Tag Archives: hope

A Shift. A Change.

(Continued from July 22nd, 2012.)

Gaining time, ages of it:  That’s how she had begun to feel recently.  It was no longer an anxiety driven chase of minutes, or breaking down her days into portions of obligations and thinking too far ahead; so far ahead that she would forget to observe the very happening of time — and herself in it:  unfolding, expanding, altering, learning to love.  The tension that came from her knowledge that she was lacking, losing time would settle at the medial edges of her eyebrows, making her forehead feel like a heavy awning.  For years, she had worn the weight of time on her face; and while the losses surmounted, as they do in any life, she found herself at a deficit of time for mourning.

Larisa stepped out of the church.  The city, still moving slowly after the snowstorm, was gradually waking.  Older women carried netted bags with groceries from the bazar; the men smoked.  The young raced, chased, took for granted stretches and stretches of time.  The sun had been beaming down; and although it didn’t have the strength to thaw out the iced pavements yet, the smells of eventual spring could already be detected in the air.  Everything was beginning to exhale.  Larisa smiled:

But, of course, change would come!  It always did!  In her memory, there was no specific day when this awareness had happened in her, no event that — again, with time — revealed its lesson:  that she wasn’t really living all this time, but merely waiting for her days to end, wasting them on worry, on an anticipation of her own expiration and on counting up her lacks.  Growing tired, perpetually tired, she found herself lacking patience.  How could her life force fade so early on?  And she was terrified of it:  to lose the joy of living would make a life’s uselessness more daunting.  She didn’t want to live with that.  And she was not going to lose the hope!  No, not the hope; not the sometimes demonstrative belief of hers that people were prone to goodness; and that even though she could never expect it, kindness would make its presence known, and it would lighten up at least some events with grace.  Oh, but she needed to — she had to! — believe that!

Watching the rush of morning trolleys clunk past her, Larisa decided to walk.  The cold stiffness of the air entered her lungs, brought on an alertness.  The kindness hadn’t slept a wink that night.  And so, she continued to roam through her city, with books in hand:  the city which she hadn’t made her home yet, just a place where she would watch her youth unfold; but at any moment, she could give it up, take off again, the gravity of responsibilities not affecting her yet; and she could chose any place (she could go any place, really!); and the mere awareness of such freedom made the heart swell with tearful gratitude.

In that state, while absorbing the city from the top stair of the library building, she had met him.  It was the music, at first, streaming out of the rolled down window of his car.   She stopped to listen to it:  Chopin?  Debussy?  In the gentle strokes of the piano movement, the city glistened.  She stepped down and resumed her walk.

“I was just thinking myself, ‘Am I ready to part with this Blok collection?’”  He had gotten out of the car and was now leaning against the passenger’s window at the back seat.  Larisa smiled:  Blok — Russia’s golden boy of poetry — had made her girlfriends swoon all through college.  She studied the man’s face for a glimmer of ridicule:  Had he seen her leaving the building with half a dozen of hard-bound (cloth) tomes, half of which she had renewed, unready to part with the moods, the atmosphere they proposed?  But if anything, the man was smiling at his own expense, bashfully and maybe even seeking her opinion on the matter.  She considered it, then spoke carefully:

“You should try some early Akhmatova.”

“Too tragic,” he responded, “especially for the end of this winter.”

That’s it!  Right there, she knew exactly what she meant!  But for the first time, she did’t catch herself forced into a space of controlled flirtation from which she could observe — but not always appreciate — the effects of her presence.  How can I hold all this space now, she thought; how can I stand here, not putting up the heightened facade of my sex?

She couldn’t remember if it had ever been this easy before.  Aloneness would still happen, of course, even if this were indeed the evidence of her change.  It wouldn’t stop, neither would she want it to.  But now it united, linked her to the rest of humanity; and even in the isolation of the specificity of her most private experiences, she would understand so much; and in that surrender (if only she could manage to not lose herself in fear again), she was certain she would find kindness.

Habitat for Humanity

The sound of the 1 Local rattled the windows; she untangled herself from his limbs, sat up and prepared for the sensation of mellow distain, in the vicinity of her diaphragm:  It had been his idea for her to move in here, after just seven months of dating.

 

It was the only time she had encountered a man so willing.  She was lucky, according to other women, most of whom, she suspected, had gone through the chronic toss between a want of love and a denial of it, due to their self-esteem.  A man’s attention could go a long way though.  She had been known to make it last for years, settling for either those who feared commitment or were half-committed — to someone else.  Bitterly, she would eventually begin to withdraw from all offers of courtship because she was sick of herself:  reaching, trying too hard; accounting, then settling for leftovers.

But this one loved her, it was obvious.  He praised her enthusiastically, similarly to the way one adored a deity or a Renaissance statue of a nude, made more precious by its missing parts and by the scabs of earth and time.  Never had she been with a man who wanted to parade her through the circles of his friends, all of them older, calmer and mostly academics, who got through their own marriages by sleeping with their students.  Sometimes, while she feigned being asleep on the couch after hearing his keys scratching their way into the lock; she listened to his footsteps get quieter, as he approached her, merely breathless; and he would sit at the edge of their coffee table, amidst magazines and her thesis papers, and study her.  She began to feel responsible.

Her girlfriends, of course, were full of advice:  Men like him happened rarely.  She was lucky, they hoped she knew.  But was she ready for their age difference; and for the ex-wife with a list of entitlements to his money?  Heartbroken men made for hard material.  But wasn’t it a woman’s sport, to fall in love, despite?

The night when they would sleep together for the first time, she found a photograph of the ex, tucked away into an old aluminum cigarette holder.  She wanted to light up.

