Tag Archives: joy

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.

Trying

(Continued from March 18th, 2012.)

Was it just her, or had life begun to feel like an army of ants crawling through one’s capillaries?  Did enthusiasm eventually give room to tiredness, when overcrowded by one’s disappointments?  She watched the cautionary tale of her mother’s wilted curiosity; sitting in the downward-turned corners of her mouth, waiting to expire, along with the last of her youth?  Waiting —

Until There Was None.

If ever mother had the patience, the awareness and the discipline enough to write her autobiography — for, surely, she had the vanity enough! — that should’ve been its tittle.  Until There Was None.

But the joy:  Where had it gone from her?  There would still be moments of visible glee, some days — a sort of tightly wound hysteria; the same inside job that made her mother’s face quiver and the loose skin of her arms shake after each gesture.  She’d be like that in front of her girlfriends when seeking their alliance via pity; or in front of the 17th Century paintings in the galleries of Eastern Germany.  (Then, she would always speak to Nola, lecturing, lying, not knowing how to stop.)  The sight of it — Nola eventually found herself despising (in men especially, much later):  of something pushing — being pushed — past one’s irritability, beyond the limit of tolerance and truth.  Strained.  Pushed.  Perpetually trying.

Silence and walking away, to Nola, seemed easier.  And it was reasonable, in theory, for people to coexist in a peaceful fulfillment of their basic needs.  But then, they would always tangle themselves up in the ideas of the pursuit of their own happiness, where flaunting of entitlement and justice would become a sport.  The calmness of a grateful life had long surpassed her mother — that woman was way, way far down the line.  And all there was to live by — was a long list of her grievances and other people’s debts.

“You’re just like your father!” her mother threw at Nola, as if being calm and good was somehow indecent.  Once Nola turned twelve, however, there wouldn’t be much left to hurl at her expense.  Because before, when the two women found themselves alone in the house, mom reached for anything to throw:  her father’s rain boots, the ribbed hose from the Soviet-made (read:  nearly useless) washing machine; wet laundry; mom’s patent leather belt from the fur coat that she’d demanded for her thirtieth birthday.

One time, unrooted by her madness, the woman tipped a pot of cold cabbage soup that had been sitting on the stove, waiting for her father’s dinnertime.  She had been panicking in the kitchen — (mom always panicked, in the kitchen) — and when she found her words surpassing their brutality, she speedily relayed her gaze from one sharp object to the next; and after an unsuccessful search, reached up behind and steadily poured the pot of cold liquid onto Nola’s head.  The slimy cabbage crawled under the collar, under the skin; and the orange, chalky layer of frozen oil tangled up in her hair and stayed there for weeks to come.  When finally, most of the liquid hit the floor, Nola looked up:  Not one, but two women stood there, drenched in terrible humiliation.

For the first time, that night, Nola had gone beyond forgiveness.  Mom was susceptible to losing her control, she realized; but from some losses, one could not come back.

“You’re just like her father!”

Blunt objects or her mother’s limbs ungracefully ended their trajectories anywhere along Nola’s small body.  If she tipped over, mom dragger her by the hair to rooms with better lighting, where harsher punishment ensued.  While mother pushed and pushed and pushed — the child stood, or lied still, in silence.  She learned to receive.  She bared.  She endured.  And secretly she hoped that surrender would make her mother slow down.  So visible was mother’s sorrow, so palpable — unhappiness, that from behind the raised arm with which Nola guarded softer places, she pitied her aggressor.  She waited for the feeling of tremendous heat in all the new swellings.  She’d welcome them, eventually giving herself over to resignation, and to sleep.  A strange bliss would be found at the end of every horror.  For one was never given more than one could handle.

 

In those days, Nola still could still portion out the world into manageable pixels.  There would anger.  Disappointments.  A one unhappy woman.  Through repetition, Nola learned that mother’s love was functioning through let down expectations.  If one was loved by her — one owed her, forever.  The closer Nola neared her own womanhood, the more difficult, the more unbearable would become that love — and debt; until one day, none in her family could ever able undo, unsay the things that they had thrown at each other, in an attack or self-defense.  And in the loss of reason between all cause and effect, it would begin to feel like pure insanity.

And then, one summer, mom had admitted herself to a resort on the Ukrainian Republic’s shore, famous for housing patients of political insanity and tuberculosis.  She dropped off Nola at the house of her in-laws, called up her husband and said that she had lost the sight of “her own woman”, and that she was going away, to find her self, for an indefinite amount of time.

Unheard of!  Scandal!  Her father’s mother ranted for about a week.  But quite quickly, the old woman focused on saving the family’s face and made up more suitable stories about her daughter-in-law’s passage.

“Yeah, a bleeding ulcer.  I know:  that poor thing!  She hadn’t eaten for a month!”

