Tag Archives: expectations

Suspended Saints

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.

(To Be Continued.)

The Other Half

(Continued from July 1st, 2012.)

At the end of the summer, Marinka aimed to take entrance exams to the two top medical institutes in the city.  Mother offered to pull some strings:  The woman was never at a lack of connects.  But I’ve gotta give it to sis!  She was determined to get in on the basis of her merit alone.  (In those days, the idealism of the Russian youth tended to have a longer expiration date.  Skepticism stepped in much later, flooding anywhere where the Soviet control of information gave room.)

So, after half of June spent on cramming for her high school finals, Marinka hibernated for about week; then, immediately resumed her studies.  Mother wasn’t thrilled about it:

“Now, instead just one bookworm, I have two Oblomovas in the house!”

Those days, I began to wonder about what constituted a woman’s happiness.  Mother, whose only expression of joy was overly stretched, forced —  a sort of a strained delirium — didn’t strike me as genuine, but something quite the opposite, nearing insanity.  She wasn’t happy in the way that Olya Morozova seemed, in her mother’s altered dress, on her own wedding day.  And any time I’d seen her since, blissfully pregnant or contemplatively picking tomatoes at a market on weekends, she looked like someone composing a complicated orchestral movement:  Lost in thoughts that she desired, never seeking approval (and why would she need it, with her moderate beauty, always basking in adoration?); content but not out of love or out of curiosity; fluid, available; kind.

For the first few weeks, mother struggled with the no longer vague signs of her oldest daughter’s ambition.  She sized up our bunk beds, branding us with the name of the biggest lazy ass in the whole of Russian literature:  Oblomov.  Other times, she tempted us with distractions:  a rerun of Santa Barbara or the news of other women’s misfortunes.  It would happen mostly in that late afternoon hour, when mother, having returned yet again from a day of hunting for discounts and gossip, was expected to be in the kitchen.  And we were expected to assist, simply because we were daughters.  And therefore born female.  And therefore, we had no choice.  (But one always had a choice, even in the country that didn’t advertise freedom.  We could choose the other way:  the way outside of the expected, of the presumed.)

In response to the call for confrontation, I listened to my sis remain motionless above my head.  It gave me the courage to stay sprawled out on my stomach as well, despite the signs of mother’s fuming in the doorway.  The smell of her perfume lurked more oppressively than her silence.  The anxiety of always, somehow, being perpetually wrong — inappropriate, incorrect — stirred in my chest.  What was to happen?

Mother exhaled audibly, turned on her heels and stormed out of our room, making a ruckus with the bamboo curtains in the doorway.  I held my breath, just in case of her abrupt return; until a few moments later, the kitchen appliances began tuning into an orchestra of percussions.  I suppose a light touch does not belong to every woman; and our mother exorcised her frustrations via the objects that reminded her of domesticity.

I slathered up the ladder to Marinka’s bed and rested my chin on the last plank:

Sis looked up:  “Hey, monkey.”  She stopped chewing on her pencil for long enough to smile faintly, as if to herself.  There was that mystery, again; the place of thoughts where women departed — to create, to process, to understand; or maybe rather to mourn, or to escape.

“Oooh,” I bulged out my eyes in the best dramatic delivery I’d inherited from mom, hissing:  “Mom’s pee-ssed!”

Marinka smirked — inhaled — and resumed making a meal out of her pencil again.  The two females had been in a bickering war this entire summer.  Still, sis would not speak unkindly of our mother, at least not to me.  To be the last to abandon her graces was my sister’s route to growing up.  Descending into silence, she never gossiped in return these days, only listened whenever mother couldn’t hold it in.

Sis was curled up in the corner or plastered against the wall.  She looked dewy and flushed.  Her eyes shined with the symptoms of the cooped-up syndrome.  She appeared sleepy and slightly dazed.  Colorful drawings of human insides, notebooks, flashcards, a pile of reference encyclopedias borrowed from the library, a tipi of stacked colored pencils were spread on top of the purple blanket we’d inherited from our grandmother in Siberia.  The old woman had died having accumulated nothing.

I watched Marinka’s plump lips mouth off unpronounceable terms.  Mean smart! Ignoring my adoration (which was always too nosy or too hyper anyway), she leaned forward to flip a page; and, as she sometimes did in obedience to the flood of her kindness, grazed the top of my head with her sharp nails.

In those moments, oh, how I missed her already!