The black and white face of a blonde looked over the shoulder, with one hand propped up like an awning across her forehead, her lips closed sternly, as if disliking the photographer.  She found her to be a forgettable woman, not at all like she preferred to see herself.  Now, with both of his habits gone — the smoking and the wife — he was not at all enthused by the idea of reminiscing about the past.  But she insisted on a talk, so that she could investigate herself the story through his sighs and avoided glances.  It was a hideous tendency for some emotional sadomasochism that she disguised as intimacy.  Or, maybe, she was already reaching.

She, of course, tried to be casual about it.  He would begin to speak, not from the start, but going immediately to when the ex blurred out her desire for a divorce.  It happened in the midst of a tiff over the shut-off electricity due to an unpaid bill — a woman flailing at him, in the dark — and he first thought she was quoting a film they may had seen together.  They’d gone to film school together, a decade ago, in the City, never pursuing the field afterward.  He’d stick to theory; she — to freelance writing.

“But didn’t you see it coming?” she asked him, watching his fluttery eyelashes add to the dark circles under his eyes.  “Any signs at all?”

The gray-haired lover shook his head but held it high.  Still, for the first time, in his habits of disobedience to his emotions, she saw a once crumbled man; a man, perhaps, still in need of repair.

This predisposition of her imagination — to be able to see her men as children (or worse yet, as children in need of rescue); to truly feel their suffering; to be moved to tears by their losses that happened a decade before her, but always so unjustly — that evening, made her weary.  Hadn’t she had enough yet?  She couldn’t possibly save every one of them!  She wasn’t here to fix it, to make-up for another woman’s whimsy.  Still, she would begin to feel responsible.

In the light of an exposed, yellowed by months — or years, perhaps — of fried food in his kitchen, that first night she watched him cook dinner for the two of them.

“That’s a big step!” the girlfriends rolled out their eyes and smacked their lips.

“A man that cooks and does his own laundry.  You are one lucky bitch!”

The more she listened to the women get involved (for none of them actually listened), the more she regretted exposing her tales of love and loss.  Perhaps, her ex was right:  Over the course of the last century, women had become a collectively confused group of people.  She herself no longer knew what she wanted at the moment.  And she could not remember what she used to want.

 

He was exhausted from the emotional testimony and was now fussing in the kitchen:

“I haven’t used this barbecue since my last apartment.  So:  should be interesting!”  She’d gone too far.  She shouldn’t have probed.

Albeit the open doors of the top floor patio, the hot air clustered the entire apartment.  It took up every corner.  She, having just come out of the shower, felt dewy in her crevices.  There used to be a lot more vanity, in love.  Perhaps, she wasn’t trying hard enough with this one.

She watched him cutting up fresh herbs plucked from the flower pot along the kitchen window sill.  He operated with a tiny knife at the edge of a wooden cutting board, blackened by mildew on one side.  There was nothing visibly sloppy about his appearance, yet she could see the absence of a woman in his life.  Perhaps, the shortest distance between his earlobes and shoulder blades had something to do with her aroused compassion.  Or the bulk of crumpled Kleenex in the pocket of his sweats.  Or the rapidly blinking eyelids, when he decidedly walked away from his story.  He wasn’t cared for.  He was recovering.  It made her heart compress.  Responsible!  She had to be responsible.

While nibbling on twigs of dill, flirtatiously at first — although mostly out of habit — then suddenly more grounded in her kindness, she studied him while standing by his microwave.  She didn’t find herself impressed, but tired.  Tired and kind.  If not in love, she would be grateful for this one, she decided.  Just look at him:  He needed her so much.

“You Are the One That Got Me Started.”

I saw him first!

The roles reversed:  When I departed, nearly twenty years ago — so reckless in my youth and dumb — he was the last to disconnect our gazes.  

Such had to be the burden of the ones we left behind!  And such — the mindless blessing of the ones with great adventures to distract them from the pain of leaving. 

What courage it had cost him — to hold the ground and not crumble then, until I turned the corner!  And how I would never learn it, until I birthed a child, myself! 

And yet, he did:  My darling old man.  The hero of my lifetime doomed to never disappoint my expectations.

The one to whom my every love would be compared:  the ultimate ideal for a man’s goodness.  My goodness.

The one who, in tumultuous times, had to commit the ultimate, unselfish act of love — and let me leave in my pursuit of bigger dreams than our homeland could offer.  (Would those dreams turn out to be worth our mutual sacrifice?  My life is yet to reveal its bottom line.  But how I pray!)

And when my hardships happened, oceans away — the one to suffer heartbreaks of a parent’s helplessness and the titan strength of prayer.

The one to not let go, despite the distances and family feuds.  (Alas, human stupidity:  It never fails to permeate a story.)  The one to change in order to keep up.  The one — to love and wait.

And pray.

This time, I saw him first!

The crowds of tired passengers were whirling all around him:  Loves leaving, in their acts of youthful recklessness or being pulled by bigger circumstances.  The lucky ones — were coming home.  The floor tiles of the airport endured the writing of rushed footsteps, scoffed wheels of those things that people felt they had to bring along; the punctuation of chic heels of pretty girls; the patter of children’s feet, so blissful and undamaged in their innocence.  Tomes could be written if every footstep could be interviewed:  The snippets of humanity’s stories that were so often unpredictable, impossible to imagine.  But when these stories happened to make sense — when stubborn courage persevered, when love learned to forgive — they found unequal beauty.  (Oh, how we could all pray for that!  Oh, how we should pray!)

One million more of pedestrians could be packed into the terminal — and I would still recognize my father’s outline.  The mind’s a funny thing, of course:  Recently, it began to blackmail me with forgetfulness.  The first nightmare in which my father had no face — would be the turning point I’d call Forgiveness.

But when I saw him — and I saw him first! — I knew that I would not be able to forget him, ever!  Because he was the one I’d spent half a lifetime trying to get back to; the one with whose name I’d christened my every accomplishment; with which I had defeated every failure.  He was the love; the never failing reason for it.  My starting point and the North Star whose shine I followed to find my way, in and out of grace, and back again.

