Tag Archives: adulthood

Making It Out

 (Continued from June 24th, 2012.)

After I got my first period — less than a month before my twelfth birthday — is right around when the two women began including me in their gabbing sessions, in the kitchen.

At first, I joined reluctantly:  I would much rather “waste my life away”, as mother dramatically accused me of, with a novel. But face it!  When the two of them returned from their separate errands, both beautiful and smelling of the same perfume — the flirtation of all the men still echoing in their voices — I would be a major “dura” to resist the temptation of their company.

And the stories, the day’s gossip — the life force pumping through the street of our town — seemed more titillating than my mother’s romance novels (through which I, when home alone, would rummage and then re-hide them in the cupboards of her bedside stand).  Now: Our neighborhood wasn’t really happening.  Someone would die, occasionally, after drinking too much.  Someone else got married, before an accidental pregnancy showed.  Both the town’s funerals and its weddings could be attended by anyone.  For Russians, it’s bad fucking karma to turn guests away!  So, as processions crawled through the main roads (not many Russians owned cars, not in those days!), neighbors joined in; because at the end of either line, they’d find free food.  And what’s more important:  Vodka!

Breathlessly, I listened to the women’s stories, never putting my two kopeks in.  Assigned the most menial jobs in the kitchen, like peeling of potatoes or sorting out grains of rice, I kept my head down and worked my ears overtime. At times, the exchange of information was packed with details so intense and so confusing, it hurt my brain to follow.  Still, I tried to comprehend in silence because asking either my sis or mother to repeat — was borderline suicidal.

“Now, mamotchka!”  (Marinka was already notorious for kissing up.  She’d learned how to work our mother’s ego.)  “Have you heard about Uncle Pavel?”

“Nyet!  What?”

The way my sis was blushing now, in the opal light of fall’s sunset, solidified that she was rapidly turning into her mother’s daughter:  A stunner, simply put.  The prospects of the townswomen’s matchmaking had already begun coming up at the dinner table; and every time, Marinka turned red and stole sheepish glances at our father.  There was no way around it:  She was easily becoming the prettiest girl in town!  Not in that wholesome and blonde Slavic beauty way, but an exotic creature, with doe eyes, long hair of black waves and skin the color of buckwheat honey.

Olga Kurylenko for Instyle Magazine

Marinka carried on.  “I got this from Ilyinitchna,” she gulped.  She’d gone to far, corrected herself:  “Anna Ilyinitchna, I mean.”  (The tone of informality common for most Russian women was still a bit to early for Marinka to take on.  But she was getting there:  Whenever she joined our mother’s girlfriends for tea, she was permitted to address them with an informal “you”.)

Mother was already enticed.  “What?!  What’d you hear?” she wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and turned her entire body toward my sister.

“He and Tatiana’s daughter…”  There, Marinka took notice of me.  She looked back at our mother for a go-ahead.  The silence was thick enough to be cut with a knife.  I pretended to not have heard anything.

But mom had no patience for not knowing:  “Oy, Marina!  Don’t stretch it out, I beg of you!  What did you hear?!”

Sis ran her nails to tame the fly-aways by pushing them behind her ears.  Her hair was thick and gathered into a messy construction on the back of her head.  Ringlets of it escaped and clung to her sweaty neck.

“Well?!  WHAT!”

Whenever mother spoke, I noticed the tension Marinka’s shoulders — a habit of a child who took on a regular beatings from a parent.  In boys, one saw defiant thoughts of brewing rebellion.  But it looked different in girls.  We had to bear.  It could take decades to grow out of oppression.  Some women never made it out.  They would be transferred from the rule of their parents’ household to that of their husbands’.  Forgiveness already started seeming too far-fetched.

Marinka blushed again.  Lord, give us the courage!  “He and Tatiana’s daughter were seen having dinner together in the city.  He took her to a rest-aur-ant!”  She slowed down, for effect:  Dining at Soviet restaurants was NOT a casual happening.  “And she was dressed like the last whore of Kaliningrad.  She now wears a perm, although I’m sure it’s not her parents’ money that pay for it.”  Sis was on a roll.  “I mean you see how Tatyana dresses!  The thing she wore for her husband’s funeral!  A woman of her age should watch such things!”

It felt like something lodged inside my throat.  Was it words?  Or a hair-thin bone from a sardine sandwich from my breakfast?  Although I didn’t understand the situation completely, I knew it wasn’t something that left my brain untarnished.

Mother, by now, was smiling ear to ear.  “Hold up!  Which daughter?!  Oh, Lord!  Is it Oksanka?!”

