Tag Archives: language

Two Women

The two women met in an unfurnished apartment.

“I like it,” one said, “I think” (unusually sheepishly for her nature).  “It’s got some,” she rotated her wrists up in the air, looking for the less poetic word, “‘good light’.”  It took a talent to be so vague.  Or it took years of mutual knowledge and histories of hurt.

The younger one averted her eyes quickly.  She was getting better at busying herself in the kitchen.  Throughout her childhood, she’d witnessed mother’s chaos when other people came over to visit their place.  They had been lucky that way, due to her father’s reputable profession:   Always finding better living quarters, so others came over quite a bit.  Wanting to be the talk of the town, mother buzzed and chattered in the kitchen; and she would bang the drawers with aluminum dinnerware and slam the cupboards in an orchestra of her exhibitionist domesticity.

While mother whipped up meals and refilled drinks, her girlfriends wandered around nosily, every once in a while coming upon a tiny girl, with eyes so large they took up half of her face, playing her own game of house in the furthest corner of the bedroom.  Alone.

“So cute!” the women hissed, turning on their heels unhappily for having to divert their poking.

Mother continued conducting the percussions in her kitchen:

“She’s so quiet, that child!  She’s all — my husband!”

The women moved about the living-room; lurked by the family’s photographs; touched, shifted, sniffed, demanded to know the origin of things:

“You are one lucky bitch, I hope you know.”

“They meant it as a compliment,” after the women’s departure, mother would attempt to clarify things — the delicate things that her daughter could not understand yet (but perhaps with time, she would).  The evil smirk of the local Algebra teacher branded itself into her memory:  How could these women mean anything good?  But mother didn’t want to hear it:  “Stop asking stupid questions anyway!  This is adults’ business.”

But now:

“So,” the older woman spoke from the bedroom doorway and eyed the open, empty space.  “Are you going to ask Mike to ship you the bed?”  (Pause.)  “Or do you plan to house this draft in here forever?”

“What do you mean by that?” the young woman stopped, knife in her hand.

“I mean, haven’t you, guys, divided things up officially yet?”

The young woman looked back down at the gutted pickled fish under her fingers, on the cutting board.  It was a task that every Russian woman performed from A to Z.  From A to YA.  From A — to I.  Her mother would’ve drowned the detailed fish in a pool of sunflower oil; and it would stare out, with dehydrated eyeballs from underneath a layer of butchered onions meant to cover up a job so messily performed.

While peeling onions, mom would begin to cry demonstratively:

“Oy!  I so pity the little bird!”

What did the bird have to do with the fish?  The bird — to I.  The I — to eye.  Still, mother was a funny actress, so the child would spit with laughter.  She couldn’t help it:  She was still in love with her original prototype back then.

She now thought of that one time a thin fishbone lodged in her throat for a week; and how she gagged every night, while mother hooked her sharp nails into the back of her tongue.  For months to follow, sometimes, loose scales would reveal themselves stuck on her clothes or skin; or swimming in buckets of water with floor-scrubbing rags.  Mom was a disaster in the house.

In her own kitchen, however, the young woman never kept the head.  She wished she had a cat to feed it to.  A cat — to make-up for the missing child, to make the loneliness less oppressive.  She stared at the oval crystal bowl, with even filets of pink meat, neatly arranged.

She herself was a better housekeeper, yet heading toward a divorce nonetheless.  Most likely:

“Mike and I aren’t talking, mom.  You know that.”

“Oh!  Yes.  I see,” the old woman eyed the empty bedroom yet again:  Why so much space for someone with defeated ovaries then?  “You, young people!  You have no concept of marital endurance any more.”

 

She swore, he thought of the idea first.  At least, that’s how she remembered it.  In his defense (why was she so willing to defend him?):  In his defense — she wasn’t “willing”.  He was right.

