Tag Archives: father

“WAIT! Oh, yes, wait a minute, Mister Postman!”

But I prefer to think of him as my personal Clint Eastwood.

I don’t run into him much, maybe once a month.  At first, I notice the white clunker, with the profile of a blue eagle plastered onto its side panel.  Considering that most of the time, it’s a complete clusterfuck on my street, I usually see his car parked in the handicap spot, at the end of the block.

“How ever does he manage to not get cold?  or hot?” I study the missing doors and the rusty metal of the vehicle.  Zero isolation in that car.

Shit!  I can’t even call it that:  “a car”.  It’s more like a golf cart, really; and I’ve often wondered whose genius idea it was to have the most important and the most underpaid government workers riding around in those things.

And those uniforms!  Can’t some company get a better handle on the tailoring of that seemingly itchy baby- and navy-blue getup?  Sometimes, I’ll watch some other skinny postman drudging a metal basket filled with mail through a block (but not my block!), and I feel sorry for the guy.

But not this one!  My guy — is proud.  Methodically, he returns to his little postal truck and grabs only as much mail as he can carry.  He approaches each house with the respectful knowledge of its property; the habits, the characters of its residents.  He must know all the local dogs and learn the manners of the cats basking on our lawns, porches or window sills.  And even with the wild tenants, he must be well-acquainted:  the curious raccoons, the badass skunks; the hooligan porcupines and the bullies that are the local coyotes.  (But only when they’re in packs, of course.  Alone, they are pathetic.)  Yet, I imagine he navigates their territories with an even pace and a calm demeanor.  They live here and have done so with more sensible behavior than the humankind.  And even though he is not at their service, he knows to respect their rules.

Because he is my personal Clint Eastwood, and that man — never loses his good graces.

There is an abandoned house in the middle of my block.  Or, so I thought.  I thought that surely something sad must’ve happened to this house, leaving it to be occupied by the local homeless cats and runaway teens.  But then again, the front yard of it is so overwhelmed by weeds, that only a wild thing cat navigate through it.  And yet, I see him, sometimes — my quiet hero of methodical existence, my occasional man of the hour — and he come around to the side fence and hurls a tied bundle of mail to the doormat.  I guess the house is not abandoned after all, but it still must have some sad stories to tell.

To my building, the man usually arrives toward the later part of the afternoon.  The Hollywood Postal Station is in the same zip code as this block, but by the time he leaves, all the surrounding streets turn into a disaster of screeching, honking, smoking metal.  Yet, he endures — my bearer of good news and deliverer of late notices, my confronter of procrastinators and the messenger of long lost loves.  And then, he returns the next day with another handful of mail.  Another truck-full of messages.

And if on occasion, I find him in the downstairs lobby, I watch him sorting out the papers with what seems to be a knowing smirk.  Can he decipher the message of each envelope just by the look of it?  Does he know which handwriting belongs to a lover, and which — to a child?  Can he feel, by touch, the perforated patches caused by the tears of a heartbroken girl, pleading for her love to return?  Does he wonder about the timezones, the climates, the political regimes which each message must endure — in order to make it to the bottom of a mailbox?

“Good day,” he’ll say.  Not really a question, or a statement that taunts me for my own option.  Just:  Good day.

I don’t even know his name.  I call him “love”.  Sometimes, I ask him about the traffic, and in the winter, I bring down as many tangerines as I can fit into my palm.  I wait and study him, as he continues to shuffle the papers into the identical gaps.  No matter my impatience or the importance of an anticipated message, I NEVER interrupt.

Today, he said, “Hold up!”; then, grabbed the only bill inside my mailbox and handed it to me.

Shit!  And I don’t even know his name.  But I am sure he knows mine.

“Bad news,” he stated.

I pressed the white rectangle to my chest and tried to find my father’s face — on his:  “Not really,” I shook my head.  “Just:  Steady.  Steady news.”

“Well, that’s alright then,” he said, with every decibel sounding like my personal Clint Eastwood.

My constant memory keeper.  A man of relevance despite the change of times.  

My patient overseer of human interactions, a witness of our faults and generosities.

And someone capable of chronically forgiving our race — and then come back to work to prove it.

“Unforgettable — That’s What You Are. Unforgettable — Tho’ Near or Far.”

C’mon, think!  Last memory.

There’s gotta be evidence of what he looked like, back then.  Considering it’s only been half of my lifetime ago since I’ve last seen him, I should be able to remember.  So, think!  Last time.  Last memory.

Half and half.  That’s how this story goes.  One half — chalked up to my childhood; the other — to having to grow up.  The first — to innocence; the other — to no choice.

And only in the later day reflections of myself in the glossy surface of a photograph with someone who looks like the younger me, do I occasionally notice it again.

“Huh.  Is that — innocence?”

Sometimes, though, I can’t even name it.

“That thing, that thing… you know,”  I snap my fingers, trying to speed up the memory.  The others grant me weird looks:  They’ve got no problems remembering.

So, think:  Last memory.  Last time.

I was innocent.  He — was quickly aging.  I was rushing time.  He would die if only he could slow it down, at least a little.

How could that happen:  that the other half of life demanded a leap larger and longer than any of my or his predecessors have ever committed?  Why wouldn’t growing up alone — be enough?  Life had to change.  So, continents shifted, and so did our outlooks.  Our lives.

And I couldn’t wait, too.  I’m sure he had something to do with it, though.  I couldn’t wait to be of age, to understand him so completely; to answer him right on the dot, precisely, perfectly and so grown up.  I wanted to become the company he’d always choose over all others, while he walked and chain-smoked.  I would be equal, I imagined.  And I would be so poignant, when grown-up, so fascinating, he’d want to jot down my statements.  Then!  Surely then, he would be so proud!

