids and save them. And she screamed, dad, you're saying, we're not going anywhere without you, and we're not going to leave you here. We're not going to leave without you. What if something happens to you? And he even told her, Aleen, this is our call. We decide. We're your parents. And she was like, no, you don't get to decide this. We are not going to leave you. No one is going to leave you.


They let it alone until morning. They had a week to decide. Their names would be on a list at the border for that week, and then the window would close. When I talked to Yumna, it was the middle of that week. At night, they debated Yumna and Salah, whispering after the kids went to sleep. And during the day, Yumna would quietly turn everything over in her head. Should she take the kids and leave him?


Could she like for me, my like we fell in love and we got married. It wasn't just like a regular marriage or anything. We're from two different nationalities and two different worlds. And we had this really nice relationship and we made a nice family and we traveled here and there. He's a part of me. He's a part of my heart. I can't just leave him. If I would leave him, I'd be ripping a part of my heart apart.


Even if it might save your kids lives?


I'm not going to lie to you and tell you no, I didn't think like that. Of course I did. I did. But I felt the guilt to even think like that. Because he's part of us. He's a part of me.


They talked about it for a week, and then their time was up. Yumna told me she had made a decision. They were staying. All six of them. Stick together. That was it. I didn't hear from Yumna for a while. There were communication blackouts in Gaza, no electricity, but I could see she was out reporting, interviewing kids in camps who told her their stomachs ached from hunger, talking to women living in tents who were trying to manage their periods without menstrual supplies. And then on December 21, I was surprised to see a post from Yumna saying she was in Egypt.




Hi, Yumna.


Hi. I'm really sorry. It took me a lot of time to answer you, but it has been really a very difficult time, she said.


In the middle of the month, her kids had started going hungry. Zhuzhu, her youngest, had stopped asking for food altogether because she knew there wasn't any. The phones were in and out. There was almost no Internet. They had very little contact with the outside world. And then one night, Yumna got a call.


09:00 p.m. On Wednesday. 09:00 p.m. My dad found a way, and he connected with me, and he told me that your names are all on a list and you need to travel tomorrow morning. You need to leave because your names are on a list.


Her father had gotten them back on the list of people who had permission to leave Gaza and enter Egypt. They had another short window of time to leave, but her husband, Salah, was still not on the list. Salah immediately pushed harder than he had the last time.


He said, it's a message from God that you need to leave with the kids. This is the right choice now. You need to save yourself now.


The three other families Yumna and Sala were living with, they joined in, too.


Yumna, you need to go. Just go. Go. We're all waiting for that chance. We're waiting to be able to travel. You're not doing anything wrong. The wrong thing is that you would stay here.


And her parents from Egypt.


Yumna, you need to think about the kids. These are like my mom. She told me, the kids, they're a gift from God, and you need to protect that gift.


What actually changed things for Yumna was when her dad called back and said, take Salah with you to the border. I've spoken with them. They will let him through even without an egyptian passport. They've given me their word.




Yumna wasn't sure if there really was a promise or if everyone just wanted her to do as they said.


But she started packing, so we went to the border. The palestinian side was telling my husband that his name is not on the list and that he can't cross with us. So I told them, we're not going to cross if you don't let him cross. And he's a father. What about these children? They need their father. I need my husband with us.


They told her, you'll just get to the egyptian side and they'll send him back. So let them send him back. Yubna said, don't you stop us. So the palestinian guards let her family cross to the egyptian side, where they sat and waited for 8 hours. Her husband Salah sat right next to her, whispering into her ear nonstop. Yumna, are you listening to me? Yumna, you have to go without me.


And he was literally the 8 hours just telling me that I need to leave. I can't go back with him. I need to save our kids'lives. He reminded me how much we have struggled with water, how much we struggle with food. What are you going to do if we end up moving in tents? How are we going to keep them warm? How are we going to keep them safe with no toilets, with no water? He told me, I'm going to be okay. I'm one person. If I don't eat, it's okay. If I don't find enough water, it's fine. I'm an adult.


How were you feeling during that time?


It was really surprising. I felt deeply in my heart that he's going to cross with us. It's going to be okay. I just told him, don't worry, don't worry. I know it's going to be okay. And he was like, okay, inshallah, it's going to be okay. But are you focusing with me? You need to go. Are you listening to what I'm saying? You need to go. He was telling me that this is the only choice that we have for us to continue saving their lives. So 8 hours later, they actually just called our names and gave us our passports. All of us. With no problems at all, they passed.