And when I saw him first and called him:  “Oh, my goodness!”

It had to be a prayer, for I had learned to pray — in order to come back.

No cinematic trick can capture the surreal speed with which he turned in my direction.  The mind sped up.  It knew:  This had to be THE memory of my lifetime.  This — was where my life would turn its course; and in the morning, I would no longer be the prodigal daughter looking for her homecoming, but an inspired child of one great man. 

He turned.  The smile with which he studied my departure, nearly twenty years ago, returned to his face, this time, again:  It was a tight-lipped gesture of a man trying his hardest not to crumble.  The loss had been magnificent; an the return — worth every prayer.

“My goodness!  Oh, my goodness!  Oh, my goodness!” I continued muttering.  (That’s how I prayed, for years!  Oh, how I’d prayed!)

I waved.  And then, I waved again.  The mind continued turning quickly.  It had to remember every single detail of that day, so it could last forever.  And fleetingly, it granted me a thought:  The manner of my wave was very childlike, as if belonging to an infant mirroring a kind stranger’s hand.  But in the moment, I knew no vanity.  I cared none — for grace.

When dad’s hand flew up, I noticed:  He’d aged.  His timid gesture was affected by the trembling fingers and the disbelief of someone who hadn’t realized the perseverance of his prayer.  C’mon!  There had to be some moments in his life, historical events of giant hopelessness that the entire world endured since last I left, when he, like me, would lose the sight of reason.

Or maybe not.  Perhaps, my father prayed!  Perhaps, he prayed and bargained with his gods for this very opportunity to persevere life — and see my running back into his arms.

For this one moment, all — had been worth it!  My life was worth when my father held me for the first time since nearly twenty years ago.

And I?  I kept on praying:

“Oh, my goodness!”

For that had been my father’s name, for years.

“Here Comes the Sun, Little Darlin’. Here — Comes the Sun.”

The hospital walls were the color of…

I don’t know.  How does anybody ever manage to remember the color of these walls?

One of the walls appears missing entirely:  Instead it is taken up by a giant window, with a hideous air-conditioning unit directly underneath it.  They don’t build windows like that on the East Coast.  Everything must be larger in the West: More land, wider roads; bigger closets and endless windows — windows from which we gaze upon the same vast land and highways that carry us along the coast, to and away from love, in a never-ending act of our indecisiveness about solitude.

In Vermont, there are houses with porches and hammocks; and in those houses, the window are unhinged, then flung open, into the idillic streets, best colored during Indian Summer.  In Maine, the window panes collect moisture, balancing out the difference between the temperatures with precipitation and moss.  In New York, one can always find a jammed window, or a broken one; and often, there is some lever one must work, in order to let in some fresh air.

I’m staring out of the giant hole in the wall, with sliding glass, into the desolate desert landscape with gray domes of industrial buildings and rare traffic.  I can see the packed parking lot of the hospital on the ground floor, and judging by the way people leap out of their cars, once they find a spot, I can tell the status of their beloved’s health.  The worst cases pull up directly to the curb.  Others choose to ride in an ambulance.

I see the disheveled head of a woman clutching a baby blanket being helped out of the red swinging doors.  She is being lifted by two men in uniforms; and once on the ground, one of them must remind her how to walk.

I look away:  Dear God!  I think I’m starting to run out of prayers.

On the horizon — gray mountains.  They are always gray, on this side, and only in the deepest winter do their peaks adopt a different shade:  of stark-white snow.  I think of the East, again.  The mountains aren’t mountains out there:  They’re hills.

Everything must be larger, in the West. And I’m one of those travelers, speeding along its wider roads, in a never-ending act of my indecisiveness about solitude:  chasing, then running away from love — then, coming back for more.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room.  I am alone here.  Well, no:  She is here too.  But I’m not sure if her Here is in the same vicinity as mine.  The doctors have managed to bring her back from wherever that is a broken heart takes its victims:  They have struggled to bring her back Here, through a series of shots and shocks and tricks of the trade.

So, now she is back Here; but I know her Here — is nowhere near.  It’s a different space entirely — a different Here where I, despite my conflicts with love, do not yet wish to be.

The doctors have spoken of Hope.

“Here is still some,” they say; and because they don’t avert their eyes, I wonder how many times they’ve had to say this — just today.

And how are they going to say it again to the disheveled mother who’s forgotten how to walk?

I come up to her bed.  Her skin is ashen.  I’ve never seen this color on the living before:  It’s yellowish-blue, sickly and wax-like.  It juxtaposes against all other shades with defeated sadness.  So, the fuchsia pink of her pedicured toenails peaking out from under the sheet loses all vividness.  The acrylic nails on her fingers, of the same shade, now have an appearance of props.

I remember she used to snap them against each other, when laughing herself to tears while telling a joke.  She was good at jokes.  And in my memory, that hollow sound of snapping nails has come to mean her good moods.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room:  Again!  It reminds me of the rhythm her broken heart is forced to take on, in order to stay Here.  Is this — the sound of Hope?  This slow, mathematically precise beat of an intelligent machine that, despite its act of mercy, does not possess the sensitivity to understand?

Her body has left this Here:  The Here of the Living!  She doesn’t want to be Here, anymore!  And it is a terrible thought; and I cannot bring myself to say it out loud, in front the drooping face of her mourning husband.

I stand by her bed and study her face.  It’s not peaceful, as my useless novels have promised.  She looks perplexed, and I find myself fixated on the faded outline of her lipstick.  I want to wipe it off for her:  She would have wanted dignity, while — and if — she is still Here.  She is a woman with no heartbeat but perfectly manicured nails.  I think of paging the nurse.