“A teacher’s conference attended by the Ministry of Education.  She’s getting a Hero of Labor.”

But in her own house, behind her mother’s back, the old woman talked.  She called her names for every single time she found Nola staring out of the window or writing letters to no address that mother left behind.

“A flea-ridden bitch — that’s what that woman is!” the old woman muttered on repeat, when she discovered a clump of tangled hair above the nape of Nola’s neck which Nola harvested for nearly a year by then.  The knot had grown so large, that during the summer, she began to pin her grandma’s rhinestone brooches into it.

No remedy was masterful enough to get that thing out!  Lord knows, grandma tried!  The naked old woman labored and puffed in the wet steam of her bathhouse, her deflated breasts flapping above Nola’s shoulders, like freshly baked Georgian lavashes.  After two hours of brushing, oiling, lathering; of pulling and of being pulled; of swearing, sweating, renouncing; and baring and receiving — the hair had to be cut out; and Nola walked away with half of it missing from the back of her head and a headache that took days to sleep off.

The story tilted then.  Inside her family, she never would be able to find much calm.  That night, unable to find a spot on her scalp that wasn’t raw and throbbing, with the face down in her pillow, Nola would begin to plot her own escape, with or without her hair.

 

And now, here it was:  Her thick and magical, red hair!  It had began to slip out of its follicles and clog up all the drains in the apartment; and after every shower, the water drained slowly, allowing for the soap scum to settle on the walls of her tub, like growth rings on a cut down tree.

Must color mother’s hair, she decided.  The shower head was dripping at an even pace against the standing pool of water, in the bathroom.  Mom lost all memory.  Her dignity did not belong to her.  It mattered to the living though — to those who were living, trying, still — so, Nola owed someone that.

“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.

“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, Someone’s Calling Me, When the Chips Are Down.”

(Continued from September 30, 2011.)

So, that day, when motha 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 a story.  But motha sucks at storytelling; and soon enough, long before delivering the punchline, she started laughing and flailing her arms around, completely unaware of her vanity (and considering motha always knew the effect of her beauty, such abandonment — was quite endearing).

She tilted her head back, as if in the midst of some private exorcism, and she hollered and yelped in between her words.  Tears started glistening in the corners of her eyes.  And she would smack me every once in a while, as if taunting me to participate in her hysteria; and even though she stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, motha could always pack a mighty punch.

Pretty soon, things in her vicinity started falling down to the floor.  Motha crouched down to pick them up; but then, she just stayed there — laughing.

I don’t know what the gist of her story was, at first:  I just kept clutching the coconut.  I wasn’t really sure how breakable that thing was, and I didn’t want motha to knock it over by accident.  Sure, I’ve seen those things before, most likely on some Mexican telenovela or in a film about rich American people, in a pretty town, on some pretty shore.  Both genres would have been narrated in a monotone male voice of the translator, yet I still managed to get addicted to these latest imports on our television screens, full-heartedly.

Because in the last years of the Soviet Union, the world suddenly became much larger — and not as intimidating as it had been previously assumed.  And despite the utter chaos, my own homeland began to seem much more human.   

And despite the last days of my innocence — the last days of my childhood — it was impossible not to laugh along with my motha, in that moment.

I think she was trying to tell me about her asking for a tutorial from the cashier woman at the store.

“And why are you asking ME, lady citizen?” the bitter woman had responded.  You’d think she would be happy to work in such a fancy establishment, with more access to deficit items the rest of us could only see on some Mexican telenovelas or in an American film.  But apparently, Soviet cashiers were bitter regardless of their situation.

“Do I look like I’m married to an apparatchik, to you?!” — the disgruntled woman attacked my motha.  (I have a feeling that interaction didn’t end well, for the cashier; because with motha — it’s better not to push it.)

Bitterness — was the worst consequence of those days.  The flood of unexpected hardships was actually quite easy to understand, because poverty had always existed in my Motha’land.  But while we were all poor together, it must’ve bugged the grown-ups less.  It was when the distance between the new wealth and the old poverty became obvious that Russians began to express their discontentment.  (And we aren’t really a happy bunch, to begin with.)

“So, it’s up to you and me, rabbit!” motha concluded and marched out into the living-room.

She wasn’t too keen on tender nicknames for me, so I just stayed in my place and waited:  With motha — it’s better not to push it.  Something heavy fell down in the living-room.  I heard my motha swear.  The thought of our neighbors below made me cringe:  Daily, the poor bastards had to endure the heavy footsteps of this tiny woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground.

Motha reappeared in the doorway.

“How about it then?!”

Her face was still flushed from laughter, and her chest was heaving.  In one of her manicured hands, motha was holding an ax (oh, dear Lenin!), and with the other, she was waving a hammer and a screwdriver above her head.