But first, I think it started as a rebellion against my kindergarten naps:

“When I’m grown up, I’ll never nap!”  So serious — so stubborn and determined — I was already very certain that my life would go in a different way; my way.  At least, the other half of it; the one that I myself would dictate.

And so I got my wish:  Somewhere at the end childhood, things began to change.  For all of us.  Most grown-ups I knew had no choice — but to catch on.  The children had to grow up:  Historical transitions aren’t merciful to innocence.  So, yes, I got my wish; and halfway through my teens, grew up so quickly, one day, he would have to rediscover me, in awe:

“Whatever happened to my little girl?” he’d say.  Surprisingly, he wasn’t proud at all, but mostly shy, a little bit embarrassed and definitely awkward.

He’d go on thinking that he had failed me; had failed my innocence.  He could not protect it from the avalanche of new events.  Why wouldn’t growing up alone — be enough?  So, for the entire second half, my father was ashamed.

To think:  Last memory.

I was already grown up, or striving to be so.  Completely clueless about the challenges of an adult life, I was flippant and quite impatient to depart.  I would choose to do it all alone:  to make a leap larger and longer than any of my or his predecessors had ever had the courage to commit.

But I — had the courage.  I was his daughter, after all.

One thing I do remember:  Dad always bore his feeling bravely.  In all my life until then — in all of my innocent first half — I hadn’t seen my father cry.  I would that day:  The day of the last memory.

But think:  The details, the evidence of what he looked like.

Stood tall, I think.  Or was I merely short and still a child (although no longer innocent).  His hair had been turning gray quite rapidly.  On every waking morning — another start of his courageous bearing — I’d watch him pour another cup of coffee and become an older man.

That day:  He chain-smoked.  But of course!  Standing outside the airport, he chained smoked.  That day — he’d look at me, so proudly, I’m sure, but to protect my innocence, to prolong my childhood — he thought he’d failed.

Neither one of us suspected that it would take a whole half of my lifetime — to reunite; and that a half of a life — is long enough to lose one’s last memory.

So, I would rather learn:  What does he look like NOW?  What will he look like, when we reunite.  But any way he looks, I think — shall be a start.  A good one — of a new memory, after the second half.

“Can I Take You Home — To MY House?”

It was a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight.  There were no other signs, just my own prior knowledge, but I was sure the room was located upstairs.

Or, it could have been one of those houses that sits on stilts in my grandfather’s village.  There seems to be no natural reason for such a structure:  The inland area at the foot of an ancient mountain knows no floods.  There are no rivers that run by it, and the winters tend to be brutally dry and viciously cold.  But when the snow melts, it turns the ground into mush; yet, no river banks can be feared to overflow.  The thick, purple layer of evergreens that covers the sides of the dormant mountain holds its outer layers in place, and I have never heard of mudslides or earthquakes in the entire history of the family.  If anywhere else, there, in the middle of Russia, nature is obedient and tamed.

There was always a calm flow of hours whenever I came to town.  There would be bickering between the two sides of the family, and that would be the only noise I’d hear for days:  The Russian whites on my father’s side would find the brown tint of my skin somewhat scandalous.  My brown motha’s blatant sexuality didn’t help the matters either.  The matriarchs — the mother of the family and her only daughter (a matriarch-in-training) — would always insist on accompanying me in public.

But the town would be calm, and with an exception of an occasion hushing down of the old women, flocking benches at any hour of the day, I saw no outwardly confrontations.  And even those women would express their aggression with silence and gossip, to which I wouldn’t be made privy, because it would unfold behind my brown back.  This was no place for verbal confrontations or domestic fights.  An occasional drunken brawl would be talked about for months.

And then, everything would return back — to silence!

In a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight that’s possible only in August, there was a circle of mismatching furniture:  An old couch with wooden arms and flowery pattern of its material; an armchair of dark blue velvet, worn out and soiled in its folds.  A wooden barstool was covered with a crocheted throw of fluffy, egg-foam-colored thread.  And there was a rocking chair occupied by the ghost of my grandfather — the only member of the family who was always openly thrilled by the fact that I stuck out in all their photographs.

They were all blue-eyed, tall and sinewy; and in every picture, they stood behind me like a white backdrop.  I would look at the lens from underneath my bushy eyebrows, with eyes so dark, no camera could distinguish the ending to my pupils.  And above my serious, mismatching face, I would be balancing a cloud of messy hair, which, before the flash went off, had been aimed at by one of the matriarchs’ hands and yanked into a careless ponytail.

(Looking back at these photos, you can already see that my body would belong to neither my motha’s clan — a curvatious creature of wild nature — nor to the shared lean physique of the white matriarchs.  I would be somewhere in the middle:  My adolescent frame would already exhibit some softness, but the brown legs, darkened by my chronic solitary play in dirt fields and haystacks, belonged to someone who knew how to run.)

Sylvie Guillem by Richard Avedon

In the sunlit living-room, one of those hand-woven rugs took up the middle section of the floor.  On it, I would be permitted to play, occasionally, after the matriarchs confirmed that there was no work left to be done around the house.  Still, I would hide out, until my grandfather’s return.  Like me, he would be ushered out of the kitchen by the women; and while he watched TV, I finally felt safe to bring my toys out of their hiding places and spread them out at his feet, upon one of those hand-woven rugs.