 

Some afternoons, when the heat became so unbearable not even the open windows offered much relief, we agreed to leave the house for the river bank.  Half the town would have had the same idea by then.  Mother grumbled about how we had wasted half a day on our shenanigans; yet, from the way she readied herself — nosily, running in her bra between the closets and the bathroom I wondered if she relished arriving to a packed beach.  Giant straw hats with floppy edges were matched to colorful cotton sarafans with wide skirts that blew up at all the wrong times.  There was a weightiness to most of mother’s possessions.

I was ordered to carry our picnic basket.  Marinka was loaded up with blankets, towels and old linen sheets.  We treaded ahead, while mother joined and laughed with various families, also en route to the river.

As predicted, everyone and their mother was out catching a break from the afternoon sun.  The tilted bank was dressed with a smog of accumulated heat.  For days, it hadn’t let up.  Sheets and towels were splattered on top of yellowing grass, and families in various states of undress moved around sluggishly.  Seemingly every kid in town, with the exception of the Slow Vanya who was home-schooled all of his life, was now squealing and splashing in the water.

As soon as we reached the top of the hill, an abrasive smell of fresh cow dung greeted us when the barely palpable breeze blew in our direction:

“Oh.  We’ve missed the collective bath!” Marinka said under her breath.  She was becoming funnier, too.

En route to and from their feeding ground, the farm cows were led into the river daily, to cool down and to get a break from the murders of flies.   They must’ve just left.

Without getting up, the mothers were already hollering their instructions to the frenetic children again:

“Be careful, Irotchka!”

“Sasha!  Don’t manhandle your sister!”

“What did I tell you about swimming that far?!  MASHA!”

There were some fathers who got into the water on occasion, but they immediately got flocked by their own and other people’s children with runny noses and, for whatever reason, fatherless, for that day.

Our stuff hadn’t hit the ground, yet I was already squirming out of my clothes and hauling ass toward the water.  Marinka dropped her load and scurried off after me, still in her jeans skirt with rhinestones on her pockets.

“Marina!  Please watch where she goes!” mother, already slathering herself with sunflower oil in a company of her girlfriends, barely took notice of the fact that my beautiful, olive-skinned sister shed a few shades and turned nearly pale with terror.

She stopped.  “Mama?  She’s fine!”

I too looked back.  Seemingly every hairy male appeared to have propped himself up on his elbows to get a better look at my sister’s behind.  Mother was already gone, having departed quickly from any parental awareness.  Marinka was expected to step in.

I slowed down and waited for my sister to catch up.

“If you’re lonely, I don’t have to go in.”  Devotedly, I looked up at my sis.  She seemed so out of place here, somehow kinder than the rest!

“It’s fine, my monkey,” she reached for my hand and looked ahead, at the glistening water at the other edge of the river, and the field of sunflowers there; or possibly further beyond all that, maybe somewhere where her life was going to begin.

This Time — It Would Be Different.

(Continued from January 15th, 2012.)

“I’ve decided__to let Doug__go,” Sarah told her Sid, on a typical Tuesday morning.  Her mother would have scoffed at the idea of anything typical, let alone the chronic event of Sarah’s whining on the hard couch, never to be found in her own hysterical universe.  Nonetheless, Sarah had said it; and surprised herself when, out loud, she had to insert a glottal stop between “Doug” and “go”.  She had thought it before, those two specific words in a row; but never let her mouth take them over.  Because when she practiced speaking to Doug (while in reality speaking to herself, alone in her narrow kitchen), she had never let “go” — go after “Doug”.  She didn’t know how to let “Doug go”.  So, she would continue to come back.

Did the Sid notice it:  Sarah’s surprise at the way phonemes worked, once her mouth took them over?  For a second, she imagined her face on an infant, cooing and choking on her first words.  What wonderment!  It wasn’t necessarily Sarah herself — as an infant — but perhaps her firstborn.  That was the exact problem with these only children, in the world, like Sarah:  They made for more desperate mothers, for they hadn’t yet seen themselves reflected in another human being.  But back in the day, when she had asked her mother for a sibling, “I have not time — for such a sing!” — her mother answered, every bit the tired woman this new chosen world had begun to make of her.  Eventually, Sarah would give up asking; and by the time, she herself could biologically mother a child, she had forgotten all desire to mother a child — spiritually.

Miranda, the Sid, was studying her with glossy eyes.  She must’ve just stifled a yawn, Sarah thought.  Then, she reiterated her decision, whose courage appeared to have expired back in her kitchen.  She was looking for the long overdue alliance:

“Yes.__I’m going to let Doug (stop) go.”

