Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Somewhere, There Is an Ocean: Innocent and Wild.”

So, there was this one time… 

“Show me — don’t tell me,” my brother always warns me.  He, himself, is a performer and a painter; so his stories are visual.  But the recipe works though, I’ve tried it:  My storytelling works best when I paint a picture instead of lining-up some words.

So, there was this one time, when motha had decided to bring home a coconut…

Motha sucks at storytelling.  When younger, she was anxious to teach me how to read, so I would stop bugging her for bedtime stories.  Nowadays, she tells me stories all the time, and she tends to tell the punchline long before I can wrap my head around all the characters and their histories.

Arizona Muse

And when it comes to jokes, motha — is the absolute worst.  She cracks herself up, and it is impossible to make out a single word through her roaring and yelping laughter.  She tilts her head back, as if in the midst of some exorcism, and soon enough things around her start flying onto the floor while she flails around her arms, utterly unaware of her vanity.  And it is also impossible — not to laugh with her, in return.

So, there was this one time, when mother had decided to bring home a coconut.  We were living in the Soviet Union at the time…

I’ve got a lot of stories, but I suck at delivering them.  I would much rather write them down.  When writing, I can relive them.  I  can get the details out.  I can get them right; or even fix them, now that I know their endings.

But I am not really good at reliving stories in front of others.  Unless, of course, they are someone’s else stories, then I can perform them:  “show, not tell”.

Anyway.  There was this one time, when mother had decided to bring home a coconut. 

We were living in the Soviet Union at the time, and coconuts weren’t much of a typical occurrence on our dinner table.  No, it was all about potatoes instead:  Fried potatoes, boiled potatoes — with skin and without.  Roasted potatoes, potatoes in a soup.  Early spring fingerling potatoes in a salad.  Potato pancakes.  Mashes potatoes:  Those motha always insisted on mixing with bits of semi-fried onion, and I would spend more time picking it out than actually eating (which didn’t thrill my mother much).  And even when we would go camping, potatoes would appear in various formats when it was time to eat:  Potatoes baked in foil, roasted over an open fire potatoes.  Potatoes in a soup.

A serving of macaroni would spice things up a bit.  Macaroni usually meant my parents got paid, and we were living it up for a while.  But then, the macaroni would be recycled too:  Macaroni swimming in milk for breakfast — fried macaroni for dinner.

But this one time, mother had decided to bring home a coconut.  She had been trying something out, with the family:

“A Piece of an Exotic Fruit — per Month,” was the name of the program motha had come up with.

The Soviet Union was on its way out.  We didn’t know it at the time, but the country, as we knew it, was over.  The economy was in the crapshoot:  Folks not getting paid on time, the worth of pensions decreasing down to laughable proportions.  The price of bread was growing every single day; and food was being sold in rations, according to a monthly handout of coupons.  But to get that food at the market, one had to show up right after its delivery.  Because, for whatever reason, there was always fewer rations than the actual people, in town.  So, we would have to line up by the store, hours before it would open.

It helped that I was finally of the age to stand in some of these lines.  I would get there before motha, often right after school.  Later, she could take my place, and I would go home to do my homework — not to play — then, start prepping dinner.  Because I was definitely past the age of innocence:  I had long stopped bugging her for bedtime stories.

Sometimes, I would stand in line for long enough to get to the front of it.  Soon enough though, the cashier would start announcing the lowering numbers of rations.

“Citizens!” she would holler out.  Somehow, she was alway chubby and shiny; and so obviously in love with finding herself in a position of an authority.  “We only have enough for twenty of you!”

People complained, shifted on their feet uncertain if they should keep on waiting — or just go home defeated.  The frontrunners gloated in their places.  Quickly, the last of the fortunate would be counted off.  Oh, how it would suck to be standing right behind her!  (I say “her”, because most of the time, the job of standing in lines was allotted to mothers.)

Still, even then, most people would keep standing, holding their place in line.  Because hope dies last, doesn’t it?  It can even outlast despair.  

The cashier would start getting annoyed:

“I told you, citizens:  We don’t have enough produce for all of you!  So, don’t linger!”

She was obviously getting off.  But people stayed.

They stayed!  Perhaps, it took an incredibly unreasonable amount of denial to survive in such conditions.  But they chose not to hear the abusive remarks by the shiny cashier; and only the ones at the very end would start chipping off, muttering, complaining:

“What is this country coming to?!”

“Mama?” I would think at that moment, wishing she would get there and relieve me from my post.  I may have been long past the age of innocence, but I wasn’t yet ready to give up on my childhood.

So, that one time, when motha had decided to bring home a coconut, I didn’t even wonder if she had to stand in line for it.

“Where did you find this thing?!” I asked instead, while clutching the coconut to my chest.  It felt prickly.

I knew she must’ve gone to some fancy store in the capital.  She had taken a bus, and probably a couple of trolleys; and then another bus, packed with other mothers, in order to bring this thing home:  A coconut!

In the midst of the last days of the Soviet Union, she had brought home — a coconut!

In response to my question, motha would start telling me a story.  But motha sucks at storytelling; so, she would laugh and flail her arms around, dropping things to the floor.  I would keep clutching onto the coconut.

And despite the last days of my innocence — the last days of my childhood — it was impossible not to laugh with her, in return.

(To Be Continued.)

“The Times We Knew — Who Would Remember Better Than You?”

I prefer writing about strangers.  It’s easier, I think.  

Like the creature of Gisele’s height but Kat Dennings’ build who walked into the mysteriously lit coffee shop yesternight and made me lose track of my thoughts.  She wore a pair of tight, dark blue jeans (which made her sound like a song); and red patent leather high heels.  Her tailored black shirt was unbuttoned on top, generously revealing her lace-bound breasts.  And by the time I slid my gaze up to her exotic face, I swear I began feeling a bit hazy-headed.

