The fact that I had lived to tell the tale, to play the endless hide-and-seek with my fam’s myths — defeating them or playing the fool to their call — my murder obviously did not materialize. And neither did my mother’s old man finish off his wrathful deed in that ill-fated, loaded moment, in their shared past. They both eventually calmed down: the old man of stubborn dignity and his very proud daughter whom he himself had raised to never — EVER! — grovel.
Although that child would milk the incident until the man apologized, then, backed it up with some expensive gifts: a coupla golden objects and some vinyl records by four pretty boys from England, whose bangs of ponies and cherubic cheeks sped up the sexual maturity of most of the world’s teenagers. Considering the rarity of vinyl back in the U.S. of S.R., those might as well have been made out of gold. The records could be found ONLY on the black market. Illegal gold! Now, THAT’s the stuff worthy of that woman’s beauty! The gifts from my own father, who had been mortified to have his woman flee like that — with no shame or underwear — were also pouring into my mother’s pretty hands. After about a week of pouting, she would resume her residence upon the marital bed, but would impose the punishment of her absence every weekend; then, go off to play house back at her parents’ joint. (Whatever made her think, however, that that was a punishment still testifies to her very high and never wavering opinion of herself. Because, you see, it was, if not the myth of our women, then certainly some centuries-old wisdom: That any woman willing to put out on a regular basis was a catch, of course. But those broads that looked like mother and had some skills behind the bedroom doors (or so I’ve heard) — were copyrighting a category of their own.)
My shrink, whom I would hire in the beginning of my own sex life…
What? Are you surprised a chick like me would need professional assistance? It could’ve been the wisdom from beyond my predecessors’ graves — some intuition that, as I was most certain, had always lived in my fallopian tubes — but I would ask for help when I discovered the power of our women’s sex. It happened via a curious case that struck me in my sophomore year: A night of my first Romeo’s serenading under the windows of my college dorm, which then resulted in a serious dose of hatred on behalf of all the other females in the building. When after that one sleepless night, half of my Medieval Lit class failed to show — and our drained by life professor went literal and Medieval on our asses — I quickly knew that I could never bear the responsibility OR the amount of guilt that I began attaching to the act of sex. So, quite A-SAP, I located my shrink, off-campus. (All I had done, in my defense, was let my Romeo feast upon my breasts which I never bound with a bra. Not back in those days. Or, actually, not ever. They weren’t obnoxious glories of my mother’s, by any means: Her hemispheres that guided men to heaven. Mine were just little handful reproductions. With Romeo, it was the stuff of innocence, I swear. A little shadow fuck of that dark force that was behind the family’s myth.)
So, anyway. My shrink, whom I would hire in the beginning of my sex life, would over the course of my last two years in college break down the driving mechanisms of mother’s psyche: She strived on endless guilt trips. If one bestowed a love upon her, in mother’s eyes, they were forever indebted for the sole pleasure of her company. So, only when one was NOT in trouble — was when one was advised to worry about unrequited love. Love. Equalled. Suffering. That’s a direct quote from my mother’s Bible.
“But little daughter. Love of my life. My sun and earth and all the stars above,” was singing my grandmother, gray haired fully by the age of forty. Every week, she would pamper her child in the fam’s private bath house — called “banya” in the mother-tongue — which even in Russian stood for: “Those bathers are bourgeois pigs and we shall gut them in our next Revolution!” Such luxury did not naturally run in our fam. So, there had to be a story about it! (Oh, but of course: Another fucking myth!) And that story went: When my young grandfather, smitten by his girl, suggested they should marry, she arched her impeccable eyebrows at him and said: “I do not want a stupid wedding band: It gives me blisters. You build me a house with a banya — and we shall talk.” The chick, who had been showered with men’s vows of their eternal love since, say, the age of six — was doomed to learn the fragile nature of men’s word. She would have learned negotiating her way through life; and then, behind the closed doors of that same banya, she’d pass her wisdom to her equally gorgeous female child.)