“Going to”.  Not “gonna”.  Sarah judged all American contractions quite bluntly, holding them away from her face with the two fingers of her dominant hand:  Violations to the language!  decapitation of words, ew!  Her own native tongue sounded too proper in her mouth, for she hadn’t practiced it much, since leaving the old world.  Her mother’s Ukrainian was always humorous, bawdy and full of life.  Sarah, on the other hand, sounded like an academic; or like the librarian that she had become, her intention to leave, eventually — forgotten.  She had stayed too long and froze.

“You’re such a snob, man,” J.C. said to her on the phone.  He had a “gonna” on his voicemail greeting:  “I’m gonna call you back.”  It had been bugging Sarah for all the years that she had loved him, learning for the first time that some men do stay long enough to reveal their faults — and to teach you to adore them, still.

Still, the “gonna” would bug her until she stopped listening far enough into the outgoing message.  (And if anyone had an “outgoing” message — it would have to be J.C.!  “Peace!” his voice always announced at the end of it — a naive ultimatum to the world by someone who hadn’t experienced much unkindness.  But before Sarah could get to the “peace”, she would’ve already hung up before the “gonna”.  NOT “going to”.)

Eventually, she mentioned it.

“You’re such a snob, man,” J.C. responded, from the back of his throat — the same geography from which her mother spoke, as well, in both of her tongues.  Her mother’s words had a chronic tendency to fall back, making her register chesty.  Or, hearty.  Everything about her mother — was hearty.

Sarah propelled her words forward, as her American contemporaries did:

“I’m not!  I have a Liberal Arts education and I work at the New York Public Library.”  Her self-patronizing didn’t work.  So, she thought about it, sweating the phone against her ear.  “Okay.  I’m going to try to be better about it, you’re right.”  Still:  “Going to” — not “gonna”.

But when she told the news to her Sid, while pacing her words, “What made you decide__to do that?” — the Sid responded.

Like attracts like, Sarah let the flash of a thought slip by.  Like attracts like, and she had been spending every Tuesday morning observing — and sometimes admiring — this nifty woman who hung up her words, niftily.  Sarah could never be nifty.  She was frozen, in between the two worlds of her mother’s; sorting something out because something was always off.  She was constantly relaying between wanting to belong and not knowing why the fuck should she?!  And she would narrow it down to the pace:  Things moved differently here; differently from what little she could remember of the old world.  It wasn’t so much the speed of things, but the direction — a lack of it — making each life’s trajectory chaotic.  It took longer to sort out a life; and even when one finally did, the life could easily shake off one’s grasp of its saddle, run off its course and resume flailing between others’ ambitions and desires for you, then your own delusions and ways of coping with losses and defeats.

To the Sid’s question, Sarah finally responded:  “I feel badly__for doing that__for all these years__to Doug’s wife.”  Except that, by then, she would be in her narrow kitchen, alone again, talking to herself.  She was never quick enough for an eloquent comeback, face to face with another human being.

(Her mother never seemed to have that problem.  Mother would always speak her mind, causing a brief gestation of shock in her conversations.  But then, the American participants would laugh off their discomfort, patching their sore egos with “You’re so cute!”, at her mother’s expense.

“God bless you!” Sarah’s mother would respond then, mocking the American habit for only jolly endings.)

 

Once, Sarah had tried imagining this woman — this other woman — in Doug’s life, who had been so epically hard for him to leave.  Except that Sarah had gotten it all confused, again:  She — was the other woman.  The third wheel.  She had read theories about women with low self-esteem before — women like her; women who prayed on other women’s husbands and who envied the wives of those sad men, with the eyes of a spaniel.  (What was the difference between jealousy and envy, again:  The doer of one — but the assumer of another?)  So, Sarah had tried imagining the woman she should envy:  The one who got Doug full-time — something that she should be pitied for, actually.

That night, Doug had taken her out to a pan-Asian restaurant on the Upper West Side.  Or, actually, they had just walked-in — into the house of dim lanterns and dim sum; because otherwise Doug, according to his disgruntled self-prognosis, was “gonna crash”.  (“Gonna”, not “going to”.  So much for poetry, professor!)

The shrimp stew he had ordered for Sarah arrived to her golden-and-red placemat.  The shiny shrimp tails, as pink as newborn hamsters, stuck out of the white rice, covered with milky-white slime.  She didn’t even like rice.  Her people came from the land of potatoes.  Potatoes and sorrow.  He wanted none of it.