The tubes, running to and from her wrists, fascinate me with their width.  I follow them with their eyes, up to the beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine.  I study the monitor.

What was I looking for?

I return to her face, looking for answers.  A tiny tear, that has formed at an outer corner of her right eye, begins crawling across her temple.

“Are you here?” I whisper and grab her hand.

But I have never felt that temperature on the living before.

Not Here.

“Life Is Just What Happens to You, While You’re Busy Making Other Plans.”

What else is there to do, my darling, but to keep on going:  to keep on living?

You won’t even preoccupy yourself with the choice to stop until you’ve known some despair.  And there will be despair, in life, no matter how well I try to divert it, my darling.

It will strike you in the midst of a loss and eat up all the light illuminating the rest of your way.  It will challenge the clarity of your dreams.  Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’ve lost it:  this fleeting certainty about having a meaning, a purpose, in life.

“What is all this for, anyway?” you’ll ask yourself (although I do so very much hope that you will ask me first).

Despair is terrifying like that:  It aims at hope.  It’s quiet and dark.  It’s not like rage that clouds your vision with a rebellion against a collective sense of injustice.  Instead, it grovels.  It hungers.  It reaches for things in mere hope of someone’s last minute mercy.  And it dwells in sad corners of rented apartments where the faint smell of previous residents can’t help but remind you of irrelevance; of passing.  

Because everything passes, my darling, and every-one.

Everything passes — and this, too, shall pass.

Oh, how often I’ve wondered about what you will be like!  I try not to commit too much hubris at fantasizing about the color of your eyes, or the structure of your hair, or the shade of your skin.  But I have an idea, I think; and I hunt for it in the faces of other people’s children.

I try to restrain myself from predicting your gender.  In my younger day, I thought that most certainly you would be born a girl.  It was my duty, I thought, as a woman, to give way — to another woman.  I had already done it enough for plenty of others:  for the women I love or barely even know.  I never competed with my gender.  Instead, I devoted my life to making up for their difficulty of being born female.

It’s idealistic, I know, and a bit of a cliche.  It makes me into an easy target for those who could not find other ways of expressing their fears — but to tear down a woman’s self-esteem.  And so they did.  Some had succeeded, my darling, but not all; and not for long.  For I had shaken most of them off, by now; then spent the rest of my years repairing myself — with goodness.

Because what else is there to do, my darling, but to keep on going?

As a young woman, I was sure that I would make a better mother to one of my own kind.  I would devote the rest of my life to making up for the difficulty of your having been born a girl:  making it up to you, for life.  For your life, my darling.

But then, I had to love enough — and to lose enough loves — to open my mind to letting you be.  You may be a son, after all:  a boy whom I would teach to never be afraid.

May you never-ever be afraid, my darling!

But if you ever were, I would teach you to keep on going — with goodness. 

Because sometimes, life is summarized in our perseverance:  not just past the dramatic and the painful; but past the mundane, as well.  (I, despite my three decades among the living, still haven’t figured out which I find most grueling.  But I have known both, my darling — tragedy and survival alike — and I have persevered.)

And what else is there to do, my darling, but to keep on going?  to keep on persevering?

Everything passes:  Despair, joy, loss and thrill.  

But goodness:  Goodness must keep on going.  It must keep on happening.

So, these days, I no longer imagine your face or your gender; your stride, style, or habits.  I don’t fantasize about the way you’ll flip your hair or tilt your chin; then, yank on the threads of my familial lineage.  No, no:  I don’t daydream about hearing the echos of my mother’s laughter in yours.  I don’t pray for accidental manners that will bring back the long forgotten memories of my self.

No, my darling:  I’ll just let you determine all of that on your own.

Instead, now, I spend my days thinking of your character:  The temperament you’ll inherit and the choices you’ll learn to make.  For that is exactly what I owe you, the most:  To teach you goodness, my darling.

It shouldn’t be too hard, from the start; because everyone is born good.  But it is my responsibility to teach you goodness in the face of adversity; in the face of despair, despite the collective sense of injustice from other people.

So, I shall teach you goodness as a way of persevering.

Because you must, my darling:  You must persevere.   And you must never-ever be afraid!

“Somewhere, There Is an Ocean: Innocent and Wild.”

So, there was this one time… 

“Show me — don’t tell me,” my brother always warns me.  He, himself, is a performer and a painter; so his stories are visual.  But the recipe works though, I’ve tried it:  My storytelling works best when I paint a picture instead of lining-up some words.

So, there was this one time, when motha had decided to bring home a coconut…

Motha sucks at storytelling.  When younger, she was anxious to teach me how to read, so I would stop bugging her for bedtime stories.  Nowadays, she tells me stories all the time, and she tends to tell the punchline long before I can wrap my head around all the characters and their histories.

Arizona Muse

And when it comes to jokes, motha — is the absolute worst.  She cracks herself up, and it is impossible to make out a single word through her roaring and yelping laughter.  She tilts her head back, as if in the midst of some exorcism, and soon enough things around her start flying onto the floor while she flails around her arms, utterly unaware of her vanity.  And it is also impossible — not to laugh with her, in return.

So, there was this one time, when mother had decided to bring home a coconut.  We were living in the Soviet Union at the time…

I’ve got a lot of stories, but I suck at delivering them.  I would much rather write them down.  When writing, I can relive them.  I  can get the details out.  I can get them right; or even fix them, now that I know their endings.

But I am not really good at reliving stories in front of others.  Unless, of course, they are someone’s else stories, then I can perform them:  “show, not tell”.

Anyway.  There was this one time, when mother had decided to bring home a coconut. 

