Tag Archives: parents

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas…” I think.

It started with a text:

“Bring warm clothes.  It is f…ing COLD outside and inside.”

Thanks, motha.

No more excuses could be fabricated for my resistance to visit her part of Cali; and unlike most children, I hadn’t fantasized about “getting out of LA” — for my sanity’s sake — and going “home”, since… well, never.  Home had to be wherever the fuck I landed, for at least two decades of my life now.  I hadn’t even let myself the martyrdom shtick since 1994.  It’s just the way our family’s shit sorted itself out.  So be it, eh?

Besides, each on their own, my old folks were kinda rad:  funny and very specific.  And as far as their parental duties were concerned, they had already done one hell of a job considering my Motha’land’s continuous turmoil.

This year, though, after missing all the major holidays in the last six months AND with my plans to avoid my daughterly obligations to visit for Christmas, motha’s birthday could NOT be missed.  Well…  Actually, it could.  And it was.  I had delayed my visit by nearly a week, but bargained that, on my visit, I would deliver a few make-up gifts.  And take her out to dinner.  And bring Starbucks.

So, there I was:  Waking up early, after pulling my chronic, city-livin’ all-nighter, and immediately checking my iPhone for work emails.  Anything to delay the reality of having to get out of bed and getting my ass rolling on the 10-East.  Not once, not twice, but half a dozen times I touched base with my boss, in the morning.  Look at me:  All diligent and nearly altruistic, just mere weeks before bloody Christmas!  While washing up — thirty minutes before my originally scheduled departure time — I missed a call from motha:

“Verra!  Call me vhen you starrt drrivingg.”

Okay, motha.  Will do.

But you know what I hadn’t done today yet?  Yoga!  I’d have to do that before I leave, because my centered self drove much better through every clusterfuck related to other people’s season of hysterical shopping.  So, I did that.

Ooh, and you know what else?  I’d better wash my car too.

In the bathroom of the carwash, another missed phone call from motha lit up my phone screen.

“I’m on my way,” I lied via a text:  My ride wasn’t even getting soaped yet.  “I can be there anywhere between 1:30 and 2:00.”  (Had I noticed:  The case of my unrealistic expectations from the clocks and the traffic of LA-LA had been getting worse?!)

In another thirty minutes, I finally climbed up — then down — onto 10 East.

“DOWNTOWN 12 MINUTES” — the first sign promised.

“I suppose I could still make it by my promised deadline,” a glimpse of hope inspired me to turn on some Christmas music.  “Hey, this ain’t so bad!” I thought and attempted to whistle along.  (I don’t know how to whistle, actually, so I was more like hissing along. Yeah.  I hissed along.)

Culver and Century City zipped by me.  (Or was it in the opposite order?  I had always confused the two.)  Downtown came up on me, in all of its newly built glory, in ten minutes.  Gorgeous!  Completely white and silver, it glistened in the sun.  I checked my car’s thermometer.  Sixty six degrees?  Really?  ‘Cause inside the greenhouse underneath my sunroof, it’s feeling closer to seventy two.  And, as instructed, I was now carrying only sweaters in my suitcase.

I rolled down the windows.  No, wait!  Too much wind.  I just washed my hair and it was doing its Medusa-in-a-Horrid-Mood routine.  With just the passenger window down, though, the car began sounding like a jet plane in the midst of a turbulent take-off.  Plus the smell of dust and endless construction smacked me out of my mood.  With one whack of my fist, I turned off the jolly tune on the radio station.

Too early for Christmas, after all!  Christmas was for other people, and their children heading “home”.

But I — was a busy working girl, wedging in some premature festivities into her life, and mostly out of guilt.

Scarlett Johansson fpr Vanity Fair

The orange diamonds of construction signs were sure to come up in a few minutes and right around the dodgy part of LA-LA, I noticed I was low on gas.

“Shit.  Shoulda done that last night!”

It’s the worst habit of mine:  Procrastinating with gas by thinking that there would be more hours in the next day of LA-LA.  I examined the eroded walls of abandoned warehouses on the side of the freeway and chipping road signs, mostly in Spanish, and decided to see how long my tank would last.

The traffic wasn’t really crawling yet, but I could see a corridor of break lights for at least quarter of a mile ahead of me.  Might be a while, but as we say in the Motha’land, “Whoever doesn’t risk — doesn’t get to drink champagne!”

The itch of my badass-ness needed some background music, so I smacked the radio again.

“Blame it on the ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-alcohol,” the new station blasted.  That’ll do for now.