“Oy, no!” I said.  And, “Bad idea!” — I thought to myself.

“Whoever doesn’t take risks — doesn’t drink champagne!” motha declared and proceeded to march into the kitchen.  I, the coconut, and our offensively obese red cat followed her.

The operation that unfolded in the kitchen was less than graceful:  Crouching down in her miniskirt, motha began pounding the screwdriver into the poor piece of fruit.  But the problem was she was whacking it through the side, and the thing kept rolling out of her grip.  And she:  She kept laughing.

“Hey, rabbit!  Come help!”

Motha’s orders were never up to a negotiation, so, I obeyed.  The thought of the screwdriver being hammered into my palm with my motha’s clumsy maneuver was a lot less intimidating, than her wrath.  Yeah:  With motha — it’s better not to push it.

But first, I examined the fruit:

“Let’s trying breaking in through these three dimples,” I suggested.

The task would have been accomplished had motha stopped collapsing into fits of laughter.  And I thought:  If there was ever anything more dangerous than an unhappy Russian woman, it would be a woman in throws of hysteria, holding a hammer.

Motha reached for the ax.

“Oy, no!” I rebelled and leapt to my feet.  This whole situation was starting to stage itself as some Greek tragedy.  And most of the time, those don’t work out well, for the children.

Motha got up, while still holding the now scuffed up fruit.  With tears and make-up running down her face, she reminded me of a young girl at a Beatles concert.  (The images of such strange life elsewhere were beginning to flood our press, from all parts of the world.  And somehow, that world seemed much larger, less intimidating — and quite wonderful!)

“Rabbit, catch!” she threw the coconut at me.

I ducked.  The fruit bounced off the doorway behind me and hit the floor.  Our offensively obese red cat dashed out of the kitchen.

Motha and I lost it entirely, and when the neighbors below knocked on their ceiling, we lost it again.  The glimmer of joy, dimmed in my motha’s eyes in those difficult years, considered reigniting.  No matter the chaos, this beautiful woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, refused to grovel.   And even if it took hysteria to remember how to laugh, she wouldn’t give it up.

“Proof! I Guess I Got My Swagger Back: TRUTH.”

“Hey, Ra-Ra!” — one of my brothers leaves me the same voicemail, for the nth time.  “Don’t you think it’s kinda ironic that after six years, your outgoing message hasn’t changed?”

My brothers call me Ra-Ra.  They’re both Latin:  For them, rolling their “r’s” — is half the fun.

“Rrra-Rrra!” the younger one always winds up his tongue; and he gleams while shaking the long hair out of his squinting dark eyes.  “RRA-RRA – BABY!”

I chuckle:  How I adore those hearts!  

This morning, I listen to the message, and I slide open the windows.  It’s been feeling like autumn, lately.  But how exactly — I just can’t pinpoint yet.

Perhaps, there is a vague aroma of dying leaves, much more aggressive on the other coast, where my older brother now dwells.  He is making things happen over there, moving at twice the speed than we do, in this paralyzed city.  And his energy — his hunger, his passion, his perpetual up-for-it-ness — is contagious, even if only captured on my voicemail, this morning.

All throughout the year, he is in the habit of wearing long, tattered scarves, a couple at a time.  A few — seem to be made out of his own canvases.  Others are thicker:  I imagine they’ve been crocheted by the hands of lovely girls who tend to adore him, with their open, yet calmer hearts.  And when I meet him, in the middle of autumn, on the other coast, I study the flushed tip of his nose peaking out of the bundle of those endless scarves — which he is in the habit of wearing, all throughout the year, a couple at a time.

“Ra-Ra!” he’d say, while untangling himself.

And I would chuckle:  How I adore that heart!   

 

It’s not going to rain here, not for another month.  So, my own scarves, long and tattered, can remain stored for just a bit longer.

Still, I can already smell the oncoming change.  It sits at the bottom of a clouded layer that now takes longer to burn off in the mornings.  At night, I’ve started using thicker blankets.  And when I leave my day job, these days, the sun is already on its way out.  I walk home, alone in this paralyzed city, and I bundle up in my oversized sweaters whose sleeves remind me of the long arms of my brothers.  I bury my face in the generous, knit, tattered collars, and I chuckle.

My brothers:  They stand over a foot taller than me.  My baby-talls!  My two gorgeous, loyal creatures from two foreign lands with convoluted histories of political detours, similar to my own Motha’land’s.  We each belong to the people prone to chaos, to revolutions and idealism.  So, our comfort level — is flexible.

Moving — or moving on — comes easier for us.  Neither one has settled yet (and we won’t settle for less than the entire world!); and we tend to keep our luggages readily available at the front of our closets.

