Tag Archives: beauty

Aged

(Continued from July 15th, 2012.

Her previous thoughts on motherhood had brought her no peace.  There were times she feared them even; intolerably changing tram cars when in too close of a proximity to a small child or sometimes a pregnant woman; feeling her own intimidation at the span of her life rise up in her:  What would happen if she were to have a child?

It was as if she was allergic to the very idea of it, perhaps until she was ready, with time.  Except that readiness never really arrived:  Fear simply changed places with acute loneliness to which the sometimes seemingly easy solution presented itself in a trustful face of an infant.  Maybe, that’s it.  May, that’ll fix it.  Maybe, if only she had a baby, she’d learn how; and perhaps, she’d grow softer.  But it could also be just the very opposite — losing traces of self in the chaos of unknowing; and every single time, she shook the idea out of her hair as if it were a mere layer of dust from the construction site she passed every morning, on her way to the university.

“But you don’t have much time!” the other women warned her, their faces altered by some insider knowledge, for which she was expected to be grateful.  Many had already procreated more than once by her age.  “You’ve gotta try it,” they suggested with knowing smiles.  “You’re gonna love being a wife!”  (No one ever stopped to differentiate between the two events:  motherhood and marriage did not have to be bound into a sequence.)

And she’d seen her own former school mates float around the city bazar with growing swellings of their stomachs — “I didn’t know she’d gotten married already!” — appearing too hot, uncomfortable or weighed down; rarely looking blissful.  To her, the young mothers appeared to have gone distances.  They were gone, off to the places outside of all this:  This place, in the middle of winter, always just making it.

Most of Larisa’s girlfriends had left the town in the first five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Angela got into a law school in St. Petersburg.  Oksana left for Israel.  It happened in such a rapid succession, she didn’t get a chance to ask anyone yet:  Do you feel that way sometimes too?  (Larisa’s mother seemed to have no tolerance for such questions.)

Meanwhile, mother’s girlfriends dropped loud hints in her vicinity:

“Perhaps, Larisa is just not into it.”

“All books — no boys.”

A bluestocking, the librarian type.  An old maid.  Larisa wasn’t necessarily plain looking, but had always been bookish; and that would be intimidating to anyone, let alone a man with a domestic proposition for her.

“She should try putting on lipstick sometimes.  She’s not that bad looking after all!”

It had to be a particular quality to the Russian women:  to cross the lines of respect into forced familiarity, as if, just on the mere basis of their common sex, they could treat her as an fumbling ignoramus.  Some of her mother’s girlfriends she always found invasive and somehow intentionally diminutive.  It was if they knew better, and she should too.  Often disguised with good wishes, they invaded and pointed out where she somehow didn’t measure up to the accomplishments of others, even though she, all along, strived for something different; something more specific, more organic to its environment:  like the color of sunset before a thunderstorm, or the way her footsteps sounded after each first snowfall and they moved the heart to awe by the magnanimity of it all, even though it couldn’t be — nor needn’t be — described.

And then, there was their insincerity, one might even call it “mean spirits”.  Larisa looked to her mother for a back-up, but the woman didn’t see it her way:  Mother was always better at belonging:

“Such things, Larisa, they take a woman’s heart to understand!”

The little girl had let go of her grandmother’s skirt, sat down onto the dirt floor of the church and rested her chin on top of the propped up knees.  Larisa hadn’t noticed that the child had been studying her.  The hum of the recorded organ had carried her away; not because she would’ve rather been elsewhere.  No, she enjoyed drifting off like this, and then observing the world from a haze of her own thoughts; vague and left better undefined.

And she had known men — one Pyotr Nedobry — who forced their own thoughts to be defined and insisted to interpret hers.  With attentiveness rooted in hunger, Pyotr would study her with desire:  as if she could fix it, be his long sought-out solution, whatever had been missing out of her life.  And when he, last May, lifted her up over his shoulder and ran toward the lake, she was expected to laugh.  Instead, she couldn’t catch her breath.  Too late, she thought.  Such romance no longer tempted her.  Or maybe, she was the type to have lived out her youth already, for there was nothing left to miss of it; no delightful memory but the mournful knowledge that she, indeed, was never really youthful.

Pyotr Nedobry placed her down, that day, on the lawn, by the bank.

“The dandelions!” Larisa tenderly whispered.  They were everywhere!

“Oh, I know!  So annoying!” Pyotr exclaimed, and he took off his jacket so that they could sit down without staining their clothes.  Not at all what she had meant!

They spoke while looking out.  He would pick up blades of semi-dry grass, small branches, sharp-edged pebbled and continue sticking them into her slip on shoes.  Hurtful, irritating — he demanded too much!

If she were to go for it, she knew at first the attention would be elating; and it would lighten her days for a while.  But she had already done that, a number of times!  Once with a student from Argentina who convinced her that he would be her life’s regret if she didn’t let him woo her.  He wasn’t.  And all this attention eventually turned on itself.  Everything that they would learn of each other could become ammunition, for it was humanly impossible for one woman to get the job done.  She would grow tired and mourn the mysteries she’d surrendered under the influence of lust.

“All these girly secrets!” Pyotr smirked, looking down at her, sideways.  He was already becoming mean.

And she — was already gone.

Larisa looked up at the statue of Christ.  The sun, parting the clouds after a week of snowfall, shined through the colored bits of the mosaic windows; and a column of caramel-colored light came down onto the thorn-crowned head.  Larisa felt warmer:  That’s it!  That’s how she wanted to discover beauty:  never expecting it, never molding the circumstances that were out of her control; but by simply and habitually mending her spaces, she could give room for it all — to flood in.

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.)

It’s Better to Have Loved.