“Jeez!” my male companion said over a cup of his Moroccan Mint hot tea, as if blowing his breath over the steaming surface.  Perhaps, he was blushing; but I hadn’t looked at his face for seemingly a million minutes by then.

“Mazel tov!” I mumbled, followed the creature with my eyes.  Then, once she plopped down into the aged couch next to us, I concluded with a “Damn!” — for emphasis.

Her face.  I didn’t really see her face:  The rest of her upstaged it.

But in a story — any story in which she would dictate her own reappearance — I would give her the face of an angel, if angels were born on the coasts of Brazil or India.

Certainly, she would have droopy eyelids with velvety eyelashes, best worn by those smart girls who are always either in the midst of a compassionate tear or a self-deprecating prank.  I would give her a well-carved nose, but on the larger side.  It would be Roman-esque, resonant of the young Sophia Loren.  And it would juxtapose well in relation to her chin which was in the shape of an Italian prune plum.

The lips…  I normally don’t pay attention to the lips.  I just know that most of the time, they complete a  woman’s face perfectly.  Sometimes, the mouth is worth mentioning, but I must see it in action first.  It’s the manner and the breath with which the mouth makes out words that gets my attention.  But by that point, I’m most likely so stricken by the girl’s smarts, that again, I don’t pay attention to the lips.

Yesternight, I didn’t really see her face, but it is her face that would guide me into the fiction of her.  Into the fantasy.

I prefer writing about strangers.  Because it’s easier, I think.

Like when, the other night, I stood in line behind a tall boy who wore a white tee and a pair of slim fit, ripped jeans, he could’ve easily existed — in someone else’s fiction.  But then, his shoes caught my attention:  They were black, lace-up boots with missing laces.  Scuffed and dusty, as if he had just walked miles through sand and perseverance to get here, they reminded me of a pair I once photographed up in the desert.  Those other boots were parked outside a cabin inhabited by a group of outcast artists, and a blue-eyed boy with a Siberian husky.  The boy and I wouldn’t sleep that night; and when the dawn illuminated miles and miles of sand ahead, he peeled on those same boots and rode away on his motorcycle.  The blue-eyed husky would follow him, and I would wish I had memorized his face a little bit better.

The other night, the bottoms of the boy’s ripped jeans where tucked inside each boot, but somehow I knew that despite the nonchalant appearance, it took some careful thought and manipulation to get the job done.  I slid my eyes up his long legs, past the aesthetically, half-tucked tee, and along the shapely back.  I didn’t really see his face, but in a story — any story in which he would dictate his own reappearance — he would have a beauty mark above his lips.  And he would be blue-eyed, of course.

Yes, I prefer writing about strangers.  Because it’s easier, I think.

Like the calm old woman in a burgundy housedress and slippers that reminded me of my grandmother’s pace, the other day:  I saw her walking a girl child, up a tiny hill in Griffith park.  It was overcast, and the fog of the marine layer refused to burn off.  The two of them walked slowly, and I could tell by the curvature of the woman’s spine — over and above the child — that she was quiet and listening to the stories made out by the little mouth.  And so, she reminded me of my grandmother’s pace.

The kiddo wore a gray mouse outfit:  with ears, and a tail; onesie feet and all.  And by the way she walked, with more assurance than the adult in her company, as if leading the way; and by the way she swayed her tiny right hand to punctuate her stories; and by the way she gripped her grandmother’s index finger with the other — she made my heart moan with memories.

I didn’t see the child’s face.  Neither did I see that of the grandmother. 

But in my story — any story in which they would dictate their own reappearance — I bet they would have the details of the face I see in my mirrors.

Because I tend to memorize the faces of my loves with my heart.  And I prefer writing about strangers.  It’s easier, I think, for my empathy to speak — and for my loves to dictate their own reappearance. 

“And More, Much More Than This: I Did It MY Way!”

I was missing a somewhere, the other night.  I wasn’t really sure which somewhere it was:  Whether it was New York, or that other glorious city up north that I was in the habit of craving.  The skin was calm, but the soul was crawling.  Or at least, the soul was swaying — toward another somewhere, much different from here.

And it was an odd sensation.  I had no obligations to keep me in town, treading the specific ground of here.  I could’ve taken off, at that moment, in my car.  I could’ve driven it for as many gas tanks as my bank account would afford.  And I realized:  I had never found myself in such a here.  Before, there was always something to keep me in place.  But be it my full acceptance of losses or some urgent realization about time — about my now — I suddenly found myself unattached.

No, not de-tached:  for I never let the days pass me with carelessness.  I am not care-less — I am care-free. 

And:  It felt wonderfully.

If there was anything I’ve learned:  I knew there was no use in being frustrated with a lack of time.  Time would keep on doing its thing.  So, instead of measuring my life against the flight of minutes — and their flightiness — I was beginning to choose taking control of them.  (And I’m pretty sure my full acceptance of losses had something to do with it.)

But taking control of time could cause a lot of damage to the human hand.  The only way to actually control it — was to surrender.  To accept the flight of minutes.  To find delight in their flightiness.

Christy Turlington

And the only way to do that — was to live.  Some chose to live it up, in their way:  to defeat time with money.  My way seemed tested by time:  I now live fully, curiously in my here; never putting a curiosity on hold for too long.  For me, the only way to take control of time — was to never let it pass me with carelessness.

For I never was care-less — I was care-free.

So, when I was missing a somewhere, the other night, I thought:

“What if I found that somewhereHERE?”