My younger brother tends to get easily distracted.  On every adventure, every journey, he loses himself completely, disappearing for months at a time, on the other coast.  But every time he resurfaces, his energy, his passion — his perpetual up-for-it-ness — is absolutely contagious.

He takes weeks to return my messages.  And when he does:

“RRA-RRA – BABY!” he winds up his tongue, and I can hear his gleaming while shaking the long hair out of his squinting dark eyes.

And I chuckle, instantaneously forgiving him for disappearing on the other coast: How I adore that heart!

This morning, I slide open the windows:  It’s been feeling like autumn, lately.  I pull the luggage out of the front of my closet and I begin packing.

“How ’bout an adventure?” I think.  “Why not?”

And immediately, I am flooded with a certain feeling of lightness and peace.  But what it is exactly — I just can’t pinpoint yet. Where I am going — I do not know.  It’s always been easy to move.  But lately, it’s become easier — to move on.

Fuck it, I think, and I go digging out my long, tattered scarves.  A couple of them seem to be made out of my brother’s canvases.  I don’t remember where I got them though; and I rarely wear them.  So, I pack those away again.  The others, thicker and multicolored, crocheted by lovely girls with open, calmer hearts — those I start trying on, as if with their length, I can measure the mileage to my beloved hearts.  One at a time, I wrap them around my neck, bury my face and I chuckle:  In my life, I have adored so many hearts!  And so many hearts — adore me.

It’s not going to rain here, not for another month.  So, maybe, today, I’ll just drive up north:  Somewhere else to tangle myself up — up to my flushed nose — and to think of my brothers; to think of all the other hearts, dwelling on the other coast.

In less than an hour, my luggage is packed.  I’m ready to go; and immediately, I am flooded with a certain feeling of lightness and peace. Is it gratitude?  My adoration for other hearts?

I listen to my brother’s message again:

“Hey, Ra-Ra!” (he left it, months ago, for the nth time.)  “Don’t you think it’s kinda ironic that after six years, your outgoing message hasn’t changed?”

Because for the last six years, I’ve lived vicariously through my brothers’ energies:  their adventures, passions — their perpetual up-for-it-ness — on the other coast.  My own travels, however, have been carefully planned.

I reach for my phone and prerecord another message.  I think I may use it, in my seventh year:

“Hey.  It’s V.  I’ll tell you something new.”

I zip up my luggage.  Leave a voicemail for my brothers:

“How I adore your hearts!”

And I get a move on.

“Birds Flyin’ High: You Know How I Feel! Sun In The Sky: You Know How I Feel!”

(Continued from August 25, 2011.)

“Um.  Vie-rra?”

I look up:  The badass to take me flying is heading toward us, with an already extended arm for a handshake.  He is so much larger than me.

I make my move, grinning:

“I’m Vera!” I say.

I feel calm and yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky.

“Sean,” he says.  What a decent name, on a decent man!

Then, he adds:  “And for the next hour, I’m going to be — your bodyguard.”

“I like that!” I say, still grinning.  Apparently, for the next hour, I am going to speak only with exclamations.

Sean gives me his forearm.  I grab it, and for the first time in the history of my womanhood — I actually mean it.  I let him lead the way.

On the sidelines, I can see the other instructors readjusting the gear on their students.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  He’s not even wearing his own gear yet.  Instead, he starts talking to me, calmly, about today’s “exceptional” skies.

“You can see everything much clearer, from up there,” he says.

I assume it’s metaphor for something:  A life of wisdom, of persevering past the suffering and finally landing into humility, which often takes the very place — of grace.

It must also be a metaphor for luck.  And then I think it’s a good sign that in his name, there is an equal number of letters as in mine — and we share the same vowels.

We talk.  Where did I come from?  How did he land here?

“I used to be afraid of heights,” he tells me.  “Until my family gave me a skydiving lesson, as a Christmas present.”

And this, I assume, must be a metaphor for something, as well:  For human courage and the choice to defeat one’s limitations.

“THE SKY IS THE LIMIT,” says the sign behind Sean’s back in the alcove where we’ve walked off to pick up his equipment.

And this!  This too — must be a metaphor.  A good sign.

And I already know that I shall continue rewinding this day in my memory every time I want to land into my own humility.

The aircraft pulls up.  It’s a tiny thing.  It sounds rickety — and I LOVE that.  Because it makes survival seem easy, nonchalant — not a thing to fuss over, or to fear.

Calmly, Sean goes over what’s about to happen.  As he gives me instructions about my head and limb positioning when up on the air, he throws in a few metaphors:

“When we come to the edge, you kneel down on one knee, as if proposing to me.  Rest your head on my shoulder.  Wait for me to tap you like this; then bring your arms out at a ninety-degree angle — and enjoy the view!”

