Tag Archives: mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

My father — is a good, good man.

But I would never tell him this story:

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

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

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

And I listened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It made sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, My Heart Belongs To Daddy: Da, Da, Da”

What will you be like, the future papa of my child?  Will you be tall, but not necessarily dark?  Or will you be just competent, quietly but certainly, in the way all good men — with nothing to prove — are?  

Yes, I’m pretty sure, you’ll be tall. 

“What are you chirping about over there?” my own — tall — father chuckled on the phone last night, “My little sparrow…”

He hadn’t seen me grow up.  To him, I am still a child treading on the edge of her womanhood with the same gentle balance and vulnerability as if I were walking along a curb:  one foot in front of the other, thrilled and focused, not certain about the destination but quite alright with that uncertainty.

He used to follow me whenever I chose that activity on our walks.  Hanging just a few steps back, as if giving me enough room for my budding self-esteem and competence, he, while smoking his cigarette, would be equally as focused at putting one foot in front of the other, upon his own flat ground.  And according to him, puddles — were always the height of my thrill.

“Don’t get your feet wet:  Your mom’ll kill me,” he’d warn me — the best co-conspirator of my life.  Yet, he’d never prohibit me from my exploration.

Besides, with me — it was useless to object.  He knew that.  It was his own trait:  If I got an idea into my little stubborn head, you could bet your life I’d follow through.  So, he’d rest, while smoking his cigarette on a bench or leaning against a mossy boulder; or on that same curb marked up with my tiny footsteps.  And yes, most likely, I would get my feet wet; and I’d look back at him with a frown:

“Alright, let’s hear it!”

But all that would be given back to me was a grin that my father would be trying so very hard to suppress.

And, the future papa of my child:  Will you be of a quiet temperament, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me; hanging back most of the time, as if giving me enough room for my sturdy self-esteem, but then always knowing when to step up to the plate — just because you will be taller — most certainly, taller! — stronger than me?  Just because you will be — my man?

True to my stubborn passion, half way through my teens, I decided to leave for a different continent.  That time, it was no longer a matter of exploration (although when wasn’t it, with me?) but a matter of a vague hope for better choices in my youth.

My father knew that:  The country of my birth was about to go under, and there would be no more gentle balancing for any of us, but a complete anarchy.  Yet, never in that chaos, would I see my father lose his composure.  Quietly, he’d take in one merciless situation after another, light up a cigarette and hang back while waiting for the best resolution to become clear.  And then, he’d step up to the plate and follow through, true to his quiet, stubborn, competent temperament.  My father:  The first tall man I’d fallen in love with.

So, when I delivered to him the news of my scholarship for a study abroad (something he’d never even heard of, in his lifetime), quietly, he smoked, hung back and took in the information.  Surely, there had to be a million questions chaotically arising in his head:  questions related to the unpredictable situations my life was certain to present.  But that day, he knew better than to get in the way of my decision to leave.  Because you could bet your life I’d follow through.  He knew that:  It was his own trait.

“Don’t tell your mom I agree with this:  She’ll kill me!” he told me that day, suppressed a grin; and we began mapping out our next conspiracy.

And, the future papa of my child:  Will you be the more lenient of a parent than me, hanging back while letting our kiddo explore his or her own curbs and puddles?  (Because you better be certain our child will inherit my tendency for stubborn passions.)  Will you quietly follow, hanging just a few steps back, alert enough to catch, pick-up, sweep off, dust off him or her, right on time?

Will you be more courageous to allow for our child’s falls:  Because that is the only way one learns?  And will you be calmer, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me, when it is time for our unconditional acceptance of his or her missteps?

It would be one giant puddle I’d select to tread in my womanhood — an entire ocean, to be exact; and then — a whole other one.  No matter his own heartbreak, my father chose to hang back.  There would be many falls of mine he would be unable to prevent, a million of questions he couldn’t answer; many chaoses he was powerless at solving on my behalf.  But no matter my age — and no matter my defeats or victories — I could always dial in on his unconditional ear.

He would listen, hang back — suppress his tears or a grin — then launch into our next conspiracy.

“Don’t tell you mom I know about this,” he always warned me.

Because besides being an exceptional father, he also knew how to be a man:  How love a woman with a dangerous habit for stubborn passions.  My father would be taller than her, and always much stronger.  Yet, still, he would hang back, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to his wife and giving enough room for her budding self-esteem as a woman — and a mom.  And when he’d happen to catch us at our feminine chaoses — or silly conspiracies of our gender — he’d suppress a grin and say:

“What are you chirping about over there, my little sparrows?”

“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.

“Have You No Sense of Decency?”

Sirens.  They are so much louder in this city, it seems; louder than anywhere else. (And I’ve heard my share, trust me.  I hate it.)

