Now that she’s arrived, was there anything else to it? A life summoned itself and paused for a while. Yes, there was always a pause, Larisa noticed; a breather in between the chapters.
She never imagined her death, never was the type to bear the hubris of planning her own funeral. Like weddings, death demanded metaphors. To capture oneself, to be summarized, direly: But how can one not be so many things at once? Besides, the way she felt, ceremonies strived for a shared experience; not a centralized meditation that treated the self as the object of all other events; that separated and sought how different one was from the rest, taking for granted the universality of it all. She didn’t have the ego for it.
Larisa had been living for others, certainly: a symptom assigned mostly to her gender. In her family, she had witnessed the earlier generations of women lose themselves in sacrificial love. For the sake of their children, their husbands, their aging parents, they carried on serving; until they found themselves having a hard time remembering what they themselves had wanted, originally, all along. Remember those days? How many times she’d heard the mournful reminiscence in a woman’s voice: Those days! What happened since then, Larisa wondered, herself still a young girl; what force of obscurity slithered itself in between and demanded for a retraction, or a delay at least.
Definitely, she wouldn’t lose the sight of her own purpose, she thought! Yet, the loneliness came scratching at the backdoor, becoming louder as she compared the things other women claimed as accomplishments: dramatic courtships, the victory in which meant expensive weddings and doting husbands, as one could only hope; then, the automatic events of pregnancy and nest acquiring (building, building, gaining weightiness); the demands of a chosen lifestyle, or in the cases of the less fortunate — merely survivals. Every woman she knew had leapt into all of it without ever questioning the reality of her expectations. How could their husbands — the equally unknowing human beings with a whole other set of expectations imposed onto them — keep up? They too, when young, once dreamt of following the call of the world’s magnificence. But lives demanded to be defined by success; and what others made of success — was not at all what she’d imagined.
There was love, of course. There would always be love. Beyond her own anxiety and self-judgement, she could see that a life was only as successful as the love one projected. Still, in the beginning, it was loneliness that determined the pursuit of it; and loneliness made things more urgent, non-negotiable and somehow crucial. It conformed the shape of love, so it could fit into the missing parts; make-up for the previous mistakes of others; fix, mold, make it better. Because in a person, there were always parts missing: from too much love, or not enough of it, from the prototypes of our lovers (god bless our parents!), who couldn’t possibly step up to what love was meant to be, as she thought of it: all forgiving, non-discriminating, fluid.
And what about the needs? One had to have needs. It was a path of nature. Larisa found the balance between the self-fulfillment of those needs and the ones she could hand over to another — unpoetic and stressful. So, she chose to handle all of them on her own; not with any sense of confrontation or showmanship, but with the esteem of self-reliance. And surely, Larisa thought, it would only elevate the love. Surely, if one handled the demands of one’s survival with this much grace, there would be more room for the beauty and the compassion; the reflection of the self in the suffering of others and the almost rapturous feeling of knowing exactly how it felt to be another; for such a love lacked fear, and it could take up spaces with its tide-like tongues, and whenever it retracted, one only had to wait for its return. In light, in easiness: What surrender!
Larisa wasn’t really sure how or where, in the self, the unease began. On that day — a day unmarked by any significance — she’d gone into a church. With her head bowed and eyes half-closed, she didn’t seek answers or help, only a space from which to observe the ways her thoughts moved, sometimes birthing moods, sometimes — nothingness; and she watched herself alter, even while in stillness, mind creating matter; thoughts becoming intentions; and she cast the net into the endless vagueness and brought them back into the very is-ness of her: Into what she believed the most.
This church appeared make-shift, marking a spot where, under an influence of a former fanatical thought, an ancient Russian cathedral had been burnt down over half a century ago. A modest wooden building, unheated, undecorated, in a shape of a polygon, sat in the shadowy corner of a square. The country was living through an era of resurrected gods and revalidated heros, often dead by now, having been taken for granted for the sake of simplifying a former common ambition. Things crumbled. Alliances turned chaotic. And when everyone woke up to amended history — figures worthy of worship long gone and nearly forgotten — a common panic ensued. For even if it weren’t the ego that made a people matter, it had to be their spirit; a common memory of a civilization.
The roads had frozen overnight; and at first, she had snuck-in to thaw out her stiff toes. She purchased a candle at the door, mostly out of habit. She didn’t even know how that particular ceremony worked. Two side altars, with figures of crucified saints, sat against the walls of the church, opposite of each other. Standing there for a while, still and unnoticed, she studied the other women who moved like ghosts across the dirt floor. Everyone was fully clothed. She looked down at her feet and shifted: There was little hope of her finding much warmth there. Still, she stayed. She paused, and in the growing shadows of her memories, she waited.
Older women in head scarves, with histories written across their tired faces, were crossing themselves at their chosen mantels. Some moved their lips in prayer, repeatedly lowering their heads in a manner that came after so much practice, one was no longer moved by it. What misfortunes had brought them here? Loss required humility, otherwise one was consumed with fury. Her country had lived through tragedies with a numbness of habit. Resignation was often advised by the elderlies, yet she found herself incompetent at it.
She took another look at the suspended saints and walked over to the side alter with a Christ whose eyes were semi-open. A little girl in a rabbit fur hat clung to the leg of her grandmother. Larisa looked down at the child and without raising her hand, moved her fingers inside the mitten. The child, sensing an interaction, got shy and clutched the old woman’s leg with more zealousness, for children often appeared overwhelmed with the energy of living. Their egos struggled with the life force they had been granted (what were they supposed to do, to be? how did they matter); and juxtaposed against the even flow of hours — one’s magnificence was only seen in silence, she believed — the egos expanded; for surely, they had to become something better.