Tag Archives: child’s play

“Where Are You Going, My Little One, Little One?”

It was her skirt that I noticed first:  one of those floor-length gypsy numbers, with wide parallel stripes of different colors all best found on a yarn of some baby blanket, or in a pack of dyes for Easter eggs.  The skirt looked vintage and slightly tattered at the bottom where it touched the ground.  It may have been a tidbit too long for her, but she strutted in it well.

She wore a simple gray turtleneck on top and from a few times I saw the toes of her Uggs peak out from underneath the skirt, they too — were bluish-gray.  The tossed waves of her strawberry blond hair ran down the back of that sweater.  I wondered if she had freckles, like girls with such hair often do.  I wondered if she was prone to blush a lot; and when she slept, I bet she could disarm the world’s most ruthless villains and defeat her mother’s monsters.

I slowed down.

Her three brothers were walking a few steps behind her.  The oldest one could not have been older than five.  But the boys were already of that age when they understood that no matter how much younger she may have been, hers would be the last word, in the family.  To them, it was still child’s play and video games; but she already knew how to stand-in, when mom was busy.  And I imagined she had a stool that was brought out every night, into the kitchen — specifically for her; and there she stood, becoming a woman as she adoringly studied her mother’s cooking.

A couple of times she turned to look at the young boys, checking if all three were still in tow.  If one was walking too close to the road or climbing up a dirty hill, he would immediately get back into a safer place.  But she’d keep walking ahead, a few steps behind her mother — a tall, lean woman with the gypsy-girl’s hair and the strut that her daughter was trying on these days.  (These would be the privileged days still, I hoped her mother knew; the days when in her little daughter’s eyes, she was still her deity.)

Truth be told, I could never pull off the little girl’s style.  I wear skirts like that, for sure.  But to double them up with a sweater was more like what those cool hippie chicks would wear, in the vicinity of NYU.  Her hair was messy, but not from a lack of care.  I wondered if she had just began to learn the lengths and hairstyles she liked the most and wearing hair ties around her tiny wrists.  In the manner of her mother, she’d learned already how to tie her hair back with lightening speed, in moment ready for play or bedtime.

I’m not the one to walk around here much; and I would prefer to never park in these alleys late at night.  There used be a giant homeless man who lived here, sleeping always in the same spot — along the gray wall of some sound stage; and he would guard these streets.  Like everyone in Hollywood, he had his own story; and that story had to do with broken family, a quick rise to fame, then loss of everything — and after that, survival.  So many times, he’d been arrested and led away, only to reappear at his same spot a few days later. With him, standing in dark corners or sitting on the curbs, I somehow felt protected.  But now, he’s gone; with nothing but a vigil by his wall.

The girl began to let her brothers pass her.  Her mother had, by now, located the family’s silver van, and she opened the door on the passenger side, closer to the curb.  The boys took their time conquering the vehicle.

The tiny gypsy-child looked around — and then, she let out a twirl!  Just one 360-degree twirl!  It was the same move I’d seen girls do in their brand new dresses, often times around other girls or when dancing at a wedding.  And while they turn their feet in one place, they lose themselves in the fabric rising underneath their eyes.  They still see magic.  To them, the world is still extraordinary.

She finished twirling, gathered her loose locks again, and threw them over the right shoulder.  That’s when she noticed me, smiling.

She gave me an askance look:  That was twirl was meant to be between her and her imagination only!

I got embarrassed, but even as I lowered my eyes and sped up to my own car, parked on the other side of the street from the silver van, I kept her image living underneath my eyelids.

She was a girl on the verge of growing out of her childhood.  But how I prayed that some of it — would never leave completely!

“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.

“Ashes, Ashes!” — All Fall Down!

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

I had to get out of bed today, at the start of daylight, and write this one down.  And in the morning, I was pretty sure I dreamt the whole thing up.