I imitate his movements.  The thrill, the impatience, the anticipation makes me a terrible student though; because besides grinning, I don’t notice myself doing much else.  But my bodyguard must know that already, because he continues with his metaphors.

“If you feel like you can’t breathe — scream!”

And this too!  This too — must be a metaphor for something.

There are three other students besides me.  Two of them start leading the way to the non-fussy aircraft, accompanied by their instructors who are still adjusting their gear, yanking on the belts, clicking the hinges.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  Somehow, he’s managed to get geared up already and to check up on own my belts and hinges.  And he has done his job with grace, without arousing any adrenaline in me.

I feel calm, yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky — which must be the limit — and past my own limitations.

We are not even inside the plane yet, but already, I can hear the echos of Sean’s metaphors:

“When we come to the edge… kneel down as if proposing.”

“Rest your head…  Wait.”

“If you can’t breath — scream!”

Inside the aircraft, the two students making the jump at 10,500 feet straddle the bench ahead of us.  Their instructors start adjusting their belts again.  The four of us sit behind them.

My bodyguard and I continue talking.  Come to find out:  He is a gypsy, just like me, traveling mostly in pursuit of conquering his fears.  For eight years, he’s been leaping out into sky.

“You must be fearless!”  I say.

“No,” Sean answers, calmly.  “But this job — is a good metaphor for dealing with life.”

Underneath us, I can see the pretty geometric shapes of farmlands and fields that I have seen before out of the windows of other planes.  Since a child, I had always wanted to leap out into the clouds, somehow knowing that there wouldn’t be anything to fear about that.

I turn to Sean:  “How high are we?!”

I notice:  I myself have started speaking in metaphors.  Or, maybe, I have always done that.  Which must be why I still find myself leaping out into the skies of my limitations — on my own.  It must be hard to keep up.

“Six and a half,” my bodyguard answers and he shows me a watch-like device on this wrist with that number.

I grab it, meaning it, wanting to devour every bit of knowledge and skill that comes with leading a fearless life.  Sean tells me that’s the exact height at which he’ll open our parachute.

I do the math.  (My mind is clear, still unaffected by adrenaline.)

It means:  We shall free fall for 7,000 feet.

Wow.

My gratitude — floods in.

Calmly, I watch the other two couples leap out at their heights.  There is something very incredible in the way they make their final choice to go, letting the skies sweep them off the edge.

AND I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS.  IT’S HUMBLING.

We keep going up to our height.

“In what order do you wanna go?” Sean asks me, over my shoulder:  Somehow, he’s managed to have done his job again, and I am now sitting strapped onto his body, at my hips and shoulders.

“Let’s go first!” I answer, still grinning.

And still:  I am calm.  And still:  I am impatient to jump out into the sky.

Soon enough, we start sliding onto the edge.  When I put my goggles on, I hear the echo of Sean’s metaphor:  He must’ve told me that it would be the last gesture we do — before leaping out.  He’s amazing.

The four of us shake, slap, squeeze each other hands.  I can feel the heat rising up behind my goggles:

THIS!  THIS HUMILITY AND GRACE — THIS VERY HUMANITY — IS WHAT LIFE MUST BE ABOUT!  

Sean slides the door up.

“Come to the edge.”

“Kneel.”

“Rest.”

“Breathe.”

I hear the echos.  The heart — is on my tongue.  I think:  I’m screaming.

Maybe not.

We get swept off.

IT. 

IS. 

AMAZING.

When daydreaming about leaping out into the sky before, I used to think I would cry.  I was wrong:

It’s all joy!  All rapture!  All gratitude! 

Like a giant orgasm, for 7,000 feet!

And it tastes — just like the Ocean!

I am air-bound now, above California.

Above my life.

“Hey, Girl! I Can See Your Body Movin’!”

“Gentlemen!  Be gentlemen — and pee in the bushes!  Let the ladies use the bathrooms.”

Oh, so that’s how I get to start my day:  On the other side of the gate on 36th and JFK, in the midst of a foggy park that, despite this early hour, is already overwhelmed with humanity?  Okay!

In the endless line to the portable bathrooms, my fellow marathon runners are in all shades and sizes.  Many have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums.  Others — are more modest, in size or definition.  But all — are quite beautiful, and very, very human.

I slide in somewhere in the middle:  I’m an a’right-lookin’ shawty myself, with a newly perfected ass, recently acquired from all my running and the running away; and that ass is significant enough to snap one of the drugged-out wanderers of this City into alertness.

(You think I am in love with myself?  Oh, you bet yo’ ass I am!  You bet your own magnificent ass — with which I am likely to fall in love, even if just for a second, as I watch you pass my life and never be inconsequential.  And yes, I’m in love with myself — in YOUR likeness.)