(Continued from January 29th, 2012.)

The one that had preceded Nina suffered from a permanent tension of his vocal cords.  He had picked me up at the Santa Monica Library — a house of glass and metal, and the place of rest for many a homeless in the City where no one could ever find a home.  Not really.  Sure, one had a house, or a place.  A joint.  A roommate situation.  But to be at home — one had to be willing to belong.

“Hmm.  That’s an interesting pullover you’re wearing,” said the young creature, at the Library, smug with studied confidence.  Not natural at all.

I granted him a single glance-over:  An overachiever, to a tee.  Something about him lacked the swagger of those whose choices and whims were endorsed by family’s name or a bank account (which ever one had more clout).  Yes, still:  He tried.  Immediately, I knew:  He, who poured this much attention into his subject — who reached too far and tried too hard, straining beyond the plasticity of his compassion (which would already be magnificently excessive), he who choked with forced praise — would rarely be comfortable in silence.  Not in the mood for busy talk, I changed the subject whilst looking for an exit:

“What are you reading, mate?” I threw over my shoulder.  The echo played a round of ping-pong with my sounds between the glass walls of the reading room.  Ate, ate, ate.  To which, a studying nerd deflated his lungs, somewhere in the corner:

“SHHHHHH!”

Neither looking back at the distressed prisoner of knowledge nor wanting to look ahead at this new lingering aggressor against silence, I focused on the hardbound books with which he had been shielding himself, with brown, hairless arms.  The fading edges of their cloth binding would smell of mold at the spine, and then of dehydration from the air and sun; overexposure to the oil of human fingers and the salt of readers’ tears, surprised to have their empathy awoken by someone’s words:  Still alive, that thing?  Because the heart was usually the last one to give up.  And then, the lungs:  SHHHHHH.

The aged tomes in the man-child’s arms promised to titillate my ear more than his words.  Words, words.

“What am I reading?!  Oh.  Um.  Nothing…”  (Oh, c’mon!  The nerd in the corner was turning red, by now, from the justified resentment at being invisible to us, as he had been his whole life.)  “Well.  Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh, actually.”  The man-child finally spat out, then hesitated, gave this cords another straining pull:  “I know!  Not butch enough — for a straight male!”  He nearly choked there!  Words, words, word.

Oh.  One of those:  Simultaneously eager and tormented!  The one to flaunt his politics out loud, just so that the others didn’t get the wrong idea.  Because whatever happened in beds he visited (even if out of the other lover’s loneliness or boredom) would be the reason for his later torment.  The guilt, the loathing.  The other obstacles to self-esteem.  And he would wear them like a frilly scarf from Urban Outfitters, meant to accent things — to draw attention, and perhaps make him more “interesting” — but not to serve the very original function.  The it-ness of the thing was lost.

With me, the man-child, worked his words (words, words) to become liked enough.  And after one eve of heavy breathing and pulsating blood flow, perhaps, he would be asked to stay.  I questioned, though, if he knew exactly what he wanted:  sex — or its statistic?  The mere happening of it?  Sex was a fact of his hormonal balance; and if he could help ignore it, he would move out of his body entirely and occupy his head.  But for right now, the boy still had to get some, however accidentally.

The love you take — is equal…

He took, he claimed.  And if he didn’t, he would storm out of sentences with scorn of having to sublimate his desires, yet again.  Alas, the world was so unfair.

“But you!”  Against the walls, he kept thumping the words like racket balls.  The poor boy was trying!  “You! — must be so erudite!”

“SHHHHHH!”

“Or really?” I hissed, considering the possibility of the nerd’s heart attack for which I was not willing to bear the responsibility.  At least, not on a Monday night.  “Is it the pullover?”  I asked and pushed him out of the way.  Over, over, over.

The man-child lingered, then began to laugh with that obnoxious howl meant to draw attention.  Again, too much.  Too hard.  So insincere!  Petrified!  SHHH!  SHHHHHH…

“He sounds messy!” diagnosed Taisha, while she herself was negotiating the rush hour traffic.  It was always rush hour, somewhere, in this City.  Her windows rolled down — I could hear the screech of others’ breaks in the lazy heat of another smoggy afternoon.  If one survived the mind-numbing dissatisfaction at having to just sit there — while getting nowhere and watching life slip out thorough the vents of fans — half of LA would give up on the idea of stepping out again, that night.

“I think I’m coming down with something.”

“…It’s food poisoning, I think.”

Like nowhere else, here, people were prone to canceling plans.  To giving-up.

“I’m waiting for the cable guy.  It sucks!”

“My cat is sick.”

Each night, the people landed in their private spaces, shared with other people or their own delusions.  They heated up some frozen options from Trader Joe’s and locked their doors agains the City.

I listened to the life force of LA:  Still plentiful, it breezed through all four open windows of Taisha’s Prius.  This place — a forty four mile long conveyer belt that moved things along, living or inanimate (it moved lives along); and if one could not keep up, the weight of failure would remain under one’s breath.  The City of Lost Angels.  The City of Lost Hearts.

“Now listen!  Don’t do ANYTHING! until I see you!” Taisha ordered me; and although my heart maintained its pace, it winced at little, subjected to her care.  “Don’t sleep with him!  You’re dangerously close to some stupid choices, right about now!”  (She was referring to the draught of my sexuality.  When I blew out the thirty candles of my birthday cake, the promiscuity that granted me some fame, was also put out, surprisingly and seemingly for good.  Into that space, I started cramming wisdom.)

“I am one lucky bastard — to have you love me like you do,” I responded, singing my words halfway through the sentence.