Through, made it to Egypt, all of them.


So, like, when we just entered my dad's home in Egypt, my husband, he got into the room and he broke down and he cried. And he cried so hard, like he cried his heart off. And I just looked at him and I closed the door. I just told him, like, you know what? I think you should cry. You need to cry.


Had you seen him cry like that before?


Never seen him cry like that. I was really hoping that I could do the same, but I wish I could, but I just felt like I just want to be quiet.


When she got online, Yumna saw that Al Jazeera was reporting her cameraman, Samir Abu Dhaka, had just been killed by an israeli drone strike. She said nothing and didn't cry. She saw messages from the families they had been living with in Rafa. They told her, right after she left, an airstrike had landed so close to the house that all the windows shattered. Meanwhile, in her parents'home, all around her, everyone was busy. Her kids, her husband, they were re entering the world, reacting to everything, to the food and beds and lights.


My dad was telling Zhuzhu, my five year old juju, come on, let's take a shower. And she told him, there's no water to shower. And he was like, no, we have water here. And he told her, come look. He took her to the bathroom, and he opened the tab, and water came out. And she was very excited. She was like, oh, they have water. And he told her, we have hot water, too. And she was like, mommy, mommy, they have water in the shower. They have water in the tub. And my dad, he cried. He hugged her. He cried. He told her, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that you lived all this. And every single detail went on like that, oh, my God, you have this. Oh, my God, you have that. Oh, my God, I miss this so much. Even the simple things in food and drink and so on.


When Juju was like, oh, my God, water. And she was excited, and your dad started crying. How did she respond to seeing her grandfather cry?


Well, she cried too. He was hugging her, and she cried too. And then he cried so hard. I felt like it was easy for everyone to actually cry and bring out their emotions and even the kids and everything, but I wasn't even able to bring that out.


Yumna's family was safe. She was safe. She was suddenly one of very few people who had experienced the war and was now about to start living on the other side of it. The after it was 72 days into the war, and that day, Yumna stopped speaking. Aside from the bare minimum basic instructions to her kids. Yes, no, Yumna stopped saying anything at all. It went on like that for a week, her first week in Egypt. When we talked this conversation, it was two weeks after she'd arrived.


No, I wasn't talking literally. I was not speaking, not even to my mom, not to my dad. I just felt like, I can't talk. I have nothing to say.




I don't know. The only thing that I felt is like, I have this very strong, very big, heavy concrete sheet over my chest that's just blocking everything. Just felt like I could hardly breathe.


She wasn't able to sleep either, or eat.


A lot of people from my family, my work, everywhere, everyone was telling me that I need to see a therapist, that I need to start therapy. And actually, my organization was really pushing me towards it, that they even got me someone. But I literally just opened the laptop and I slammed it back because he just kept on asking me questions like, how do you feel? What do you want to say? I didn't have the ability to bring out words from my mouth.


Because words feel like. They feel wrong when you're like.


Because words feel very simple and very light. They're not describable enough to what I feel, to the thoughts that I have in my head. There are things until now that I can't speak to anyone about, even I don't allow myself to think of. Because if I do think about them, I won't be able to be normal. I've seen kids in pieces. I've seen that. I've seen it with my own eyes. I don't want to express these things, because if I do let them out, I express them, then I start dealing with their consequences.


What broke the log jam for Yumna to start speaking was an invitation to lunch. A week after they'd arrived in Egypt, she and her husband visited a family of Palestinians they knew from Gaza who are now in Egypt. They all sat, ate food, and she talked. They talked about neighborhoods, places they shared in common, people they knew, and flour, what it was like over the last many weeks to try to find flower. They didn't talk about the most brutal or scary things they'd witnessed. They talked about the world they'd shared together in Gaza. That's what did it. And when Yumna got back to her parents'house, she kept talking. And she tried to share that world with her family, to tell them what it had been like in Gaza, what she'd seen.


Once I start speaking about some details, these details, they can't stand the picture of it. Like, they can't stand the fact that we were too thirsty and there was no water or we were very hungry and there was no food. We weren't able to get food or to find food. So they would interrupt you, and they would be like, oh, my God. Oh, my God. Okay, this has gone. Okay. And then they would even cry to that story, right? And you just feel like you haven't even said anything about all this.