There was no eating on the floor.  No eating was permitted anywhere but the kitchen and the garden bench.  At times, the old man and I would sneak behind the house and curb our appetite with fresh cucumbers or a few unwashed tomatoes.

“It tastes better this way,” my grandfather would wink at me while polishing the giant berry on against the cloth of his knee.

But seeing a skeptical glimmer from underneath my bushy eyebrows, the old man would reaffirm:

“You get all the natural vitamins when the tomato is unwashed.  Trust me.”

The secret would be to chomp it down quickly, before the matriarchs came out to the garden to collect some scallions or a bouquet of dill for the dinner salad.  So, we would climb back up the stairs (the house sat on stilts, remember?); and reassume our positions of most safety:  His — dozing off in his rocking chair, and mine — conducting stories upon a hand-woven rug.

But in my last night’s dream, the wide living-room, luminous with August sunlight, was filled with other people.  They were loud and beautiful; and they laughed with such violent joy, I noticed the open windows of the house and the shimmering dust suddenly visible in that angle of the sun.  We would be heard, I realized; and what would happen to the silence so strictly protected by the locals — it, at times, eliminates all life?

The beautiful people kept laughing, though.  The women with golden hair intertwined their limb in ways that only women do with each other:  with an intimacy that comes with tenderness and, most importantly, a lack of angst.  The children straddled the wooden arms of the couch; climbed onto the women’s knees and crawled all over their feet.

My grandfather’s chair sat empty.  I watched it from the corner of the room, where I had wedged myself in under an armpit of a tall man with laughing eyes.  He, too, was in on the joke; and he kept shooting over loving gazes my way that seemed to say that I was the pun of it.

Is this what families are supposed to look like?  Is this the way I wanted mine — to feel?

I had so little to remember them by, that all I seemed to want to keep was the empty rocking chair and my grandfather’s ghost.  The rest was up for my rewriting.

“There Is ALWAYS Something Cookin’!”

It started like a typical talk last night.  Because that was the only reasonable thing to do, with my dad’s people:  To be typical. Because the question of “What would people think?” — always dictated the choices of his family.

When I resumed my weekly phone calls to Motha Russia, two years ago, I expected heightened stakes for a while.  After all, I haven’t been home in sixteen years!

And for the first couple of months of these telephoned conversations — with the family — things were indeed thrilling:  Someone was getting married.  Someone had passed away years ago.  This person was now a high ranking government official; and that one — had succumbed to full-range alcoholism.  Most of our shared excitement came from other people’s tragic tales:  immigration, disappearance, cancer, suicide.  And because Motha Russia always has had such stories in plentitude, we seemed to never run out of things to discuss.

So, for hours, dad and I would talk about other people:

“And how is Marinka, P?” I would ask him about my archenemy from high school, and that would spur another hour of gossip:  Someone was pregnant.  Someone was getting a divorce.  This person had left for Moscow.  That one — never returned from Chechnya.

But when it came to our own family, things weren’t discussed; not in any depth that revealed family secrets.  Nothing that would divert us — from being typical.  Surely, we talked about our distant relatives:  someone was cheating on his wife; another someone was graduating from medical school.  But the people in the immediate family — were not the topic for deep digging.

It was initially established by P:  He would answer the questions about his family living in the Urals with stubborn vagueness.

I could hardly remember my last visit to that middle section of Russia.  I was a teenager and bored out of my mind, on that trip.  Because just like the geography of the area itself, the common characteristic of my father’s people was an overall commitment to order and calm.  Every single one of them was always existing in the middle:  Not really subversive in any way and never disobedient.  They were — typical.

And the orderly flow of their daily events was dictated by the family’s matriarch:

Breakfast at 0700 hours.  Work at 0900.  Women cleaned the house and cooked — men left for the fields.  Bathhouse was ready by 1800 hours.  Dinner by 1900.

Having been a city-child my entire life, I was an immediate handful for my father’s mom:

“Why is she going to the library every day?” she scolded P in that passive-aggressive manner that was meant to be overheard, by me.  “What would people think?!” Because the question of “What would people think?” — always dictated the choices in his family.

So:  We walked our cows to the feeding fields by 0600 hours.  Attended Sunday church by 0800.

And, last night, it started like a typical talk:

“What are you doing right now?” P began our routine, after the initial pleasantries were gotten out of the way.

“I’m cooking,” I answered.

I was holding my cellphone with my left shoulder and running a colander full of spinach under the water.  An entire head of garlic was waiting to be peeled.  He would have heard my kitchen noises anyway.  So, I didn’t lie.  And I didn’t stop cooking.  Because I assumed:  P would have preferred for me to have a typical night anyway.

“You’re cooking?  At 2300 hours?” (P — is an army man.  He still talks in military time, so typical of his generation.)

“Yep,” I said.  “I’m cooking from scratch.”

I braced myself:  I expected him to start talking about the diversion from my typical sleeping schedule; or the noises with which I was disturbing my neighbors.  (In which case:  “What would people think?”  Right?!)

But P — chuckled.  “What are you making?”

“Soup,” I answered.  I preferred not to elaborate, as to not give away too much ammunition for dad’s later scolding:  I was a child of an army man, and I typically don’t run my mouth much.

But then, I reiterated, while gloating a bit:

“I’m making soup — from scratch!”

“I know you are,” P got serious on me.  “You always made me things from scratch.”

He would proceed to tell me that even as a teenager, I was the cook of the family.  Oh, how it bothered his mother — the matriarch — he told me, when I competently took over making his breakfasts, in the Urals!

“Why is she crowding me out of my kitchen?‘ your grandma told me,” he said last night.