“I can’t sleep over tonight,” Doug broke the news into his bowl of steaming miso soup.  His hunger has been staved off with cubes of tofu.  “It’s Beth’s birthday.”

Beth.  She bet Beth (insert a glottal stop in between) was patient and calm; living steadily ever after, while quietly meeting the expectations that her parents naturally harbored for their next generation.  She must’ve colored her hair every two weeks, in settle shades of red; wore flat shoes, hummed while folding Doug’s clean laundry; and she cut her nails short, as to not cause any breakage on surrounding surfaces.  And she bet (stop) Beth had a sibling.  Nifty.

“Nifty,” Sarah echoed.  Neither the slimy shrimp nor the sticky rice could balance on her wooden chopsticks.  So, she grabbed it by the tail:  “Shouldn’t you be__taking her out__then?”  She was beginning to pace her words again.  It started to feel like rage.

Doug squinted his eyes.  It wasn’t his first time, but not something that she had gotten used to yet, in their affair:  The beginnings of their mutual resentment.

“No need to get snappy,” he said, suddenly looking like he was about to cry.  It was an expected trajectory, for him:  going from a man-child who felt uncared for (what, fending for his own food, or he was “gonna crash”, while under her care?!) — to the scorned lover, exhausted by his failed expectations.  Then, why wouldn’t he just stay with Beth, who sounded smart enough and mellow; at peace and never shocked at this world’s disorder; unfazed by chaos, as children of full, healthy families tended to be?  (Nifty.)

And how ever did she, herself, end up here, wanting to take the place of the woman who deserved her pity, actually — a woman Sarah would much rather like, were she to meet her, on her own?  On their own, could they fall into a gentle admiration — love? — of each other?

“So, how old is good ole Beth__going__to be?” Sarah asked.  But her words came out shrill, and the sloppy face of the washed-up actress began inching its way down her forehead.

 

There had been other break-ups, in their history.  Most of them, she had instigated herself, practicing them ahead of time, alone in her kitchen.  But in reality, the break-ups came out clumsily, and not at all ironic.

In her heart — or rather somewhere around her diaphragm, underneath her lungs, perpetually under her breath — Sarah felt she would be punished for this.  She was already getting judged by her Sid — the woman she was paying to side with her, and then to guide her from that place of purchased empathy.

This time — it would be different.

It would be Sarah asking Doug out.  She had told him to meet her at a Starbucks, located at least two zip codes away from his and Beth’s neighborhood.  Doug would arrive first, with some latest book of poetry moderately well reviewed by critics under his armpit; and she would find him — drowning into the soft leather chair in the corner and muttering — while making ferocious notes on its pages and sipping from a Venti.  Except that this time, she wouldn’t listen to his embittered theories, always delivered in a slightly exhibitionist manner, as if pleading to be overheard:  on this poet being undeserving, or on that one — being, god forbid, better connected.  (“When is it gonna be about talent, in this industry?!”  “Going to” — NOT “gonna” — professor!)

This time, she would pass up her dose of caffeine, walk out into the wind and pace ahead, while the fat snowflakes sloppily kissed her forehead.  The five o’clock sun overlooked the island with its rouge glares.  This place had a flair for nonchalant beauty.  It never posed, but grew and changed — a once magnificent idea merely running out its course:  New York City.  This City left all acts of sad foolishness and silly coverups of aching egos to the ones that could not keep up.  (“You’re so cute!” — “God bless you!”)

And she would try to keep the break-up neat; because catching the A-train after ten at night meant freezing on the platform while watching giant rats have their supper in the oil spills of the rails.  Later on, on the phone, that would be her mother’s favorite part; and she would ask Sarah for more details:  the color of the rats’ fur in Ukrainian and the reek of the tunnel, made dormant by the cold temperatures, which she demanded for Sarah to translate into Celsius, in order for her to understand — to get the very gist of it, the very heart.  Everything about her mother — had a heart.  Perhaps, that was the secret to her overcoming chaos.

But when it came down to the heart of the matter — Sarah’s dull ache of disappointment, the failure of words, and the resigned mindset of someone frozen in loss — her mother became quiet.  And the phone continued sweating against Sarah’s tired ear, surely causing her something, later on, in life.

“Let It Be, Let It Be. Whisper Words of Wisdom: Let It Be.”

When you forgive — you love.

I stumbled across that, somewhere in my reading.