“Damn!  Look at that ass!” the tripping-out wanderer hollers after me, in a blip moment of sobriety from his stupor.

“Please, do!” I think.  (Yes, I’m in love — with myself!)

And so, I slide in, somewhere in the middle, in between a stocky Filipino cutie loaded with some fancy running equipment (me:  I travel light) and a handsome gray-haired player who in a few minutes would indeed be “a gentleman — and pee in the bushes”.

The man in charge of regulating us looks like an aging, forever inspiring school teacher I have never had in own my life; but heard so many of my comrades mention, in theirs.  Let’s call him Mr. Chips, shall we?

And so, Mr. Chips carries on with his routine:

“Gentlemen!  Unless you need toilet paper…  You know what I mean?”

We laugh.  My fellow runners are at ease, with the task ahead and apparently with the very task of living.  It must be this City:  It has taught them that — how to live well, and with a sense of humor. 

At the bathrooms, the Japanese kiddo directing the line (now mostly consisting of women) does not take his job seriously either.

“This one is now open,” a fellow female runner points out when he turns to us, now basking amidst all these ladies, in different shades and sizes.

“Don’t know whatcha talkin’ about,” the kiddo delivers with a well-practiced deadpan.  “And I didn’t see YOU — skipping the line and sneaking past me to use this one bathroom, NOW OPEN!”

We laugh again, and it suddenly becomes a bit of a free-for-all:  The women start slithering under the tape while exposing their magnificent asses to the rest of us.

Mr. Chips greets us again, at the starting line:

“At the end of this thing,” he hollers through a megaphone, “we’re gonna hang the shuttle bus driver that made some of you late today.”

We laugh.  We yelp.  We are impatient and content with the task ahead.  (Yes, it CAN be both ways.  Just run a marathon — and you’ll find out.)  And we all must’ve learned something about living by now, because this — this very moment! — is about how to do your living well.

There is no whistle that goes off; not any sort of fake gun shot to launch us:  On a gentle count by Mr. Chips, we all…

Just.

Start.

Running.

I notice that no one dashes ahead, propelled by their ego juices.  No one shows off; even though many, looking like they have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums, no doubt can kick ass at this thing.  But they have done this before — these magnificent asses ahead of me, in all shades and sizes — and they pace themselves, for the task ahead.  For the living ahead!

Because this is how you do some good living:  You pace yourself, you measure your strength, and you do it in pursuit of your health.  And if you’re in love with yourself — you’ll go far, and longer.

“What a way to start!” I think.  “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  And thank you.”

I start my running music.  Curtis the III winds up his track, setting the pace.  My feet do their thing and not once do I fancy dashing ahead of more than an a’right-lookin’ shawty ahead of me with thighs so large, I can see their edges from behind.  Instead:  I stay on her ass.

“But bein’ a little off landed me on top of the charts,” Curtis mumble-sings into my ear.  Well, you’d know how it is, Mr. “Metaphor for Change.”

I pass the a’right-lookin’ shawty, look back.  She’s more than a’right:  She’s a 10.

“Which one?  Pick one!  This one!  Classic!”  I start taking my orders from Eve ‘n’ G.

From behind, I come up on a baby-tall.  I cannot figure out his age yet, but his glorious headful of Tom Brady-esque hair sends me spinning into my dreams of my future.  His back is exposed, with some Zen symbol tattooed onto the left shoulder blade.

“Behind that — is his heart,” I think and slide underneath his elbow, on the left.  For a bit, we run side by side:  A perfect fit.

“I got somethin’ to lose, so I gotta move,” Kanye begins grunting into my brain, scratching off the last mildew of the departed lover with his perfect teeth.  The African drumbeat kicks in.  I start leaping.

Who knows just how long I’ve been running:  I am not watching the distance markers.  They’ll only psych me out.  And I’m:

Just.

Going.

The distance.

It’s all in the mind. I have heard a fellow female runner state that once.  The game is all in the mind.  So, I rein mine in:  Don’t judge other humans, and don’t compete!  This thing — is in the very doing of it:  You against you.  And if you do it for the love of you — you’ll go far, and longer.

This City has taught me that.

(But, um, how long have I been running?  Anybody knows?)

(To Be Continued.)

“I Wanna Li-Li-Li-Lick You, From Your Head to Your Toes”

“Mmm, LOVE ice-cream,” you said with an audible European accent that you weren’t even trying to hide.

Quite the opposite:  I bet it has worked to your advantage so far, because you don’t throw yourself against your need to control, to plan, to over think, to predict every moment before it happens — over, and over, and over again.  In our company of two, there is already one person who has done that idiotically throughout her youth; and frankly, it’s one person too many.