I chuckled.  Yes, I chuckled with my typical close-lipped laughter:  so typical of my generation of army brats.  So typical — of my father’s child.

“But in all truth,” P continued, “I always preferred your cooking — over my mom’s.”

God damn!  THAT — was untypical!  The family’s matriarch was being shaken off her throne; and her son was now conspiring with a woman who was anything but typical, for her entire life.  

“What would people think?!” I thought.

But then, feeling encouraged, gloating even more, as a woman proud of all her self-taught talents, I carried on cooking, last night:  Mincing the roasted peppers; adding spices to the mixture of red, brown and wild rice.

P was into it:

“And when do you add salt?” he inquired.

“Never!” I said, in my matriarchal voice.  “In my kitchen — I use lemon!”

P chuckled.  Yes, he chuckled with his typical close-lipped laughter.  But I knew:  He was choking back his tears.

Due to the untypical turn of events in his family’s history, I grew up in an untypical fashion:  On a whole different continent, one hemisphere removed from him and his people.  I had become a woman on my own terms.  And somehow, despite being extremely untypical, in my father’s eyes — I was absolutely perfect:

I was a good woman — so typical of my father’s child.

And I was the best cook — in the family:  How untypical!

“I Fly Like Paper, Get High Like Planes. If You Catch Me at the Border — I Got Visas in My Name!”

I am at a rehearsal last night, and I’m thinking:

“I don’t want to be heavy anymore.”

Now, I don’t mean my physicality here:  I’ve got a pretty compact bod on me — always have had — and I’ve always been light on my feet.

I seem to have inherited the smallest features from both sides of the family:  My motha’s people run quite low to the ground in their height; and dad’s tribe, although quite tall, is nearly transparently thin.

And then, my head’s rarely in the right place:  It’s always wanting to be elsewhere.  So, the restlessness of the mind adds to the activeness of the bod, adds to the shedding of the weight.  I’ve come to think that perhaps it’s all for the better, anyway:  My size fits best into airplane seats and packed buses, New York subways and Moscow bread lines — and wherever else the mind urges the bod to fit itself in.

So, when I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to be dark.

Now, I don’t mean the color of my skin here:  I’ve got a pretty dark complexion on me.  Motha’s people — are fucking gypsies, so they are really more like Russian blacks.  In my childhood, motha would have to keep me out of the sun — just so I would still resemble my father’s child a little bit more.  Because his tribe — is quite light (although they’re quite heavy in their footsteps).  And they’re nearly transparently thin.

It’s bad enough I traded in my father’s blue eyes over the course of the first year of my life.  He came back from his military training in some bleak lands of Motha Russia to meet me at the hospital.  I was only a couple days old.

“He’s got my eyes!” he said before the doctor had a chance to explain to him that I was actually born a girl.

(So sorry!)

Whether or not ultrasound existed back then in Motha Russia, motha chose to rely on the old school witchcraft of her people when predicting my future sex.  Surprise, surprise:  That shit didn’t work, and dad was now cradling a blue-eyed brunette of a nearly black complexion in his arms.

“Well…  At least she’s got my eyes.”

With quite a blow to his dreams of the first son, dad left again for some other bleak lands of Motha Russia:  He was always light enough to move.  (But we, Russians, often tend to have heavy footsteps:  We love to step on others’ toes; so if we aren’t playing war — we seem to be always training for it.)

Anyway.  When dad returned home, half a year later, he found his newborn with eyes so black, he could see his own reflection in them.

“He… she — don’t got my eyes no more!”

(So sorry!)

So, when I said, “I don’t want to be dark anymore,” I think I meant:  

I don’t want to be perpetually difficult on my loves.  

Now, I do seem to be easier on my friends:  Over the course of our loves, they’ve gotten used to the restlessness of my mind that adds to the activeness of my dark, compact bod (that adds to the weightlessness of my footsteps).  From all the distant corners of the world, however bleak or perfectly civilized, my loves receive messages of my journeys:  The messages of wanting to belong — if only I would stop moving for long enough. 

But then again:  My friends don’t have to live with me.  They don’t see me pacing my living quarters at night, as if needing more room.  They don’t witness my restlessness accumulate as surely as the hours in each day — until I finally decide to move again, to whatever bleak or perfectly civilized corner of the world.

My loves, however:  My loves are constantly subjected to the restlessness of the mind that adds to the activeness of the bod, that adds to the shedding of the weight, that adds to the weightlessness of the footsteps.

Just ask my family:

My motha’s people — are fucking gypsies.  Yet, for at least two generations before mine, they’ve given up on moving, only following the call of some bleak lands.  Over a century ago, they’ve settled on the East Coast of Motha Russia, much less civilized, unconquered:  The lands that were waiting to be discovered by the more unsettled hearts.  Over the course of the last few centuries, it was populated by the subversive many and the courageous few.  There, the Russian blacks of my motha’s people found their home.

That’s, of course, until I came along:  A blue-eyed brunette that swapped her father’s eyes for a pair of those, black enough to serve as mirrors for her loves.  And as soon as I was old enough to obey the restlessness of the mind, I would follow the call of my gypsy complexion.

(So sorry!)

Because my motha’s people may have given up on moving, but they haven’t settled, I decided.  Not yet.  Perhaps, not until I myself birth a child in some bleak or perfect civilized corner of the world — and I see my own reflection in his or her black eyes.

So, when the other night, I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to negate myself the joy of freedom.

Courage!

Only courage should elate my heart, from now on:  the courage of following my gypsy complexion and the heart that never settles for anything less than love.