Yumna was speaking, but she could never get anywhere. I talked to Yumna one more time after this, mid January, and she told me the day before she had gone to therapy in person. And apparently she talked the entire time. It was just a stream of a million thoughts and feelings in no particular order. And as she talked, she noticed there was one particular feeling she kept circling back to.


I told him, like, I have a lot of rage inside. I just feel angry. Every time it rains, I'm angry. My friends are living in tents in this cold, these little kids now in tents, they're getting wet. Their tents are sinking in the mud.


People shopping in the market in Egypt made Yumna mad. People going to work, her family.


I told my sister once, she was telling me that this happened in new Year Eve. She told me, I want to go out and celebrate new Year Eve. You're going to come with me. I just snapped. I told her, you're going to celebrate new year Eve. People are being killed. How can you say that? And I got really angry and she was like, oh, I'm joking. I'm not going anywhere. I'm joking, dear. It's okay. And I felt like for a second, I'm not normally that fast tempered or bad tempered person, but I felt like, what the hell? What are you saying? So she was like, no, I'm just joking.


Was she joking?


I think she wasn't joking. But the fact that I snapped about it and I felt, like, really hurt about it made her say that she's joking and she actually didn't go anywhere. So I don't even know if that's right or wrong. I don't know. Come on. I told her, if I was there, would you be celebrating? That's where it ends. For them, I'm back. My family is back. So for them, this has ended. The big suffering has ended in some.


Ways, for you, this has ended.


This has never ended for me. Like, not even a bit. Not even a bit. I don't feel that it has even ended a bit. I spend most of my day watching what's happening in Gaza, watching the news about Gaza, watching videos. So for me, definitely no, I'm not living like someone who's in Gaza. And I'm not living like someone who's in Egypt. Now.


You're like a ghost.


Exactly. I'm constantly thinking about what's happening there. I don't feel like going anywhere. I don't feel like interacting with anyone. I don't even feel like talking to people. And I just want to spend this time looking at what's happening in Gaza.


That's where Yumna is more than 100 days into the war. When she does talk, most of the time what comes out is rage.


Is a producer. You're on our show. Coming up, a mother reads her teenage daughter's diary. And the thing she confronts her about, the thing that upsets her, her choice of words. That's in a minute. From Chicago bubble radio, when a program.




Just american life. Myra Glass, today's show. The words to say it. We have stories today about situations where words fail to get at what is really happening. We have arrived at act two of our show. Act two, Tusca. When Valley Kipnis was growing up, there's one word that her mother just did not want to use, even if it seemed like the right word for this situation. This went on for years, and it was a real puzzle for Val. Here she is.


When I was ten years old in the fourth grade, my guidance counselor called Mama in to see her. It was urgent, she said. I knew why she had called in Mama. It was most definitely because of my nearly failing grade on a geography quiz. I should have just told my mother. I sat outside the office, ear pressed against a splintered wood door. Has anything happened in the home recently? No. Has there been any family trouble? No. Perhaps you can remember a triggering event from her past or present? Again, no. Any familial history of mental illness? Of course not. Is there a history of physical abuse? What? No. Why the bruises, then? A snort. Gymnastics. Why must you Americans always assume the worst? She does gymnastics. Well, I apologize for asking. It's just that the state requires that I do. Still. May I suggest some sort of counseling or therapy for her? It could be helpful. It's not particularly normal for ten year olds to write this way. Mrs. D is concerned. I am concerned. We're all concerned. Here's a list of some good counselors in the South Brooklyn area if you decide to seek help, which we again recommend.


Yes, okay. Thank you, Mrs. Guidance counselor. Appreciate your time, Mrs. Counselor, Mama said in her fractured English. On the walk home, Mama said nothing. She marched quickly in her burgundy crocodile print, pointy toed leather heels, clutching a paper the counselor had given her. It was not my geography quiz. It was a creative writing assignment about trees for my living environment class. The last run on sentence was, I am hollow and dead and alive all at the same time. How am I any different than a tree stuck in a permanent fall? As we walked through our apartment building's metal gates, Mama addressed me in Russian. Look at me, she said. Are you sad, liara? No, I am fine. Mama, your stupid counselor seems to think you are depressed, she said as she opened the door to our apartment, gesturing with her fingers to make quotation signs in the air around the word depressed. What a stupid american word. How can a child be depressed? You have everything you can be sad for. A little, sure, but you are not depressed. Bourgeois. These Americans are so dramatic. My mother yelled out to my father, Marik, do you think children can be depressed in America?