Oh, how she fought it!  My dear Tai!  All business and busyness, the girl refused to slow down for sentimentality’s sake:  “Oh, you, white people!  Ya’ll get so mushy ‘round love.  My people, back in Kenya…”

“Ah, jeez!  Alright!” I interrupted, misty-eyed.  “I’ll talk to you.”

Taisha would be talking, still, like “peas and carrots” in the mouths of actors.  But I could hear her smile break through.  Humanity still happened here, amidst perpetual exhaust and one’s exhausted dreams.  Somewhere along the stretched-out, mellow land attacked by bottom-feeders and the self-diluted who knew not why exactly they made a run for here, but mostly headed West in a trajectory that had been paved by others — it happened.  Some stayed, too tired or too broken of hearts.  And they comprised my City.

 

“Everyone seems so shallow here!” the man-child (he would be from Connecticut, but of course!) was overlooking the crawling traffic, like a Hamlet in his soliloquy.  And from the upstairs patio table we’d taken while splitting a bottle of ginger ale (for which I’d paid), he seemed to be in perfect lighting.  The row of yellow street lights had suddenly come on above his head.  The dispersed taillight red reflected on his face from the West-bound traffic.  The boy was slowly sipping — on my drink.

“Big spender!” I could already hear the voice of my Kenyan Confucius.  “RUN!  Run while you can!”

“But YOU!  You seem like you’re here by accident!”  His terrorism by kindness did have one thing going for it, called lucky timing.

“I am so lonely,” I wanted to let out, right underneath the yellow light now holding conferences of moths and fruit flies.  At a table nearby, a girl blogger clacked away on her snow-white Mac, while glancing at us from underneath her Bettie Page bangs.  What does it feel like — to be written?

“What if I slept with him?” I thought.  It’s better to have loved…

Except that:  I had turned thirty.  And I could no longer take for granted the ghosts of previous lovers that crowded a bedroom during a seemingly inconsequential act.  A Greek Chorus of the Previously Departed.  And then, the heart of one participant, at least, would wake up — with yearning or having to remember its wrong-doings or when the wrong was done to it — and things turned messy.  So, sex was never simple; especially for this one, who now tipped the last drops of my ginger ale into his glass.

“You wanna drink?”  Familiarity had started working on my sentences already, like cancer in my marrow.  Still, IT — could have happened, still.  IT would have started with a shared drink.  “A beer, or something?”  I tensed my body to get up.

“Nah, thanks.  I’m in AA.”

I looked at him:  His eyes began to droop like a basset hound’s:  Just ask me — of my suffering.  The frilly Urban Outfitters scarf picked up against the gust of wind.  My chair scraped away from him — and from the table now mounted by issues of his angst.  My entertained desire shriveled.

Yet still — I stayed!

When he and I made loops around the neighborhood, dumbfounding the drivers at each intersection with our pedestrian presence.  Through windshields, I would find their eyes — like fish in an aquarium, unable to blink — and they calculated the time they had to make the light without plastering our bodies with their wheels.  Preferably.  The man-child let me lead the way.  A winner!

And still — I stayed.

I stayed when I had climbed onto a stone fence, and now even to his height I waited for the lean-in.  The boy hung back, decapitating his hands at his wrists by sticking them into his pant pockets.  His words continued to pour out:  His praise came up along my trachea, with bubbles of that shared ginger ale, which now tasted of rejected stomach acid.

But still.  I stayed.  I waited.  Because sometimes, to those who wait — life grants, well, nothing.  And nothing, sometimes, seemed to be the choice of greater courage.

 

“She never rains.  The poor girl, She’s all cried out.”

Nina’s hair, unless right after the shower, shot out of her head in spirals of prayer.  Of course, she hated it.  A black woman’s hair:  Don’t touch it, unless you’re done living altogether.  The glory of it was slightly confused by auburn shades inherited from Nina’s Irish mother.  And underneath that mane — sometimes set afire by the sun’s high zenith — and right below her smooth forehead, two eye, of furious green, devoured the words that she had been reading to me from headstones.

“Which one is that?” I asked and walked to her side of a burgundy granite, with jagged edges, still shiny like a mirror.  It had to have been a pretty recent death.

She wrapped herself further into her own arms and chuckled, “No one, silly.  I just said that.  About this City.”  Like an enamored shadow, I hung behind her.  “This would be the perfect time for rain.  Except that She — is all dried out, you see?”  The furious green slid up my face.  “But She — is really something, isn’t She?”

It was indeed refreshing, for a change, to be with a woman so free from posing.  Of course, I’d witnessed moments of vanity on her before:  When her pear-shaped backside lingered at the boudoir before she’d finally slip in between the covers and curve around me.  And all the open spaces — she occupied by flooding.

I wondered if she knew the better angles of herself.  Because I saw them all.  When in an unlikely moment of worrying about my long-term memory’s lapse, I whipped out my phone and aimed its camera at Nina’s regal profile, she must’ve been aware that her beauty was beyond anything mundane.  For I had studied many a pretty girls before, the ones with the self-esteem of those who have never been denied much.  But Nina’s beauty wrote new rules, of something warm and living.  It came from occupying her skin with no objections to its shape of color; from delicate sensibility and softness, like the wisp of a hair across a lover’s face.  But there was also:  strength.  And heritage.  And underneath my touch, she moved.

“My baby,” she half-whispered and molded to my shape.

“I Told You: I Was Trouble. You Know That I [Was] No Good.”

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“You.”

“‘You’ who?”

You, silly.  It’s you — but from a decade ago.  A memory of you reiterated by someone else (who’s always claimed to have his own interpretation of you).  The evidence from the past that you weren’t too proud of, to begin with.

Here it is, you!  The ghost of you, desperately trying to keep your head above the water, with no parental guidance or a homeland to which you could go back.  (Not that you’d want to, though:  Those bridges have been burnt, their ashes — buried with your hind legs.)