I knew it had to be a busy somewherea somewhere where other people chose to be here.  It couldn’t be a club or a lounge, because those were always filled with mixed messages and convoluted ways.  In those, one must hunt much harder to find sincerity or truth.  No, I wanted to be somewhere where people walked according to their own nows.  I wanted to see young lovers strolling calmly as if never frustrated with a lack of time.  I wanted to watch friends laughing at outside cafes, kids waking-up their parents with their curiosity.  I wanted to see street artists who could teach me their ways of being carefree.

And so, I drove myself to the coast.  It gets much colder there, I thought; and before starting up my car, I bundled myself in an oversized sweater that reminded me a different somewhere:  NOT here.

I drove in silence, with my windows down.  I remembered the beginning days of cellphone culture:  I was living in New York — a somewhere that’s definitely much different from here.  The only way to escape the clumsiness and unawareness of cellphone users — was to go underground.  Because there was always plenty of stories on the New York City subway, but the stories overheard from phone conversations didn’t seem to be in that plenty yet.  That’s until we would ride out above the ground, at the 125th street:  Cellphones would get whipped out as if in an airborne epidemic; and bits of soundbites from other people’s private lives would flood the train.  And then, we would go underground again, in silence.

So, I chose to drive in silence, the other night, while crawling toward a somewhere much different from here.  (How ever — when ever — did I dare to surrender my moments of daytime silence to the soundbites of other people’s private lives narrated to me over my bluetooth?)

The closer I got to the coast, the denser got the traffic.  There shouldn’t have been any traffic at that hour, but I was glad to navigate it:  It meant other people were driving out, according to their nows.  Other people were choosing to tread the ground, and maybe I could find a little bit of a different somewhere here, that night.

On foot, the very first couple I saw was hip and mellow, and completely stunning.  He was tall and pretty.  She was tiny, exotic, quirky and adored.  They were wearing layers of tattered tees and oversized sweaters.  She sported a military jacket, with feather earrings touching the seams of its shoulders, in the fashion of other exotic girls, in that glorious city up north that I was in the habit of craving.

A homeless man with a full, gray beard was walking a golden retriever.  The dog seemed better groomed — and fed — than the owner; and that other person’s love soothed me with calmness:

“Everything is still quite alright, with the world,” I thought.

He wasn’t — careless.

Then, there was an older couple:  both white-haired and neatly dressed in all shades of blue.  Each possibly older than their sixth or seventh decade, they walked very slowly, according to their nows, very specific and very different from the now of mine.

“What is this here called?” the woman asked in a child-like voice.  She was speaking Russian.

“A mosaic,” he responded, in English, studying the facade of the church that attracted his girl’s attention.

She repeated it, in English.  They were both still learning, waking each other up with mutual curiosity.  And they loved.

“Everything — is still quite alright, with the world.”

A husky voice belonging to an angel reached my ears.  I started walking, quite slowly, toward the curly blonde in an oversized coat singing on the Promenade.  A small crowd had accumulated around her.  People leaned against trees, against their beloveds; they sat on benches, each obeying their nows.

The angel, when speaking, had a London accent — from a somewhere much, much different from here.  She sang our night away.

I never got to the somewhere that I was missing that night.  But I somehow, my here was good enough.

It was perfect, actually.

“How Can [Someone] So Gangsta Be So Pretty, in Pictures?”

She was a dainty lil’ thing, which is not even a preferable beauty requirement for me.  But some girls do wear it well.

First of all:  There was the pixie haircut.  It was the whole Jean Seberg in Breathless thing.  But then again, she seemed a bit less vulnerable, less breakable; less controversial.  Despite her petite physique, she seemed strong, as someone with a wise and compassionate heart.  So maybe, she was more of an Audrey Hepburn type:  Like grace, and classic beauty:  Timeless!

A pair of large dark eyes were alert and clear.  There are some girls whose smarts are obvious in the perpetual little smirk that lingers in the corners of their eyelids.  I like those girls:  The Kat Dennings types.  But truth be told, I’ve always found them a bit intimidating.  I can’t really keep up with their references; and no matter how much I pride myself in having street smarts, my self-assurance always fades in their company.  They speak of rock ‘n’ roll — they are rock ‘n’ roll! — and they are ever so cool!

Often, they seem to really dig sports, but not in that other way that pretty college girls do:  hanging out at sports bars for the sake of male attention.  And somehow, they are always up on the latest politics and gossip alike.  So smart!  So cool!

But this one — was a bird of a different color.  She was obviously quick and judging by the breathlessness of her companions that evening — she was utterly adored.  And as I watched her from the higher seats of the auditorium, I realized she made others feel important.  That — was her charm:  her timeless grace.  She listened, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of her eyelids, and that tiny compassionate smile never fading from her lips.

The lips.  Alas, the lips:  She wore a layer of pink gloss on hers.  There were days once upon a time when I had tried to surrender to the call of my own feminine maintenance.  In the history of my make-up routines, I used to utilize it primarily as a shield.  I would wear layers of make-up in college, after nagging my BFF for enough tutorials.  And in my early years in Hollyweird, make-up came with the job description of a cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery.  Those were exactly the days when I would try to apply the sticky substance to my lips.  Somehow though, it never really worked out for me:  I would be constantly spitting out my hair that would stick to my lips — then all over my face — and smear my paint job.  (Utterly annoying and very ungraceful!) And then, I would have to reapply, which always rung untrue to my nature; too high maintenance.

Somehow though, this girl’s lips appeared perfectly made-up from the beginning of the event to the end.  I haven’t even seen her fussing with it once, as pretty college girls do, for the sake of male attention.  (I personally believe that unless you’re whipping out a ChapStick, a chick’s make-up routine should be kept for the secrecy of the ladies’ room.  But then again:  My high maintenance and I aren’t too close.  So, what the fuck do I know?)