My father shouted from the bedroom. No, they have everything. What do they have to be depressed about? Exactly like I said, mama responded, satisfied. We arrived in the US when I was one. Immigration defined the first decade of my life. Cans of tuna for dinner, ESL classes, and small, often crowded living spaces. I didn't speak English fluently until I was eight. By the time I was in the 6th grade, I had shed my thick russian accent and the last two letters of my first name, Valeria. I went by Valerie, now bal for short. My grandmothers deemed me an americanka. That meant I took phone calls with Con Edison, instructed landlords how to fix our oftentimes broken radiators and negotiated rates for vacation timeshares. I could be a moody child, self serious, sometimes sad in ways that felt too big for my body. Mostly I kept this to myself, but occasionally my feelings would slip out. Like one day when I was 15, I came home from dance practice to find my diary open on the marble topped island in our kitchen. My mother crying, Liara, come sit next to me. Pajalosta. Throwing down my backpack, I settled myself on the stool next to her.


Liara Liarichka, why do you write this way? Scrawled in sea foam green jellypen, my handwriting red. There is no meaning to it all. I would end it, but that would hurt everyone around me. The words now felt foreign, because it's how I feel. I write what I feel. That's the point of having a diary, Mama. It's private. Why would you look through it? Why? What are these negative thoughts? Why do you have such feelings? Tell me, Liara, please. Is this coming from the tv you watch? I knew your father should not have installed that stupid cable from cable. Really, Mama? You think Hannah Montana is making me depressed? Again with that word depressed. She let the syllables roll thick out of her mouth. You are not depressed, liara. You simply cannot be. This feeling is momentary. You are a teenager. It is hormones. It happens to everybody. Okay, you are sad, sure, but it will be over tomorrow. In true teen fashion, I yelled, you don't understand. I hate you. Then ran into my room, slammed the door, buried my face in a pillow and cried. I wished I could reveal her inadequacy as a mother, to hurt her by really ending it.


But even alone in my room, I could hear her voice in the back of my mind, shaming me. We immigrate here for you and this is what you do to us. You are not depressed. You are selfish little girl. This was my mother's power. She could wear me down even if she was only inside my head. And this was how it went, I could be sad but not depressed. I could be nervous but not anxious. I could be particular, but not obsessive. Therapy and medication were completely out of the question. But maybe she was right. My job as the immigrant daughter was to be grateful, to be content. I grew up. I moved out. And then, a month before I turned 25, I stopped being able to take full breaths. At first, small enclosed spaces like elevators made me anxious. Within a few months, I'd stopped taking the subway. Then obsessive thoughts kicked in. I moved apartments, and when I couldn't adjust to my new home, I began to walk the Williamsburg bridge at night to my old place. I still had the keys. I would sit on the floor of the vacant apartment for hours.


I did this for a month before I realized that I should perhaps seek help. My therapist, I'll call her Terry, had pink hair and worked from an office with another therapist's name on the door. It was kind of confusing, but she was cheap. She certified that I was depressed and anxious with OCD like tendencies. More o than C, she said. I was sort of proud to have a word. It felt real. I decided to tell my parents that I was seeing a therapist. I told them one night in the car. I thought maybe they would be concerned or ask questions, but it was like they didn't hear me. Except I heard my mother mutter in Russian, americanska, meaning american nonsense. And just like that, my mother's voice was back inside my head. Whenever Terry told me I was depressed, instead of feeling relieved or understood, I wanted to argue. I wanted to yell, really depressed. Good one, Terry. Maybe I'm just sad today. Can't a person be sad? Stop diagnosing me. But I didn't actually yell any of this. Instead, I would nod and let her tell me about coping mechanisms such as yoga and journaling a healthier diet, vitamin D.


