Tag Archives: awe

“Somewhere, Someone’s Calling Me, When the Chips Are Down.”

(Continued from September 30, 2011.)

So, that day, when motha 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 a story.  But motha sucks at storytelling; and soon enough, long before delivering the punchline, she started laughing and flailing her arms around, completely unaware of her vanity (and considering motha always knew the effect of her beauty, such abandonment — was quite endearing).

She tilted her head back, as if in the midst of some private exorcism, and she hollered and yelped in between her words.  Tears started glistening in the corners of her eyes.  And she would smack me every once in a while, as if taunting me to participate in her hysteria; and even though she stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, motha could always pack a mighty punch.

Pretty soon, things in her vicinity started falling down to the floor.  Motha crouched down to pick them up; but then, she just stayed there — laughing.

I don’t know what the gist of her story was, at first:  I just kept clutching the coconut.  I wasn’t really sure how breakable that thing was, and I didn’t want motha to knock it over by accident.  Sure, I’ve seen those things before, most likely on some Mexican telenovela or in a film about rich American people, in a pretty town, on some pretty shore.  Both genres would have been narrated in a monotone male voice of the translator, yet I still managed to get addicted to these latest imports on our television screens, full-heartedly.

Because in the last years of the Soviet Union, the world suddenly became much larger — and not as intimidating as it had been previously assumed.  And despite the utter chaos, my own homeland began to seem much more human.   

And despite the last days of my innocence — the last days of my childhood — it was impossible not to laugh along with my motha, in that moment.

I think she was trying to tell me about her asking for a tutorial from the cashier woman at the store.

“And why are you asking ME, lady citizen?” the bitter woman had responded.  You’d think she would be happy to work in such a fancy establishment, with more access to deficit items the rest of us could only see on some Mexican telenovelas or in an American film.  But apparently, Soviet cashiers were bitter regardless of their situation.

“Do I look like I’m married to an apparatchik, to you?!” — the disgruntled woman attacked my motha.  (I have a feeling that interaction didn’t end well, for the cashier; because with motha — it’s better not to push it.)

Bitterness — was the worst consequence of those days.  The flood of unexpected hardships was actually quite easy to understand, because poverty had always existed in my Motha’land.  But while we were all poor together, it must’ve bugged the grown-ups less.  It was when the distance between the new wealth and the old poverty became obvious that Russians began to express their discontentment.  (And we aren’t really a happy bunch, to begin with.)

“So, it’s up to you and me, rabbit!” motha concluded and marched out into the living-room.

She wasn’t too keen on tender nicknames for me, so I just stayed in my place and waited:  With motha — it’s better not to push it.  Something heavy fell down in the living-room.  I heard my motha swear.  The thought of our neighbors below made me cringe:  Daily, the poor bastards had to endure the heavy footsteps of this tiny woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground.

Motha reappeared in the doorway.

“How about it then?!”

Her face was still flushed from laughter, and her chest was heaving.  In one of her manicured hands, motha was holding an ax (oh, dear Lenin!), and with the other, she was waving a hammer and a screwdriver above her head.

“Oy, no!” I said.  And, “Bad idea!” — I thought to myself.

“Whoever doesn’t take risks — doesn’t drink champagne!” motha declared and proceeded to march into the kitchen.  I, the coconut, and our offensively obese red cat followed her.

The operation that unfolded in the kitchen was less than graceful:  Crouching down in her miniskirt, motha began pounding the screwdriver into the poor piece of fruit.  But the problem was she was whacking it through the side, and the thing kept rolling out of her grip.  And she:  She kept laughing.

“Hey, rabbit!  Come help!”

Motha’s orders were never up to a negotiation, so, I obeyed.  The thought of the screwdriver being hammered into my palm with my motha’s clumsy maneuver was a lot less intimidating, than her wrath.  Yeah:  With motha — it’s better not to push it.

But first, I examined the fruit:

“Let’s trying breaking in through these three dimples,” I suggested.

The task would have been accomplished had motha stopped collapsing into fits of laughter.  And I thought:  If there was ever anything more dangerous than an unhappy Russian woman, it would be a woman in throws of hysteria, holding a hammer.