The merger to continue onto the 10-East looped around the graffitied walls, arid lawns and long dead flowerbeds.  With one-eighth of my gas tank, I was speeding and leaving the City — exhausted by traffic, lack of time and money, never-ending construction and unrealistic expectations of its dreamers — behind.

(To Be Continued.)

“Those Were the Days, My Friend…”

Back in those days, we would rise early — to get the fields on time.

It would always happen in the fall:

“Time of harvest,” they would tell us.

We didn’t know any different:  We weren’t supposed to.  We were children, still. Besides, to us — it would be just another adventure.

Most of us (if not all) had seen our parents working on land for their entire lives, tending to the whims of nature just so they could have a little extra to live on during the winter.  It didn’t matter if you were a villager or one of those city people who thought they were better than the rest:  Everyone worked, in those days.

The villagers had it a little harder, especially in terms of prejudice.  They were the simpler people, with more obvious needs and uncomplicated vices.  Most of their children would never finish their education either due to their parents’ alcoholism or because of being bullied, brutally, in school.  Those kids wore poorer clothes than us and carried lice in their overgrown hair.  They smelled of manure, tobacco and liquor:  They smelled — of hard life.

For as long as they could tolerate their young lives’ injustices, they would become outcasts; our plebeian jokers.  Soon enough, though, they would give way to their shame, drop out of school — and grow up way too early.  And the hard life continued to loom, above our unknowing heads.  But the ones that lived by land knew it earlier than the rest.  

In any city apartment, one could find a tiny garden on a balcony.  Radishes and tomatoes were planted in flower beds, upfront.  And in the spring, after the soil would thaw out just enough, our grownups would begin to leave the city, for the weekends.  They would take the trains into the suburbs — and they would return to their land.

Of course, somebody always had to be paid off along the way:  Such was the Russian tradition.  And we didn’t see any malice in that, or any particular injustice.  So, we bribed the city officials to get the better patches of land.  With the owners of live stock, we bartered in exchange for cow dung.  The drivers of tractors were paid off in vodka.  To each — his own.  

Summers seemed a bit easier:  Even if the money was tight, there was always at least some food in the home.  The early months were spent on gathering; and for the entire length of August and September, each woman busied herself with making preserves for the winter.  So, they would work — our mothers — rising early, tending to land; then, spending the rest of their days on mere survival.

But we, the young ones, would always turn it into a game.  In groups, we walked each other home; and as we climbed the stairs of our apartment buildings, we sniffed the doors on every flight:

“Ooh.  Strawberry jam!  Most certainly, strawberry!” we’d smell the lusty sweetness of slowly simmering fruit, then say goodbye to the comrade heading in, into that doorway.

“This one — is pickling cabbage.”

“She is always pickling cabbage!” the disappointed child would grumble and knock on the door of his forever disappointing mother.

We were all just trying to survive.  Although, for a while there, we didn’t know how difficult it was, for our mothers:  We didn’t have to — we were children. And to us, everything — was an adventure, just for a little while longer.

My doorway always gave off aromas much more complex than our young palettes could’ve known:  Green tomato jam, prune compote with red currants, garlic-stuffed cucumbers.  Motha — was always a bit of a witch, at the stove; and I couldn’t hide my thrill at her being so different.  And I couldn’t wait to find her in the kitchen:  What could she’ve possibly come up with, that time?

She would rise early, back in those days.  And by mid-day, several cauldrons would be boiling, simmering, stewing on the stove.

“Here!  Try this!” the woman with curlers in her hair and sweat on her upper lip would order me while shoving a tiny saucer with pink or purple jam foam into my dirty hands.  She wouldn’t even say hello.

Despite the occasional sand on my teeth, “MMMM,” I’d mutter.

“Good! Watch the pots!  I’m going out!”

Motha would depart into the bathroom and emerge in five minutes doused in perfume and sparkles.  I didn’t mind her departure.

In the fall, after the first month back in school, there would be field trips — to the fields.  Normally, they would happen on a Saturday; and we would have to rise early, showing up to the already busy school yard in our best peasant attire.

Most of the time, the children of the villagers wouldn’t show:  They had their own land to tend to.  Still, we would judge them a little, while shuffling ourselves in between the seats of a school bus, waiting to depart at sunrise.  We would be taken to the fields:  to gather freshly dug-out potatoes or to gather sugar beats, for live stock.

The labor would be hard, and we would overhear the upper class men complain about such an injustice.  But we still didn’t know any different:  We didn’t have to — we were children.  It would become much harder, soon enough.  But for just a little longer, we could be children — and life could be much simpler.

“Don’t You Know: They’re Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution? It Sounds — Like a Whisper!”