“It’s just that… something isn’t working,” Mike told her over the phone, the week of one Thanksgiving which they’d agreed to spend apart.  He “couldn’t do it anymore”.  Her work.  Her books.  Why was he always taking second place after her life?  Once she hung up, she cried, of course, but mostly out habit; and out of habit, she started losing weight and sleep.  That’s what a wife in mourning was supposed to look like, she decided.  She cropped her hair, and started wearing pants and laced up wingtip shoes.  In their crammed-in basement apartment in the Bronx, she found room to pace and wonder, “Why?  Why?  Why?”

Her girlfriends were eventually allowed to visit the site of her disastrous marriage.  They bitched; they called him names.  They lurked, touched, shifted, sniffed.  They studied family photographs, still on display, for signs of early check-outs.  The women patted her boyish haircut and teared up a bit too willingly, some of them — being slightly grateful for feeling better about their own men.

And then, one balmy New York August afternoon, she called him from a pay phone in Harlem.

“Meet me for dinner.”

An hour later, he showed up with lilies.  After a dry peck that tasted unfamiliarly, she lead the way to a Dominican joint whose wall-full of French doors was always taken down for the summer.  It breathed the smell of oil — and of fried everything — onto the sweaty pedestrians on Broadway.

On their side of the missing wall, the night dragged on with a strained politeness.  His eyes were glossy, wet.  She stared out onto the street.  From either the heat of New York’s August and the lack of ventilation, the giant buds sweated under the plastic wrap; and by the time they finished picking through a pile of fried plantains, the lilies open completely, and just like everything at that time of the year — from sweat glands to subway sewers to perfume shops — they began to smell aggressively, nearly nauseating.

“I’m going to California,” she announced after finishing her white fish.

“Why?”

She looked down:  After their six-month separation, she had begun to wear dresses and curl her hair again.  She’d gained a certain swagger in the hips from wearing flat shoes through every season in New York.  The flesh of femininity was finally beginning to lose the aftertastes of her youth’s self-loathing.

Not having gotten an answer, “When?” — he examined her with wet eyes of a lab.

She looked down again.  The suppleness of her brown chest surprised her.  She looked up:  “Soon.”

Vagueness as a revenge:  She’d learned that from her mother, the best that ever was!  She owed him nothing.  He was the one who’d given up!  He was the one who left!  But now, it settled at the bottom of her stomach, along with the plantains, like something begging for its freedom.  And she, in her defense, was no longer “willing”.

(To Be Continued.)

This Time — It Would Be Different.

(Continued from January 15th, 2012.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, she mentioned it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

This time — it would be different.

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

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

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

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

“The Heart Is a Bloom, Shoots Up Through the Stony Ground…”

The first sentence — is always the hardest.

True:  Sometimes, it flies out of her, like a butterfly trapped in between the two tiny palms of a kiddo who hasn’t lived for long enough to realize the fragility of her dreams, yet.

“You can’t do that to butterflies, little one!  They break their wings.”

But other times, she must cradle the cocoons of her beginnings, checking up on them, every few breaths:  Are they ready for the magical reveal of their births yet?  Can they leap out at the world that didn’t even suspect how much it needed them?  On harder days of creation, the luxury of time begins to test her patience, and it challenges her — to start.  To just:  Start.

Because starting — takes a courageous flight of fancy.  And only she knows — because she has asked for her creator to allow and to forgive her the hubris to make things happen — only she knows when her beginnings can no longer wait to happen.

The days, the moments, the creations that begin easily — are often easier to also take for granted.  And they can’t really be trusted, actually.  But the easy creations lighten the step and color the world with more flattering palettes of her imagination.  And even though, she may not remember the achievement of that day, she gets the privilege of spending it — while half dreaming:  Still the little girl, chasing butterflies, and trapping them in between her tiny palms.

Gratitude comes easy on those days of nearly no struggle.  And she breathes through the misty sensation in her eyes:  After all, her compassion has not expired yet!  And despite all the losses, it continues to give back.