And when I do love, I don’t want to deny my loves — the utter joy of my freer self. 

“But It’s Hard to Come Down — When You’re Up in the Air.”

“Where are you going?” P asked me on the phone during my monthly calls to Motha Russia, after I announced that I was busy packing.

“Eh.  A little bit here and there,” I answered while measuring the contents of my closet against the mouth of my giant suitcase, gaping open on the floor.  “Here and there.  You know.”

I haven’t really finalized my travel plans yet.  I mean:  I knew I was heading back to Motha Russia — eventually.  That explained the uproar currently happening in the family:  They haven’t seen me in sixteen years, so the homecoming trip promised to be loaded.

But I wasn’t making that daunting trip for another couple of months.  In the mean time, I was giving up my apartment and packing up my giant suitcase.

Apparently there was nothing out of the norm about the vagueness of my plans, because P was agreeing with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Da, da, da!” he said.  “I’m listening.”

Dad had always been on my side.  He had to be; because I never left him much of a choice but to get used to the nomadic habits of mine.  I mean:  All I ask for — is my freedom.  Is that so hard?

Penelope Cruz

But apparently, in order to accept my antsy temperament and the life-long addiction to wanderlust, I also ask for a lot of trust.  Trust was exactly what I relied on when I announced my initial decision — sixteen years ago — to leave Motha Russia in pursuit of my education abroad.  Trust was demanded when I later moved to New York, for the same reason; or when I committed the daunting trip back to Cali after my share of victories and defeats on the East Coast.

All along, my relocations were telegraphed to my folk back in Motha Russia on a monthly basis.  Considering the homeland chaos, I took it upon myself to keep the connection alive; and I would call, from wherever I landed.

“I’m here, for a little bit.  Here and there.  You know,” I’d say, while unpacking another giant suitcase.

As far as I was concerned, I was fulfilling my daughterly obligations beautifully.  So, whenever P would voice as much as a hesitation or a worry, I’d go bonkers:

“I mean…  All I’m asking for — is my freedom!  Is that so hard?”

P wouldn’t have much of a choice.  So, he would agree with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Nyet, nyet, nyet,” he’d say.  “I’m listening.”  (Dad had always been on my side.) 

No one knows the responsibility of freedom better — than those of us who vow our lives to its pursuit. 

I mean:  All I am asking for — is my freedom.  And all I am asking of my loves — is trust.

My addiction to wanderlust began in the first years of my life.  Mere months after my birth, P — who devoted his life to building the Soviet Empire as an Army man — was being relocated from the East Coast of Motha Russia into the less populated inlands.  The first couple of our moves would be done by train; and in the beginning of his career, P could track his ascent through the ranks by the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“You’d always sleep easily, on trains,” he’d say any time I told him about the utter calmness I feel these days, when on a railroad.

His bigger promotion would take us into the middle of the country — into much more brutal winters and lands.  For first time in my life, we would have to take a plane ride.

I wouldn’t be older than a year when motha packed me into a tiny suitcase that she kept unzipped on her lap during the 4-hour flight.  She would have to get inventive and make a transient crib out of it, stuffing it with a pillow.  I would be bundled up into a blanket and wrapped with a ribbon:  A tradition taught to Russian mothers by the brutal winters of my Motha’land.

For the duration of the flight, I wouldn’t fuss at all.

“All I could see from my seat — was your button nose peaking out of the tiny suitcase:  You were sleeping,” P would tell me whenever I confessed about the utter peace I always feel these days, when up in the air.

In order to feed my life-long addiction to wanderlust, I’ve had to grow up quite quickly.  Motha Russia wouldn’t leave my generation much of a choice after the collapse of the Soviet Empire that our parents devoted their lives to building.  So, instead of living in ruins, many of us chose to pursue a life — and an education — elsewhere.  So, we packed our tiny suitcases and we left.  We had to give up our childhood — and to grow up.

Because all we asked for — was our freedom.  And for my generation, it was indeed very, very hard.

Because all I’ve asked for — is my freedom.  And as someone who’s vowed her life to the pursuit of it, I’ve paid all the consequences of my choices in full — and they have indeed been very, very hard.

So:

“Da, da, da!  I’m listening!” P is always saying, quite enthusiastically, on the phone.

He — is always on my side.

And after sixteen years of my untimely adulthood, he agrees with my pursuit of that calmness and peace that I always feel when transient; when in pursuit of my self-education — when in pursuit of my freedom.

“When You Got Nothing — You Got Nothing To Lose.”

I was studying the face of a good man the other night…

“You jump to conclusions too fast,” my father would have said had I told him this story.  “Too trusting — that’s your problem.”

Dad is fearful, especially as a parent; and I can’t really judge the guy for that.  History has played a hideous prank on his country and his life, and it continues treating him and his people as dispensable.  Surely, there cannot be a bigger heartbreak than that.  There cannot be a bigger absurdity.  And I can’t really blame the poor guy caught in the midst of a Kafka play.  

So, I forgive him for his limitations, his shortcomings, his imposing fearfulness.  Instead, I stretch the boundaries of my unconditional love — of my compassion — and I choose to think of him as a good man.

My father — is a good, good man.

But I would never tell him this story:

I was studying the face of a good man the other night.  I barely knew him, but not once had I wondered whether he had made his share of mistakes in life, his share of missteps.  I suppose I was certain he had.  But they mattered little in that moment.

Because I chose to think of him as a good, good man.

(I AM too trusting — that’s my problem.)

And I listened.

He spoke to me of his travels, of leaving his doubts, vanity and fears behind; and biking across the country with nothing but a backpack and a camera.