Motha reached for the ax.

“Oy, no!” I rebelled and leapt to my feet.  This whole situation was starting to stage itself as some Greek tragedy.  And most of the time, those don’t work out well, for the children.

Motha got up, while still holding the now scuffed up fruit.  With tears and make-up running down her face, she reminded me of a young girl at a Beatles concert.  (The images of such strange life elsewhere were beginning to flood our press, from all parts of the world.  And somehow, that world seemed much larger, less intimidating — and quite wonderful!)

“Rabbit, catch!” she threw the coconut at me.

I ducked.  The fruit bounced off the doorway behind me and hit the floor.  Our offensively obese red cat dashed out of the kitchen.

Motha and I lost it entirely, and when the neighbors below knocked on their ceiling, we lost it again.  The glimmer of joy, dimmed in my motha’s eyes in those difficult years, considered reigniting.  No matter the chaos, this beautiful woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, refused to grovel.   And even if it took hysteria to remember how to laugh, she wouldn’t give it up.

“Birds Flyin’ High: You Know How I Feel! Sun In The Sky: You Know How I Feel!”

(Continued from August 25, 2011.)

“Um.  Vie-rra?”

I look up:  The badass to take me flying is heading toward us, with an already extended arm for a handshake.  He is so much larger than me.

I make my move, grinning:

“I’m Vera!” I say.

I feel calm and yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky.

“Sean,” he says.  What a decent name, on a decent man!

Then, he adds:  “And for the next hour, I’m going to be — your bodyguard.”

“I like that!” I say, still grinning.  Apparently, for the next hour, I am going to speak only with exclamations.

Sean gives me his forearm.  I grab it, and for the first time in the history of my womanhood — I actually mean it.  I let him lead the way.

On the sidelines, I can see the other instructors readjusting the gear on their students.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  He’s not even wearing his own gear yet.  Instead, he starts talking to me, calmly, about today’s “exceptional” skies.

“You can see everything much clearer, from up there,” he says.

I assume it’s metaphor for something:  A life of wisdom, of persevering past the suffering and finally landing into humility, which often takes the very place — of grace.

It must also be a metaphor for luck.  And then I think it’s a good sign that in his name, there is an equal number of letters as in mine — and we share the same vowels.

We talk.  Where did I come from?  How did he land here?

“I used to be afraid of heights,” he tells me.  “Until my family gave me a skydiving lesson, as a Christmas present.”

And this, I assume, must be a metaphor for something, as well:  For human courage and the choice to defeat one’s limitations.

“THE SKY IS THE LIMIT,” says the sign behind Sean’s back in the alcove where we’ve walked off to pick up his equipment.

And this!  This too — must be a metaphor.  A good sign.

And I already know that I shall continue rewinding this day in my memory every time I want to land into my own humility.

The aircraft pulls up.  It’s a tiny thing.  It sounds rickety — and I LOVE that.  Because it makes survival seem easy, nonchalant — not a thing to fuss over, or to fear.

Calmly, Sean goes over what’s about to happen.  As he gives me instructions about my head and limb positioning when up on the air, he throws in a few metaphors:

“When we come to the edge, you kneel down on one knee, as if proposing to me.  Rest your head on my shoulder.  Wait for me to tap you like this; then bring your arms out at a ninety-degree angle — and enjoy the view!”

I imitate his movements.  The thrill, the impatience, the anticipation makes me a terrible student though; because besides grinning, I don’t notice myself doing much else.  But my bodyguard must know that already, because he continues with his metaphors.

“If you feel like you can’t breathe — scream!”

And this too!  This too — must be a metaphor for something.

There are three other students besides me.  Two of them start leading the way to the non-fussy aircraft, accompanied by their instructors who are still adjusting their gear, yanking on the belts, clicking the hinges.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  Somehow, he’s managed to get geared up already and to check up on own my belts and hinges.  And he has done his job with grace, without arousing any adrenaline in me.