On luckier days, life permits for such illusions to last:  That people are good.  That art — matters.  That beauty — is a common addiction of all humankind.  And that perhaps (please, please, let her have this “perhaps”!) we all speak a common language which may be determined by our self-serving needs — but that those needs belong to LOVE.  Alas!  How marvelous — are those days!

And she learns to savor them!  The days of easier creation — of more graceful survival, when the whole world somehow happens to accommodate for her dreams — those days she must savor for the future.  Because in that future, as she has grown to accept (once she’s grown up and out of certain dreams), there will be days of hardship.  She knows that.  No, not just the hardships of life itself:   Those, she has by now learned to forgive.  After all, they have taught her her own humanity.  They have connected all the capillaries between the organs of her empathy and inspirations.  And she understands it all so much better — after the days of hard life.

But the hardships of persevering through life for long enough to get to the next easier moment — that task can only be done by eluding herself.  So, she suspends the memories of better days.  Easier days of creation.  She stretches them out, makes them last.  (They taste like soft caramel or bits of saltwater taffy.)  She rides them out to exhaustion and prays — oh, how she prays! — that they will bring her to the next beginning.

Then, there are days, seemingly mellow, but that do not grant her easy beginnings.  On those days, she must work.  She must earn the first sentences to her dreams and earn her beginnings.  She may go looking for inspiration, in other people’s art.  And sometimes, that works just fine:  Like a match to a dry wick, other art sets her imagination on fire.  All it takes is a glimpse of a tail of that one fleeting dream.  It takes a mere crumb of someone else’s creation to set off the memory and the inspiration — follows.  Just a whisper of that common language!  A whiff of the unproved metaphysical science that it’s all one.  We — are one.  (Is that silly?)

And when the art of others does not start another flame, then she must have the courage to begin.  Just simply — begin!  It’s mechanical, then:  a memorized choreography of fingers upon the keyboard, the sense memory of the tired fingers clutching a pen.  On those days, she merely shows up — and she must accept that it would be enough, on just those days.

Because if she doesn’t show up, then she may as well consider herself defeated:  Yes, by the struggles of life and the skepticism of those who do NOT have the courage to dream.  To start.  To begin.

The courage to remain the children they once were, also chasing butterflies and ice-cream men; sucking on icicles in the winter and building castles under the watch of the giant eye of the sun.

The day when she stops beginning — she will consider herself a failure.  But until then, she must continue to begin.

Lost in Translation

It was like Kafka.

“World According to Russia,” she said to me over the phone. “Hello!”

“Um.  Hello?”

I was slightly taken back that someone in a Russian office would pick up after the first ring.

“Yes, hello,” she repeated.  “World According to Russia.  How can I help you?”

“Yes, um.  Hello… I mean:  Allo!” and that’s when I switched back to my native tongue, and I don’t know why.  “Zdravstvui’te!”

I was respectful but immediately nervous.  Whenever speaking to any Russian bureaucrat, I tend to lose a grasp on my otherwise unwavering — to some, obnoxious — self-esteem.

It makes no sense to English speakers, but there are several types of Russian.

“Well, it is like dialects?” an American would ask me.

No.  I’d rather think of it as this:  That the entire history of my dear tortured Motha’land had made a mark onto my native tongue of poetic beauty — by splitting it into as many personalities as there were regimes.

First, there is the pretty Russian, used mostly in literature:  I’m pretty good at that one, and I dig the way it translates.  Then, there is the Soviet street talk:  A blend of Yiddish and something crass and always funny, it is the most expressive of them all.

Motha speaks in that one well, and normally our chats result in my dashing for the bathroom, at the end.

“Who needz fuckingg Pilates, eh — vhen ve laugh and laugh like zis?!”  She would sometimes say that from behind my bathroom door, while I would clutch my bladder and beg her to “PLEASE!  STOP!”

She is right though:  My motha’s stand-up routine is the best form of ab workout I have ever known.  But I do not speak her language:  I only marvel at the way it turns its words from inside out, and it makes for such comedy, as a result.