He told me about the perseverance of the body if only one could control the mind.  In survival, he said, there was a chronic juxtaposition of reflexes versus fragility.  And when confronting the most basic needs, there was a balance and a great humility.

And there was beauty in the defeat of despair with one’s courage, in the elation of that success; and in the overall simplicity of living.

“What a good man!” I thought.  “What a good, good man!”

The road threw him for a loop a number of times, but he told me about the clarity of the mind if one was traveling light.

“It’s a good thing I hit the road without any expectations,” he told me.

It made sense.

He spoke about having no possessions to weight down his choices and no expectations.  Neither were there any grudges or resentments against humanity — others’ or his own.  His journey was not a conquest:  Not a thing dictated by the ego.  So, he traveled with a lesser emotional baggage, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.

His only responsibility on the road — was his family.  He would have been a lot more reckless, it seemed, had it not been for the nightly on-line messages that he promised to send their way.  And so he would.  No matter the difficulties of the day, no matter the survivals and the defeats, the despair and the courage, he would telegraph his experiences home.  And these letters — his road journals, the confessions of a transcendent mind — were the only threads leading back to the people he loved.

(I chuckled.  I would never tell my father this story:  He’d find me too trusting.  That’s my problem.)

“What made you do this thing in the first place?” I asked.

The humble badass smiled at me as if he could read the answer on my face — my good, good face — and he said:

“Because the one thing I know — is that I cannot stop knowing.”

And so, I was studying the face of a good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

My life — was not the life of my father:  I had bigger control over my circumstances; enough control to allow myself the occasional hubris of assuming that I was a person of consequence.  I could make choices, you see.  Unlike my father — my good, good father — I could choose my situations, or even change them.  And I had the luxury of freedom:  to pursue my life’s ambitions and to continue “knowing”; to continue learning.

Somehow, I had made the choice — to be good, in life.  There had been plenty of situations that tested my ethics before.  Yet even in defeat, in shame, in pain, I could always return to the track of goodness.  I could always see my way back to redemption.  Because even though my life was not my father’s, my ethics — were indeed his.

And my father — was always a good, good man.

And so, I was studying the face of a good, good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

“But I just can’t forgive myself,” my father had confessed a number of times.  “That’s my problem.”

Alas:  That was the main difference between my father’s character and my own.  I always chose to travel lightly, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.  I chose to have the power of self-forgiveness.   And I could always see my way back to redemption.

“Half of the Time, We’re Gone — But We Don’t Know Where, And We Don’t Know Where. Here I Am…”

I mean:  I had just written something about cotton candy.

“Kitten!  Look at the sky!” I heard.

I came out onto the porch:  Endless fluffs of torn clouds stretched across the darkening sky.  They were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat:  a palette of silver and all the purple shades of amethyst.  In a departing kiss, the setting sun colored the bottom layer with fuchsia pink.

“And who’d thought you up?” I whispered, in response.

By the time we got into the car, the fuchsia kisses had been wiped off.  And just as we drove off, an arrow of lightening shot down, about twenty meters ahead of our front bumper.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still think in metrics.)

“WOW!  Did you see that?!” he said and flipped his entire body in the driver’s seat in my direction.

“I did.”

But I was calm, in that tired sort of way.  Another day of work was behind me.  So were a few more good-byes.  There had been many of those, this year — a number of amicable departures and such a multitude of voices by the unsettled many, I was beginning to lose track of my losses.

So, I was leaving town on a whim, just so that I could wrap the last season of the year with whatever grace I could summon — elsewhere.

In half a kilometer, we reached the onramp.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still measure the distances I go — in metrics.)

How can the 405 be possibly packed at this hour?  Well, at least, it was moving.  We were moving; and I became aware of just how many people lived, dwelled, dreamt in this city.

Of how many dreamers had to survive the multitude of voices by the unsettled many — and lose track of their losses.  

Of how many of us had to leave town on a whim, in search of our grace — elsewhere.

We neared the hairy maneuver of merging onto the 101:  A few careful steps on the breaks and a couple of accelerations past the unknowing drivers — a couple dozen meters of betting against other people’s graces (which is always a tricky hand) — and we were free sailing.

(I know:  I have landed here over decade ago, yet I still measure my growths — my flights — in metrics.)

The traffic was moving against the dark mounts, outlined in the background.  On this freeway, everything seemed a lot more sensical at nighttime.  So, many times I had passed the peak that revealed the view of the Valley all at once, but never had I thought of it so stunning:  It spilled out in a palette of multi-colored stars dropped onto the ground beneath us.

The cars ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes were the color of French lemon meringue.

I opened my eyes:  I had to have drifted off for a minute.

(It’s a good thing that time is measured with the same particles in both hemispheres.  Because I had landed here over a decade ago, and I had long given-up on thinking in military time; but the rest of the adjustment was easy. Here, time — is a bit more simplified:  There is just never enough of it.)

I remembered waking up like this, back at the age when I was already filled with dreams, yet most of the time dismissed by the adults as too serious of a child.  I was asleep in the backseat of a cab, moving through Moscow, at nighttime, to catch an early morning flight to the East Coast of my Motha’land:  Somewhere, where both the skies and the forests were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat.  Leaning against the door, I had to have drifted off for a minute (at twenty three hundred, plus some minutes after — it was long past my bedtime).

The road was narrow, much narrower than it tended to be here, and a lot less sensical.  The traffic ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes reminded me of Russian meringue cookies, with apricot jam.

I flipped my entire tiny body on the backseat toward motha:  She was napping on my jacket that she’d rolled up into a travel-size pillow.