No, sir!  You are one to live in the moment.  Honestly. 

And you do it with such swagger — never for the sake of exhibitionism or selfish gratification; never for the sake of better opinions or for the sake of having to impress.  You dwell in consequences of your easy charm.  You watch your life happen and unfold, delivering its opportunities to the the tips of your impeccably polished shoes, like the wet tongue of a tidal wave.

Because where you come from, time moves differently:  It never matters more than one’s sensibility, and it definitely does not dare to contradict one’s pursuit of pleasures.  And so tonight, you took your time:  warming up my curiosity with your easy, manly smiles and just a couple of caresses along my arms with the flat surfaces of your nails.  The entire night, your gender training revealed itself in my open doors, extended hands, offered-up shoulders; and your gentle guidance of my high-heeled footstep over ditches and uneven pavements.  It is your second nature — to be a gentleman.  To be a man — is your first.

“We have a saying about a true — how you say it? — ‘gentleman’,” you told me earlier in the night.  “Don’t say much — and enjoy!  Yes?”

Yes.

Naturally, you would walk me down to my car after midnight; and with you, I wouldn’t even argue.  I wouldn’t feel an urge to defend my independence or flaunt my financial capabilities:  It’s not in your — how you say it? — “gentle” nature to undermine my life choices anyway.  So, I didn’t have to test or forewarn, with you.  That evening, you were my man alright, and it was somehow (finally!) also perfectly alright for me — to be your woman.

So, why — when you began to devour your chocolate ice-cream sandwich, after calling my elevator — did you suddenly resemble a young boy on a summer day spent on a river bank with other sunburnt rascals?  As I watched you, a thought flashed:

“ADORE.”

It was more of a memory, really.  A memory of a young man — utterly adored — who could wrestle my body or mind into submission with his weight or a single flex of his arm muscles; but when the battle was over, I would walk out of his bedroom to find him armed with a fork and a focus, dissecting a sweet I had made for him a few hours prior:

“Mmm, V.  So good!” he would always say with his mouth full and a blue-eyed gaze of someone caught in the midst of his defiant joy.  “Have some!”

I never would.  Instead:  I would adore.  

Yes.

Or the sound of another, who could kindly cradle me to sleep; then slip out into the kitchen and lick spoonfuls of honey and peanut butter, chugging them down with cold milk.  If I heard his commotions in my sleep, I would smile, always — I would adore! — then, toss myself headfirst into heavier dreams.  In the morning, he would be back in his manhood, older than me; and I would wonder if I had dreamt it all up, about someone like our son.

And yet another — tougher, stronger, always in control:  If he ever rested in my bed at an hour when the August heat finally gave it a rest, I would bring him platters of chilled watermelon and frozen berries; and while he lapped-up, and feasted, and moaned — the same way he had done with my body — I would rub his heavy head on my lap.  And, while he slowly landed:  Oh, how I would adore!

Yes…

When the elevator arrived, quicker than it would throughout the day when delayed by other mortals, naturally, you held its door open with one arm, while the other continued to maneuver the quickly melting sandwich around your mouth.  You would bite and nibble, lick the corners of your lips.  I leaned against the cold rail and chuckled, finding myself in the midst of my easily accessible, habitual adoration.  The gaze you shot me was somewhat of a warning:

“Don’t say much — and enjoy!  Yes?”  

By the time there was nothing left in your hand but a wrapper, we had arrived at my destination.  I peeled my behind off the rail and made my way to the doors, anticipating, as always, their opening.

“Where are you going?” you said, with a tease and an effortless control.

Quickly you examined the wrapper in your hand for any last bits, crumpled it up, tossed it into the corner; and before I could manufacture a scold or an excuse, you pressed me back into the rail with the now free hand — while pushing every button on the control panel with the other.  I laughed.  You smiled that easy, manly smile again, moved in on me, looked-up for cameras — and began to maneuver my lips around your mouth.

At first, I kept my eyes open, looking out for an accidental mortal every time the doors slid quietly in their grooves.  But you didn’t bother:  You bit and nibbled, licked the corners of your lips — and of mine.  You dwelled in consequences of your easy charm, now backing them up with skills.  With your eyes on me, you’d push more buttons; and I would laugh — again! — into the collar seams of your impeccably white t-shirt.

And by the third time we arrived to the eighteenth floor, I closed my eyes and pushed your back against the control panel…

You tasted like chocolate.

I’ve Got All My Love — to Live!

I love break-ups!

Nyet, seriously, my darlings, I am not being flippant here.

Well, okay, maybe just a lil’.  Because no matter the number of departures I’ve survived, every time it seems to hurt like a mother fucker!  You’d think I’d learn to deal, yet every time one of the participants goes, “I’m out!,” the words hit my heart like a mean defibrillator, and I feel like doubling over.