The street talk of the contemporary Russians is something I’ve only briefly overheard on the lips of those hotheaded Muscovites, all clad in black leather jackets and American labels, whenever I catch them being interviewed by BBC.  Most of the time though, they tend to switch to English anyway, which then comes out eloquently and with a very little accent.  The tall female beauties speak in that tongue as well.  They are, however, most often accompanied by older men of stoic nature who speak on their behalf.  And when they speak to women, the men tend to address them slightly condescendingly, or like little girls.

The third personality of Russian — is the one I fear the most.  It is the one adopted by the Russian Consulates, bilingual politicians or lawyers in West Hollywood.  It’s not just legal lingo though.  Again:  It’s NOT a dialect!

This type of Russian is choppy, filled with acronyms and abbreviations that I have no skills for breaking down.  Instead, I panic, ask them to slow down; then, reiterate their statements again and again.  Considering that most bureaucrats are at a lack for time, such interactions don’t end well for me.  The people who should have the answers leave me to my own devices, while they, nearly irate, roll their eyes at my degree of helplessness and walk out on me — or hang up.

The woman on the phone had switched to Russian, too.  I have to give it to her:  She sounded quite pleasant, so far.  Not really perky, no; but pleasant nonetheless.  I guess she never knew who could be calling her.  It could be an American, and an American always expects a certain standard of customer service (the concept of which doesn’t even exist in my native tongue, no matter its personality).

“How can I help you, young woman?” she said to me, sounding almost aristocratic.

I relaxed a bit:  “Um.  Well.  I wanted to know about traveling to Russia with an American passport.”

There was a pause.  She didn’t budge.

“Would one need a visa?” I gave her a little more.

“But of course!”

Aha!  The way she said it almost sounded irate.  Was that a dumb question?  Or did I expect her to be rude?  I tried to sooth the situation.

“Um.  Okay.  Well.  How would one… go about…  THAT?  Da?”

“You would have to bring documentation that proves you’re no longer a Russian citizen.”

“Um.  Okay.  But isn’t having an American passport enough of a proof?”

“Young woman,” her voice got slightly terser.  “Do you know how many Russians live here with both passports?”

I didn’t know.

“Is that like dual citizenship?”  I jumped:  Look at me, being smart ‘n’ all!  But I did have to switch to English to deliver that.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the woman answered, also in English.

At any moment now, she would hang up on me, I thought.  She owed me nothing.  She was doing this for free.

“Um.  Okay.  What do I do to prove that I am an American and NOT a Russian citizen.”

“You would have to show us papers renouncing your Russian citizenship.”

“Renouncing?!”  That sounded harsh.  Nyet?!

But the answer was simply:  “Da.”

“Um.  Okay.  How do I do that?”

“You have to bring your Russian passport…”

“Well.  Yes, you see:  I do not have one.”

“Then, you must apply!”

The woman proceeded to breakdown timelines and fees.  I panicked and asked her to slow down.  The gist was this:  It would take half a grand to get the passport that I would then have to renounce.  In terms of time, I was looking at pretty much a year.

“Um.  What if I don’t renounce it?” I said.  (If I can help it, I’d rather never renounce anything in life.)

“Then, you still pay and wait to get the passport.”

There was more silence.  I wanted to reiterate, but the absurdity was pretty clear already.  There would be paperwork and fees, then a long wait.  And then, another stage of paperwork, and fees, and more long wait.  But at least, it sounded Russian!

The silence lasted.  The woman almost gave in:

“Unless you were born here…”  She was giving me an inch… a centimeter.

“No,” I said.  I wasn’t sure which language I was using at that point.

I think the woman sensed the shock, because she took some mercy on me:

“When did you come here, miss?”

“Um.  Sixteen years ago.”

“WHAT YEAR?” and just like that, she was about to get irate, again.

“Nineteen… Oh, I dunno.  1997, I think?”

“Ah, yes.  You’re one of those,” the woman said.  “You have no choice.”

“Rum, Bum-Bum-Bum: Man Down!”

