Tag Archives: laughter

“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.

“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.