Marinka shot another stare in my direction.  You’ll break your eyes, I thought.  Oh man, I wanted to get out of there!  Blinking rapidly to remove the layer of forming tears — the shame!  alas, the shame of it all! — I fished out the next wrinkled potato from the iron basin at my feet and hurriedly scraped it with the dull knife.

“Well, Oksanka, mamotchka!  Of course!  She’s got that job at the City Hall, remember?”

“Well,” mom shook her head.  “WELL.  That little bitch!  She knows how to get around, I’ll give her that!”

I looked at Marinka, she — at me.  Mother bluntness was a common happening but even we were surprised at her bluntness.

“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” mother concluded.  Marinka chuckled, fear freezing her eyelids into an expression of panic.  The clock of her girlhood had stopped its final countdown.

(To Be Continued.)

“Those Were the Days, My Friend…”

Back in those days, we would rise early — to get the fields on time.

It would always happen in the fall:

“Time of harvest,” they would tell us.

We didn’t know any different:  We weren’t supposed to.  We were children, still. Besides, to us — it would be just another adventure.

Most of us (if not all) had seen our parents working on land for their entire lives, tending to the whims of nature just so they could have a little extra to live on during the winter.  It didn’t matter if you were a villager or one of those city people who thought they were better than the rest:  Everyone worked, in those days.

The villagers had it a little harder, especially in terms of prejudice.  They were the simpler people, with more obvious needs and uncomplicated vices.  Most of their children would never finish their education either due to their parents’ alcoholism or because of being bullied, brutally, in school.  Those kids wore poorer clothes than us and carried lice in their overgrown hair.  They smelled of manure, tobacco and liquor:  They smelled — of hard life.

For as long as they could tolerate their young lives’ injustices, they would become outcasts; our plebeian jokers.  Soon enough, though, they would give way to their shame, drop out of school — and grow up way too early.  And the hard life continued to loom, above our unknowing heads.  But the ones that lived by land knew it earlier than the rest.  

In any city apartment, one could find a tiny garden on a balcony.  Radishes and tomatoes were planted in flower beds, upfront.  And in the spring, after the soil would thaw out just enough, our grownups would begin to leave the city, for the weekends.  They would take the trains into the suburbs — and they would return to their land.

Of course, somebody always had to be paid off along the way:  Such was the Russian tradition.  And we didn’t see any malice in that, or any particular injustice.  So, we bribed the city officials to get the better patches of land.  With the owners of live stock, we bartered in exchange for cow dung.  The drivers of tractors were paid off in vodka.  To each — his own.  

Summers seemed a bit easier:  Even if the money was tight, there was always at least some food in the home.  The early months were spent on gathering; and for the entire length of August and September, each woman busied herself with making preserves for the winter.  So, they would work — our mothers — rising early, tending to land; then, spending the rest of their days on mere survival.

But we, the young ones, would always turn it into a game.  In groups, we walked each other home; and as we climbed the stairs of our apartment buildings, we sniffed the doors on every flight:

“Ooh.  Strawberry jam!  Most certainly, strawberry!” we’d smell the lusty sweetness of slowly simmering fruit, then say goodbye to the comrade heading in, into that doorway.

“This one — is pickling cabbage.”

“She is always pickling cabbage!” the disappointed child would grumble and knock on the door of his forever disappointing mother.

We were all just trying to survive.  Although, for a while there, we didn’t know how difficult it was, for our mothers:  We didn’t have to — we were children. And to us, everything — was an adventure, just for a little while longer.

My doorway always gave off aromas much more complex than our young palettes could’ve known:  Green tomato jam, prune compote with red currants, garlic-stuffed cucumbers.  Motha — was always a bit of a witch, at the stove; and I couldn’t hide my thrill at her being so different.  And I couldn’t wait to find her in the kitchen:  What could she’ve possibly come up with, that time?

She would rise early, back in those days.  And by mid-day, several cauldrons would be boiling, simmering, stewing on the stove.

“Here!  Try this!” the woman with curlers in her hair and sweat on her upper lip would order me while shoving a tiny saucer with pink or purple jam foam into my dirty hands.  She wouldn’t even say hello.

Despite the occasional sand on my teeth, “MMMM,” I’d mutter.

“Good! Watch the pots!  I’m going out!”

Motha would depart into the bathroom and emerge in five minutes doused in perfume and sparkles.  I didn’t mind her departure.

In the fall, after the first month back in school, there would be field trips — to the fields.  Normally, they would happen on a Saturday; and we would have to rise early, showing up to the already busy school yard in our best peasant attire.

Most of the time, the children of the villagers wouldn’t show:  They had their own land to tend to.  Still, we would judge them a little, while shuffling ourselves in between the seats of a school bus, waiting to depart at sunrise.  We would be taken to the fields:  to gather freshly dug-out potatoes or to gather sugar beats, for live stock.