But then, as I’ve said before:  I’m Russian, eh?  We prefer to think of life as an endless series of shocks straight to the heart anyway.

As a matter of fact, I am quite sure I got myself a free one, at birth, when motha brought to register my newborn body at some local bureaucrat’s office back on some god-foresaken coast of my Motha Land.

“Oh, you’re two hours old?” the greedy and lazy government official said, accepting the bribe of vodka from my motha in exchange for my birth certificate (Stoli — is an official currency of my homeland, dontcha know?  It gets shit done o’er there.)  “Well, how about a freebie then?” — and the fucker attached the electrodes to my tiny heart.  Happy fuckin‘ birthday, bitch!

The only way we know how to deal with pain, as a nation — a nation full of tortured, exhausted hearts addicted to shock therapy — is to laugh.  Or to chuckle at least.  For me, this recent bye-bye by a beloved has caused me a few laughing sessions (mostly at my own expense though).  As for my witnesses and life-long keepers of my secrets, they tend to find me absolutely hilarious during times of loss.  And truth be told, in their tear-jerking, breath-taking laughter, I find myself again — while the heart resumes beating at its healthier pace.  So, this week, I’ve been very busy, you see:  taking my stand-up routine around town and groveling for the healing powers of laughter by my beloveds.

But that’s not really the reason for my recent love of break-ups.

I’ve noticed that if I behold long enough after the initial heart-shocker, there always comes a moment of clarity; and that’s exactly the one I am starting to adore.  Now, the messier the relationship and the more chaotic of a break-up, chances are this clarity will take years to sweep over (if ever).  So, it must be some odd joke I’m currently living through, but just like the relationship itself, this break-up has been… well, kinda great.   Because that’s just the thing:  If during a love, the participants agree to behave according to their personal graces (as my recently beloved and I have), at the end of it, there is no room for guilt or self-defense to suffer through; making the process of healing much quicker.  All along, my lover and I remained kind and generous, so besides an occasional self-delusion on both of our parts, there has been no injustice committed upon each other.  So, in comes forgiveness. 

(Want a little personal secret?  “Forgiveness” was the first one-word message from my beloved that I’ve archived, until recently.  Are you smirking?  That’s bloody irony for ya!  Yourr velkom.)

But here is V’s newest discovery.  Had I been on Oprah, she would’ve called it an Aha Moment.  (What?!  Shut up!  I don’t watch Oprah!)  So forgive me, my darlings, if I go a little New-Agey / SoCal-Hippie on your pretty booties.  I promise soon enough I’ll be back to ranty-cuntry — and we’ll share a laugh again.  But this time around, my Aha Moment is so fragile, I hurry to commemorate it; because tomorrow I might wake up in so much pain, I’ll have reach for the defibrillator myself.  So, let me cradle my tired lil’ heart for a while — a heart that, thank Shiva, has so obviously refused to give up on loving, even after its recent shocker.  Let me cradle my heart and whisper it to a steadier rhythm with the help of a humbling insight:

It’s part of it, my darlings!  It is ALL part of it. 

The loss, the pain, the tragedy; the mourning and disappointment; the bitterness and the letting go — they are equal components of love, just as happiness and lightness.  I am not sure where and how we’ve learned to misinterpret love as only its collective moments of elation.  They are, of course, a part of it.  Or rather they are part of falling in love.  But the actual state of being in love — or BEING LOVE — encompasses every possible emotion, except for the destructive ones.  Why not the destructive?  Because (oh, boy:  I’m about to let it rip!):  Love — is life.  And if one is gripped by emotions that are meant to damage and to destroy oneself or another person, then the story becomes about the pursuit of death.  A thousand little deaths that get one closer to the state of non-living; non-being.  Non-loving.

(Do you hate me yet?  It’s okay, babies, I promise I’ll get nice and angry tomorrow and overcompensate with a cunty lil’ rant.)

“We are meant to live a life of love.  When we’re not in love, something is the matter.” 

These are the first words from a book gifted to me by my dear departed boo (my baby-boy, my kitten; and my big, strong man); a book titled Zen and the Art of Falling in Love.  It has been my go-to during this most gracefully-executed romantic relationship of my life, and although I still have kilometers upon kilometers to go in search of my personal Zen, I feel that with this fleeting realization — that life is not just synonymous to love, but IS love — I am ever so closer.  So, even as I find myself newly single — lashing out on occasion, to earn the laughter of my permanently beloved — I have not fallen out of love.  I carry on loving life itself — loving you — and what’s most difficult, yet rewarding, loving myself.

Oh-kay!  That’s enough!

As my love used to say in our phone chats:

“Hey, Eckhart!  Give the phone back to V.”