You, talking yourself out of an encyclopedia of uncertainties and doubts, every morning; wishing to be someone else — anyone but you! — then blackmailing your gods for any type of a new delusion to lap up.

You, clutching onto love — any love, how ever selfish or unworthy — just so that you could feel an occasional liberation from the drudgery of life.

This is exactly why I’ve learned to not stay in close contact with my exes:  I rarely enjoy a stroll down the memory lane.  Shoot, I don’t even like a drive by through that lane’s neighborhood, while going at ninety miles an hour.

Because I’d rather think of it this way:

“It happened, thank you very much.  But I don’t ever want for it to happen — again.  I myself — don’t want to happen.  I repeat:  NEVER again.”

But ‘tis the season; and somehow, despite my good behavior this year, a single message from a former love has managed to slip in — and it appeared on my screen.  He has been reading my fiction, he says, and has a few objections to it.  And could he, he wonders, tell his story:  He wants to contribute.  He, as before, has his own interpretation he’d like to share.

And could I, he says, write about something else:  Like good memories?  Remember those?  Because what he remembers of you — is sometimes good.  So, he, he says, would like to see you in that light.

“‘You’?  ‘You’ who?  ‘You’ — me?”

Me don’t have much to brag about, in my past.  Me is humbly grateful for her former opportunities, but the opportunities of mine now — are so much better!

And me has fucked-up plenty.  (Don’t YOU remember?  You — were there.)  But then again, isn’t what one’s youth is for:  To live and learn?  Well.  Me — has done plenty of that.  And as for the suggested good memories, if it’s up to me (‘cause it is MY fucking fiction, after all!) — me would much rather remember the mistakes, just so that me don’t ever repeat them again.

Normally, in the vacuum of my blissful isolation from my exes, I do sometimes think of me — but now.  The current me:  The one that has survived.  The one with enough intelligence and humility to summon her fuck-ups and to make something out of them (like knowing better than to repeat them).

And so, behold:  A better me.

A kinder and more mellow me.  The me who knows how to get a grip, when to summon her patience; and also the me who knows how to let go.  Me who allows for her time to have its natural flow, who knows how to free fall into the tumbling, passing, speeding minutes of her life with gratitude and ease.

The ME who’s finally proud to be — her:  The HER who knows how to live.

Like any woman that I’ve known, in my life, I wonder about aging.  What will I look like, after the decline begins?  Will I be kind enough to not compete with youth?  Will I be loved enough to never fear the loss of tautness of my skin or breasts?

And when occasionally I panic at the discovery of a gray hair or a previously unwitnessed wrinkle, I bicker at my own reflection and I begin to research remedies.  Nothing too invasive, but something with a bit more help.

But NEVER — I repeat:  no, never! — do I, for a second, wish to be the younger me, again.  It happened already — I happened — thank you very much. But I am good with never happening again.

I’d much rather want to be her:  The current me.  The one who’s loved, respected and adored and who knows how to accept it, for a change.  The one who gives her kindness, but only until she starts losing the sight of herself.  And then, she’s smart enough to stop.

She who refuses to give up her younger self’s beliefs in the general goodness of people, still; but who is too wise to not give up on those who do not know how to be good to themselves.

She is fantastic, and ME is very proud — to be HER.

“A Small Fir-Tree Was Born in the Forest.” (Russian Folk Song)

She was encouraged to grow up as tall as her father and to smell like her beautiful mama, even if she was ever caught in the midst of a drought.

“Because that’s what we, pine trees, do, my little one,” her mama told her.  “And if you grow up particularly pretty, they might choose you, in the middle of next winter.”

“Who are ‘they’?” the baby tree would ask, every year.  (Like all children, she liked her favorite stories repeated to her, endlessly.)

“The unrooted ones,” mama would whisper and sway to block the tiny dust clouds heading into her child’s hair — with her long, long limbs.

Oh, no!  She wouldn’t grow up to be an ordinary tree, her mama gossiped to other mothers.  Her daughter was meant to be unique.  First of, she was gaining inches day by day.

“The taller you grow, the sooner the unrooted ones will get you!”

And:  She was pretty!  Such a pretty baby tree:  with long, dark green needles that weighed down her lean branches toward the ground!  All the other kids seemed to have upright branches.  Their needles lined up into mohawks and made them more susceptible to storms.  When winds gained speed, or rain began to pound the soil above her roots, she seemed to endure it all with grace.  Light on her feet, she would let whatever weather run its moods through her hair; and after every type of precipitation, she made tiny slides for the rascal raindrops.  The little ones would chirp and tumble into one another; hang onto the very edge of her needles, then leap onto the next one — and repeat.

She didn’t know where the rascal raindrops would go once they rolled off her long hair and hit the ground; but she imagined they built tunnels in the soil and lived there, with their families (but after they would fall in love, of course).

One time, though, she questioned her own theory when a particularly familiar rascal raindrop appeared her eyelash, after she awoke from her impatient dreams:

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” she asked the sparkling babe.  But he was already chirping too loudly to hear her question; and as soon as the other kids woke up, he began to slide, slowly at first and on his belly, with his arms outstretched forward.  The further he slid, the more rascals joined him, and they would go faster, laugh — louder; and their chirping made her tilt her branches even lower and give the kids a bigger thrill.

“Maybe,” she thought, “they all fly up to the sun instead — to tell its rays to be a bit gentler on us.”

(Drought — was told to be her only fear.  Besides that — she had none.)

Sometimes, she would get the glimpse of the unrooted ones.  A particular one continued coming around too early in the mornings; so, most of the time, she would sleep right through his visits.  One day, though, he came up to her and woke her up with his shadow.