Because I want to be a writer, you see.  So, I read.  A lot.

Sometimes I read for inspiration, other times — to put myself to sleep.  But mostly, I read out of my habit for empathy.  Secretly, I cradle my hope that someone else, equally or more insane than me, has once felt my agonies and thrills before.  And perhaps, that someone has been able to find the words for it all.  But then again, maybe I just want to get myself disappointed, frustrated enough to start looking for the words on my own.

“Lemme do that!” I would think, and I leave the book by someone else unfinished, on my dresser; then, I start weaving my own stories.

It’s a trip, I tell you:  Reading.  Which is why I size up my books carefully before committing to them, with my time and my empathy; and with all of my expectations:  I need to make sure they are exactly what I need at that moment in life.

Kind of like:  Love.

Except that in love, I continue to commit that same mistake and I wait for the story to fit me perfectly, at that time in life.  It doesn’t.  Ever.  Because a love story always involves another person and I am never too careful in sizing him up.

With books, I eventually forget about my initial expectations, and I get on with the journey they offer — if the adventure is worth my wandering, of course.  But in love, I seem to forget about my side of the story — and I lose myself in his.  So, the empathy gets lopsided and it limps around like a polio survivor; never remembering where exactly I had started losing track of myself.  Until the eventual departure by one of the parties returns me to my memories — of love.

When you forgive — you love.

I stumbled across that in my memory, yesterday, as I stretched in between my naps on a sandy sheet at the beach, next to a man guilty of loving me better than he loves himself, with his lopsided empathy.  Every time I looked over, he seemed to be asleep.  And right past the curvature of his upper back, I could see a family of tourists doing their slightly quirky things underneath a colorful umbrella.

The woman looked lovely, but not really my type:  She was a blonde, model-esque, calm and seemingly obedient.  The little boy looked like her, with her pretty features minimized to fit his Little Prince face.  He sat by himself, quietly imitating the things he imagined in the sand; and, like his mother, he never fussed for attention.

The older child — a 7-year old girl, in a straw hat — resembled her father:

He was tall, dark, Mediterranean, but not at all intimidating in his physicality.  As a matter of fact, his body belonged to someone with an athletic youth that eventually gave room to the contentment of a well-fed, well-routined family life.  By the way he lounged in his beach chair, I could tell he had plenty of theories on homemaking and childbearing; and that those theories — were the main means of his participation.  Still, he wrapped up the picture of a complete union, so I changed my mind and dismissed him with a kind thought.  Then, I resumed studying the little girl.

She was tall, Mediterranean; dressed in a blue-and-white, sailor striped dress. Lost in her stories, she wandered around her family’s resting ground until the wind would knock off her straw hat and send her running after it.  On her balletic legs, the child would skip for a bit, then  resume walking, very lady-like.  The wind would pick up again and roll the hat for a few more meters, and again, the girl would begin skipping.

I could tell she was either humming or talking to herself.  She’d catch up to the hat, put it on, start walking toward her family’s resting ground while humming, weaving her stories; until the wind would send her skipping again, after the hat two sizes too big for her, in the first place.

I looked at the man next to me:  He seemed to be asleep.

“When you forgive — you love,” I stumbled across that in my memory, felt my legs get heavy with sleep, snuggled against the man guilty of loving me better than he loves himself — and drifted off into yet another nap.

When I woke up, the Little Prince had gotten a hold of his sister’s hat and tried wandering off on his wobbly legs, in search of his own stories.  But the instructions from the father’s chair, put an end to that adventure quite quickly; so the boy returned to resurrecting the things he imagined — in the sand.  In the mean time, the little girl was already skipping through waves, on her balletic legs, but still talking or humming to herself, while weaving her own stories.

There is a forgiveness that must happen, with time, toward the insanities of our families, in order to continue living with them.  That I had known for a while; and past the forgiveness, I’ve benefited with more stories.

Then, there is the forgiveness of those who have failed to love us, with or without their lopsided empathies.  Still, it must be done in order to arrive to new loves, to new empathies, and again — to new stories.

But the forgiveness of ourselves — for the sake of weaving a better story out of our own lives — that seems to be a much harder task.  And it takes time.  It takes a light open-mindedness of a child continuously running after her straw hat, seemingly never learning the lesson because the adventure itself — is worth the wandering.

And when the lesson is learned — forgiveness equals love — the story-weaving gets lighter.  And so does the loving.

“I Can Be Your Hero, Baby” — Nyet.