I feel calm, yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky — which must be the limit — and past my own limitations.

We are not even inside the plane yet, but already, I can hear the echos of Sean’s metaphors:

“When we come to the edge… kneel down as if proposing.”

“Rest your head…  Wait.”

“If you can’t breath — scream!”

Inside the aircraft, the two students making the jump at 10,500 feet straddle the bench ahead of us.  Their instructors start adjusting their belts again.  The four of us sit behind them.

My bodyguard and I continue talking.  Come to find out:  He is a gypsy, just like me, traveling mostly in pursuit of conquering his fears.  For eight years, he’s been leaping out into sky.

“You must be fearless!”  I say.

“No,” Sean answers, calmly.  “But this job — is a good metaphor for dealing with life.”

Underneath us, I can see the pretty geometric shapes of farmlands and fields that I have seen before out of the windows of other planes.  Since a child, I had always wanted to leap out into the clouds, somehow knowing that there wouldn’t be anything to fear about that.

I turn to Sean:  “How high are we?!”

I notice:  I myself have started speaking in metaphors.  Or, maybe, I have always done that.  Which must be why I still find myself leaping out into the skies of my limitations — on my own.  It must be hard to keep up.

“Six and a half,” my bodyguard answers and he shows me a watch-like device on this wrist with that number.

I grab it, meaning it, wanting to devour every bit of knowledge and skill that comes with leading a fearless life.  Sean tells me that’s the exact height at which he’ll open our parachute.

I do the math.  (My mind is clear, still unaffected by adrenaline.)

It means:  We shall free fall for 7,000 feet.

Wow.

My gratitude — floods in.

Calmly, I watch the other two couples leap out at their heights.  There is something very incredible in the way they make their final choice to go, letting the skies sweep them off the edge.

AND I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS.  IT’S HUMBLING.

We keep going up to our height.

“In what order do you wanna go?” Sean asks me, over my shoulder:  Somehow, he’s managed to have done his job again, and I am now sitting strapped onto his body, at my hips and shoulders.

“Let’s go first!” I answer, still grinning.

And still:  I am calm.  And still:  I am impatient to jump out into the sky.

Soon enough, we start sliding onto the edge.  When I put my goggles on, I hear the echo of Sean’s metaphor:  He must’ve told me that it would be the last gesture we do — before leaping out.  He’s amazing.

The four of us shake, slap, squeeze each other hands.  I can feel the heat rising up behind my goggles:

THIS!  THIS HUMILITY AND GRACE — THIS VERY HUMANITY — IS WHAT LIFE MUST BE ABOUT!  

Sean slides the door up.

“Come to the edge.”

“Kneel.”

“Rest.”

“Breathe.”

I hear the echos.  The heart — is on my tongue.  I think:  I’m screaming.

Maybe not.

We get swept off.

IT. 

IS. 

AMAZING.

When daydreaming about leaping out into the sky before, I used to think I would cry.  I was wrong:

It’s all joy!  All rapture!  All gratitude! 

Like a giant orgasm, for 7,000 feet!

And it tastes — just like the Ocean!

I am air-bound now, above California.

Above my life.

“It’s Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’!”

She woke up really early on me today, peaked through the orange tulle curtains of my hotel window and said, “Come play dress-up, messy head.”

I opened my eyes, shushed away the last of my dreams and squinted at Her sun.

“Look on you,” I thought, immediately inspired to untangle myself from the sweat-drenched sheets.

(I had come here to do some serious heavy lifting:  To leave a lover behind — like an excess of water weight — to let Her keep him, for good.  “Do keep him safe though,” I had thought last night before leaving for my dreams, “and don’t tell anyone — just how much I loved him.”)

It would not take me longer than fifteen minutes to leap out of my bed, stretch the soaked sheets over the bathroom door to dry out; peel on my brand new running clothes, pull all that hair nonsense out of my face — and to start running.  Despite the whining knee I had busted last night in the midst of rage, I flew down the stairs (“Fuck the elevator:  I’m am an athlete!”) and past the disoriented guests checking-in at the desk of this vintage hotel that can only happen here — with Her — or back in New York City.