Now, scrubbing each other’s bods with soap suds, then whipping themselves raw with soaked birch branches every weekend, the women bonded. Some girls grew up admiring the carriers of wombs that birthed them. (Case in point: Yours painfully, sincerely.) My mother never suffered through that stage, however, as a youngster: From birth she was immediately gaga over papa (but also anything that walked and was preferably male). Sex was a mere currency. But since she was NOT about to become a village ho, the young woman quickly learned the suave negotiation — via her stick and honey pot — that could’ve made Edith Wharton herself flip up her elegant white arms in awe and in surrender. But this recent mishap back in the home of her marriage took our pretty woman for a spin. And she, spun out, began to seek advice (or rather, pity) from the one woman who’d learned to love her unconditionally, despite the distance the young woman maintained between them, most of their lives.
“This, too, shall pass,” the wise woman was now cooing. She was beside herself. After years and years of desiring this closeness with her child, she was on the receiving end of it — FINALLY!
But her advice expired right in that same bathhouse, its hopeful body asphyxiating and curling up under the wooden bench for the young woman to step over — and move on. This purely Russian, innate resignation of the soul — the forced surrender because otherwise things would never, ever change — was not an outlook my mother practiced much. She hated Chekhov, walked out of women’s conversations about “That’s just the way things are!” She never tipped a shot of Stoli to someone’s fatalistic toast; and even as a child, her parents’ “Just because!” was not an acceptable answer to her three-year-old’s “Why’s”.
Everything in life could be negotiated, which to a First World Reader would seem quite reasonable of an expectation. But we’re talking: The Soviet Union in the 60s. So, our young lady had better had a plan!
Naturally, something would come out of that incidental female bonding (which, with all due respect to my own gender, could amount to nothing good). After one night of bathing away her heartache and stress, haloed with a cloud of steam, my mother stepped out into the world, all squeaky clean and suddenly light; her calculating mind — refreshed.
She had an idea! Hallelujah, a plan! And it was inspired by the old woman’s promise:
“Your dad and I could always care for your baby, if the going got rough. And you can always leave her with us.”
My mother’s beautiful face, now red and swollen from the admirably well-timed tears, stopped shedding water for a minute. She swiped her eyelids with the backs of her soft wrists and muttered through the bubbly saliva inside her rosy mouth: “How do you know it’s a ‘her’?”
The old woman smiled and raised her hand to brush her daughter’s hair, cut short in yet another recent act of resentment toward her wedding vows. But from that point on, according to the young woman, the going got so “rough”, it would be border-line of questionable safety for her or her offspring. As much as a question from mother’s husband about, say, the length of her skirt or the color of her nails — and she would throw a fit. I mean, seriously: “Could you pass the salt, please?” at a dinner table she sometimes treated as a scathing comment about her cooking.
“What happened to the man I married?!” she flailed. It’s true: The chick was starting to feel jipped.
Oh, that poor girl! She still could not accept that, in the world, there never again would be a love that equaled that of her old folks! That’s how the human race had worked for centuries: “Just because.” So, off she’d go again: Storming out of the kitchen and locking her man out of the bedroom. Or marching through the unpaved roads on her two legs of fury, yet again. I, by then pushed out of her womb, would roll and bounce inside the baby carriage that mother pushed through mud, dried mounts of cow dung and ulcerous ditches. Like an unready kernel of un-popped popcorn, I thumped against the cardboard walls and bottom of the Soviet-made transporter of our future generation. And by the time we reached my grandpeep’s home, I’d been exhausted, bruised and ready for surrender.
“What did he do — again?” too readily, my grandmother leapt out of her house and onto the porch. And for a while, my mother would think up some fiction, exaggerating the events of her home, for an effect.
Be it out of some male camaraderie, or simply out of his adoration of me (or did he simply want to rescue me from being accidentally brainwashed by these two women?), my grandfather avoided their dissing sessions at all costs. Instead, he’d take care of some dirty business inside my homemade diaper and carry me off onto the couch where he had been dozing off after his graveyard shift at the local port. Or he would take me out for a walk — a bundle cradled in the hammock of his left arm, while he continued smoking with his right — and he would meet his buddies for a glass of foaming beer, at sunset, in the park.
If I remained awake, “Hey there, lavender eyes!” he’d wink at me, occasionally, and flick my button nose while balancing a cig between his lips. To my unknowing eyes, it must’ve looked like a magnificent firefly. Some hopeful planet that formerly belonged to the Little Prince. The North Star that paved the roads of my future paths with flickering, yet never dying, light.