Chukhoff once wrote, if many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure. And whenever Terry would prescribe self care to deal with my never ending sadness, I would think about my parents. I would think about taska. Okay, a word about Tusca. For most Russians of my parents'generation, there was no real word for depression. The word they did say was Tusca. After I gave up on Terry, I started googling around, hoping to understand why my mom was so uncomfortable with the word depression. And here's what I learned. It goes back to the soviet era. During that time, mental illness was stigmatized seen as a problem that only afflicted capitalist societies, a problem that would disappear under communist rule. The model soviet citizen Atavadish could not be mentally ill. My father once told me there could be no depression in the world we were building because we were striving for this perfection. They did use the word dupricia, but it felt like a foreign import in any way. It was reserved for those in the highest rung of emotional distress, those who had lost a spouse in war or a child at birth, and not much else.


And there was another, much more menacing way. Soviets talked about mental illness, and that was as a political weapon. Political and cultural dissidents were pronounced mentally ill, unsound of mind and locked up in psychiatric hospitals. It was a very dark soviet logic. You couldn't be mentally ill and be a model soviet citizen. But at the same time, if you were not a model soviet citizen, well, the reason for that was you were mentally ill. And if you were just a person who wanted to see a psychiatrist, like people did in the west, well, therapy was essentially banned by soviet authorities for three generations. Every person who received psychiatric treatment, even just a consultation, was registered by the state. After that, it could be difficult to apply for work or keep jobs. Whatever psychiatry did exist was mostly underground. Mostly. Things stayed this way until the 1990s, until the Soviet Union fell apart. Now things are different. But for people like my parents, who left just a few years after that, mental illness remained taboo. They had different words to talk about, these sorts of feelings, words like taska. Duska is a word Russians consider to be, in its essence, Russian.


It is both of them and for them, it's one of the things that defines the russian soul, which is perhaps why it is so untranslatable. I think Dimir Nabokov captures Duska's meaning best. No single word in English renders all the shades of duska at its deepest and most painful. It is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels, it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning, thus gotten. Depression share some things in common, but they are not the same. Like depression is the lack of desire, while taskat is the desire for something unattainable. Daskat is not a diagnosis. It is a collective sense of loss. It is a heavy weight. It is the darkness of long winters. Duska is the word my mother always used to describe her first decade in America. It was filled with Mama describes her first months in New York as horrific. The story goes like this. When we arrived at JFK, she took one look around and immediately started crying. We moved into an apartment on Avenue P in Brooklyn.


It felt like my soul had been ripped out of my human. My mother once told me I stopped seeing life in color. Everything about New York seemed awful and gray. She was a 28 year old refugee with a one year old. She became obsessed with the past. She forgot about the poverty that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union, the lawlessness, the gang violence, the dead bodies she herself had walked past in the street. Mama said I could only think of the beauty, the canals. I could only think of my mother. She spent hours walking around south Brooklyn with me in a carriage and her walkman on full blast, listening mostly to Alexander Azenbaum, a russian folk singer known for his lyrics about prison, confinement, Leningrad, suffering and tortured love. She would play her favorite song, nalitiela grust. Sadness has descended onto me on repeat. I imagine her cold fingers not yet stolen from the houses she'll clean, the toilets she will scrub, reach for protruding plastic buttons, pause. Rewind. Play. During her first year in America, my mother lived in almost total solitude. My father was in school during the day and working as a dishwasher in a borough park restaurant.


By night for company, she had only me, a crying baby. Mama said I felt unnecessary. In this country. I felt unnecessary to myself. I was an adult woman with an engineering degree, and here I was, sitting at home all day, not knowing how to ask for directions or buy food. If I was starving. I felt like I might as well just roll over and die. She'd say, taskrivo bolimnia. Taska had come over me for a long time. I felt like Tasca was a word that belonged to my mother, but not to me. I felt like I didn't deserve to take on a feeling from a place where I'd only spent a year of my life. It felt fraudulent to equate my puny american miserableness with the great russian duska. I wasn't russian enough to feel duska, and I didn't deserve to feel depression. Despite having two languages at my disposal, I had no word to cling to. And then something happened. I was with my mother at home in her kitchen. We talked as she waited for choladiaz to solidify, and I asked her a question I used to ask all the time as a little girl.


