Nation

At a Loss to Move On With Life

FamilyRussiaDeathTrips and VacationsTravelBarbie (fictional character)Family Vacations

One might say that Vitaly Kozyrev is a man who has lost everything.

But he has not. Forty days after his wife, daughter and son died in a hostage seizure at the school near his home in southern Russia, Kozyrev still has his memories.

Piled on a bed in his parents' house is a jumble of mementos -- photographs, a scuffed soccer ball, his wife's elegant high-heeled shoes, her half-used shampoo bottles -- that are something like his thoughts. Sweet. Cutting to his soul. Fading so fast he has to collect them in a pile so they won't disappear.

As hundreds of mourners marked the end of 40 days of bereavement for Beslan's victims Tuesday, 331 by official count, Kozyrev stayed inside the house, disinclined to wade into the streets with other weeping families.

Still, neighbors came to him, stubborn in their support, quietly demanding in the tradition of the Caucasus that grief be shared communally, like the tasks of building a brick wall, or caring for children whose parents have gone to Moscow, or, as has happened too often in the last month, lowering the coffin of a neighbor's child into the grave.

Neighbors knocked insistently on Kozyrev's door, and when he let them in, he showed them this bed, piled high with treasures from a life that somehow got away from him. The Barbie doll, the ribbons, a brush still tangled with dark hair.

"It's been 40 days now, and I can understand that life goes on. But I don't understand how I'm supposed to do this," Kozyrev says, sitting in the chilly room as a soft rain drizzles outside the window. "You tell me how I'm supposed to turn the page and move on. Because I simply don't understand how I'm supposed to do it."

A picture of Ala, 34, looking as she did when she graduated from the university, hangs over the center of the bed. On the left is a photo of Elona, 12, with white ribbons in her hair; and on the right, Timur, 9, attempting to look old and serious.

All three were at Beslan Middle School No. 1 for the first day of the term on Sept. 1 when nearly three dozen attackers seized more than 1,000 hostages and held them for three days, before an apparently accidental blast set off a fatal volley of gunfire and explosions. An estimated 800 people are believed to have survived the assault.

Ala was an elementary-grade teacher at the school, and her children shone. Timur won the math Olympics last year.

Elona had the role of the fox in the school play last year. She competed in chess, and both she and Timur joined the ballroom dancing club for the fun and glamour of it.

She always insisted on standing up and proposing a toast on family holidays -- Kozyrev would let her have half a glass of champagne for the occasion -- and she always had the same toast.

"To our family," she would say, and talk about them always being healthy and together.

She was caught, Kozyrev remembered, between being his tomboy daughter and what she would become. "I told her she needed to start behaving like a real young lady instead of climbing the trees and the fences. And she would say, 'You know, Papa, I'm still just a little kid.'

"And then she would come running to me and fling her arms around me and put her ear to my chest, and she would say, 'Your heart is beating like this' -- and she would make the sound of it with her lips...."

As he speaks, Kozyrev wipes a steady stream of tears with a neatly folded, plaid handkerchief. In a culture of Ossetian men known for their stern countenances and tough dispositions, he seems unashamed that his sentences often break into sobs. Each time his guests move to go, to leave him to his thoughts, he thinks of a new detail.

He had a job as an inspector at the gas company, he says, but when the family saved up enough money to buy a car not long ago, he started driving it nights as a taxi to put away money for the children's education. Still, he recalls, he'd try to come home early in the afternoons, and he'd never walk through the door without a Snickers bar or a bag of potato chips for each child in his pocket.

Ala caught him up on that not long ago.

"I'm your third child, Papa," she told him teasingly -- she always called him Papa after the kids were born -- and after that, Kozyrev would come home in the afternoon with three Snickers in his pocket.

What he remembers most about Ala is not what he gave her, but what she gave him. He never stirred his own tea, he says. Ala knew how many spoonfuls he wanted, and did it for him. "I would wake up every day and head for the shower, and as I passed the kitchen, I'd see that breakfast was already laid out on the table," he says.

Timur never left the house with his shirt unironed. Ala carefully pressed the ribbons before tying them into Elona's hair.

"She had such a generous heart, that I kept thanking God that she had picked me," Kozyrev says. "I can't even find the words to describe how happy I was."

When it is suggested that he was a lucky man for having had these last 12 years, Kozyrev looks blank. "Was," he says. "Was."

"There are millions of families in the world, and I do think ours was special. It was all woven in these little details, all of these things that, put together, made our family what it was. And it's impossible to forget these sweet, little details."

These days, Kozyrev says he spends a lot of time sleeping, hoping he will dream of his wife and son and daughter. "I just want to feel for one minute the way I felt before," he explains.

But although their images, lifeless, stare at him all day long in this room of mementos, their radiant smiles elude him in his sleep.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
FamilyRussiaDeathTrips and VacationsTravelBarbie (fictional character)Family Vacations
  • White House intruder arrested after entering front doors
    White House intruder arrested after entering front doors

    An intruder scaled a White House fence and made it all the way into the building Friday evening before he was caught and wrestled to the ground by security officers, the Secret Service said. President Obama and his family had already left for Camp David when the incident occurred.

  • Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past
    Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past

    Don Spirit, a Florida grandfather who fatally shot his daughter Sarah Lorraine Spirit and six grandchildren before killing himself, had a long history of domestic violence — at one point pushing his pregnant daughter against a refrigerator and assaulting and threatening his former...

  • Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?
    Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?

    In Texas, where the governor once urged the public to pray for rain, this week’s torrential storms might finally be a sign of lasting relief for the state plagued by years of drought. Or maybe not.

  • For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war
    For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war

    Lawmakers' votes this week on whether or not to train and equip Syrian opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State were arguably the most consequential after nearly two years in which Congress is likely to set a new low for productivity.

  • Egyptian militant admits links to 1998 U.S. embassy bombings

    A longtime Egyptian militant with ties to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden admitted in federal court Friday that he had links to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, a surprise guilty plea that the judge sharply questioned because it reduces his prison time from a potential life sentence to...

  • Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels
    Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels

    What was supposed to be a no-drama final session of Congress before the campaign season turned into anything but as President Obama's new strategy to combat the threat from Islamic State resulted in a wrenching vote that is likely to reverberate through the midterm election and...

Comments
Loading