My dad — is not Superman.

I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone conversation that I have been committing to Motha Russia for the last few years.  It’s the least I could do, I always thought:  to take the initiative in maintaining this long distance relationship that had affected every romantic choice in my own biography.  Because dad was the man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.  So, da:  It was the least I could do.

As someone with the burden of having left her beloveds behind, with the guilt of exceeding her parents’ lifestyle — survivor’s guilt — I have been dialing an endless line-up of numbers every Sunday (by the Russian clocks):  My Prodigal Sundays.  And after a while, I’ve given up on premeditating the concepts of these phone calls:  For they never turn out to be redemptive, or even philosophical.

“Hello, what’s new?” I would ask, every time, surprising myself with how mundane I could be despite my lists of questions about my heritage, my character, my past.

“Nothing,” dad would answer, echoing the matter-of-factness of it all.

(It’s offensively insane if you think about it, really:  After more than a decade of separation, you would think beloveds could concern themselves with anything other than gas prices (for me) and bread prices (for him).  It must be why, then, I had always found fiction to be more perfectly narrated than life.)

But then on the other hand, my dad was Superman.  For years, he seemed immune to suffering.  Between the stoic nature I myself tap into sometimes, in my own character, and the military training of his lifetime career, he never vented, never sought faults; never passed a judgement on the humans he had vowed to protect.  So, I’ve had the audacity to assume he was stronger than the rest of us, capable and tough.  Because that matched the picture of the first man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.

Dad always stood so tall, with his stereotypical Eastern European features juxtaposing my own (that I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).  But it was height that I insisted on remembering the most, never measuring him against other men.  There had to be other humans larger than dad’s slim stature, so well hidden underneath the boxy cut of the Soviet Army uniform.  Just by the mere fact that, for centuries, Motha Russian was famed for repeatedly spitting out giants out of her national vagina — there had to be humans taller than my dad.  But no, not from my perspective!  Not from where I stood — not from where I looked up, in my blinded worship of him, for the first two decades of my life — never growing past my own 5 feet in height (a feature I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).

And he would be the best of them all.  Always the highest ranking officer in every room, he would be granted the respect pro bono.  So, how do you stand next to a man that gets saluted before even being spoken to, giving him a complete command over the course of the words that would follow?  How do measure yourself against someone addressed by his title rather than his name?  I tell you how:  You fall in love with him, blindly, for decades getting stuck at measuring your own romantic choices against Superman.  

We could be on an errand trip to the nearest city — my Superman and I — standing in line at an ice-cream kiosk, when a stranger in civilian clothes would salute my tallest man in the world.  Beautiful women (for centuries, Motha Russia was famed for spitting those out of her national vagina as well — in galore) would blush and adjust their hair when father marched past them.  (For the rest of his life, he would never surrender that manner of stepping — as if on a chronic conquest:  A man on a mission to protect the human race.)  And even the harshest of them all — the bitterly disappointed veterans on the benches of Moscow’s parks or the fattened-up, unhappy female secretaries at my lyceum’s administration — they too would melt a little in the esteemed company of my dad, making life seem much easier to navigate than when amidst the stocky, brown brand of my mother’s side.

Oh, how I wish I could’ve dwelled in this blind worship of him, for the rest of my life.  But the romantic choices in my own biography — a biography that had happened during the period of separation from my dad, now nearly equaling in length as the first two decades — they have began to catch up with me.  And as I continue to fall out of my loves, I begin landing in truth about the very first man with whom I was once so blindly in love.

“And yes, you do mythologize your men,” a man, not as tall as my father, had told me the other day.

And da, herein lies the pattern:  Willingly, blindly, I fall in love, worshiping each new romantic choice, pro bono.  And when he doesn’t measure against my personal Superman, I fall out of it, quite disappointed but never surprised.  For no man can live up to my mythical expectations — not even the Superman that had started them, back in the first two decades of my life.

And nyet, my dad — is not Superman.  I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone calls on a typical Prodigal Sunday (by the Russian clocks).

Because, “I’m just a man,” he told me, refusing to echo the matter-of-factness of it all.  “And it’s time for you — to give up on me.”

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

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

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

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

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

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

History does that.

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

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

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

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

And then, we’d go back to silence.

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

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

“Forgive me.  Forgive me.”

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

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

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

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

To my lovely, my conclusion had to seem brutal.

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

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

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

The joke didn’t work.  I lost her.

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

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

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

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

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

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