Her faded golden necklace was vintage.  So were her beige Mary Janes.  And so was the midnight blue mini-dress with tiny white polka dots.  The length of it must’ve been amended from its original rockabilly swing style.  And the wide beige belt with a buckle that matched her necklace perfectly added to all the carefully selected details.

All this to say:  I was smitten.  Well, mesmerized, for sure.  My own large dark eyes and fluffy haircuts have often earned me others’ comparisons of me to the classic beauties of old cinema.  But my style was never so well thought-out.

To the contrary, as my years in Hollyweird accumulated, I seemed to have settled for the least amount of maintenance.  I don’t fuss.  I don’t make much use of my iron.  And I am often in a habit of telling my awaiting comrades and lovers:

“I’ll be ready — in ten!”

There have been times when my routine takes less time than those of my companions.  And a few have commented on it:

“Quick to undress, eh?”

But in a presence of classic beauty — I never fail to be inspired.

“Why can’t I be more like her?” I used to wonder, in my early days in Hollyweird.  I had arrived here from New York and was already well on the way to minimizing my high maintenance habits.  But then there was the cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery era, and I would prolong the return of the unfussy tomboy I used to be before my adolescence burdened me with its presumptions of womanhood.

These days, I don’t even wonder any more.  I admire, instead, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of my eyelids.  I admire other women — the choices they make in the maintenance of their womanhood; and I never miss an opportunity to grant them a compliment.

But to each — her own, I think; and I embrace the short maintenance routine that I have figured out for myself, with time.  Because beauty and grace is always timeless; and mine — is actually on time.

“Call ME! On the Line! Call Me, Call Me, Any, ANY TIME!”

My cellphone broke down yesterday:  Finally, that poor thing!

It had been with me for over three years, and by now I was getting texts and phone calls from the Verizon people on a regular basis, begging me to get an upgrade.

“Did you know you were eligible for a $50 rebate?!” some nice girl would be trying to tell me after I would call to complain about the most recent malfunction on my device:

“The flip is not clicking anymore,” I’d say.  “I think it’s loose.”

“Well, m’am,” the nice girl would be studying my files on her screen.  She seemed to be patient, and yes, super nice.  Perhaps, in those files, she could read all the records of my previous love affairs, from start to finish; and she would take pity on me.  And even if she couldn’t see my love stories unfold through a progression of texts between my exes and I, I bet she could tell I was going through another break-up by the gastronomical size of my bill that month.

And sometimes, I would imagine she had some sort of a hidden camera thingy connected to the flimsy flip in my hand, and she could actually see all the terrible truths about my life.

“Hmm.  It says here you’d drowned your phone in a cup of coffee nearly a year ago.”

(See!  I told you she had that hidden camera thingy!)

But yes, it is true about the coffee.  You see, about a year ago, I had finally decided my motha and I were ready to cross the next boundary in our relationship — and that we could try texting each other.

Now, I am not one of those absentee daughters.  I call my motha on a regular basis, one-to-two weekend nights per week.  Even if we feel like we have nothing to say to each other, I would much rather hear motha’s repeated monologues on the other end of my cellphone — than suffer the passive-aggressive silence after I had somehow forgotten to call her one weekend.  Because let me tell you:  Jewish mothers have NOTHING on my motha with their guilt trips.  My motha copyrighted that shit!  And she is not really the silent type, neither in Russian nor English.  So, when she does go quiet on you, she can raise the hairs on the back of your neck with feelings of her orphan-like abandonment and saintly martyrdom.

Anyway.  At the end of last summer, we had passed a new threshold:  For the first time in our lives, we each had our own place with which we were finally perfectly content.  There would be no more terrible roommates.  No more partners with messy habits.  And we had vowed that each would stay at her place for at least a couple of years.

Conveniently, my motha’s joint had horrendous cellphone reception.  So, before she got herself a landline, I would have to text — to test her availability.

“CALL NOW” — motha would respond, often with no punctuation marks and in all caps.

But my very first text to motha was actually less than technical.

“Lov U, shawty,” I wrote.

I was feeling mushy that morning.  It’s a consequence of having a heart that’s easily prone to gratitude.  Motha would understand that:  I am sure I’ve inherited that damn thing from her.  And so:

“Lov U, shawty,” I composed.  But right before I could hit the red button of SEND, the flip phone slipped out of my hand and dove right into the middle of my morning cup of coffee with a precision of a kamikaze.

“SHIT” — I thought (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).  “My coffee is ruined.”

As I said:  I had just moved into the place, and before I had unpacked my kitchen supplies, I had walked to the 7-Eleven on the corner to get my caffeine fix for the day.

The flip phone was retrieved eventually and immediately buried in a jar of rice.  It wasn’t white rice, but one of those healthy wild rice mixtures from Trader Joe’s.  So, the trick wouldn’t work, and I would go through the hassle of filing an insurance claim and waiting for some hideous device to arrive in the mail.  My old flip phone would eventually be revived with the help of a hairdryer, and I would feel like my faithful device and I had passed another hurdle in life.  We were veterans.  Survivors.  And we weren’t ready to part ways yet.

Because one of the terrible truths in my life was that, just like everyone else, I was married to my cellphone.  It was the most significant relationship in my life — and an appendix to my ego.  And even though every once in a while (like after a break-up, for instance) I would lock that thing up in my car for a day to punish it — to punish the whatever him I was breaking-up with — I couldn’t live without it.

And there had been moments when I would fling the poor thing across the room after a prolonged wait for a Time Warner rep to pick-up my call.  I had used it to break-up with my old bank from the East Coast, utterly useless on this side of the country.  Because my cellphone was perfect for confrontations; and I think it had something to do with the flip feature of it.  It added a certain umph to my endings, like a punctuation mark at the end of a text message.