“Onward from here!” my mind was beginning to slip into just another of its outraged moods; and having foreseen it, I had left my running music up in the room.  “ONWARD!”

But the minute I stepped outside:

“Ah, look on you!” I thought — and felt my shoulder blades loosen up immediately and slide down my back like a pair of resting wings.

I have always had a crush on Her:  a little bit of a moody addiction of which I am not fully aware until it is time to leave Her.  On our every rendezvous, I forget about my departure date looming ahead.  I block it out; and instead, I carry on, quite often getting confused for a local by the disoriented tourists stumbling along Her streets with a “Look on you!” expression paralyzing their breathless faces.  On foot, I navigate Her  streets never really on any other mission than to live — and to live so damn fucking well!  And every time I have to leave Her, I throw fits:  in the middle of my vintage hotels, on BART rides and in airport lounges.  I would begin to jones for Her long before saying my goodbyes; and slip into yet another outraged mood for days, for weeks to follow.

“Yeah?  You like?” She began to shift about on her feet, twirling her sex in front of my eyes:  showing off Her heavenly curvatures and the bohemian yet often expensive frocks.  From Chestnut, she looked idillic:  Too good to be true, really.  Right around Fillmore, She seemed quite youthful.

On Divisadero, She nearly brought me down to my knees; and I would weep with gratitude for having lived long enough to get here — for having lived so damn fucking well! — and for wanting to live past Her, on this day, just so that I could always come back to Her.  And back — to this gratitude.

“And what about this?” She purred turning the hip of her Bay toward me.  “I put this on, just for you.”

It’s true:  My beautiful girl — that flirt! — was unusually sunny today; kind of balmy, as if shrouded in a fur coat of Florida’s dampness.  Adorned with her favorite Golden necklace of the Bridge, she shifted the other hip toward me and looked over her shoulder:

“I can pull this off, yeah?  You think?”

“Oh,” I thought.  “Oh, oh, oh!  Look on you!”

I would catch myself walking.  The outraged mood of the mind had evaporated with the last feathers of her fog, somewhere along Hyde.  (Whatever the fuck that was about!)  And who knows for how long I had been moving at this calmer pace:  It had to have been because I could not soak her up fast enough at that other, outraged speed on mine — so I shifted my gears.

And maybe, it had something to do with Her faces — the so-damn-fucking-well-lived-in faces of her locals:

The chiseled face of a gorgeous driver inside a white delivery truck with absent doors who studied me with curiosity while waiting to make a left — waiting for me to walk by — and then he smiled so disarmingly, so fully, so kindly and well, I thought:  “By god!  Marry me!”

The sad face of a beautiful girl, smoking her cigarette in a Parisian manner, outside a tanning salon, who was possibly dreaming of better places and better loves, in the world:  “Is better love even possible?”

The threesome clan of nerdy boys from the future cast of a Wes Anderson film who simultaneously stripped down to their waistlines revealing some delicious muscles underneath:  “Yes, please!”

The Yoko Ono in her black chic, horn-rimmed glasses who with a single gesture of a black-winged bird threw her pashmina over the elegant shoulder and sucker-punched me with a wave of her perfume:  “Ahhh!”

The ultra masculine, unshaven, sleepy street fighter in a gray-and-scarlet 49ers tee, climbing inside his hefty Grand Cherokee:  “Has anyone else noticed the cars never look filthy around here (around Her)?”  And again:   “Yes!  Please!”

And the long haired hippie thoughtfully strumming his guitar with some Flamenco chords as if its strings were the lead-loaded waters of the Bay, or the heavy hair of a brown girl he once loved so madly:  “Play it up, love.  Play it up.  I want to hear you, for many blocks ahead.”

“And what if I throw this on?” She raised a single eyebrow and slid into the cashmere of her grayish clouds, with blue in between.

“Perfect!” I hummed in response.  “You are — absolutely perfect.”

I felt the tears accumulate again in my lower eyelids, and when a few slipped out and rolled down my face:  Yes, they tasted like gratitude. 

And I began to run again.