She was beautiful as shit, and very well-endowed, in her humanity.  But the one thing that had made me fall for the creature — head first against the tiled floor of an empty pool (SMACK!) — was her ability to always say what she meant and to say it with the precision of a sniper:  (POW!)

There was a gap though — a space where she lingered while choosing her words carefully and squinting her dark African eyes at her speaking opponents.  Half a generation older than me and so many exotic heritages apart, she had patience — in spades.  So, while I would be stepping on toes of the speaker — some over-read academic whose fear of our female flesh would make him work overtime at spewing out big words with which he hoped to dominate and conquer — while I would be wedging in my objections and stuttering with my youthful wrath (and with having so much to prove!), my girl would just hold there.  She would hold her fucking ground, my brothers and sisters — like Joan of Arc before her tribunal — and she wouldn’t fucking move!

It was so bloody impressive — it gave me a hard-on!  It was like watching one of those big cats at their hunting game:  You know better than to intrude, because you suddenly become aware that that cat’s evolution has not been contaminated by a century of junk food, bad decisions and hedonistic behaviors utilized to shut out its guilty conscience.  The cat is on top of its game:  It’s perfectly equipped — on point! — and it never has to work hard at proving jack shit.  And you know, for certain, that when the time is right for that one outrageous pounce — meant to capture, never to just tease — the poor victim won’t have enough time to even utter a prayer.

Well, it was like that, with this girl.  She would watch the poor sucker who overcompensated his boner with words, words, words — BULLSHIT! — and she would seem so chill.  Her glorious brown body appeared perfectly relaxed.  There was no verbal jab in the world that could make her shiver with wrath; no words capable of making her lose her composure; or even shift your weight.  Okay, maybe — may-be! — occasionally she would raise one eyebrow; but even that was barely noticeable.  You had to be in dire love with her to notice that change.  Which I was.   So — I did.

And when she would pounce — OH, LORD JESUS! — it was so much fun to watch!  If the asexual academic had been presumptuous at all about his vocabulary and degrees, the moment my girl unleashed:  She destroyed the fucker.  Because you couldn’t tell by her youthful face, which she insisted on wearing without any make-up, but she’d had years of education and a lifetime of reading to back her up.  She studied language for a living, working as an editor at every publishing house with its focus on radical writers:  female and foreign and black!  (FUCK!)  And just for fun, on weekends, when others got busy shifting around their patio furniture for barbecues in Brooklyn — she wrote poetry.

Some shifted the mundane — she displaced the real.

And she would win.  Always!  Because she wasn’t too hung up on the meaning of words.  Language, to her, was meant to be played with.  Otherwise, it was all dead.  So, true to that same feline fashion of hers, she played a gentle tug o’ war with concepts — tapping them, scratching the surface, or sinking her fangs into their gist — like a bored cat amusing itself with a caught prey before feasting on it.

Don’t get me wrong:  She had her truths.  Better than that:  She WAS all truth!  Love, dignity, sex and ethics — those were non-negotiable.  Not a thing to play with!  But words themselves — those little rodents and birds — were way too much fun to not fuck with.

Back then, I had once confused a man for the love of my life and I worked so hard on earning him.  At first, I tried on my ultra-feminine version:  All high heels, and eye-liner, and ruffled skirts that carefully ended at my knees.  I thought:

“Maybe he would love me more that way!  Maybe if I’d waxed, tamed my eyebrows, painted my nails in pretty pink; if I spoke with Americanized inflections and curtsied when he picked me up at Grand Central.  MAYBE!”

But after a year of still not being enough — of all that uncertainty and self-doubt — I began forgetting that I always hated make-up, especially in pink; and that I treading daintily — just wasn’t my style.  So, I gave myself a boy cut, loaded my closet with flats, white tank tops and tight jeans; and began taking the train into Manhattan thrice a week.