But about a week ago, I could tell:  My poor thing — my dear veteran — was on its very last stretch.  It was no longer responding to its charger, and seemingly its screen was starting to suffer from some sort of electronic epilepsy.  Two days ago, it was over.

Finally, that poor thing!

“NO CHARGER DETECTED” — the screen said (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).

And then:  It went dark.

Strangely, despite all of our history, I didn’t feel any sadness about its departure.  It is true we had passed through many hurdles together.  We were veterans.  Survivors.

But I knew:  Ah, it was time.

“How can I help you?” some nice boy with an iPhone clipped onto his belt said to me when I stormed into the Verizon store last night.

“Well,” I said, whipped out the dead body of my cellphone and slammed it against the counter.  “You tell me!”

The nice boy smiled:  He couldn’t help it.

“Ow… Ouch.  What happened to its gloss?” he said, ever so charitably.

And I remembered the very first day I bought my baby at another store:  It was caramel-colored and shiny, and it would light up with red lights when I caressed its surface.  The gloss was long gone now, and I would begin to be slightly embarrassed to take it out in public.

The kind boy was by now studying my files on his screen.  Could he see all of the terrible truths about my life?  Could he read the histories of my relationships in the gastronomical sizes of my previous bills?  And considering the low amount due this month, could he tell I had been finally single — and contently so — for the duration of the last season?

“Did you know you were eligible for a $150 rebate?”

“That bad, eh?” I said and smiled.  I couldn’t help it.

“IT’S TIME” — the nice boy said (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).

And when he asked me if I wanted to save any of my old text messages or voicemails — for I would be losing ALL of them in this transition — I did not feel any sadness at all.

“No,” I answered.  “It is time.”

“How Does It Feel to Be… One of the Beautiful… People?!”

“How do we forgive the people who have wronged us?”

“How or why?”

“How.  I already know why…  I think.”

“You think?  You forgive because if you don’t — you are the only one you harm.  Right?”

I put the book of Mexican recipes face down onto my chest.  Think about.  I can’t be flippant when speaking of forgiveness:

“Something like that.”

That still sounded flippant.  I amend:

“I forgive because otherwise it’s too heavy.  It becomes spite, or even hatred.”

I actually think I am allergic to both.  This last time around, I wore a rash on my chin until it stopped mattering, I guess.

I continue:

“And I forgive because I am still looking for new stories.  When there is no forgiveness, I just keep replaying the old one too much.  Until I get sick of it.  Until it stops mattering, I guess.”

Until I get sick of it.  Is that what happens with me, eventually:  I dig for reasons, I cross-examine for long enough to get sick of the whole story?  Because most of the time, the reasons don’t become apparent.  Not completely.  There are glimpses, of course; and most of them are rooted in some sort of pleasure — or satisfaction at least — on the part of the other.

The people who wrong us seek something that they think they deserve.  They deserve us:  our goodness, our sex, our beauty.

And some would call that love.

“What would you call it?” he asks me.  He is lying on his side, facing the wall, away from me.  The wall is baby blue.

“I dunno,” I say, pick up the book with the Mexican recipes and start flipping through it again:  I am done figuring it out!  “I dunno!  But I definitely don’t call it ‘love’!”

The pictures in the book are delicious.  Delectable.  I secretly daydream of my future bakery:  It would be so good for my soul!

“Love ought to be selfless,” I resume.  I guess I am not done figuring it out.  “I love for the sake — for the benefit — of the other person, as much as I do for my own.”

“That’s not true!” he says and finally rolls over onto his back to look at me.  “I’ve seen you love, love.  You often love — despite yourself.”

I want to laugh but feel slightly defensive:  “Well.  That’s just what I do!”

I get a mighty hold of the book jacket and start skipping the section on meats:  I don’t want to know!

He is waiting for the rustle of the flipping pages to stop.  “That’s what you do alright.  But that’s not good either.  You can’t keep sacrificing yourself like that.”

I still want to laugh.

“At least, at the end, I needn’t be forgiven,” I say.

I’ve found some great comfort in that, before.  Even pride.  Because when I leave, I don’t take much with me.  I don’t take away a former love’s dignity.  I don’t destroy the self-esteem.  And I only carry away the things that have always belonged to me.

So, no:  I don’t take much with me.  And I don’t take away much either. But the weight of trying to forgive — is quite heavy, and I choose to lug it with me for a while.  Until it stops mattering, I guess.

I dig.  I cross-examine.  I recycle.  I search for the reasons until I realize that the reasons may never become fully apparent.  There are glimpses, of course.  But the consolation they offer aren’t strong enough of a painkiller.  So, I continue to dig, thinking that if only I find all the reasons — it will stop hurting completely.

“But how much of yourself do you leave behind?”  He is now staring at the ceiling.  It’s white.

I stop flipping the pages, put down the book face down onto my chest and start staring at his spot as well.  (Are those fingerprints on the ceiling?)

I may leave.  I may take the things that have always belonged to me.  But when I keep the connection — just so that I can continue cross-examining, digging — I linger.  And in lingering, I leave parts of me behind.

How do we forgive the people who have wronged us?

I am afraid that my previous “how” — is just a theory, and with time I’ve learned that it doesn’t really work.  I never find the complete reasons:  I only find reaffirmations of the others’ previous choice to wrong me.  The original choice to deserve:  my goodness, my sex, my beauty. My generosity. My love.

And then, there is this forgiveness:

“Time,” he says.  “You give it time.”  He is still staring at the ceiling.

“Kinda like putting it to rest?  long before it’s ready?”  I am studying his spot:  Fingerprints.