He was taller than her, but not as tall as mama.  He had flat hair, the color of a sickly pine.  It was flat and so dense, it clung to his trunk in one single layer.

“What a strange creature!” the baby tree thought.

“Don’t!  Slouch!” she heard her mama whisper through her teeth.  She snuck a peak:  Mama looked sleepy and wet.  But she would NOT shake off her raindrops yet:  Because she wanted for all of the unrooted one’s attention to go — to her child.

Would that be it?  Is that how it would happen:  The moment when she would be taken away to the magical place from where other pine trees never-ever returned?  It had to be wonderful there, she thought.  Oh, how she craved to travel!

She let the unrooted one pet her hair.  He made an unfamiliar noise and bent down to her.  A little current of air brushed against her branch.  The unrooted one repeated the noise and petted her, again.

She then noticed he had a patch of different-colored needles on his tree top.  They were the color of gray snow (like sleeping raindrops).  Then, he went back to giving her a treat that smelled absolutely atrocious but mama said it had to be good for her.  So, she closed her eyes and sucked it all up, to the last stinky bit.  She would behave and do whatever the main unrooted one would want her to do.  Whatever it would take — to get her to that place.

There were some stories she’d overheard from the elders.  Some said that unrooted ones took them to more delicious soils.  Others mentioned that they would only feed them water, in that place — and that was truly strange.  But the common truth was that the chosen ones got to wear pretty things and learn how to sparkle.

“Like the rascal raindrops?” the baby tree would ask her mama.

“Much better, baby girl!” her mama said.  “Much better!”

“The Heart Is a Bloom, Shoots Up Through the Stony Ground…”

The first sentence — is always the hardest.

True:  Sometimes, it flies out of her, like a butterfly trapped in between the two tiny palms of a kiddo who hasn’t lived for long enough to realize the fragility of her dreams, yet.

“You can’t do that to butterflies, little one!  They break their wings.”

But other times, she must cradle the cocoons of her beginnings, checking up on them, every few breaths:  Are they ready for the magical reveal of their births yet?  Can they leap out at the world that didn’t even suspect how much it needed them?  On harder days of creation, the luxury of time begins to test her patience, and it challenges her — to start.  To just:  Start.

Because starting — takes a courageous flight of fancy.  And only she knows — because she has asked for her creator to allow and to forgive her the hubris to make things happen — only she knows when her beginnings can no longer wait to happen.

The days, the moments, the creations that begin easily — are often easier to also take for granted.  And they can’t really be trusted, actually.  But the easy creations lighten the step and color the world with more flattering palettes of her imagination.  And even though, she may not remember the achievement of that day, she gets the privilege of spending it — while half dreaming:  Still the little girl, chasing butterflies, and trapping them in between her tiny palms.

Gratitude comes easy on those days of nearly no struggle.  And she breathes through the misty sensation in her eyes:  After all, her compassion has not expired yet!  And despite all the losses, it continues to give back.

On luckier days, life permits for such illusions to last:  That people are good.  That art — matters.  That beauty — is a common addiction of all humankind.  And that perhaps (please, please, let her have this “perhaps”!) we all speak a common language which may be determined by our self-serving needs — but that those needs belong to LOVE.  Alas!  How marvelous — are those days!

And she learns to savor them!  The days of easier creation — of more graceful survival, when the whole world somehow happens to accommodate for her dreams — those days she must savor for the future.  Because in that future, as she has grown to accept (once she’s grown up and out of certain dreams), there will be days of hardship.  She knows that.  No, not just the hardships of life itself:   Those, she has by now learned to forgive.  After all, they have taught her her own humanity.  They have connected all the capillaries between the organs of her empathy and inspirations.  And she understands it all so much better — after the days of hard life.

But the hardships of persevering through life for long enough to get to the next easier moment — that task can only be done by eluding herself.  So, she suspends the memories of better days.  Easier days of creation.  She stretches them out, makes them last.  (They taste like soft caramel or bits of saltwater taffy.)  She rides them out to exhaustion and prays — oh, how she prays! — that they will bring her to the next beginning.

Then, there are days, seemingly mellow, but that do not grant her easy beginnings.  On those days, she must work.  She must earn the first sentences to her dreams and earn her beginnings.  She may go looking for inspiration, in other people’s art.  And sometimes, that works just fine:  Like a match to a dry wick, other art sets her imagination on fire.  All it takes is a glimpse of a tail of that one fleeting dream.  It takes a mere crumb of someone else’s creation to set off the memory and the inspiration — follows.  Just a whisper of that common language!  A whiff of the unproved metaphysical science that it’s all one.  We — are one.  (Is that silly?)

And when the art of others does not start another flame, then she must have the courage to begin.  Just simply — begin!  It’s mechanical, then:  a memorized choreography of fingers upon the keyboard, the sense memory of the tired fingers clutching a pen.  On those days, she merely shows up — and she must accept that it would be enough, on just those days.

Because if she doesn’t show up, then she may as well consider herself defeated:  Yes, by the struggles of life and the skepticism of those who do NOT have the courage to dream.  To start.  To begin.

The courage to remain the children they once were, also chasing butterflies and ice-cream men; sucking on icicles in the winter and building castles under the watch of the giant eye of the sun.

The day when she stops beginning — she will consider herself a failure.  But until then, she must continue to begin.

“Sometimes You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name…”

He is quite pretty.

Yes, I said “pretty”.  Or, rather:  He is luminous.