The labor would be hard, and we would overhear the upper class men complain about such an injustice.  But we still didn’t know any different:  We didn’t have to — we were children.  It would become much harder, soon enough.  But for just a little longer, we could be children — and life could be much simpler.

“But When She Gets Weary — You Try A Little Tenderness.”

Woke up late:  A day off.  I planned it that way.

But before that, I woke up every hour, on the hour, jumping up in bed and staring at the clock with the anxiety of someone whose memory was escaping her.  And I would decipher the neon red numbers of the alarm, as if among them, I could find reminders of my missed appointments or, god forbid, any broken promises.

I swore I was forgetting something.  But then, I would remember:

A day off.   I planned it that way.

Exhale.

I would recline back into the stupor of my dreams, just to leap up again, in bed, an hour and a few dreams later, and stretch the memory for the things I was forgetting.

When I finally got up — late, on my day off — I made it over to the journal I used as a calendar (this year, I had refused to get myself a planner — a giant fuck you to my memory); and I stared at its pages for any suggestions of things I was forgetting.  The coffee drip was already spitting at intervals; and truth be told, beginning a day — had never been my problem.

I remembered that, while staring at my handwriting and inhaling the first aromas of caffeine.  The disorientation by dreams began to fade away.  In my mind, in my memory, I could see the trajectory toward my desk:  That’s where I start, every day, habitually.

Yet, I continued to stare at the pages — and at my handwriting; and I swore I was forgetting something.

I sensed my face:  I was pouting.  I don’t own big lips on me, but the lower one always insists on rolling out in my sleep, and it stays this way for the first hour of the day.

“Your grandfather always woke up like that,” my motha once told me, over a decade ago, while she could still witness my waking up, in her house.  And after I had moved out for good, into my own adulthood — however untimely, every morning motha would find me waking up in her house, she would tell me again and again:

“Your grandfather — my daddy — always woke up like that.”

And I would find it amusing, the way genetic inheritance worked.  We are talking eight decades now:  six of his and three — of my own.  He died too young and tragically.  Yet, still, he showed up on my face.  I guess, that’s one way to matter, in the chronology of the human race:  on the faces of humans that follow our deaths.  (But first, I would find it amusing that a grown woman would call her father “daddy”.)

Motha and I had both been the only children in our families.  Her situation was a bit more tragic than mine:  She had a younger brother.  He died, and in the worst of ways:  too young and tragically; without any witnesses — or even a body to bury after.  No closure.  And with him — seemingly went her memory.

Motha’s memory would begin to malfunction soon after her brother’s death.  The first thing — was to block all matters related to the loss.  It was a coping thing, most certainly:  These brain synapses collapsing on themselves for the sake of further survival.  Or, how else could one carry on, past such tragedy?  How else — to persevere?

Surely, she would still remember the general story of his life, its chronology.  But the details would be blocked out forever.

“My memory escapes me,” she would answer to all my inquiries.  “I was too young.  He was too young.”

I would stop asking.

But the second thing that changed — and that equated us, after my own birth — was the lack of opportunities to rerun mutual memories with her now missing sibling.  No longer could she turn to him and say:

“Remember that one time…”

Somewhere, I once heard that repetition matters to children.  That’s why they must ask the same questions over and over; or to provoke the adults to retell them the stories of their own short lives — their chronologies.  So, for those with siblings, memory becomes easier to train; because one could always turn to a brother and say:

“Remember that one time…”

I’ve never had that:  After my birth, motha decided, on my behalf, to never have another child.  Just in case anything would happen to him or her — she wasn’t sure I could survive it.  So, in her way, she was protecting me from my own possible tragic memories.

But any time she would find me waking up in her house, stumbling out into her kitchen for the first aromas of caffeine, she would study my face and say:

“My daddy always woke up like that.”

And she would wander off into a story — a story I most likely have already heard a dozen times before.  Still, I would let her retell it — and I would listen — because repetition matters to memory.  Repetition matters to children; and her brain synapses, collapsing on themselves, retracted my motha back to the little girl, with a younger sibling.  So, I would become her equal — someone she could turn to and say:

“Remember that one time…”

Agreeably, I would behold.  I would never embarrass her by interrupting the flow of her memory and say:

“You’ve already told me that!”

Or:  “I’ve heard that one before!”

And neither would I ever embarrass others if I caught them in the midst of repeating a story, for the dozenth time.  Because I could never predict the tragedy they may have had to survive, in their own chronologies, interrupted by bad memories.  (And chances are, there is always a tragedy — such is the human statistic.)

