The Romanov Phase

For me, womanhood began with a knock-off Disney princess.

In 1997, 20th Century Fox decided to give Disney a run for its money and released Anastasia, an animated film that tells the story an eighteen-year-old amnesiac who embarks on an adventure to find her true identity, only to discover that she is the lost Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov of Russia. This movie was all the rage in the late nineties––posters were printed, Barbies were made. However, I didn’t watch this movie in the late nineties, when it would’ve been age appropriate. I watched this movie in 2009, at the age of twelve, and I would love to say that this sparked an interest in Communism, cartooning, or even Disney, but it didn’t.While my mother hosted book club in the living room on a Friday night she would grow to lament, a film screening in her bedroom was beginning a two-year chapter of my life unaffectionately referred to by my family as “The Romanov phase.” When I mentioned that I would be writing about this period of time, they asked me to please do so under a pseudonym.

The list of behaviors that characterize the Romanov phase is even longer than it is bizarre. After watching Anastasia for the first time, the next order of business was reading: anything and everything. I requested every book the library had about turn of the century Russia, and when those got dull, I requested anything and everything with the name “Anastasia” in it, which included everything from a weird Russian cookbook to a book about a dolphin in rehab. These were the only books I read, and I carried them around like I was the coolest kid in school. I shared these books with friends, suggested them for my honors reading group, I drew parallels between my seventh grade social studies class and the homeschooling of Russian royals.

Around month sixth of the Romanov phase, I started signing my diary “Hannah Robertevna” because despite being Middle Eastern, Italian, and French, I had decided that I was de facto Russian and should therefore use a variation of my father’s name as part of my own. This diary and many others, of course, was dedicated to the “The Last Grand Duchesses of Russia.” I wrote inscriptions about how I would honor their memory, and how I would find out what really happened to them. I filled the pages of “Russian-looking” journals with my theories and discoveries. I etched the Romanovs’ initials into leather spines and used nail polish to make edges the edges of plain paper gold. At summer camp, nearly a year into the Romanov phase, I took Romanov-themed pictures in my photography class, and I manually aged them so that they looked true to the time. I convinced myself that while the Romanovs fell, I never would.To say this was naïve is an understatement.

My world ended when I was 13, nearly two years into the Romanov phase. It was an innocent Google search I had made a thousand times, “Anastasia Romanov.” My innocent eyes were burned by the words “remaining my bodies found.” I knew what happened. I knew they died via firing squad. I knew two bodies were missing, I knew two Romanovs were still alive. I knew, I’d worked, I’d studied. There was no way they all died that night. I knew it.

Sadly, I didn’t know that all of the Romanovs were dead. It had been confirmed. The two lost bodies were found in 2007, and they were later confirmed to be Romanov bodies. To the pleasure of my family and the other history nerds I called friends, this phase came to a close with a combination self-loathing and self-pity. I slowly returned my books to the library, I started wearing my hair in braids, and I burned the pictures I had taken at camp. I started reading young adult fiction while the kids at school wondered where my freak flag went.My freak flag went nowhere. Despite the fact that I had spent two years at an incredibly tender age focusing not on what I wore, or what I said, or who I kissed, but on falling in love with a version of myself that many people would be ashamed to share. Some might say I missed out on my early teen years, having spent them curled up with The Kitchen Boy, but I see other ways––I spent those two years growing into a woman unafraid of being a freak. That movie about a knock-off Disney princess made me a reader, a writer, a history buff, a nerd, and most of all, unafraid to share it. While the Romanov phase lasted only two years, the impact of it will last for the rest of my life.

 

Image Credit: Featured Image, 1, 2, 3