I’ve never seen him here before, waiting tables at this joint I frequent.  In the City ruled by the most beautiful gay boys who always bitch-slap my occasionally fearful face with the courage of their specificity, I have finally found my corner.  It’s calm here, and I am still completely anonymous.  I make it a point to be as sweet as Amelie when I come in, and I am always a generous tipper.  But no one knows my name.  They let me be.  And that’s somehow soothingly perfect.

Diagonally from its floor-to-ceiling window panes, I can see at least half a dozen of rainbow flags.  The parking is a bitch around here, but the stroll is always worth it.  And no matter what comrade of mine I’ve introduced to this place — a single mother with an unruly child or an ancient director with my father’s face — they all seem to find comfort, if not peace here.

“Reminds me of a Noo Yok di-nah!” a Russian from Brooklyn once correctly tagged the reminiscence of this joint while falling into the only round booth, and nesting his bulky body next to my bony elbow.  I could see it in his eyes:  A chord has been struck.

And it is true:  The leather-covered booths, plastic tables and chairs are squeezed against each other with economical consideration.  Identical bar stools, bolted onto the floor, look like a net of mushrooms sprouted after the autumn rain; and I’ve once, especially tipsy over a boy, spun on one of them while waiting for my smoothie with red cabbage.  (Shit!  I’ve become a hardcore hippie, in this California livin’ of mine!)

The UFO’s of lamp shades with single, off-white bulbs inside each light the place up with a certain light of nostalgia; but every kind face slipping in and out of the swinging doors of the kitchen reminds me that I ain’t in New York — any more!

But will you look at them?!  Just look at these faces!

There is the Zenned-out brown boy with gentle manners who insists on diamond studs that sparkle from underneath his backwards-turned baseball cap.  Underneath his crew-necks or fit t-shirts, he hides a fit but lithe body.  Sometimes, I catch him texting underneath the only cash register; but from where I sit, in those moments, he simply looks possessed by bliss, behind the tiny glass display of whole grain muffins.

The only older gentleman working regular shifts here has a quite voice.  He is not as effeminate as the other waiters here, neither is he flamboyant as most of the clientele.  When he tends to my table, I cannot always distinguish the content of his speech, but his Spanish accent is lovely.

So, I grin and stretch my arms to the other side of the tiny table. “I’m fine!  Thank you,” I purr, and wait:  Is this the day he’ll finally smile at me?

But this boy — is pretty, and I have never seen him before.  Dressed in the most perfect caramel skin, he has one of those faces that makes me regret not having a talent or even any predisposition for drawing.  His body seems perfect, and a pair of rolled-up jean shorts reveals a runner’s legs.  He carries just a touch of feminine grace, and oh, how the boys love him!  The entire length of my 3-hour writing session, they come in to quietly watch him from corner tables.  Some hug him while sliding their hands along his belt-line.  A sweet boy, he doesn’t seem to mind.  Men in couples flirt with him discretely, but I recognize their desire — for his youth and goodness — underneath the nonchalant gestures.

A woman with a complexion I would kill to have when I reach her age, has entered the joint shortly after me.  From the bits of overheard conversation, I figure out:  She lives in Laurel Canyon.  Has “a partner”.  A writer.

“130,000 people lost power last night,” she reads the newsfeed to the pretty boy, as he flocks her table.  He seems to possess an equal curiosity toward both genders; and if there is any hint of discrimination, it’s in his innocent desire to be in the proximity beauty.

Oh, right.  I nearly forgot:  Last night was messy.  When the winds initially picked up, I was willing to believe in the magic on some beautiful female creature blowing in, with the wind, to save this last hope of this forsaken place.  But then, my night turned tumultuous; and in my chronic want to flee from here, I thought of the more unfortunate souls, with not as much as a shelter of their car.  I checked myself in.

The morning ride to this joint was rough:  Fallen over trees, freaked out drivers and broken traffic lights.  But once I landed in my booth — and the angelic, pretty boy approached me — I remembered that I was always the last to give up on human goodness.  So, I hung around and recuperated in beauty.

And I’ve been hanging here ever since.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

If it snowed on New Year’s, it would have to mean good luck.  That’s what the old folks said.  Or, so my motha told me.

To me, it would just mean magic:  That no matter how dry the winter promised to be, we could wake up to an already sleepy town, with mellow women and hungover men; and we would move ever so slowly — ever so gently, for a change — through a brand new sheet of snow.  It would mean a clean slate.  A promise of a new beginning.  A hidden prayer — for a better year.

The only citizens of the town still giddy from the night before would be the children.  For us, the first of every year meant gifts under the sparkling pine trees in the living-room.  And it meant truce, for all of us:  for the tired adults, tortured by survival; for unhappily married parents; for the intrusive force of poverty, uncertainly and chaos. Truce, on just that one day.  Truce.

The preparations for the celebration at midnight would be in full swing, in almost every household.  Motha would prepare for it, weeks before.  She’d start with a new haircut, and possibly new color on her nails.  Regardless the tight budget affected daily by inflation, she’d manage to whip out a new outfit for herself.

The hunt for foods would begin several weeks before the holiday.  Things would be preserved.  Money — borrowed, portioned out.  And just a couple days before the actual Eve, the cooking would begin.

School, of course, would be out for me; and I was expected to help out in the kitchen for that week.  Nothing crucially important though:  Peeling of potatoes or scaling of pickled fish.  I would boil eggs and root vegetables for the layered Russian salads.  I’d roast parts of chicken or grind the meat for the stuffing of cabbage parcels.  I would battle with pots of rice that took forever to get soft, and then would burn immediately.

Some days, I would be trapped inside while watching pots of stews or motha’s reinvented borscht.  And as I tended to the burners, I studied the darkening sky for any promises of snow.  Because, despite the obvious presence of poverty and chaos in our lives, snow on the Eve would still mean magic — if not some better luck.