Instead, I would behold.  I would listen.  And I would try to commit their stories to memory — my memory with its own collapsed synapses, from years of tiny tragedies I myself was trying to forget.

“Can You Bounce Wit Me, Bounce Wit Me, Ge-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi?”

Mmm:  First cup of coffee of the day.  Mmm-hmm.  Oh yeah.

Achy, I stumble across the apartment this morning while listening to the gargling of my coffee drip.  I cannot wait.

My freelance gig of last night is sitting in my joints and in the arches of my feet:  So tired!  The neck is stiff, causing me a mellow headache.  Still, the pain is no stronger than the gratitude for finally manufacturing an income that doesn’t violate, compete with, or drain my work.  No longer do I report to anyone else but myself.  And others that hire me for my expertise treat me with dignity and a slight amusement that covers up their utter adoration of my company.  I stretch the neck, both ways.  Something snaps on the left side.

GRATITUDE.

Or should I blame the 7-mile dash across the beach yesterday, for feeling so roughed up?  Barefoot and barely dressed, I squeezed in between the beautiful bodies of strutting brown girls in yesterday’s sun, and I kept on running.  There is an esteem in me these day that other women pick-up on:  Not only do they smile at me (for they have always done that) — they grin, openly, in recognition or admiration — while they size me up discretely, the way that only women can do.  I grin right back at them, and I find myself picking up speed.

Oh, if I could, I would kiss every one of them on their shiny, pink-bow lips that must taste like purple grapes or black cherries; drinking them up, like that first cup of coffee of the day!

Mmm.  Life.  Oh yeah.

The drip has committed its last exhales, always so a-rhythmical.  But only after it does half a dozen of spit takes do I slowly make it over to the machine.  Ouch, ouch:  The arches of my feet are killing me!  The cold of the kitchen tiles feels soothing though.

I pour the first cup, watch its surface covered with patches of broken oily film; and at first, I am tempted to lap them up with my tongue.  Instead, I stare at them, like an old Turkish wise woman, reading coffee grounds for signs of my own destiny.  But I cannot see the bottom of the cup, so my story gets to keep its mystery.  All the better that way.

Mmm.  Life.

The hot liquid is somehow of perfect temperature this morning, and it goes down so easily; so smoothly.  Its acidity hangs in the back of my teeth with an aftertaste that makes me want to drink up more.  So much more!  To drink it up, to lap it up — all of it, with gratitude! — for having been given another day, another go at a dream.  Another chance at some good living:  Mmm.  Life!  Calmly, the patches of yesterday’s thoughts about today’s commitments start coming up to the surface — and I cannot wait to begin!

I pour the second cup and make my way over to the desk.  The morning outside is foggy.  I catch myself thinking of San Francisco.  Oh yeah:  The possibilities.

My dreams loom in the back of my consciousness, as if ripening until I am ready to gather them into the bottom of my skirt and to take a bite.  There have been so many of them:  These dreams of mine.  And there have been so many loves.  And each one, I don’t delay for long — but for long enough to gather the courage, the necessary readiness and the strength; the agility, the open-mindedness — before I begin their pursuit.

But what was it — that lullabied me to sleep last night?  I do remember venting to myself, while fighting the beginnings of this mellow headache.  The patches of yesternight’s thoughts slowly come up to the surface; and the fragments of their through-lines remind me of feeling agitated and strangely inspired.  (Mmm:   Life.)

Monogamy!  Bingo.  That’s it.

I was thinking about monogamy last night.  Achy, I paced across the apartment, at midnight; defining something that I’ve never had a problem trying on, with each of my loves.  (And there have been so many of them:  My loves.  Mmm.)  But then again, I’ve never had the audacity to deny myself — or my partner — the variety, in life.  I am not the one to confine my lover to limitations of a single woman:  me. Because I myself know how much beauty, how much possibility there is to lap up; to drink up; to chug it down — like the first cup of coffee of the day.

But of course, each coupling of lovers must define it for themselves.  And it’s a lengthy process of figuring out how each partner measures up against the other, with his or her beliefs, passions and hungers.  And it’s not an easy talk of comparing each other’s needs and opinions — on monogamy; but such talks must happen continuously, as the relationship grows and changes, morphing into more and more specificity.  These talks:  They must happen — absolutely! — because only in mutual honesty, does a coupling of lovers find the dignity and the esteem that comes from navigating one’s life well.

Yeah!  Honesty!  That is — the saving grace, in love.  I am addicted to it, and my girlfriends sometimes find it tragic.  And they find it odd that I allow my lovers the freedom of pursuing their hungers — as long as I am made privy to those pursuits before they happen.  It’s a health thing, at first, of course!  A physical safety thing.  I owe that to my lovers — and they owe that to me.  And then, there is the health of one’s consciousness whose only route of navigation — is honesty.