If I put it to rest, the story won’t stop mattering.  Instead, it will remain as a tale of Just Because.  And I have to have enough patience — enough self-love — to leave it at that.

Because there are glimpses of reasons, of course; but not even the most powerful empathy can make me understand these reasons completely.  So, I should just let them be theoretical.  Otherwise, it’s too heavy.  And I only harm myself.

And after enough time, the reasons stop mattering completely. 

I let it be — I let them be — in time and silence.

And I let myself be light and kind, as someone who needn’t be forgiven.

“Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’, Shortenin’: Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’ Bread!”

It was a long and sleepful night…

That’s right:  I said “sleepful”.

It was a long and sleepful night, for a change!

And I do love to sleep so!

To this day, motha often pontificates on my possible genetic relation to polar bears.  Because I don’t just sleep:  I hibernate.  And once awoken, it is better for others to keep a safe distance until I get that first cup of coffee, in me.

Over the years, motha and I have figured out how to maneuver around each other, after I stumble into her kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix:  We prefer to have at least a town, in between us.  It’s just better that way.  Because two stubborn, moody Russian broads unleashing their wild hair and temperament at each other — never makes for a safe situation.

So, instead, motha leaves me cryptic notes on her counter, next to the pot with burnt coffee on its bottom; and she gets the hell out of her house (about a town away):

“Went to store.  Fear to wake you.”

Or:

“Call me when you go.”

So, okay:  I do love to sleep so!

But it is always a pretty rare occasion for me to pack the mandatory 8-hour gap of rest into a night.  Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day; and after hour of writing and tending to business, after my rituals of fitness and nourishment, I tend to retire to bed quite reluctantly.  There, I arm-wrestle with the ghosts of my nightmares first; then, I eventually drift off to sleep.

When the alarm goes off at an ungodly hour (because there is seemingly never enough hours in my night), I yank its cord out of the wall and try to nap for a bit.  But before I pass the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I leap out of bed and stumble out into my kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix.  The thoughts of the day flood in with the first inhale of it, and I’m off:  Chasing the hours, of which there is seemingly never enough in my day.

And I’ve heard of the luxury others entertain when they decide to spend an entire day in bed.  In order for me to do that, I must be deathly sick.  If not, the town is better be going through an apocalypse.

And every single time I’ve entertained the idea of a vacation this year:

“Ah, shit!  I gotta write in the morning!” I would think immediately after, and that idea would be put to rest.

Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day — and just way too much work to do, in my life!

But today, it was a long and sleepful night.  And before I leapt out of my bed right at the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I wondered:

“How ever did I manage to get ten hours of rest?”

Let’s see:  Yesterday, I wrote and I tended to business, as usual.  There were rituals of fitness and nourishment, punctuated with more writing and more business.  I’ve even managed to repack my bags and reshuffle my joint.

But right around the time when I would normally freak out about seemingly never having enough hours in my day, instead of brewing myself another pot of coffee —

I cooked!

I made a meal, for a change.

After a late-night run through a park with maple trees that haven’t yet changed their leaves — but surely seemed to be entertaining it — I decided it was time for fall.  And with fall, it was time for pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world whispered through a whiff of exotic spices.  And although it wasn’t time to change the clocks yet, it was time — to change the pace.

So, I ran back home and I started a pot:

The eggplant was caramelized first.  The trick there was to be patient:  to give it time.  Fussing with it would ruin the slowly forming crust.  Eggplant is a vegetarian’s stake, and it demands specificity.  Because there seemingly may not be enough hours in the day, but in cooking — it is always about the time.  With time, last night, my patience paid off:  And soon enough the joint was filled with aromas of meatiness and slowness.

The red peppers were caramelized next, married with the sizzling garlic a few minutes later.  And there is nothing more domestic — than the smell of sauteed garlic:  My joint was beginning to smell like home.

The spices went in next:  cumin, coriander, yellow curry, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds.  With spices, one must move quickly.  Because if the mind drifts off — they burn and lose their magic.  By then, my nose had adjusted to the unleashed aromas of the fall, and I had forgotten that I never started that last pot of coffee of the day.  Instead, I was tending to my spices, fully present and perfectly patient.

By the time the rest of the vegetables and liquids joined the stew, I was beginning to dream of cooking by a campfire, on some Moroccan adventure, with all of my comrades napping in surrounding tents.  They would wake, of course, to the smell of slowness and patience — to the smell of home; a world of difference away from the aromas of caffeine.

And I thought of all the future meals I had yet to make in the slower hours of the upcoming winter; of all the pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world narrated through the whispers of new spices that I had yet to learn to cook.  And I thought:  There is still so much time, in my life!

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.  So, I retired to bed quite willingly last night, looking forward to the new flavors — and to waking up in a joint that smelled more like home.

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.

And it does.

“Hey. Hey-Hey. Hey. Hey-Hey. HEY! I’M GOOD!”

I was studying the faces of passengers on a downtown-bound subway the other night, and I thought:  Surely, these people had to be good.  Because I would much rather subscribe to the idea that the world was primarily filled with good people.  And I myself — would much rather be good, too.

(And I remember there was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.)

I have nearly forgotten what it’s like to people-watch.  Unless on a rare occasion of some public gathering in LA-LA, one must always keep the eyes on the road.  Here, we drive, we speed; and we complain if we aren’t moving fast enough.  All the other people become mere faces which we quickly glaze over, behind the wheels of other cars, at stop signs and in the oncoming traffic:

Everyone keeps their eyes on the road.  Or on their cellphones, in the passenger seat.

Sometimes, I watch the faces reflected in my rearview mirror.  And every once in a while, I steel a gaze or a nod from the guy over in the next lane.  And that’s kind of nice.   It’s good.