On the last day of preparations, motha would be chaotic.  All day long, she would run out in her leather, high-heeled boots:  to get her hair done, to pick-up a missing spice from a girlfriend across town; to drop off a gift to a high rank bureaucrat at the City Hall.  But mostly, she’d keep picking-up “deficits”, all over town:  produce, not necessarily delicacies, that we normally would not indulge in, any other time during the year.

Victorious, she would return:

“Hey, little one!  Look at this here!” she’d holler me out of my bedroom.

Just by the sound of her voice, I knew she was in a good mood.  I would emerge, with Tolstoy under my armpit, and find her beautiful flushed face in the hallway.  She’d have her make-up done, and for New Year’s, it would always entail sparkles.  The smell of crispy frost would intertwine with her perfume.

“So beautiful!” I’d think, and with my father’s eyes I’d understand the power of that woman’s witchcraft.

And then, I’d see the fox fur collar of her coat glistening with tiny drops of moisture.

“Is it snowing yet?” I’d say while motha, still in boots, would begin passing to me the tiniest jars of caviar or cans of smoked anchovies.

“I think it’s about to,” motha would respond, flirting.  (So beautiful!)

And for the first time in weeks, she’d suddenly remember that I was still a child.  And children only need magic, for survival.  Not wads of cash, or cans of “deficit”.  Not banners of protesting citizens against the old demagogues or the faces of the newest heros.  We do not need untimely compassion toward the vices of our parents.  We wish to know no gossip and no strife.

Just truce, if only on one day for every year.  Just the simple magic — of truce.

Motha would retreat into the kitchen and immediately start banging metals.  I’d brace myself for more work.

“Hey, little one!” she’d holler.

Here we go!

“You should check out that snow, outside!”

I would run out, in an unbuttoned coat.  On every flight of stairs, new smells would smack my nose from every household.  To call upon my friends would be useless on that last day of the year.  Like me, my girlfriends grew up way too quickly and would be cooking in the kitchen until the arrival of their guests.  But in magic, I rarely needed company.

I wouldn’t even go very far:  Just to the lawn in front of our apartment building.  I’d watch the waltz of snowflakes against the darkening sky.  They would catch the light of egg yolk foam colored street lights and descend onto my mittens of rabbit fur.  There would be not enough snow on the ground to make braided patterns with me feet yet.  But just the sight of a new beginning — would be magical enough.

Before heading back home, I’d look up to our window and often see my motha’s face.

“So beautiful!” I’d think and understand the magic of truce, if only once a year.

“You Do It Every Hour: Oh, Baby, You’re So Vicious!”

I overheard a girl’s voice:

“That is just SO unattractive!”

Shit!  Have I been busted?

Never-ever in my life, had I ventured outside in a pair of pj’s.  But this pair of sweats, that had previously been purchased in the sleepwear department of H&M, had somehow seemed to be a perfect choice for the recent change in the weather.  They were that pretty color of a Siberian cat’s fur — bluish-gray and fluffy — and so fucking cozy, the rainy Saturday morning had insisted on calling them out of my closet.  Plus they fit over my knee-high Uggs without any bulky stretch in the material.  And I kept thinking no one would be able to tell the primary purpose of this attire, so I left the house.

I remembered wearing these sweats on a run once.

“Are those Cossack pants?” my running partner evaluated my look before we hit the ground running.

Asshole.

He himself was wearing a pair of black, shiny tights with zippers at his ankles, which I’m pretty sure belonged to the women’s portion of a Lululemon store that he had raided a week before.

“Do you know any other guy who could pull these off?” my running buddy had puffed himself up, after berating my attire.

I didn’t want to break it to him.  We were about to run through West Hollywood, so anything went.

“Are you gonna use these as sails?” he turned the attention back to me.  “Just to pick up  some speed, or something?”

These men, who make us, women, feel like we don’t measure up to their standards:  Why do they find it humane, or even appropriate, to express their opinions out loud?

I was proud of my pants though, and I have pleasantly rediscovered them this fall.  When someone mentioned we were expecting a rainy weekend, I had already been wearing these things around the house for a week.  And on this rainy Saturday, they were finally being taken outside.

It was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  The street — with cute boutiques and family-owned restaurants; a deli with excellent (although overpriced) food; a used bookstore and a funky newsstand on the corner — was paved with a wet and shimmering asphalt.  A few sleepy humans came out into the rain to smell the newly rinsed city and its rarely smog-less air.  Two pale young men from a Noah Baumbach future cast were the only ones sitting on the patio and mellowly watching the traffic of shiny, rinsed cars.  Tiny drops of drizzle were tangled up in the tips of their overgrown hair.  They looked like dandelion heads.

The owner of a health store I never visited before was sliding open the rusty gate.  A pretty brunette in rubber rain boots, she, too, looked mellow and somewhat tired.

“Good morn!” she said, sounding like a girl who would never outgrow her college-day quirkiness.  “Love your pants!”

“Thank god for Zooey Deschanel,” I thought, “for paving the road for us, smart girls.”

“Aren’t they perfect?!” I responded cheerfully.  (I was trying too hard — so, I self-corrected quickly.)  “So fucking cozy!”

Yes, it was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  Except that, I was on my street, in Hollywood.

A giant cup of steaming ginger tea, wide enough to wash my face in, began to sound perfect.  I strolled down to the end of the block and stepped inside my favorite coffee joint, with Bohemia-inspired set-up and late night hours suitable for the insomniacs and dreamers.

The light was mellow, streaming down from mismatching lamps, through vintage lampshades and colored lightbulbs.  A mirror ball was slowly spinning in the corner.  A feline female voice was meowing over the speakers.