We were living in the Soviet Union at the time, and coconuts weren’t much of a typical occurrence on our dinner table.  No, it was all about potatoes instead:  Fried potatoes, boiled potatoes — with skin and without.  Roasted potatoes, potatoes in a soup.  Early spring fingerling potatoes in a salad.  Potato pancakes.  Mashes potatoes:  Those motha always insisted on mixing with bits of semi-fried onion, and I would spend more time picking it out than actually eating (which didn’t thrill my mother much).  And even when we would go camping, potatoes would appear in various formats when it was time to eat:  Potatoes baked in foil, roasted over an open fire potatoes.  Potatoes in a soup.

A serving of macaroni would spice things up a bit.  Macaroni usually meant my parents got paid, and we were living it up for a while.  But then, the macaroni would be recycled too:  Macaroni swimming in milk for breakfast — fried macaroni for dinner.

But this one time, mother had decided to bring home a coconut.  She had been trying something out, with the family:

“A Piece of an Exotic Fruit — per Month,” was the name of the program motha had come up with.

The Soviet Union was on its way out.  We didn’t know it at the time, but the country, as we knew it, was over.  The economy was in the crapshoot:  Folks not getting paid on time, the worth of pensions decreasing down to laughable proportions.  The price of bread was growing every single day; and food was being sold in rations, according to a monthly handout of coupons.  But to get that food at the market, one had to show up right after its delivery.  Because, for whatever reason, there was always fewer rations than the actual people, in town.  So, we would have to line up by the store, hours before it would open.

It helped that I was finally of the age to stand in some of these lines.  I would get there before motha, often right after school.  Later, she could take my place, and I would go home to do my homework — not to play — then, start prepping dinner.  Because I was definitely past the age of innocence:  I had long stopped bugging her for bedtime stories.

Sometimes, I would stand in line for long enough to get to the front of it.  Soon enough though, the cashier would start announcing the lowering numbers of rations.

“Citizens!” she would holler out.  Somehow, she was alway chubby and shiny; and so obviously in love with finding herself in a position of an authority.  “We only have enough for twenty of you!”

People complained, shifted on their feet uncertain if they should keep on waiting — or just go home defeated.  The frontrunners gloated in their places.  Quickly, the last of the fortunate would be counted off.  Oh, how it would suck to be standing right behind her!  (I say “her”, because most of the time, the job of standing in lines was allotted to mothers.)

Still, even then, most people would keep standing, holding their place in line.  Because hope dies last, doesn’t it?  It can even outlast despair.  

The cashier would start getting annoyed:

“I told you, citizens:  We don’t have enough produce for all of you!  So, don’t linger!”

She was obviously getting off.  But people stayed.

They stayed!  Perhaps, it took an incredibly unreasonable amount of denial to survive in such conditions.  But they chose not to hear the abusive remarks by the shiny cashier; and only the ones at the very end would start chipping off, muttering, complaining:

“What is this country coming to?!”

“Mama?” I would think at that moment, wishing she would get there and relieve me from my post.  I may have been long past the age of innocence, but I wasn’t yet ready to give up on my childhood.

So, that one time, when motha had decided to bring home a coconut, I didn’t even wonder if she had to stand in line for it.

“Where did you find this thing?!” I asked instead, while clutching the coconut to my chest.  It felt prickly.

I knew she must’ve gone to some fancy store in the capital.  She had taken a bus, and probably a couple of trolleys; and then another bus, packed with other mothers, in order to bring this thing home:  A coconut!

In the midst of the last days of the Soviet Union, she had brought home — a coconut!

In response to my question, motha would start telling me a story.  But motha sucks at storytelling; so, she would laugh and flail her arms around, dropping things to the floor.  I would keep clutching onto the coconut.

And despite the last days of my innocence — the last days of my childhood — it was impossible not to laugh with her, in return.

(To Be Continued.)

“‘Cause I’m a RENEGADE! Never Been Afraid To Talk About Anything! ANYTHING!”

Last night, I was told that I no longer rant on this here rant-blog of mine.

Yep.  A devoted reader who has been with me from week one of my creative trip (or tripping) has admitted the following:  Were he to join my readership now, he would view me very differently from the hot-tempered, opinionated, loud-mouthed, pain-in-the-ass, pro-woman woman that began doing her rant-blogging two-thirds of the year ago.

“You sound like a writer now,” he said, lingered a bit and added:  “But I would still want to ask you out though.  Maybe even more so!”

Mmm-kay.

“You used to sound so angry, almost bitter,” another one granted his opinion, the other day.  And then, he did actually ask me out.

True that:  What started this project originally was my decade-long participation in gender wars (and I’m not really sure mine was winning).  But having never published on the topic of dating before, I had a lot to unload.

Now:  I’ve been writing — for years!  I’m talking as soon as I could make sense of the Russian alphabet (which is NOT an easy task).  Later on, after attempting to master the English alphabet (a slightly easier task), I would begin writing for cash.  It was mostly criticism, at the time; but with the exception of my editorial bits for the college newspaper, I rarely indulged myself in publishing my rants.  And as far as relationships went, all that stuff was being kept secret in my journals.  (Speaking off:  Where the hell are the ones from high school?  Oh, boy!)

Before embarking on this year’s project of blogging, as a devout nerd that I am — I first did research.  A shit load of it!  For hours, I would sit in front of my aged computer  and measure myself against the blogosphere full of other opinionated — talented or just loud-mouthed, or both — writers.  Could I really do this?  At the time, I was at the beginning of a new relationship, so I thought what better way to introduce my inner workings of a nerd to my partner.  In a way, I was flaunting the side of me I was no longer willing to tame:  I’m a writer.  Deal with it!

And from the shit load of my research, two particular pieces of advice got branded into my nerdy brain:

One:  You must publish on a regular basis.  Your readers expect it.

And,

Two:  Make sure it’s authentic — to you.