I asked her to tell me the story of how we got here. And she told that story the same way she always had until I asked her about the days when we lived in the apartment on Avenue P, when it was mostly me and her together. She sighed. Her hands were covered in a sticky gelatin, so she wiped her brow with the inside of her wrist. Oh, Liara, those are the hardest years of my life. It felt like the shadow had come over me. I definitely felt duska, but it was also, well, probably depression, she told me. It was so casual, so effortless, the way she just said depression as if it was nothing, as if it was a word she had been saying all her life. I could see her reflection in the mirror of the microwave and she didn't even hesitate, just kept on cooking. I sat behind her, stunned. Did that just happen? A few weeks later we were on the phone and I could tell she was in a strange mood, so I asked how she was doing. Depressed, Liara, I'm feeling depressed, she said. Geez, this time I was angry.


This is a word she's just using now. Why did she get to use the word she had always denied to me? Did she even have the right to use the word to redefine her life? So late in the game, I resisted the urge to say something cruel. Months passed and I began to realize that I had spent so long feeling that I did not deserve to be depressed, that now I was not allowing my mother to be depressed either. It took me a while to get the courage to finally ask her about it. Why was she suddenly okay with this word? She shrugged. What did you expect? I didn't know what the word really meant until recently. How was I to know that's what I was experiencing coming into this, knowing it wasn't a big moment for her, it was a bunch of smaller ones. She started hearing more russian speakers use the word in America on russian language tv. She unattached the meaning of that soviet depreci from depression, and over time the word just lost its stigma. I didn't think I could feel depression as an immigrant, she said. I thought it could have only been Tasca.


I think if she had said she was depressed, then she'd be admitting defeat as an immigrant. She would be admitting that even here in America, after leaving her home to give her children a better life, things could still feel bad. And all those times my mother told me depression was an american concept, that I wasn't sick, but just particular, that my mood was temporary or could not possibly exist because I was too privileged in America. Looking at it now, I wonder how much of that was meant for me and how much of it was for her. My mother wasn't wrong in describing how she felt in America as Tasca, but I think she didn't realize. She didn't have to choose between Tasca and depression. She could have both words. I didn't understand that either. To me, Tasca is the word that comes the closest to the feeling of being a child of immigrants, maybe better than any other word I know. It's the knowledge that no matter how hard you try, you will never see the things your family saw, that you will never understand them fully and they will never really understand you. It's the yearning for a place your parents claim as home.


And it's a word I finally feel as mine. These days, while my mother and I are on the phone and she's cleaning, I'll hear the way she's breathing and ask if she's okay. She'll tell me she's feeling depressed and I'll tell her that that's okay. There's no shame in that. I feel it too. Sometimes when she asks how I'm doing, I'll take an inhale, the kind that gets caught in your throat right before you start to cry. And she'll wait a minute and check I'm still there. And I'll tell her that I feel duska, and she'll say, of course you do. You're my daughter.


Valerie Kipnis, aka Valeria, aka Lera, is a producer on our show. She's working on a memoir about immigrants and untranslatable words. Our show today was produced by Susan Burton. People who put together today's show include Bim, Ada Wumni, Sean Cole, Mike Kamete, Cassie Halle, Seth Lindstone Nelson, Catherine Raymondo, Nadia Raymond, Safia Riddle, Ryan Rummury, Alyssa Ship, Christopher Satala, Marisa Robertson, Texer, Matt Tierney, Nancy Update, and Diane Wu. Our managing editors Sara Abdurahman, our senior editors, David Kestenbaum. Our executive editor is Emmanuel Berry. Special thanks today to Amy Walters, Nabil Shalcat, Jack Saul Geeshaw, Jennifer Kipnis, Matthew Steinberg, and Al Jazeera's podcast, the Take. Our website, You can listen to our archive of over 800 episodes for absolutely free. This american life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio exchange. Thanks as always to our brokeram's co founder, Mr. Tori Manatea. Sometimes I think he doesn't like it in this country at all. Like when we named our radio show, Tori thought he had a much better name than the one we picked.


Americanska chush meaning american nonsense.


I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of this american nonsense.


That you. Good morning.


Next week on the podcast of this american life, there are certain questions people use on dates that are litmus tests, proxies for other questions that people really want to know the answers to. A big one.


It's what do you think of Beyonce?


Yes, I am aware of the Beyonce question.


I've experienced it many times. And he's like, I like talking to.


You, but I don't love Beyonce.


Questions that contain other realer questions. Next week on the podcast or in your local Bubba radio station.


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