Oh yeah!  Life.

Mmm.

“‘Cause I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl!”

“Any woman who counts on her face is a fool.”

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Not the first time I’ve heard a beautiful woman call herself “a nerd”!

As a matter of fact, I think it must be some sort of an insider saying of my clan — my half of the species capable of dusting off a compliment either due to its insincerity or whatever insecurity it has activated.

“Oh, you mean:  this old thing?”

But she would say, “Yeah, I’m a nerd,” — and she would pout, do that thing with her eyelashes; flip her hair, shoot down your heart from behind its cascade; and thrust forward one of her magical hips.  She would take a stand:  “You have no idea!  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.

And doesn’t it make you want to die at her feet, like a sacrificial slave at the pyre compiled in her name?  You goddess!  You perfection.

Celebrities say that, and all the pretty actresses.  Some stunners have testified to their once-upon-a-time addiction to knowledge as well.  And I get it, but still I find myself doubting them ever so slightly.

But of course, of course!  Brain and beauty — is one powerful combination, and I am a lifetime fan.  (Just ask my girls.  Or, just look at them, really.)

But by its very definition, it seems, beauty cannot be isolated.  It shouldn’t be isolated because we all want a piece of it, so much.  Oh, but it consoles us!  It fools, even if just for the duration of being in its company.  For just a little while, it disorients against the ugliness of our griefs.  And somehow life begins seeming quite alright.  And we all seem so much more deserving.

So, it would be so unfair, so odd, or mismatched when a beautiful thing claims to have been burdened by so much knowledge it makes her socially inept.  Because theoretically, a beautiful person should be better equipped than the rest of us:  Attracting attention with one’s mortal coil must come with a life-long skill, right?  An advantage.  A leg-up.  An in.  Otherwise:  What’s the fucking point?

But last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.”

And then, I flipped my hair.  Oh, you mean:  this old thing?

Knowledge has been an addiction of mine for — what’s the expression? — “longer than I can remember”.  Back in my childhood, I was a loner, perpetually hiding behind the book covers of all the heavy Russian dogs.  Because while peaking from behind Nabokov’s spine, life seemed mellowed out by melancholy.  And with Bulgakov — it was just a fucking trip!  A joke!  A comedy of the absurd.  Leo Tolstoy intimidated right off the bat, even my own people; while Yesenin attracted conversations:

“Did you know he fucked around with Isadora Duncan?”

Scandalous!

“They killed him in bar fight, with a knife.  Like a dog!”

And Akhmatova:  She always demanded for me to lower her stanzas, even if because I couldn’t take her any more, with all that sobering truth.  And she ordered me to take in life, instead.

Adolescence would be spent behind the spines of other dogs, more foreign, more worldly; and much less in love with the Motha’land.  But then came a day, on a bus ride to my father’s town, when I lowered a tome to catch a breath and found a pretty thing distorted in the window’s reflection, with nighttime behind it.  From behind the cascade of my hair, I examined her; did that thing with my eyelashes — and then, I went back to reading.

Because it wouldn’t change a thing:  I would still chase the big dogs and dust off the clumsy compliments from young boys and the drooling older gentlemen either due to their insincerity or whatever insecurity they would activate in me.  And I would chase my dogs far enough to the edge of the continent.  And when the big dogs jumped — I jumped right after them and swam to the other coast.

Years later, I still find myself addicted to my books.  But more than that, I have perfected the addiction to fit more life into it:  I am now addicted to learning.  Any learning!  All the life’s new things:  show me, tell me, guide the way!  And often pro bono, I grant my life the immediate curiosity so easily available from behind the spines of all the big dogs; and it, most of the time, pays it back –tenfold.

So, last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.”

I have been pacing my apartment — with all the big dogs lining-up its walls with their spines — and I have been sweating my ear against the phone while trying to explain the new curiosities of this year.  The poor comrade could not have known that I’ve been laboring over my work for eleven hours already:  that I had written for five and researched my media for the rest.  That I have already played with a few other bloggers — other nerdy and, as I imagined, very beautiful girls taking a peak at life from behind the cascades of their hair and from behind the spines of their laptops in their own apartments, illuminated by nothing more than the light of the blogosphere.  That I’ve had a day full of life already — and full of curiosities paid back to me tenfold; but after the town shut down, I still wanted more life.  And I would find it — behind the spine of my laptop.

“Yeah.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd,” I giggled.  Or maybe I didn’t.