They are louder than in that other place I keep procrastinating returning to, regardless of its coordinates as the Center of the Universe (because I haven’t paid my dues here yet, you see).  But then, these police hollers are not as as loud as those other things, up in my neighborhood’s sky every bloody night, shooting down searchlights into a zip code that shoots searchlights back up at it, from every douchy new joint that won’t last.

Nothing really lasts, it’s true.  But LA-LA has a special talent for transience.

Everybody despises it here, at least at one point or another.  It’s what this city is here for, don’t cha know?  This poor, used-up girl!

When I think of LA-LA’s face, I think of a woman, of course; of someone who is moderately pretty and lovable, but with time.  She is the girl one settles for, not the heartbreaker perfectly dressed at all times who ruins a man’s heart with her impossibility and expensive, addictive perfumes.  No, LA-LA is much simpler than that:  She is there, for the taking — if one is kind enough and patient.  But if ever you decide to break-up with her, she’ll let you go so freely you’ll wonder if she ever even loved you at all.  So, the joke’s on you, really.  And no matter where the departed go from here — from her — don’t you worry:  She’ll be fine.  She’ll still be here, for the next guy.

The natives (who are in the minority here, because the minorities — are not):  They despise the newcomers.  And there are plenty of those, every day climbing off their Greyhounds and shuttles; interrogating their cabbies as if they were tour guides.  (I would hate to be a cabdriver in this city:  too many flights.)  It’s endless, this influx of dreamers.  Perpetual.  THANK GOD.

And then, the newcomers despise not being important enough, not quickly enough.  Back in the pond where they’ve come from, they used to be so beloved:  How dare you not know their name?!  Or maybe, they weren’t loved enough, and they’ve come here to avenge themselves.  Regardless:  They have yet to learn that LA-LA doesn’t give a damn about their personal agendas.  Here, time is made of liquid rubber (and it stinks equally).  It takes time to make a name for yourself (even if you’ve come here with a name).  But first, you have to make a living — and a life.

The beautiful girls, of which LA-LA has plenty:  The beautiful girls who lose their beauty here — that’s what they hate this city for.  They would’ve wasted their youth elsewhere, it’s true; but then, it least, it would’ve gained them something.

I bumped into one of them the other day:  She’s been paying her dues for six years now, just like me; and after endless auditions and plenty of cocktail waitressing, she’s finally earned herself an Under-Five on a some show about Hollywood douche bags.

“Congratulations, love,” I said.  “Where to next?”

“HOME.  I’m going home.”

The young, heartbreaking boys with low expectations and a high tolerance for deprivation; who sleep in cars in between apartments (because it makes for a great story, once they’re famous) — they think they don’t need love around here.  They can do without it, for now:  They’ve got time.  But when they learn that time is made of liquid rubber, randomly, they start poking around.  Poking themselves into any moderately pretty girl who’ll pay attention after enough drinks — and attention.  All this random poking into loveless girls — that’s their beef with this city.

“No offense,” one of them shot me a stare the other day as if I were the one offending him.  “But there are no decent women here.”

I rebutted quickly and well (I’ve had practice, you see).  He laughed, changed his mind (was I worthy of a poke?), and asked me if I had “anything on me”.

“Anything on me?”

“Don’t cha like to have some fun?” he said; then, shot me another spiteful stare.  I was just another dumb bitch, who, at least, had the decency to be decent.  But he wasn’t after decency, really.

Oh, we’ve all had a share of mistakes here; have fallen prey to douches and scams.  But that’s okay.  Silly mistakes are okay.  Just don’t be stupid.  LA-LA is too small of a town for stupidity, because somebody knows somebody else.  The word gets around.

Here, you’re always supposed to know a Somebody:  Knowing a Somebody gets you closer to your own Somebody-ness. So, you hang on to the few famed ones, drink up from their expensive pool, up in the hills.  You memorize the names of their siblings and pretend liking their dogs, just so one day you may say to somebody, over pizza:

“That’s my friend:  Somebody!”  And you all stare at the face blown up on the screen and feel like you’re ever so closer to having paid your own dues.

And every once in a while, an actual friend of yours — not just a Somebody but a comrade-in-arms — books something big.  (This must be the reason why I myself love pilot seasons in LA-LA.)  And it’s wonderful.  Oh, how wonderful!  THANK GOD.  And if you haven’t lost the ability for compassion to your own sense of despair, you feel thrilled for her.  Because it also means there is still hope; that dreams are not forsaken, in LA-LA.

But then, your friend leaves.  If she doesn’t leave for another city, she leaves for a different demographic.  You may still have a chance to hang out at her expensive pool, up in the hills; sitting next to the next transient guy, despising this city:

LA-LA has a special talent for transience.  But at least, you have a chance to cash in your own big check (after enough time and patience; dues and poking around).  And if you’re still with it — at your turn for Somebody-ness — it’ll get you closer to your next dream.  Or the next city.