One day, my girl and I had stepped out onto Madison Ave, to do some hunting.  It was one of those spring days that breathed down New Yorkers’ neck with warm air and smells of budding cherry trees — but the sun had yet to come out.  We strutted southbound.  My girl lead the way.  Despite the promise of spring, she had zipped-up her hoody; and not tempted for a second to absorb the one New York season that reminds its natives as to why they choose to suffer there for the rest of the year, she hurriedly strutted to our decided destination.

A Nuevo-Rican  had come from behind us at a pedestrian crossing and studied our asses, in creepy silence; and when he realized my girl was one hot number underneath that zipped-up hoody, he began to whine, nasally:

“Ooh, mami!”

“Fuck you!” my girl shot him down over her shoulder and stepped off the curb, long before the light had changed in our favor.  POW!

Then:

“So, what was your definition of ‘forgiveness’?”  Just like that, she was back to me.  She was back — with me.  MINE!  I’d been out of breath for thirteen blocks by now:  from trying to catch up to her, like that poor Nuevo-Rican doubling over behind us, at the street light.  Not waiting for my answer, she resumed:

“Forgiveness — is like courage:  It is only committed for your own sake.”

“Forgiveness is like courage,” I repeated in a half-whisper, as if asking for her hand in marriage.

“NO!” she threw over her shoulder again, like a fuck-you to those who were unable to catch up.  “Forgiveness IS courage.” 

And off she went:  strutting, leaping, pouncing and leading the way, half a generation ahead of me and through strange, exotic histories in between; running every red light and giving me the most generous go-ahead of my life.

“Everything Was Beautiful. Nothing Hurt.”

“But!  Everything that HAS been — has not been forsaken

Oh, I have kissed everyone:  From paupers, to the kings.”

When motha breaks shit down — she destroys it.  “Half-assed” — is never her way.

And it is also brutal:  Our love for each other.  Unmistakably human.  Faltered and stubbornly redemptive.  This love — has been three decades in the making:  Some screwball tragicomedy that not even I, in my sickest mind, can think up.

(Yes, I may be young to some.  To others, who have witnessed my Americanized Tinker Bell version, I may appear full of hysterical delight.  I AM — all that.  As you wish.  But I am also a faithful lover of the human race; and for that, for years, I have been willing to risk my heart.  And yes, I have seen some shit, loves; and I have seen love — go to shit.  Still:  I have withstood it all.  And if you tell me it does not take a sick mind to keep coming back for more, then you and I just happened to speak two unrelated languages.)

Motha descended upon this town yesterday, on a witch’s broom, by her own admission.  She was late upon arrival (not typical to her chronically anxious character); but when she finally came down — she crashed.  Noise, voice, hair — it’s all so loud with her!  And when I first embraced her, I did NOT wonder how this tiny woman, standing two heads shorter than me, could contain so much life.

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder!”

She stepped off her broom, fixed her hair (to no avail); and as we walked home (I, sturdily in my flats, in control; she — all woman, chasse-ing in heels), we both unleashed our unwritten stories, the gypsy descendants that we were.  Flipping our disobedient manes to the wind, we took turns making each other laugh.  Motha laughs easily, readily; but I’m the only one to get her going at her own expense.  I, on the other hand, am much more reserved.  In my other parent’s ways, I chuckle, if that.  But then again, this messy and magnificent woman knows how to get me out of control; and so I become like daughter like mother.

Immediately, I suspected:  It would be different with us, this time.  Normally, motha doesn’t take a “nyet” for an answer.  She doesn’t give a flying fuck about my “boundaries” or my Americanized need “for personal space”.  Her life’s is too short of a privilege to miss out on encounters.  “Half-assed” — is just NOT her way.  But when she heard of her daughter’s two week ailment, she fucking imposed!  She invaded!  She came — to heal and to care — a maternal duty that has never been demanded from her by her self-sufficient child.

The medicinal witchcraft was whipped out as soon as I shut the door to my home.

“These eez forr you!  And these — eez forr you!”

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder she showed up with a suitcase!”

(I’ve learned to never expect things from our love; and perhaps, that’s all for the better:  In the end, it has taught me how to love and to let go.  It has taught me — how to withstand.)