“People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.

I don’t ask them to be.

But sometimes I think about it.”

Charles Bukowski, The Crunch

There is a passion, in all of us.  It boils.  It protests:  In Rome*, Yemen, Africa**.  It pushes to break us out of our skins — out of our boundaries; shackles, limits, laws; cowardice — and to rebel.

Some have chosen to live quietly, getting by.  They seem to cause the least conflict.  And if on occasion they hurt one another — it will be most likely by accident.  A tiny demand will rise in their souls — a tiny rebellion against obedience that has seemingly earned them nothing.

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And they reach for something that the rest of the world won’t miss much.  They reach with passion.  There may be an accidental victim:  He’s gotten in the way of their reaching.

But what’s a little hurt — against a lifetime of groveling?

Nothing.

Others manages to tangle up their egos in the chalk lines of the score board that keeps track of the rat race.  They are a special clan:  They measure life in numbers.  In things.  In values.  Passionately.  To them, there always seems to be a deadline in life, called Work Until:

Work Until:  They get tired of playing.  Work Until:  They gain a debt, then pay it off.  Work Until:  They have a piece of land, for a house or a deathbed.  Until they pay off a palace, a chariot, a marriage, a child’s tuition:  A Happily Ever After.

Work Until:  They never need to work again.  Work Until:  They can rest.  Work Until…

Nothing.

Their days turn into discardable minutes:  Five minutes — Until.  Thirty years — Until.  Another person’s life — Until.  Until, Until, Until, Until.  They pump themselves up against the lackluster crawl of the minutes.  They lose themselves — in things, in numbers.  In scores.  With passion.

Some actually manage to get there:  God bless ‘em!  They get to their anticipated Until, for the sake of which, they’ve sacrificed so many minutes.  And some have even sacrificed their truths.  Their passions.

That’s when the real horror happens:  At the end, they soon discover that nothing, in life, lacks a price.

Nothing.

And they find that the price of Until usually turns out to be gastronomical:  Greed.  Sacrifice.  Health.  Denial.  Nothing.

And that shit isn’t refundable!

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And:

What happens to LOVE — I ask — in such a lifetime of Until?

Find me a man who knows the answer to that.  For I have asked too many men who’ve given me mere accusations in return.  Something about time, or timing.  Readiness and plans.  Something about their Until.  I couldn’t really stick around for their explanations for long:  Their fear was eating up their faces — and my time.  So, find me a man who knows the answer to:  What’s the fucking point?!  I find me one who answers with passion.

Oh, and don’t discount those poor suckers born with extremely sensitive souls.

“It’s okay.  They’ll grow out of it,” pediatricians tell their parents.

Most actually do:  Innocence is rarely immune to life.  

But what happens when they don’t?  Well, then:   Please, say a prayer for those poor suckers:  A Hail Mary for the Sensitives.  For they are stuck here, among us, with no delusion to save them from the ache.  And no Until.

“Oh, but everyone aches!” the others object.

Still, the sensitives get the worse of it, in this life.  They stumble around, among us, like unwanted orphans.  Like innocents.

“But do YOU ache?” they ask.

Poor suckers!  They insist on hitting the truth on the nail.  It’s so annoying!

“Everyone aches,” the others object.

The sensitives study our faces for signs that they aren’t the only ones feeling this much.  It’s innocence, at its worst.  It’s passion.

“Then, what do you do — to cope?” they ask.

“Nothing.”

So, they devote their lifetimes to taking notes.  They write down our words, then regurgitate them, in a prettier form:  Poetry.  Others jot down their sketches, finding beauty in our fear-eaten faces.  And innocence, or whatever is left of it.  Passion.  Some put on reenactments:

“Wouldn’t this make for a better picture, in life?” they ask.

The others scoff, look away.

They do not have the time for truth — Until…

They do not have time — for a revolution.  

No:  They would rather spend their lives suspended until the arrival of Until.  Or, they spend their lifetimes — groveling.

Surely, there will be small griefs that happen until the Until, and they’ll complain and demand attention.  They’ll demand a change, but only enough of it — and only if it’s convenient — and never for the sake of others.

Because everyone aches.  And there is nothing to be done about that.

Nothing.

But what would happen if we gathered our passions into a fist and planted a punch?

* Rallies Across the Globe Protest Economic Policies.  New York Times. October 15, 2011. 

** “Occupy”Protest Turns Violent in Rome.  Al Jazeera.  October 15, 2011. 

“I Told You: Leave Your Situations at the Door!”