“Bjork?” I guessed.

That’s when I overheard the girl:

“I mean:  That is just SO unattractive!”

The male barista, who leaned against the counter to listen to the venting female customer, greeted me with a nod.

“Do you know what you’d like?”

“Um?  Do you have any ginger tea?” I said.

“Don’t think so,” he said.  “But lemme check.”

Carefully, from behind my icicle locks of wet hair, I snuck a peak at the girl:  She was pretty and petite.  A cute brunette in an oversized, Flashdance inspired sweater slipping off her naked shoulder, she leaned her body into the bar and arched her back.  The thong, that her position had revealed above her jeans’ belt, seemed pre-staged.  Her hair was messy, wavy, almost nappy, a la Sienna Miller, in her hipster self.  Her jewelry was so H&M:  giant rings and layered necklaces!  She was consumed with scrolling text messages with a single thumb on her Blackberry’s screen.

“Yeah.  I don’t think this is about me,” I thought.

The mellow barista returned:

“I don’t have any ginger tea.  But I have tea — with ginger?”  He linger.

“That’ll do!” I said.

Our transaction was over.  The girl returned to venting:

“I mean, just look at this one!  How can he be texting me such things?

She brushed her sharp nails through the nappy hair and handed over the Blackberry.  She seemed distraught, although slightly showy.

Another lovely girl’s breath wasted.  Another stab at her esteem.

“Ah, Gur-url! (Inhale.) Girl, Gur-url!”

“There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom.  The rest is merely gossip, and the tales for other times.” —

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm 

He was young — oh, so young! — but not convoluted at all, which is a rarity in itself.  He sat with his body turned toward me at a 45-degree angle, playing with the ice cubes on the bottom of his tall glass; but never letting go of me, with his eyes.

“What are you drinking?” he started up.  I could feel it with my skin cells:  The kid was NOT into chatter much.  He actually wanted to know.

“Um,” I chuckled and looked at my ice-less glass.  “Tomato juice.”

And I nodded.  I am not a barfly, mostly for that very same reason:  I don’t drink.  So, I nodded while bracing myself for the irony some tipsy idiot was about to point out.

The kid picked-up my glass and he sniffed it.

That scene!  It reminded me of that scene, in a quirky film about doomed love:  She asks him for a piece of chicken, and without his answer, takes it.  Just like that!  She reaches over and takes a chicken leg from his paper plate; and he is immediately disarmed at her lack of pretense and the intimacy at which he’d had to do no work, whatsoever.

The kid put down my glass, exactly into the water ring it had marked on my bev nap earlier.  Then, he nodded and pouted with his lower lip:

“That’s cool!” he said, without showing me his version of a deprecating smirk.

My self-defense was unnecessary, here; and all the jokes at my own expense popped, like soap bubbles on a child’s palm.

I had been approached by men at bars before (and I had been approached by women, as well).  Most of the time, with their courage slightly loosened by liquor, they negotiate their desire immediately.  But they’re never drunk enough to say it bluntly:

“I want your sex,” for instance.

Or:

“I just want to fuck around, for bit.  Is that okay?”

Instead, they loom, while flirting clumsily and waiting for me to bite the bait.  It’s amusing, most of the time, to observe the habit of other people to get in their own way.  (It’s also the reason I don’t drink:  I like to watch, instead.  That; and the fact that my sober tendencies of getting in MY own way — are already quite sufficient; and I needn’t be drunk to get a clearer look at myself.)

Soon enough though, the men get distracted:  Their drunken charm refuses to work on me.  What they don’t realize is that their honesty might’ve gotten them a lot more.

Eventually, they move on though — to someone easier, I suppose.  But while they loom, my drunken courtiers sneak peaks at other barflies — and butterflies — with whom their charm wouldn’t happen in vain.  They’re always pretty, those other girls, and more willing, perhaps.  So, I let the men move on quickly:

“Go loom elsewhere, honey.  It’s okay.  Really.”

But this kid:  He was different.  He would study the other women openly, and sometimes, at my own direction.

“SHE — is gorgeous!” I’d mutter into my thin straw; and so, he would look, in silence.

What was he looking at, I would wonder?  Was it the silky shimmer of her brown shoulders?  Was it the beauty mark revealed by a backless dress?  The curvature of her rear?  The endlessness of her naked legs leading up to heaven?

What was it like to be so young — and to want so much?  

So, he would look at the other women, but then return to me — always.  He was one of those:  The type that tended to hit things right on the nose.  He would ask me questions that would make me shift in my seat; and under his examination, I, too, began studying the girl in a wraparound dress with no underwear lines, anywhere along her body.  I was studying — me.

I surprised myself when I asked him about his mother.  I could feel her, distances away, praying that her son was under the care of only good people.  Only good women.  She would have a confident face, I imagined, just like her son’s:  With no ticks to betray her habit of getting in her own way.  I couldn’t possibly know the extent of her courage yet; what it was like to let her child leave her watch.  But I was pretty sure that if I were a mother, I too would hope — and I too would pray! — for the goodness of other people.  Of other good women.

He spoke of her willingly.  It was unlikely for a young man to be aware of the sacrifice a mother must make.  But this kid — this young man — understood the courage of a woman’s heart:  The courage it took — to be a good one!

“I’m not sure what it is…” he would say to me later.  “I’m not sure what it is — about you.”

His hands would be steady:  They knew the common crevices along a woman’s body; but he had yet to learn the specificity of mine.

“It’s just sex,” I’d tell him, “and that’s okay.  Really.” And I would cradle his head, brush his hair and soothe his eyelids.

He was under a care of one good woman.  And the good woman, waiting, praying for him from distances away, had absolutely nothing to worry about, that night.