Motha’s invasion carried us to the shore.  We attempted to bask in the sun, but mostly we froze in the late afternoon breeze.  She has called up someone with a yacht in the Marina.

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder she’s got more connects in this bloody town!”

And there would be many more:  Random people I have never seen before, coming out of the woodwork.  In every neighborhood where I chose to take a break (to catch my breath and drink up a doze of reality), they would deliver advice and meds, but most importantly — my returning hope for humanity, in dozes.  Before I knew it, matchmaking was happening, via the service of a handsome woman with a magnificent ass.  Someone was handing me a free cup of tea of dandelion root.  At a Ukrainian deli, where motha has finagled for me to use a bathroom, lipsticked mouths of old women were hollering at their grumpy butcher in the back:

“Let our girl pass!  Let our girl pass!”

A woman cashier with the face of compassion looked at me and said:

“Put that weight down, youth.  You’re carrying too much.”

Oh, I have never seen this city like this, loves!  I’ve learned not to expect much compassion from strangers.  But last night, the city was different:  It — was teaching me to withstand.

In the evening, there would be more tales and more witchcraft.  Motha whipped out her gypsy songs, then YouTubed a bearded bard to accompany her dance:

“When love, tender by its habit, gets tired to please this mortal coil with hope, 

I’ll bring the rest of my bloody life up to a burning match!

Because it is better to get burnt by love — then to run from it.” 

“Happy song!  Happy song!” — motha insisted while sitting on my floor and shimmying her shoulders (a gypsy dance move apparently).  

Eventually, there would be food, too much of it, just the way we, Russians, always insist.  There would be some strange sparkling wine, bitter and spicy like ginger, and immediately intoxicating.  Ancestors’ recipes were followed.  Instructions were being recycled.  Words, voices, stories, anecdotes — it’s all so loud with us.  (When I offered some soaking salts for motha’s bath, “Vhy?!” she said.  “Just poot zem in yourr soup!”)

And when it all subsided and each woman lay down in her own bed, lullabies of forgiveness covered everything with their white noise.  As the week-long insomnia surrendered to what would be my first night of 10-hour dreamless sleep, I heard the bard’s voice and my mother’s breathing, ever so loud:

“And for the gift of our encounter, 

I am ready to forgive my fate for everything.

So, here it is:  The wonderful happening 

That gives meaning to an empty word ‘to live’!”

Had I not forgiven my every love, I would’ve missed out on too many stories worthy of my hope, I thought.  I would have discounted too many faces, dismissed too many loves.  But haven’t you heard, loves?  “Half-assed” — is just not MY way!  Because to withstand it all — and come out on the other end, still willing to love — in my motha’s fashion, I’d rather go all in.

“Drip-Drop: There Goes a Nerdgasm”

Who be the English major around here?  I be!  I be dat!

I’m a proud lil’ nerd, my babies and kittens!  With my personal library as the only prized possession, I have traveled the world in pursuit of my smarts.

Oh, yes!  I am one of “those” — known to conduct 3-hour debates on comma positioning, who, in her younger days, once wanted to write a bloody dissertation on why em-dashes were better — or more elegant — punctuation marks than parentheses.  And don’t even get me started on e.e. cummings’ syntax and Pinter’s  ellipses!  (Okay, do get me started — but the next time you see me though.  Until then…)

For a proud nerd like V, it has been a source of endless frustration to watch the English language get chronically raped by the laziness of the general public and its beauty quite quickly diminished by the seemingly consensual desire to create shortcuts in our communication.  Well, okay!  On the one hand, technology has expanded our minds, shrunk the size of our world, and sped up the pace of our lives and professions.  But on the other hand, not only has it lowered our ability to communicate well — it has lowered our ability to communicate at all Our friendships, business relationships and love affairs are now dependent on a number of little hand devices that serve as extensions of our egos.  Facebook wall posts have replaced birthday postcards.  Instant messaging has eliminated the treasured experience of hearing a beloved voice on the other end of the phone line.  As for poetry:  It is quite quickly becoming extinct altogether.