 

(And I do remember:  There was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.  And I am glad — that I didn’t.)

The accidental faces of pedestrians tend to zoom by us.  We aren’t used to them around here, unless driving through a rare public space expected to be packed with tourists.  Yet, even then, we avoid making eye contact with them, as if these people — who are most likely good — are nonexistent.  Instead, we nervously watch the quickly expiring gap to make a turn over a pedestrian walkway.  And if the guy on foot isn’t moving fast enough, we pretend not to see him and cut in front.  (Ah, shit!  What an inconvenience!)

Some pedestrians have a certain swagger around here.  They tend to live in those rare occasional spaces expected to be packed with tourists.  As locals, they tend to take their time crossing the street.  Ballsy, they make an eye contact with us, as if saying:

“What cha gonna do?  Run me ova’?!”

So, you wait, embarrassed at having caught yourself at being less than good.  And to avoid that shameful stare, you look over at your cellphone in the passenger seat.

The best thing is to wait.  Sometimes, the guy waves you over.  He’s moving on foot, and he knows he is not fast enough.  Because even when we are on the road (while not always keeping our eyes on it), we often wish to be miles ahead.  Around here, we are overwhelmed by the commitments that we continue negotiating on our cellphones in the passenger seat.

Here, we drive.  We speed.  LA-LA — is a working city, primarily.  Sometimes, we pretend to fit our lives in between; but most of us have come here to work.  And sometimes, we tend to forget that the world is still primarily filled with good people.  And that, no matter the work, we ourselves would much rather be good, too.

(And I do remember:  There was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And he also told me that not everyone — was good.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.)

This middle-aged Mexican woman napping, with her tired head leaned against an anti-terrorism warning:  Surely, she’d put in a good day of work.  And surely, she had to be good!

The man in a construction worker’s overalls:  He looked like the guy stuck in our traffic for the entirety of his working day.  His already dark skin was filled with dust, exhaust — and exhaustion.  Because of his work, at some typical non-public space in LA-LA, there was probably more congestion on the road today.  And he watched us driving, speeding by, wishing to be miles ahead.

The businessman in a suit that lacked the sheen of a designer label:  He was staring down and a few feet ahead — in a New York subway fashion — and he wouldn’t steal as much as a gaze at a pretty girl who got on at the City College stop, at Santa Monica and Vermont.

And the pretty girl who got on at the City College stop:  Under her arm she carried a thick tome of some nursing book I myself would find impossible to decipher.  I wondered what made her choose the goodness of her future profession.  And what made her choose to be good.

And surely, these other people — on the way home from their days of good work — had to be good, too!

Because I would much rather subscribe to the idea that the world was primarily filled with good people. 

And I myself — would much rather choose to be good, too.

“I Fly Like Paper, Get High Like Planes. If You Catch Me at the Border — I Got Visas in My Name!”

I am at a rehearsal last night, and I’m thinking:

“I don’t want to be heavy anymore.”

Now, I don’t mean my physicality here:  I’ve got a pretty compact bod on me — always have had — and I’ve always been light on my feet.

I seem to have inherited the smallest features from both sides of the family:  My motha’s people run quite low to the ground in their height; and dad’s tribe, although quite tall, is nearly transparently thin.

And then, my head’s rarely in the right place:  It’s always wanting to be elsewhere.  So, the restlessness of the mind adds to the activeness of the bod, adds to the shedding of the weight.  I’ve come to think that perhaps it’s all for the better, anyway:  My size fits best into airplane seats and packed buses, New York subways and Moscow bread lines — and wherever else the mind urges the bod to fit itself in.

So, when I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to be dark.

Now, I don’t mean the color of my skin here:  I’ve got a pretty dark complexion on me.  Motha’s people — are fucking gypsies, so they are really more like Russian blacks.  In my childhood, motha would have to keep me out of the sun — just so I would still resemble my father’s child a little bit more.  Because his tribe — is quite light (although they’re quite heavy in their footsteps).  And they’re nearly transparently thin.

It’s bad enough I traded in my father’s blue eyes over the course of the first year of my life.  He came back from his military training in some bleak lands of Motha Russia to meet me at the hospital.  I was only a couple days old.

“He’s got my eyes!” he said before the doctor had a chance to explain to him that I was actually born a girl.

(So sorry!)

Whether or not ultrasound existed back then in Motha Russia, motha chose to rely on the old school witchcraft of her people when predicting my future sex.  Surprise, surprise:  That shit didn’t work, and dad was now cradling a blue-eyed brunette of a nearly black complexion in his arms.

“Well…  At least she’s got my eyes.”

With quite a blow to his dreams of the first son, dad left again for some other bleak lands of Motha Russia:  He was always light enough to move.  (But we, Russians, often tend to have heavy footsteps:  We love to step on others’ toes; so if we aren’t playing war — we seem to be always training for it.)

Anyway.  When dad returned home, half a year later, he found his newborn with eyes so black, he could see his own reflection in them.

“He… she — don’t got my eyes no more!”

(So sorry!)

So, when I said, “I don’t want to be dark anymore,” I think I meant:  

I don’t want to be perpetually difficult on my loves.  

Now, I do seem to be easier on my friends:  Over the course of our loves, they’ve gotten used to the restlessness of my mind that adds to the activeness of my dark, compact bod (that adds to the weightlessness of my footsteps).  From all the distant corners of the world, however bleak or perfectly civilized, my loves receive messages of my journeys:  The messages of wanting to belong — if only I would stop moving for long enough. 

But then again:  My friends don’t have to live with me.  They don’t see me pacing my living quarters at night, as if needing more room.  They don’t witness my restlessness accumulate as surely as the hours in each day — until I finally decide to move again, to whatever bleak or perfectly civilized corner of the world.