But I do remember flipping my hair and thinking how light it was — and how easy! — to grant my life the immediate curiosities so easily available from behind the spine of my laptop.  And even though most of the hours of my learning have been spent in solitude — in isolation so typical for a nerd — everything seemed so much fuller:

Of life.

Of light and lightness.

And of purpose whose source of enlightenment was not only knowledge — but gratitude itself, paid back to me, tenfold.

“I’m Coming Home, I’m Coming Home. Tell the World: I’m Coming Home.”

“Why don’t you live in San Francisco?” he asked me yesternight, in awe at my mismatch to this other city, where both of us were currently living.

He had done that before, this measuring me against a city — any city.  It used to be Boston.  Or anywhere else, really, on the East Coast or by the Black Sea.  Anywhere but this other city, where both of us were currently living.

“You’re just so displaced here.”  And yes, he had said that before as well:  judging me as if I were a story he was thinking of rewriting.  “So… Why don’t you?!”

“Because angels still claim to live around HERE,” I brushed him off, back then and yesternight.  That too I had done before, always with a deprecating tone, mostly at my own expense.

“It’s like London — on crack, up there!  It’s perfect!” he carried on.  Youth.

Easily impressionable regardless his worldliness, my wondrous child had just returned from that tilted situation up north, where I tend to run away whenever in dire need to reboot.

My New Yorkers hate on it though:

“San Francisco?  Pah-lease!  It’s no better than New York!  Come home!”

They’re right:  There is nothing like that island of my youth.  Nothing in the world!  There is no stranger nonsense, no meaner beauty; no humanity more brutal or heartbreaking.

But New York can carry on without me:  She is a stunner used to runway heels and bouquets catapulted to her feet from great distances — all for the sake of her fleeting love.  She wears bras adorned with gemstones; lacy slips for midnight strolls, and nothing but pearls for when she soaks her tired feet in her bathtub.

And yes, we had our fun, She and I.  But it’s my life’s religion to never compete with another woman.  So:  I had let her win.  I had let her have it.  And I had left her, for this other city where angels still claim to take residence.

But yesternight, my wondrous child was getting carried away: “No wonder they call it ‘The City’!”

I love it when he gets like this:  when he stops shielding himself with his strained compassion, or with his habit to disarm me with praise.  And only after all that fuss does he step into himself a little better.  I keep convincing him that in his wondrous child-like-ness, he is — the most beautiful.  But then, how else is he going to learn to be a man unless he tries on his manhood as if it were a collection of dapper hats on a rack in the corner of some vintage shop, somewhere in a city very much like San Francisco?

“They call it ‘The City’ to set an example:  THAT’S how one does a city!” he was so excited, my wondrous child.  “It’s an etalon, yes?”

Ah, youth.

The last time, I ventured up to “The City,” I had made plans to meet up there with a companion.  It had been his idea, way back when.  It had to be, for I am too selfish about that tilted situation up north; too selfish to share it.  Because I go up there to reboot, to run away:  So, it’s my thing, you see?  It’s my secret place.  My secrets’ place:  It’s a place that keeps my secrets, my heartbreaks, my cravings for change — safe.

My intuition was right:  Sharing it — would turn out to be a silly idea.  For my companion and me, it would be the last stretch of bliss because something would get tilted off its axis soon thereafter — soon after that tilted situation up north — and I would be left dashing in between our memories as something to either regret or to hold onto; to store away into forgetfulness or to let go.  (Oh, I wished he hadn’t marked my city.)

But “The City” would keep my new secrets safe.

“It’s just that there is so much money up there!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again.  “It’s paved — with money.  And everything is so clean, and new, and… well, perfect!”

He had only seen one side of her.  To me, She is a handsome, middle-aged heiress.  Born into privilege, She had made a choice that only the privileged can make:  To fill her life with content, She would dedicate her money to good causes, like compassion and forgiveness and praise.  There would still be plenty of comfort and easy access in her life.  But the uneasiness would go away every time She would give shelter to the broken hearts that, just like me, would run away to her — to reboot.  Some would accept her graces immediately — and stay.  Others would get hooked and continue to come back until going away would make no further sense.

But then again:  She is such a hippie, that one!  Shrouded in earthy smells of mildew and perpetual fog, sweat and essence oils, incense, weed and baker’s yeast, She examines human struggles over tea.  And She smiles with an insight that everything would workout any way.  And She speaks in a husky voice, with a deprecating tone, mostly at her own expense.  Perhaps, it’s because She has keep too many secrets safe, for way too many runaways.  For way too many broken hearts.

She is my city.  My secret place:  She is the city that keeps my secrets — safe.

She is not the city of my youth:  She is the city that won’t tell on my mistakes that I had committed back then, in youth.