I don’t want to wait for a change.  For a change, I don’t want to wait for a change — I want to create it.  I want to make it, because I must make it — in life.  Too long!  It has been too long of a wait:  for a change.  

I had been carrying my suffering like a sentimental load inside tattered baggage I must’ve borrowed from the top shelf of my parents’ closet.  When I was initially packing it up, back in the most formative years of my youth, curiously my father looked over my shoulder, handing me my items with one hand and patting the crown of my head with the other:

“You sure you’re gonna need all of this, little sparrow?” he would ask repeatedly, yet still contribute to my baggage, a handful of issues at a time.

I would get hold of his items, twirl them in my hand; sniff, taste, measure:  “Hmm.  Dunno!” I would say.  “Might need it later.”

My youthful impatience, my childish wrath would prevent me from weighing my future load against my strength.  Instead, I would get inventive at digging up some forgotten familial issues from the corners of my motha’s drawers.  And with my father as my shadow, I would wander around the home I was leaving — out of my stubbornness, not my self-esteem — and take a few things off the walls and, with his help, reach for the highest, forgotten shelves of our bookcases.  Instead of testing the baggage with an occasional test run, I kept on stuffing it.

“Might need it later,” I kept thinking, not even knowing that it was way too much pressure to place onto one’s “later”.

On the day of my departure for what I thought would be a better life — a better “later” — I even managed to look under all the carpets and rugs of our familial home, swooping up a few more microscopic particles into the side pockets of my baggage:  Might need those later, as well.

“Oh, and don’t forget this!” motha would shove a few more things into my baggage on my way out.  She would see me off at the threshold of our familial home; and every time I turned in a lapse of courage, she would wave her kitchen towel at me:  A flag of Don’t Ever Surrender!

The journey would turn out to be more epic than even my youthful imagination could think up; and it would be so magnificent at times — better than I thought when I thought of my “later”.  I would never come to regret the steps I had taken back then, in the most formative years of my youth; and I wouldn’t despise the directions I had chosen to follow — mostly out of stubbornness, not necessarily my self-esteem.  Because in the end, it would’ve all been worth it:  My life — my “later” — would be my own creation.  My choice.

Along the way, I would continue to pick up a few more issues for my loaded baggage:  Might need those later.  And it would take the initial thrill of the journey to settle down before I would become aware of the compromised lightness of my step, the increasing calluses and the now chronic backaches.

“Am I really gonna need all this stuff later?” I would wonder for a moment, but then carry on carrying, mostly out of stubbornness — NOT my self-esteem.

And when another youthful thing would pass me with a lighter baggage on her back, secretly I would admire her step; and I would wonder about our difference.  Must be a familial thing, I would conclude, then rummage through my baggage in search of an issue I could blame it on.  For a moment, the blame would soothe the envy, but the weight would not let up.  And I would spend more stretches of my journey in anticipation of the next rest stop.

Yes, I was getting tired.  I needed more stops, more time to get up; more courage to summon that stubbornness I had been confusing for self-esteem.  The load would begin to affect my choices:  I would start looking for shortcuts.  Better yet, I would ask other travelers for their evaluation of the course ahead.

“It’s just that… I have all this baggage,” I would explain, introducing the heavy load on my back as some alter-ego of mine.

I would begin to doubt my choices, to question if my “later” was still worth the pains.  Suddenly, I would find myself wasting time on indecisiveness — a quality that tarnished my self-esteem.

It would be thrilling, though, when for a while I would be accompanied by a love.  He would offer me a helping hand, and although I would accept it reluctantly, I had to notice how much easier it was to travel without baggage.  Quickly, I would get addicted, if not to that same helping hand, but at least to the illusionary promise of it.  But still committed to my baggage, I wouldn’t notice the burden it would be causing to my love.  And when that love would depart, sometimes, I would ask to carry some of his load as well:  Might need it later.

It would take a few more loves — loves that were in love with their own baggage of suffering — before I would wonder:

“Perhaps, it is time — for a change.”

Gradually, at first, I began leaving some issues at my rest stops or pretending to forget about them when they were carried by a love.  And then, a new habit kicked in:  Once twirled in my hands for the last time, an item would be disposed.  Because rarely did my baggage prove itself worthy of my “later”.

And for a change, I began wanting to change.  Not waiting for it:  Not rummaging in my baggage for promises of closures or resolutions.  Instead, I’ve gotten into a new habit of letting go — for the sake of change.

So, enough now!  It’s time to let go, time to unload.  It’s time — to change, for a change.  

Man vs. World

“Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone.

It’s not warm when he’s away…”

Fuck.  THAT.  Shit.