It made sense.  The entire purpose of my public coming-out as a writer was to seek my readership.  Before entertaining my entering the blogosphere, that readership was a mere daydream of mine:  It would have to happen in an old-fashioned way, after years and years of working on my manuscript — and then a few more years of trying to sell and finally publish that thing.  A career of a blogger, however, promised to give me a shortcut:  The process of publishing seemed instantaneous.

However, back in those days, even I could not have predicted that there was nothing instantaneous about it:  I don’t know about the other talented or loud-mouthed colleagues of mine, but each day, it takes anywhere between four to five hours to write, continuously edit, post, repost — edit, again! — and promote the damn thing.  It’s a shit load of work!

But then again, I knew that dedication would not be scarce in me.  As for the authenticity, I had to make sure that the topic to which I devoted these four to five hours a day would be exciting enough to ignite my passion.  And because I generally don’t half-ass anything in life — neither in art, nor in relationships — I knew I would have to write about it every day.  Because that’s why I was entertaining entering the blogosphere in the first place, right:  for the instantaneous readership?

What topic could be more exciting than love, I thought.  And even then, I knew that by love I meant a state of my soul — not a tedious or confusing chase of the opposite gender while fighting these frustrating gender wars, in which I myself was definitely NOT winning.  At first, I would start writing about dating and would hope that all of the other subjects of my love would follow.  (They did.)

The very first story I instantaneously published was a bit inspired by my dating experience as one man’s rebound.  Some of it was fictionalized (um, about ten percent of it); and the rest — was pathos, which was true to the rebound nature of that relationship.  And right off the bat, I wasn’t mellow in my writing.  No:  I was hot-tempered and loud-mouthed.  Having written the piece years ago in my journal, I began amending it for my readership (i.e. molding it into art).  But even then, months before I would finally publish it, I began to be aware that the driving force of my writing was not just love — as a permanent state of my soul — but compassion.

Because in actuality, what made me a writer in the first place was my life-long fandom of the human race.  That’s what all those tomes and tomes of journaling had been about.  And long before I would become a writer — and even longer before I would become a blogger — I was a devout reader:  A nerd.  I studied humanity, devoured tales of its nature.  And in those tales, I always managed to find some hope, and plenty of love.

Two-thirds of the year later, the style of my writing has indeed changed.  I no longer rant on the topics of dating, and I especially no longer attempt to write about relationship advice.  Look:  I am not an expert on that.  I’m just a toy soldier in this silly, frustrating fight between two camps of lovers.  But what I do have some expertise in — is living a life of compassion:  A life driven by a loving spirit.

And speaking of love (for the sake of my instantaneous readership still interested in asking me out):  Yes, I am a single woman.  I am a hot-tempered, opinionated, loud-mouthed pain-in-ass; disciplined, hard-working writer whose greatest subject — is love.  Neither in my private nor public life do I disguise it:  I’m an artist.  Deal with it!

And even though I anticipate that with this year’s coming-out as a writer, I had made my dating life even more complicated and frustrating, the actual loving — has gotten easier.  After all, I practice it every day, in my writing.  The art has gotten easier as well; and there is nothing I would rather do, on a daily basis, than to write four to five hours — in pursuit of my DAILY, instantaneous readership.

“Can I Get A… ?”

“Flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee.” —

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

She bore a name from my former side of the world, somewhere from the old hemisphere that to this day wows the planet with its women with porcelain, statuesque bodies and baby-doll faces.  This kitten, however, was a bit closer to my own type:  She stood no taller than 5’2’’, with enough give to her curves to want her, for the mere potential of her womb.  But then again, underneath all that softness and sex, one wouldn’t dare to doubt her strength, and the perseverance that would be out of this world — or from the other side of it, at least.  Her hair was longer than mine — the color of fire engine red — but it was just as wild; and when she brushed her fingers through it, she made herself purr, in some foreign phoneme.

“You smell nice,” was the first thing I told her, when I stepped inside her store and noticed her in the corner, rearranging the already aesthetically pleasing merchandise into color schemes better suitable for the coast of Brazil; not for my dusty neighborhood populated  by exhausted artists.  (We live here, temporarily, but permanently on the verge of breaking through.  And in this balancing act between hope and timing, we manage to become better human beings.)

“Do I?” she said, while hanging up a floor-length dress of titillating design by stepping on her tippy toes; and when she came down, she flipped her mane of fire engine red, ran her fingers through it, and made her way over to me:

“Sure it’s me?”

In response, I began to sniff her.  Tickled, she came even closer, leaning in her tan shoulders one at time toward my nose.  To others, she could’ve appeared indifferent, or stoic at least.  But she had come from my former side of the world; so I knew how to read that perfect mishmash of her old ways and the flamboyant ones, typical of the American womanhood.  As I upped the speed and the intensity of my sniffing, she shimmied her shoulders and smirked:  Oh, she was tickled alright!

With my face close enough to her chest to get the aerial view of her breasts, I delivered my verdict:  “Yep:  It IS you!”

“I just got my hair done, today.  So, it must be from their product,” the Slavic kitten responded, took out her hair clip and shook out her mane, purposefully releasing more scent into the air.  She knew the extent of her power:  She owned it — in spades.

“Rrrrr,” I purred, with a phoneme from my former side of the world.  “Delicious.”

As someone with enough confidence in the appeal of her merchandise, she would leave me alone while I absentmindedly floated through her store, pulling out one cloth after another — one more titillating than a previous one — and leaned them against my exhausted shoulders.  (I had been at it, for days at a time — for years! — in this dusty neighborhood. In the balance between my hope and timing, I had put in the work, willingly; hopefully becoming a better human being — but never taking a break long enough to notice the difference.)

Yet, at all times, I was well aware of her vicinity; and I would occasionally sneak a peak at her shifting around of our surrounding aesthetics, always finding further limits, more room for perfection.  And she would continue to purr — hum, perhaps — with phonemes, from the other side of the world.