She is not the city of my youth, but She is willing to give shelter to my future.

“We should go there, together!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again, yesternight.  “Have you been?”

Hmm.  Youth.

No.  She is NOT the city of my youth.  She is “The City” — of my forgiveness.

“I Told You: Leave Your Situations at the Door!”

I don’t want to wait for a change.  For a change, I don’t want to wait for a change — I want to create it.  I want to make it, because I must make it — in life.  Too long!  It has been too long of a wait:  for a change.  

I had been carrying my suffering like a sentimental load inside tattered baggage I must’ve borrowed from the top shelf of my parents’ closet.  When I was initially packing it up, back in the most formative years of my youth, curiously my father looked over my shoulder, handing me my items with one hand and patting the crown of my head with the other:

“You sure you’re gonna need all of this, little sparrow?” he would ask repeatedly, yet still contribute to my baggage, a handful of issues at a time.

I would get hold of his items, twirl them in my hand; sniff, taste, measure:  “Hmm.  Dunno!” I would say.  “Might need it later.”

My youthful impatience, my childish wrath would prevent me from weighing my future load against my strength.  Instead, I would get inventive at digging up some forgotten familial issues from the corners of my motha’s drawers.  And with my father as my shadow, I would wander around the home I was leaving — out of my stubbornness, not my self-esteem — and take a few things off the walls and, with his help, reach for the highest, forgotten shelves of our bookcases.  Instead of testing the baggage with an occasional test run, I kept on stuffing it.

“Might need it later,” I kept thinking, not even knowing that it was way too much pressure to place onto one’s “later”.

On the day of my departure for what I thought would be a better life — a better “later” — I even managed to look under all the carpets and rugs of our familial home, swooping up a few more microscopic particles into the side pockets of my baggage:  Might need those later, as well.

“Oh, and don’t forget this!” motha would shove a few more things into my baggage on my way out.  She would see me off at the threshold of our familial home; and every time I turned in a lapse of courage, she would wave her kitchen towel at me:  A flag of Don’t Ever Surrender!

The journey would turn out to be more epic than even my youthful imagination could think up; and it would be so magnificent at times — better than I thought when I thought of my “later”.  I would never come to regret the steps I had taken back then, in the most formative years of my youth; and I wouldn’t despise the directions I had chosen to follow — mostly out of stubbornness, not necessarily my self-esteem.  Because in the end, it would’ve all been worth it:  My life — my “later” — would be my own creation.  My choice.

Along the way, I would continue to pick up a few more issues for my loaded baggage:  Might need those later.  And it would take the initial thrill of the journey to settle down before I would become aware of the compromised lightness of my step, the increasing calluses and the now chronic backaches.

“Am I really gonna need all this stuff later?” I would wonder for a moment, but then carry on carrying, mostly out of stubbornness — NOT my self-esteem.

And when another youthful thing would pass me with a lighter baggage on her back, secretly I would admire her step; and I would wonder about our difference.  Must be a familial thing, I would conclude, then rummage through my baggage in search of an issue I could blame it on.  For a moment, the blame would soothe the envy, but the weight would not let up.  And I would spend more stretches of my journey in anticipation of the next rest stop.

Yes, I was getting tired.  I needed more stops, more time to get up; more courage to summon that stubbornness I had been confusing for self-esteem.  The load would begin to affect my choices:  I would start looking for shortcuts.  Better yet, I would ask other travelers for their evaluation of the course ahead.

“It’s just that… I have all this baggage,” I would explain, introducing the heavy load on my back as some alter-ego of mine.

I would begin to doubt my choices, to question if my “later” was still worth the pains.  Suddenly, I would find myself wasting time on indecisiveness — a quality that tarnished my self-esteem.

It would be thrilling, though, when for a while I would be accompanied by a love.  He would offer me a helping hand, and although I would accept it reluctantly, I had to notice how much easier it was to travel without baggage.  Quickly, I would get addicted, if not to that same helping hand, but at least to the illusionary promise of it.  But still committed to my baggage, I wouldn’t notice the burden it would be causing to my love.  And when that love would depart, sometimes, I would ask to carry some of his load as well:  Might need it later.

It would take a few more loves — loves that were in love with their own baggage of suffering — before I would wonder:

“Perhaps, it is time — for a change.”

Gradually, at first, I began leaving some issues at my rest stops or pretending to forget about them when they were carried by a love.  And then, a new habit kicked in:  Once twirled in my hands for the last time, an item would be disposed.  Because rarely did my baggage prove itself worthy of my “later”.

And for a change, I began wanting to change.  Not waiting for it:  Not rummaging in my baggage for promises of closures or resolutions.  Instead, I’ve gotten into a new habit of letting go — for the sake of change.