Just last night, for instance, at a Hollywood coffee shop filled with hippies and yuppies alike, I watched an angry lil’ man build his case for a lawsuit — via an iPhone and his highly anti-social behavior committed for the sake of… well, a social interaction.  (Say whaaat?!  I KNOW.)  He first caught my attention with the speed of the click-clacking of his iPhone’s texting app which reminded me of the sound of beetles (the bugs, not the Brits).  Or of baby witches.  (Don’t ask:  It’s a Russian thing.)

When joined by his partner — a young corporate shark that despite appearing well-educated refused to adjust her volume — they began composing those texts together.  From what I overheard (I had no choice, really:  the two were so loud, they jolted the head of every focused Mac owner in the joint), some “asshole” had done them wrong and now, via the click-clacking, they were building a case against him.

“Tell him this, tell him this!” the excited young lady was hovering over her chair and pointing at the hand device as if the “asshole” was trapped inside it.  I shot her my askance glance but zero reaction followed.  She continued foaming at her mouth:  “Tell him:  We’ve got EVIDENCE!”

More click-clacking happened, at double speed.

I wondered:  When the skeletons of our era are excavated and studied by the next century’s archeologists, will they find our thumbs overdeveloped?  My second thought was that someone ought to add a Texting Man to that famous drawing of the Evolution of Man.  After all, look at how far we — and our disposable thumbs — have come!  (Now what did I tell you, babies and kittens:  I’m a total nerd!)

“He just fucked himself over!” the young lady was now so excited, she appeared to be dry-humping the edge of her coffee table.  “These texts — can be used as evidence IN COURT!”

Alas:  The Evolution of Man.

Now, as a nerd who revels in language, I’ve never been a fan texting; and only recently have I experienced the titillation of sexting (which involved shagging a much younger player than I would normally go for).  As for the abbreviated lingo invented by the generation of texting — and sexting — children, before I had a chance to say, “WTF?”:  It seemed to have been adopted by the rest of the world as a new universal language.  Shiva knows, it took me three years to start using shorthand in my own texts.  Yet, still, I refuse to “LOL”!  And “OMG”, do I cringe when getting one of those from a man!

In my experience, in this day and age, a male courtier is pretty much off the hook when it comes to composing odes for his woman.  I myself have lowered my expectations quite a bit; and although a well-composed sentence still gives me chills, I am perfectly content with getting my fill of philology from the prized — and above mentioned — personal library.  So, when a man demonstrates a lack of desire to whip out a coupla stanzas in my honor, I go to the men I can rely on:  Messieurs Baudelaire and de Saint-Exupery; Sir Keats and Lord Byron; or, if in a mood for some rougher lovin’ — Mister Bukowski or Comrade Mayakovsky.

However, a player who in his texts spews out abbreviations like a middle school student with bad acne and braces (and most likely, horrendous grades), I’m afraid — and here I speak on behalf of my vagina — I immediately lose all interest.  Yep:  The juices stop flowing.  The factory shuts down until further notice.  The ovaries start picketing.

Now, I myself have yet a lot to learn about the etiquette of texts (their duration and length or the power play of who should be the one to start or end a conversation); but I have made up my mind on the topics of my courtiers’ grammar and syntax.  It goes like this:

Grow up — and use a spellcheck!

Because there are no shortcuts to a woman’s vagina, dear sire!  (Or at least, to any self-respecting woman I know.)  So, please, my dah-ling, please:  Put a lil’ bit of effort when hunting for it.  Do utilize your disposal thumbs and spell out your words.  That way, there will be no confusion as to how you feel about me — or my vagina.

But if patience or grammar is not your strong suit — call me.  When you do, of course, you’ll have to meet a whole other set of standards; but at least you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of not living up to the linguistic standards of the dead men who knew a thing or two about vaginas, hunting and poetry; and how to utilize their thumbs in pursuit of either.