But dad heard my commotion from the front passenger seat, looked over his shoulder and whispered:

“What’s your business, little monkey?”

“P!  Did you see that?!” I said.

“I did.”

P was calm, in that tired sort of a way.  But he smiled at me, just to let me know that he, unlike others, was taking me very seriously.  After all, I was a child already filled with dreams; and he had to have known that I was already meaning business.

Back on the 101, it began to feel like we were climbing.

I flipped my entire body in the front passenger seat — already feeling closer to having recuperated my grace with gratitude — and I said:

“Are we going up?”

“We are,” he answered.

He was calm, in a tired sort of way, and didn’t at all look like my father.  But still, he, unlike others, was always taking me very seriously.

The road narrowed down to two lanes, and I could clearly smell the Ocean:  It smelled like the East Coast of my Motha’land.

(I have landed here over a decade ago and willingly stopped measuring my life with memories. But somehow, I seemed unable to forget that one smell of home.  And after a decade of living, dwelling, dreaming in SoCal, I realized that here — I was much closer to homecoming.)

At this point, having gone however many kilometers out of town, on a whim, there was barely any traffic.  We were speeding, sliding, catching up to an occasional lonesome firefly ahead; until there were none at all, and the deserved single lane of the PCH began to feel a lot less sensical.

A lot like home.

There were so many ways to leave home, and there were many more ways — to land.  But I knew:

Homecoming — was always better committed with some grace; even if it was found — elsewhere.

“She Never Stumbles — She’s Got No Place To Fall. She’s Nobody’s Child. The Law Can’t Touch Her At All.”

It is truly fucking amazing, but for the very first time in my life, being single does not seem like a social ineptness — a disease of which I am a carrier.

So, as I stand in front of an overwhelmed ticket cashier at my fancy local movie theater, I no longer feel awkwardly apologetic when I say:

“One — for Crazy, Stupid, Love, please.”

The chubby, stressed-out girl in an ill-fitted penguin-like uniform looks up at me.  It’s the weekend, but I had just come from a day of hard work.  My hair is pulled back.  I’m exhausted, not in a self-pitying way of someone burdened by survival; but in a relaxed, proud manner of someone making her own way in the world.

“Was that:  One?” she repeats.

I thought I spoke clearly.  I usually do, with strangers, subjecting only my beloveds to my habit of speaking in code.

“Yes,” I say, and I smile as kindly as my tired, non-pretty face allows.

The girl purses her lips and flips her computer screen toward me:

“Where would you like to sit?” she says.

I don’t really know how it happens in the lives of other young girls, but in my own adolescence, I’ve never been taught how to get myself successfully paired up.  There is nothing my father wanted more, of course, than for me to get married and settle down, always in close proximity to his house.  He somehow hoped I would figure it out on my own and — magically! — end up with a decent guy (which by Russian definition meant someone who could hold his liquor and was good at fishing).  I would end up with someone my father could trust enough to pass me into his care.

At the same time though, he never talked to me about dating.  It made him uncomfortable — this idea of my inching my way toward the problems of adulthood, day after day.  And the sequence of my father’s glottal sounds while he sat on the edge of my bed one night and tried to talk to me about sex would make Bill Murray want to take notes:  It was so uncomfortably funny.

“Um, P?” I had to interrupt him, because I wanted to remember my father as a hero, NOT as a man incapable of uttering the word “sex” while blushing like a teenager.  “It’s past midnight and I’ve got an English final in the morning.”

I was in tenth grade.

Not kidding.  Dad — or “P”, as I called him, lovingly, in my habit of speaking in code — had always been delusional about my sexual development.  I wasn’t even sure he knew I had gotten my period four years prior.  Most of the time, we just talked about my studies.  Because all my life, I had been an exemplary student, earning my way into the best private school in our city; and my education — was the biggest of my own concerns anyway.

“You just gotta be careful…” he mumbled that night, and once he got up, he would fumble with the seam of his thermal shirt and blink rapidly to avoid my stare.  “That’s all I’m saying.”

“I am, P.  Good night,” and I smiled at him as kindly as my tired face would allow.

And that was it.  That was the only time P chose to suffer through that topic.  Not even after my parents’ divorce would either of them invest any time in explaining the complexity of human relationships to me:  the work that it took to be successfully paired up, and the amount of self-awareness; the amount of commitment.

Whatever I learned about dating I would learn from my contemporaries.  Boys would be the main topic in the cafeteria of my college, to which I had arrived on a full scholarship.  Again, in my 20s, education would remain the biggest of my concerns.  By the end of our studies, many of my classmates would be engaged, or married; or moving back home where they were awaited by their families and boyfriends.  I, however, was en route to graduate school, hustling my way to earn more scholarships.

In our rendezvous to the City, we would occasionally meet up — my college contemporaries and I — and they would purse their lips at my awkwardly apologetic answer:

“Yes.  I’m still (insert a shrug) — single.”

In my dating life, I would feel clumsy and uncertain.  By the example of my contemporaries, before each date, I would dress myself up into what seemed to be a better, prettier version of me:  And during the date itself, I would often gain a headache.  Because by the end of it, I couldn’t keep track of all the omissions and alterations I would manufacture.  And when I wouldn’t hear from my dates for weeks, I would throw myself back into my studies.