First of all, it’s the bloody desert out there today!  Look at it.  The sun has swept off the last of yesterday’s clouds to return the sky to that dreamy blue I had seen only on this coast; and give it a couple of hours, I’ll be basking in it, naked.  (Ah, but I ain’t telling you where:  It’s my secret spot.)Secondly, since his departure, my own comrades and beloved hearts — and all of my small world’s children — have swooped in, dusted me off (for I have not only bit the dust in this fall — I fuckin’ made a meal of it!) and have been taking turns serving me cups of hot tea to melt away my midnight shivers.

“You’re a’right,” they tell me.  They always tell me, never ask.  Not that they’re ever surprised by my strength or resilience; or my refusal to lead an ordinary life.

“It’s not becoming — for a woman like you!” one of my comrades commented on my tears the other day, in his laconic, Tony Soprano-esque way.  (SHIT.  Can’t an Amazon get a break?!  Nyet, apparently.)

“Always an inspiration,” uttered my East Coast angel before departing from me after this weekend’s visit.  She herself is far from shabby when it comes to the quality of her sought life; and soon enough, she’ll return that inspiration with a single postcard from some exotic coast with gorgeous brown people and white sand.  Not too shabby.

In my blunt Russian-ness, I must admit:  I am not really the pining type.  Nyet, I definitely don’t pine much.  So, okay, I’ll mourn the loss of a love while rummaging through my bookshelves for like-minded words.  I may even dwell in nostalgia a bit.  But even that — is more of a Russian thing:  I’m just another Olga, wanting to get to Moscow.  (Chekhov, comrades!  Check that Chekhov:  He knew a thing or two about humanity.)

Perhaps, being an only child had something to do with it:  for as long as the memory of my young self spans, I was always perfectly self-sufficient and often in preference for my solitude.  Considering my parents’ occupations (father was an officer, mother — a social butterfly), they left me to my own devices quite often and willingly.  And if ever one of them wanted to go parental on my ass and demonstrate how to do something, in response, they got my very assertive:

“MYSELF.”

According to motha, it was the first word I learned, and obviously — it was my favorite.  Yep:  While other infants were taking the easier, more natural to their tongues routes and learning to call out for their parents, I was already self-asserting.  To make this tale of V’s childhood even more poignant, I spoke of “MYSELF” in its masculine conjugation.  (Unlike in the English language, in Russian one must conjugate every word in a sentence; which makes our tongue quite difficult to navigate.  Try navigating Moscow, for Lenin’s sake:  Nothing we do is easy!)

When it came to my early life romances, I was a late bloomer.  Always a bookworm, in all honesty, I found the characters in my novels much more interesting than boys.  Between that and the adventures promised to me at the time by the Communist Party, the world appeared to be more tempting of an adventure than another single human being.  Here, I wonder if my men ever even had a chance, considering they had to compete with the entire planet.  But when my first Russian boyfriend announced he was interested “in seeing other people”, a month later, I won a full scholarship for my pre-collegiate studies in the United States.  He had other people to see — I had other places to be.  (I hear he lives in a hamlet now, married to a milkmaid and working for the “collective farm”.  Mazel tov, darlin’.)

In the history of my womanhood, I’ve treated every break-up as an opportunity to grow.  It’s kind of the way it flows in Motha Nature, don’t you think, my comrades?  When something old expires, it makes room for something — or someone — new.  And the more I live — the more losses I suffer — the quicker that interchange happens.

It’s as if I’ve become more connected to my own intuition; and I’m able to hear the voices off all other opportunities the world has to offer, no matter how loud the moaning of my ego and heart may be.  So, during this currently happening ache, there is a somewhat habitual thrill about everything new — everything yet unknown and unforeseen, yet somehow anticipated.  I may not know what this new shift is going to bring, but I suspect:  It’s going to be magnificent.

Because it has been, my beloveds, all along; every time until now.  Every departed lover was replaced by someone wonderful and better suitable for me.  Every old occupation gave room to sometimes humbling opportunities.  And the only part that I am obliged to play at this time of loss is to respectfully behold for my departed beloved — to wish him well, for the sake of my own grace — then, to grant MYSELF the time and space to heal; because give it half a phase — and that space will be flooded with the world.

And to quote my favorite sister Olga:

“Oh, dear sisters, our life is not ended yet.  We shall live!  The music is so happy, so joyful, and it seems as though in a little while we shall know what we are living for, why we are suffering.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some naked basking to do.

Love yous.  All of yous.  (And who said I couldn’t conjugate English pronouns?  I just did!  MYSELF.)