Habitually, I jump-started the morning, today:  Coffee — on, alarm — off.  Teeth, curtains, phone calls.  Fuss with the landscape of my schedule.  Inevitably:  Work!  Read some; work, read some more.  And not until I reached for my journal to jot down a well-molded sentence by a fellow writer well-versed in the humanity of men (no, not mankind — but men, specifically) — that I found the scribbles in my tired handwriting, back at the start of daylight:

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

After writing that, I tangled myself back into the womb of my sheets and I remembered that normally at this hour, my men would become my sons.  My children:  I find them, in my sleepy stupor of suspended dreams, and I memorize their faces.  Those — are the faces I choose to keep in the front; because it is then, I believe, a man’s humanity — is at his best.

So, ask me how to hurdle over a man and I might whip up a game or two.  I usually carry on with this one play:

I stay in touch with the resigned game partner, especially if it was his idea to stop playing.  Why, why, why would I be tempted to pick at this dried-up scab, earned from our silly horseplay?  After years of this pattern, I must admit:  For the stories.

Yep, the stories, my children.  Immediately after a break-up, they are never redemptive but mostly recyclable.  Between the two of us, it’s a game of “Remember When?”; and for a while, that’s sort of titillating enough, in a sickly way.  Before “Remember When?”, I used to run the marathons of “But You Did This!”, but that would always turn out to be bad for my finger joints; because there would be just so much wagging a scorned lover could do.  But during “Remember When?”, eventually, the tempers mellow out, the egos settle down:  And soon enough, we are able to have a conversation.

It is time, then, for a game of crooked mirrors.  Not so long ago in want, in need, in blind love with each other, we suddenly find ourselves roaming around a funhouse, looking for our better reflections.  Truth be told, by that point, we aren’t even interested in the most flattering reflections of our selves (and we even have an occasional chuckle at our expense).  We are just looking for a couple of matching ones.

“Does your truth — match my truth?”

We keep on wandering.  So very tired we are by then, by all the previous wagers and competitions and games — by the finger wagging and “you’re it!” tagging — we both know this somewhere near the very end.  Silence would follow this game if mutual truths are found.  If not — we go for a few more tours around the funhouse.

“How about this truth then?  Does it seem true, to you?”

At this point in the game, redemption is yet to come.  At this point in the game, redemption — is not even the point of it.  There may be some forgiveness, along the way, mostly for the sake of closure; and that self-forgiveness is sometimes so selfish — it’s profane.  There may even be some letting off the hook of the other scorned party, but mostly out of exhaustion.

But redemption:  It demands time.  It’s a sentence we must serve, willingly or not; and maybe not until the next loves — the next games with karmic losses at the end — that salvation comes.  Until then, we are just wandering around a funhouse, comparing truths.

(But then again, that’s just me.  Out of all the choices of child’s play, I’m always in the mood for some storytelling.  So, that may not be the name of the game, for you, my children.)

So:  How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?  

I’ve never played this one, so I have no clue.  But ask me how to hurdle over a good man (because we always fall in love with his goodness, first; with the best of his humanity), I may whip up a game or two:

Take baths:  They are womb-like — the ultimate homecoming.  “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub…”

Hide away his letters, and all of his words; his residues, his scents.  Then, put away your own:  The perfumes you used to wear to leave on his pillows and in his hair; the lotions with which you rubbed his tired joints (before the finger wagging started).  And when there is an urge to dig it all up again:  Surrender to it.  Oh, yes, my kiddos:  It’s gonna be a lengthy round of Hide-and-Seek.

Whatever you do, don’t sign-up for a round of Simon Says:  You’ll end up wagging your fingers, again. 

And finally, alas:  Silence Game.  You can’t skip that one, sorry; not if you eventually want to start winning some.  In the beginning,  you just might be curious to see who can hold his or her breath the longest.  But do follow through.  Play the Silence Game:  You can’t skip that one, not if you want to stop losing!

So:  Say uncle.