Something would change of course, with time.  Somewhere during the pursuit of my dreams, I would begin to sit in my skin a bit more comfortably.  There would be a slew of reckless relationships and even a failed marriage; but I would begin to learn about dating, by trial and error.  And the one thing that eventually became obvious was this:

I was NOT like most of my contemporaries.  I was someone paving her own way in the world since a very young age, via her education.  I was also an immigrant who had to work twice as hard as her contemporaries in order to be their equal.  So, there was no way I could use someone else’s skills and opinions in order to pair myself up, successfully.

Because I am no longer willing to mold myself into a better, prettier version of me, I am beginning to find that the version of me already in existence — is pretty fucking amazing.  And that very version, however tired or un-pretty, I now carry into my dates; and I surprise myself that the men I choose seem to be more comfortable with me as well.  They are more confident, more fun.

And then I move on, to more adventures and dreams, in the pursuit of which I don’t really need to be paired up — UNLESS successfully.

“Um, miss?” the penguin-girl appears even more stressed out since meeting me.  “Where would you like to sit?  We’re almost sold out, but since you’re single…”

I smile.  I choose the best seat in the house, buy myself a single latte and wandering through the lobby’s bookshop, in a relaxed, proud manner of someone who can afford herself these tiny privileges, in life.

I am someone — making her own way in the world.  And I’m pretty fucking amazing!

“But When She Gets Weary — You Try A Little Tenderness.”

Woke up late:  A day off.  I planned it that way.

But before that, I woke up every hour, on the hour, jumping up in bed and staring at the clock with the anxiety of someone whose memory was escaping her.  And I would decipher the neon red numbers of the alarm, as if among them, I could find reminders of my missed appointments or, god forbid, any broken promises.

I swore I was forgetting something.  But then, I would remember:

A day off.   I planned it that way.

Exhale.

I would recline back into the stupor of my dreams, just to leap up again, in bed, an hour and a few dreams later, and stretch the memory for the things I was forgetting.

When I finally got up — late, on my day off — I made it over to the journal I used as a calendar (this year, I had refused to get myself a planner — a giant fuck you to my memory); and I stared at its pages for any suggestions of things I was forgetting.  The coffee drip was already spitting at intervals; and truth be told, beginning a day — had never been my problem.

I remembered that, while staring at my handwriting and inhaling the first aromas of caffeine.  The disorientation by dreams began to fade away.  In my mind, in my memory, I could see the trajectory toward my desk:  That’s where I start, every day, habitually.

Yet, I continued to stare at the pages — and at my handwriting; and I swore I was forgetting something.

I sensed my face:  I was pouting.  I don’t own big lips on me, but the lower one always insists on rolling out in my sleep, and it stays this way for the first hour of the day.

“Your grandfather always woke up like that,” my motha once told me, over a decade ago, while she could still witness my waking up, in her house.  And after I had moved out for good, into my own adulthood — however untimely, every morning motha would find me waking up in her house, she would tell me again and again:

“Your grandfather — my daddy — always woke up like that.”

And I would find it amusing, the way genetic inheritance worked.  We are talking eight decades now:  six of his and three — of my own.  He died too young and tragically.  Yet, still, he showed up on my face.  I guess, that’s one way to matter, in the chronology of the human race:  on the faces of humans that follow our deaths.  (But first, I would find it amusing that a grown woman would call her father “daddy”.)

Motha and I had both been the only children in our families.  Her situation was a bit more tragic than mine:  She had a younger brother.  He died, and in the worst of ways:  too young and tragically; without any witnesses — or even a body to bury after.  No closure.  And with him — seemingly went her memory.

Motha’s memory would begin to malfunction soon after her brother’s death.  The first thing — was to block all matters related to the loss.  It was a coping thing, most certainly:  These brain synapses collapsing on themselves for the sake of further survival.  Or, how else could one carry on, past such tragedy?  How else — to persevere?

Surely, she would still remember the general story of his life, its chronology.  But the details would be blocked out forever.

“My memory escapes me,” she would answer to all my inquiries.  “I was too young.  He was too young.”

I would stop asking.

But the second thing that changed — and that equated us, after my own birth — was the lack of opportunities to rerun mutual memories with her now missing sibling.  No longer could she turn to him and say:

“Remember that one time…”

Somewhere, I once heard that repetition matters to children.  That’s why they must ask the same questions over and over; or to provoke the adults to retell them the stories of their own short lives — their chronologies.  So, for those with siblings, memory becomes easier to train; because one could always turn to a brother and say:

“Remember that one time…”

I’ve never had that:  After my birth, motha decided, on my behalf, to never have another child.  Just in case anything would happen to him or her — she wasn’t sure I could survive it.  So, in her way, she was protecting me from my own possible tragic memories.

But any time she would find me waking up in her house, stumbling out into her kitchen for the first aromas of caffeine, she would study my face and say:

“My daddy always woke up like that.”

And she would wander off into a story — a story I most likely have already heard a dozen times before.  Still, I would let her retell it — and I would listen — because repetition matters to memory.  Repetition matters to children; and her brain synapses, collapsing on themselves, retracted my motha back to the little girl, with a younger sibling.  So, I would become her equal — someone she could turn to and say:

“Remember that one time…”

Agreeably, I would behold.  I would never embarrass her by interrupting the flow of her memory and say:

“You’ve already told me that!”

Or:  “I’ve heard that one before!”

And neither would I ever embarrass others if I caught them in the midst of repeating a story, for the dozenth time.  Because I could never predict the tragedy they may have had to survive, in their own chronologies, interrupted by bad memories.  (And chances are, there is always a tragedy — such is the human statistic.)

Instead, I would behold.  I would listen.  And I would try to commit their stories to memory — my memory with its own collapsed synapses, from years of tiny tragedies I myself was trying to forget.