I pulled out the floor length dress of titillating design, swooped up the spider-web textured sweater; snatched a backless shirt (or was it just a shawl?).  The strategically colored frock, with slits and cutouts on its sides made me think in Spanish; and the streaked feather earrings tickled me with my dreams of Barcelona.  Once all of my aesthetic choices were draped over my shoulder, I made it for the dressing room.

The Slavic kitten immediately appeared by my side:

“I want to see you, in all of these!” she purred while hanging up the clothes, one at a time.  “Ooph!” she exhaled-whistled when glancing at the strategically colored frock, with slits and cutouts on its sides.  “This one was built — for a girl like you!”

She was right:  When in it, I slid the curtain of the dressing room, I found a reflection of the woman of whom I dreamt back in the brutal clasp of my anxious, uncertain, un-confident 20s.  The creature of tan heath, with enough give to her curves but equal strength — demanded more life, and more beauty, and more adventure.  And much more sex.

“Mmm-hmm,” the kitten was immediately purring at my side while kneeling down, with her engine fire red mane in the vicinity of my upper thigh.  She looked up and I caught myself wondering about her tickled stoicism, if in the nude.

“This — is my favorite part,” she smirked — and with a confident pull of a index finger, she undid the cutout above my hip.  The cloth gave.  The slit pulled open, reveling the tan lines from my dainty bikini bottom, and the giving curve of my lower stomach, leading to my womb.

“Where the fuck did my breath go?” I thought.  “How dare she steal it like that?”

And just how much was she willing to vow before finding herself in the midst of breaking my heart?

The dress — would go home with me, that night.  She wouldn’t.  But she would smirk — with that tickled stoicism of someone from my former side of the world — ever so slightly.  And while already kneeling at the thigh of the next girl, she would purr:

“Come and play with me, here.  Anytime!”

“Inhale, Exhale… Hold Up, Wait a Minute!”

“All you have to do to be a miracle — is breathe.”  

Who said that?

Here is the thing with me this morning, my comrades; here is the thing:

Defeatists make me lose my hard-on, for life!

Because no matter my own chaotic, insane; perpetually hysterical or complicated; difficult or impossible to decipher mindset, I tend to march around this kinky town while daring to have a stubborn enthusiasm for some good livin’. 

“What?!” you might snap.  “You call yourself a Russian?!”

Well, here is the thing, here is the thing:  Yes, there is an inherited quality to my former nation’s character to be dark (and perhaps, to be simultaneously or accidentally poignant, thank goodness).  And yes, Motha Russia is a continent full of old souls nostalgic for their lost innocence.  And finally, yes:  No other nationality seems to beat us at our love for death.  Because in death, we no longer suffer, da?

But the other national quality of my former motha’land — is an ingrained desire for some stubborn livin’ (not necessarily good livin’ — but livin’ nonetheless).  Be it an incredible vastness or beauty of my Motha Russia; but the variety of its scenery makes our old souls want to howl at the moon, with desire.  Or is it love?  Or wanting to take in one more breath — because in it, there still may be some hope?  (One of my favorite thinkers o’er there once identified this quality as “godliness”.)  Da:  Motha Russia — is one gorgeous motha’fucker; and she makes you want to live.

“You are an artist:  You CANNOT be a defeatist!” 

Who said that?

On this 175th day of my rant blogging, my thoughts on the meaning of art appear to be better formulated.  (They better be, da?)  This year, I’ve had a slew of mouth-foaming arguments on the definition of art and who exactly identifies it as such; and what makes it last; and whether or not art makes any difference at all.

And here is the thing, there is the thing:  I believe that art — is in the eye of the beholder.  And yes, it does indeed have the power to change a mind, a mood, and maybe even, to change a heart.  But making a difference — cannot be an artists’ objective.  Or at least, it cannot be this artist’s objective.  Because I live — in the very doing of it.  It is the process of creation that turns me on.  Kinda like breathing.

Because in it, there still may be some hope, da?

Which must be why the mandatory discipline of it comes to me with such ease.  As for its sacrifices — they merely add inches to my writerly dick.  ‘Cause here is the thing, here is the thing:  I could take an easier route; perhaps, get myself one of those nine-to-five gigs, excel at it and settle for a more mundane survival.  Maybe, I could play it up a bit on weekends or live vicariously through my affairs with men.  And eventually, I could start raping other dreamers with my skepticism, hating them for reminding me of my own unhappening ambitions.  And I could wait for my death.  Because in death, we no longer suffer, da?

“And that is exactly where defeatism must dwell:  Wherever the soul surrenders its dreams.”

Who said that?

“Man, I hate this fucking town!” a comrade I hadn’t heard from for months was venting to me last night.

I got his spiel.  Really, I did.  I was’t even judging.  Because I too have faced some challenges in this city and allowed my inability or fear to expand beyond the difficulty of the moment; then, blame the entire city for it.  Because here is the thing, here is the thing:  LA-LA is one of the most common scapegoats for personal failures.  Here, the defeated equal the dreamers.  (But oh, how I have always wished for the defeated to move on; to return home or to leave for better suitable cities!  But for whatever geographical reasons, they stay, making this — the capital of defeat.  So:  Thank goodness for its dreamers. Because in them, there still may be some hope, da?)

Last night, I tried to work with the brother, trying to convince him out of his hatred:

“Yeah, but look at all these things you have accomplished!”  I strained my memories of our rare encounters for any recollections of his pursuits.  Sadly, there were none.  None that I could remember.  Yet, still, somehow, in this man’s occasional sweetness and simplicity — in his mere breathing — I saw some hope.

But he was on the roll by then:  “I mean:  There are no jobs here!  And the women are shit, and…”  He wasn’t even listening.