So, enough now!  It’s time to let go, time to unload.  It’s time — to change, for a change.  

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

“I don’t see how your outlook can be helpful,” a lovely creature was texting me last night.

And I could do nothing better than to talk to her, but I was en route home — back to my sanctuary; a tired, little girl running away from the Big Bad Wolf — because I had my weekly long-distance call to make:  to Motha Russia!

For over a year now, I’ve made this call, every weekend:  To my old man.  I say “old”, because I assume he is such, my comrades.  But truth be told, I haven’t seen my father in nearly fifteen years.  Yes:  As others’, my family has had many tragedies; but this is the one — he and I have shared.

History does that It makes peg pieces out of people, moving them all around the world or taking them off the board entirely, as if a part of some sick master plan carried out by a player smarter than the rest.  A sly genius with a brutal vision.

I often wonder about my father’s memory — of his time and the way history presented itself to him, so obviously unkindly.  Although we’ve both lost our country to a collapsed ideology, followed by chaos, then a slew of changed regimes and a massive emigration (to which I ended up belonging), my old man’s lot had to be heavier to the millionth degree:  Because besides losing a county he’d spent four decades serving, he was losing his only child.

History does that.

Back then, in a reckless way to which most young are prone, I departed from Motha Russia with a courageous commitment to never look back.  And I didn’t.  Instead, I strained my eyes at the new horizon:  I had my whole life in front of me, my comrades, based in a whole new country; and however tumultuous or exciting — it was mine!  It was all about ME:  I was building this thing!  I was the one in charge!  It would take me a decade to build that life, while becoming the person my father had wanted me to be (but would not get to witness, still).  It would take a decade of hardships typical for any adulthood to eventually begin empathizing with my father’s lot.  But not until my own consideration of motherhood would I decide to reconnect with him.

In that first phone call over a year ago, my old man was so silent, I continued to question our phone connection.  Fuckin’ Russia!

“P:  Are you there?!” I kept repeating.

“Yes, yes, yes…  Forgive me.  Forgive me.”

And then, we’d go back to silence.

I realized:  Silence — was the sound of my old man’s crying.  An Alpha to the core, he had never cried in front of me, but once:  On the day of my departure.  So, words would fail us that day.  So would the connection, several times:  Fuckin’ Russia! 

But in between the silence, and my committed redialing of the operator, my old man would continue to say:

“Forgive me.  Forgive me.”

As if it were all his fault, the way life had played us.  As if the loss of connection — throughout our lives and that evening — were his responsibility to bear; because he was the adult, after all.  But what he didn’t know was that I too had learned the burdens of adulthood, which I was by now willing to share.  As far as I could see, between us:  Forgiveness was unnecessary.  Love — was.

So, it’s not that my last night’s chat with the lovely creature was unappreciated:  I have adored her for years.  But as we had witnessed each other’s recent love affairs go to shit due to the lapses of our men’s courage, our endless pontifications on their reasons, and feelings, and intensions — blah, blah, fuckin’ blah! — were beginning to feel gratuitous.  Why were we giving these guys so much benefit of the doubt?  Why were we wasting our loves on men who didn’t even want it?

So, I wrapped it up, perhaps clumsily and rushed (because last night, I was a tired, little girl, running away from the Big Bad Wolf):

“A person in love will do everything possible to be with his beloved.  My guy — was NOT in love with me.”

To my lovely, my conclusion had to seem brutal.

“I don’t see how your outlook can be helpful,” she said.

I dared to forget that she too was suffering.  Forgive me.  Forgive me.  So, I attempted to decoy the whole thing with a self-deprecating joke:

“I’m Russian:  I’m used to tough love.”

The joke didn’t work.  I lost her.

But this morning, post the conversation with my old man, I have to reconsider the pattern of my rushed departures:  If I am not loved — I leave.  I burn bridges.  Seemingly recklessly, I impose change with my departures — onto the lives of others and myself — and cope with the consequences later.  But what I don’t do — is wait around for a man’s change of heart.  

My lovely of last night was not the first to accuse me of brutality of my choices.  I’m tough, she says;  “so strong!”  But to me, love — is a matter of black-and-white, really:  It is a privilege that cannot be wasted.

Too hard was my lesson with my old man, my comrades:  No matter the turmoil of history or life, you do NOT take your beloveds for granted.  Because there is way too much unpredictability in life.  Too much chaos and pain.  And to forsaken a love — is a choice I can no longer afford.

Thankfully, my old man was on the same page last night:

“Run:  He is not in love you,” he said.  “Run — for your life!”

And so, I did:  A tired, little girl running away from the Big Bad Wolf.