My loves, however:  My loves are constantly subjected to the restlessness of the mind that adds to the activeness of the bod, that adds to the shedding of the weight, that adds to the weightlessness of the footsteps.

Just ask my family:

My motha’s people — are fucking gypsies.  Yet, for at least two generations before mine, they’ve given up on moving, only following the call of some bleak lands.  Over a century ago, they’ve settled on the East Coast of Motha Russia, much less civilized, unconquered:  The lands that were waiting to be discovered by the more unsettled hearts.  Over the course of the last few centuries, it was populated by the subversive many and the courageous few.  There, the Russian blacks of my motha’s people found their home.

That’s, of course, until I came along:  A blue-eyed brunette that swapped her father’s eyes for a pair of those, black enough to serve as mirrors for her loves.  And as soon as I was old enough to obey the restlessness of the mind, I would follow the call of my gypsy complexion.

(So sorry!)

Because my motha’s people may have given up on moving, but they haven’t settled, I decided.  Not yet.  Perhaps, not until I myself birth a child in some bleak or perfect civilized corner of the world — and I see my own reflection in his or her black eyes.

So, when the other night, I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to negate myself the joy of freedom.

Courage!

Only courage should elate my heart, from now on:  the courage of following my gypsy complexion and the heart that never settles for anything less than love.

And when I do love, I don’t want to deny my loves — the utter joy of my freer self. 

“But It’s Hard to Come Down — When You’re Up in the Air.”

“Where are you going?” P asked me on the phone during my monthly calls to Motha Russia, after I announced that I was busy packing.

“Eh.  A little bit here and there,” I answered while measuring the contents of my closet against the mouth of my giant suitcase, gaping open on the floor.  “Here and there.  You know.”

I haven’t really finalized my travel plans yet.  I mean:  I knew I was heading back to Motha Russia — eventually.  That explained the uproar currently happening in the family:  They haven’t seen me in sixteen years, so the homecoming trip promised to be loaded.

But I wasn’t making that daunting trip for another couple of months.  In the mean time, I was giving up my apartment and packing up my giant suitcase.

Apparently there was nothing out of the norm about the vagueness of my plans, because P was agreeing with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Da, da, da!” he said.  “I’m listening.”

Dad had always been on my side.  He had to be; because I never left him much of a choice but to get used to the nomadic habits of mine.  I mean:  All I ask for — is my freedom.  Is that so hard?

Penelope Cruz

But apparently, in order to accept my antsy temperament and the life-long addiction to wanderlust, I also ask for a lot of trust.  Trust was exactly what I relied on when I announced my initial decision — sixteen years ago — to leave Motha Russia in pursuit of my education abroad.  Trust was demanded when I later moved to New York, for the same reason; or when I committed the daunting trip back to Cali after my share of victories and defeats on the East Coast.

All along, my relocations were telegraphed to my folk back in Motha Russia on a monthly basis.  Considering the homeland chaos, I took it upon myself to keep the connection alive; and I would call, from wherever I landed.

“I’m here, for a little bit.  Here and there.  You know,” I’d say, while unpacking another giant suitcase.

As far as I was concerned, I was fulfilling my daughterly obligations beautifully.  So, whenever P would voice as much as a hesitation or a worry, I’d go bonkers:

“I mean…  All I’m asking for — is my freedom!  Is that so hard?”

P wouldn’t have much of a choice.  So, he would agree with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Nyet, nyet, nyet,” he’d say.  “I’m listening.”  (Dad had always been on my side.) 

No one knows the responsibility of freedom better — than those of us who vow our lives to its pursuit. 

I mean:  All I am asking for — is my freedom.  And all I am asking of my loves — is trust.

My addiction to wanderlust began in the first years of my life.  Mere months after my birth, P — who devoted his life to building the Soviet Empire as an Army man — was being relocated from the East Coast of Motha Russia into the less populated inlands.  The first couple of our moves would be done by train; and in the beginning of his career, P could track his ascent through the ranks by the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“You’d always sleep easily, on trains,” he’d say any time I told him about the utter calmness I feel these days, when on a railroad.

His bigger promotion would take us into the middle of the country — into much more brutal winters and lands.  For first time in my life, we would have to take a plane ride.

I wouldn’t be older than a year when motha packed me into a tiny suitcase that she kept unzipped on her lap during the 4-hour flight.  She would have to get inventive and make a transient crib out of it, stuffing it with a pillow.  I would be bundled up into a blanket and wrapped with a ribbon:  A tradition taught to Russian mothers by the brutal winters of my Motha’land.

For the duration of the flight, I wouldn’t fuss at all.

“All I could see from my seat — was your button nose peaking out of the tiny suitcase:  You were sleeping,” P would tell me whenever I confessed about the utter peace I always feel these days, when up in the air.

In order to feed my life-long addiction to wanderlust, I’ve had to grow up quite quickly.  Motha Russia wouldn’t leave my generation much of a choice after the collapse of the Soviet Empire that our parents devoted their lives to building.  So, instead of living in ruins, many of us chose to pursue a life — and an education — elsewhere.  So, we packed our tiny suitcases and we left.  We had to give up our childhood — and to grow up.

Because all we asked for — was our freedom.  And for my generation, it was indeed very, very hard.

Because all I’ve asked for — is my freedom.  And as someone who’s vowed her life to the pursuit of it, I’ve paid all the consequences of my choices in full — and they have indeed been very, very hard.

So:

“Da, da, da!  I’m listening!” P is always saying, quite enthusiastically, on the phone.

He — is always on my side.

And after sixteen years of my untimely adulthood, he agrees with my pursuit of that calmness and peace that I always feel when transient; when in pursuit of my self-education — when in pursuit of my freedom.