I studied his face and wondered what had brought him here in the first place, to this city shared by dreamers and the defeated alike.  Surely, there had to be a plan, a vision; or perhaps, a former love.  And what made him stay here, long enough to immerse into the pool of such bitterness and self-pity?

“So?  What are you up to?” he had exhausted himself with his monologue and politely remembered that I was still there.  He wasn’t a complete goner, I suppose.  Not yet.

But no way!  No way was I going to tell him of my dreams, still in the making; of my art — still in the happening.

Because here is the thing, here is the thing:  I believe that art — is a celebration of life.  It’s a celebration of livin’, not necessarily good livin’ but still:  Livin’!  Stubborn livin’ in pursuit of love, in pursuit of hope — all of which must live in the very next breath; in the very doing of it.  And it is this very pursuit that makes my livin’ — a good one.  And good livin’ — is a celebration of the miracle that is self.

Who said that?

Pretty. Little. Liar.

“Because there are enough lies in life, 

so you better be in control of your own fiction.” 

“But I didn’t know that I loved her!  Not after she left!”

The night before, this man had challenged me to a writerly duel:  to commemorate a story of a woman whose departure he regretted the most, in his life.  He slouched on a high chair outside of a club filled with pretty honeys galore.  With his black, dense Persian hair in a cloud from his own cigarette, he hung that head low, frowned, avoiding my eyes, and confessed his loss of that one woman — the one that every man must have in order to become a man; the one that has changed his heart, for good — for the better! 

The following day, after my words had been published, he rang me up immediately, to justify his truth.  He must’ve sobered up a bit:

“You wrote that I loved her!” he objected to my story, seemingly irritated.

“Didn’t you?”

“I mean, well, I did.  I did!  I did, but I didn’t know I did.  I didn’t know I did until, you know, she left me.”

Oh, c’mon!  Don’t give me this shit!

It was my turn to be irritated.  The truth, in actuality, was a lot more brutal than I made it sound:  “A first lesson in the fragility of love and the preternatural cowardice of men” (Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao).  In my writing, I had been forgiving to his one crucial fault, never calling him any low name, never scolding for the lapse of his better nature.  Yes, I would side with the woman — that one, that good one, like me! — that has changed his heart for the better.  For good!  On behalf of her truth, I had written that day’s rant blog; even though she had left long ago, in pursuit of an even better truth.  On behalf on her truth and of my own, I’d spoken — because I too had just left a man that “did and did, and didn’t know, didn’t know he did”.  Fuck you, I thought:  It’s MY fiction!

“But you wrote he was all that — ‘holding his own’,” another reader — my brother who’d always changed me for good, for the better — was saying soon after my own break-up.

I had rung him voluntarily, for some truth; because I had been digging around for it, desperately.  Perhaps he would know, I thought, what had gone wrong in my love, before I left it.  Perhaps, he could’ve seen the signs while its truth was still happening.

“Well, truthfully,” my brother confessed, “he didn’t.  He did NOT ‘hold his own’.”

Brutal.

But fuck you, I thought:  My lover was MY fiction.  How else was I supposed to be in love — but all in, despite the other player’s truths, more obvious to others than to me?  Yes, we all do this:  We fall in love with the wrong people, ignore the signs, go out on the limb and lose ourselves; only to go scrambling for truth later.  And yes, I had done it again — for love, for good.  For the better. 

Sometimes, the choice is clear:  To alter the truth to fit the story.  Other times, the split between truth and actuality is not even visible.  Because the truth — is a matter of an experience.  It’s an opinion.  Because no artist creates for the sake of THE truth — we create for the sake of OUR truth.  The way we see it, perceive it (and it’s all very specific):  The way.  The truth.  Happens.  To US.

So, last night, when I got inside an elevator with three middle-aged men breathing down my neck — and down my backless dress — I gave jack shit about their truth.  They could’ve been in town and in this fancy hotel for a vacation with their families.  They could’ve been each in the midst of their very happy marriages, with healthy kids in college and their own college sweethearts sleeping dreamily in their beds that they wouldn’t have to make in the morning, for a change.  They could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men slightly discombobulated by the presence of my brazen sexuality and of that goddamn backless dress.

They could’ve been, but last night — they weren’t!  All three rode down with me, from the Penthouse to the garage, and they flirted, unapologetically:

“Come on in,” one of them held the doors, waiting for me to join them.  “You’re in for some trouble!”

“Am I?”

The doors closed.  It was just the four of us:  Me, in my goddamn backless dress, and three middle-aged men in the midst of their dissatisfactory marriages, in town for their conferences, their infidelity, on the hunt to satisfy their mid-life crises.  (See how it’s done?)

“We’ve been watching you all night,” another one said.  I wasn’t sure which one of them was speaking; because for the entire ride down, I would be facing out, giving them the full view of my exposed back — and not a sliver of fucking hope!

“Have you?” I said over my shoulder, turning my head just far enough to be seen, but not far enough to see.

“We have!  We have!” the third one chimed in, spraying me with his drool.  “You were texting viciously on your phone and crossing and uncrossing those long legs of yours.”

“Was I?”  I had decided to give them as little as I possibly could.  But then there was that goddamn backless dress!

“You were…” one lingered, and I could feel the shivers of disgust bounce down my spine like pearls of a broken necklace.

“You were doing a little Sharon Stone act.”

They laughed.  Brutal.

Yes, these men could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men, slightly discombobulated by my presence.  But TRUTH be told:  They weren’t!  And I had already forgiven them for their faults.  I hadn’t called them by some low names, scolding them for the lapses of their better nature.  But I was sure that they would reappear in my words — my fucking fiction! — and I wouldn’t even need to alter the truth to fit the story.

“But you wrote…”

Just a few weeks ago, my own former scorned lover would ring me up and give me a laundry list of all the untruths he had to object to.  But truth be told:  Fuck you, I thought!  My life — is MY fiction!