Tag Archives: Russian women

As Luck Would Have It

Cousin Galina always arrived with bad news:  the neighbor’s pig had died during the previous night’s drop of the outside temperatures, making its meat too stiff to consume.  But what else was the family to do, at the end of the coldest winter of the last two decades?  The postmaster had collapsed one morning from an infarct, on his way to work.  (“Well, don’t expect to get any mail until next month, now!”)  Ilyinithna — the richest and the stingiest woman in the village — was still suffering from a bout of hiccups; and the Army draft had yet again passed Ivan, the Lame Arm, which, you could bet, didn’t thrill his widowed mother much:  She was hoping he could learn more useful skills than hanging out in apples trees and shooting the crows from a homemade bow that he pulled with his teeth.

The concept of karma wasn’t even heard of in the heart my grandparents’ village at the time, but cousin Galina had a special talent for making the connections with the flow of the universal force.  She possessed an impressive memory and retained the history of every family’s generations.  Every misstep, every shame was kept on file in the old woman’s brain, allowing her to masterfully connect the dots at the culminations of each misfortune.

“Oh, no!  Here comes the thunder cloud,” my grandpa would grumble, hearing the stomping of Galina’s walking stick on the wooden staircase and making a run for the back door.  “Hold on to your courage, comrades!”

He couldn’t stand the woman and would scurry off to play dominos at the bath house.  But even though Russians weren’t big on karma (after all, it was all in the hands of either a. god or b. the Party), there was no more certain way to fuck up the good luck for one’s own and all the future generations — than to turn on one’s family.

“And shame on you, Sergei!” grandma protested, albeit unconvincingly, on behalf of her first cousin.  “We must have some mercy on the cripple!”

She was right:  Cousin Galina wore the family’s misfortune on her face.  From the age of three, when she was burnt from a bucket in which her mother was boiling the family’s whites in bleach, Galina’s face was a mangle of leathery skin.  It was impossible not to wince when looking at her stretched, shiny face with blotchy patches of red and purplish-brown, and at the unevenly misshapen eye sockets with rapidly jittering whites of her eyes inside them.  Most children in the village feared her, but what discomforted grandpa Sergei the most was the sour smell of Galina’s unwashed flesh that accompanied her, made more pungent by the tobacco that she never took a break from chewing.  The tobacco stained her teeth and colored her spit; and while the other babushkas, who flocked the village benches, projectile spat the black shells of roasted sunflower seeds, Galina marked her territory with puddles of puss-colored, foaming saliva.

He could always smell it too, grandpa Sergei, when he return home and found his wife in the kitchen:

“Had the thunder cloud passed yet?” he’d joke; and after an askance glance from his wife, proceed to open all the windows in the house.  A trail of reeking flesh hung heavy.  A scraped aluminum ashtray in the dish drain would confirm his suspicions.  “At least, she had the decency to not spit onto the floor this time.”

Truth be told, the old woman missed sometimes.  Perhaps, that’s why Galina’s thick ankles were permanently adorned with shiny galoshes:  in case she misjudged and spat onto her own foot.  No matter the weather, the season, or the heat, she also wore gray socks of thick wool.  Say what would wish about the expedited process of aging for the Russian women, but at the fairly young age of forty — bundled up in thermal underwear underneath her housedress and a cotton-stuffed peasant jacket on top — Galina looked like an arthritic.  Never could get warm, never stopped complaining about her aching joints and high blood pressure.

“The burn must’ve messed up her nerve endings!” grandma explained.  “She may not ever get comfortable again, that poor soul.”

But grandpa Sergei scoffed and offered his own bit:  “Oh, come on!  Lord knows, the cuz has skin thick enough to outlive us all, in the end!”

He had theories, my grandpop!  Coached either to fear or to compete with the remainder of the world, he harbored little hope for humanity.  So, he was often heard pontificating on the subject of the world’s ending:  which continent would be the cause of it and which race would take the majority of the blow.  And the one thing grandpa had made clear was that when the fateful hour of godly justice stuck, he would be found nowhere near other humans.  To live off of and to die from the Ocean’s insatiable force — that was the destiny the old fisherman had envisioned for himself.

Making It Out

 (Continued from June 24th, 2012.)

After I got my first period — less than a month before my twelfth birthday — is right around when the two women began including me in their gabbing sessions, in the kitchen.

At first, I joined reluctantly:  I would much rather “waste my life away”, as mother dramatically accused me of, with a novel. But face it!  When the two of them returned from their separate errands, both beautiful and smelling of the same perfume — the flirtation of all the men still echoing in their voices — I would be a major “dura” to resist the temptation of their company.

And the stories, the day’s gossip — the life force pumping through the street of our town — seemed more titillating than my mother’s romance novels (through which I, when home alone, would rummage and then re-hide them in the cupboards of her bedside stand).  Now: Our neighborhood wasn’t really happening.  Someone would die, occasionally, after drinking too much.  Someone else got married, before an accidental pregnancy showed.  Both the town’s funerals and its weddings could be attended by anyone.  For Russians, it’s bad fucking karma to turn guests away!  So, as processions crawled through the main roads (not many Russians owned cars, not in those days!), neighbors joined in; because at the end of either line, they’d find free food.  And what’s more important:  Vodka!

Breathlessly, I listened to the women’s stories, never putting my two kopeks in.  Assigned the most menial jobs in the kitchen, like peeling of potatoes or sorting out grains of rice, I kept my head down and worked my ears overtime. At times, the exchange of information was packed with details so intense and so confusing, it hurt my brain to follow.  Still, I tried to comprehend in silence because asking either my sis or mother to repeat — was borderline suicidal.

“Now, mamotchka!”  (Marinka was already notorious for kissing up.  She’d learned how to work our mother’s ego.)  “Have you heard about Uncle Pavel?”

“Nyet!  What?”

The way my sis was blushing now, in the opal light of fall’s sunset, solidified that she was rapidly turning into her mother’s daughter:  A stunner, simply put.  The prospects of the townswomen’s matchmaking had already begun coming up at the dinner table; and every time, Marinka turned red and stole sheepish glances at our father.  There was no way around it:  She was easily becoming the prettiest girl in town!  Not in that wholesome and blonde Slavic beauty way, but an exotic creature, with doe eyes, long hair of black waves and skin the color of buckwheat honey.

Olga Kurylenko for Instyle Magazine

Marinka carried on.  “I got this from Ilyinitchna,” she gulped.  She’d gone to far, corrected herself:  “Anna Ilyinitchna, I mean.”  (The tone of informality common for most Russian women was still a bit to early for Marinka to take on.  But she was getting there:  Whenever she joined our mother’s girlfriends for tea, she was permitted to address them with an informal “you”.)

Mother was already enticed.  “What?!  What’d you hear?” she wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and turned her entire body toward my sister.

“He and Tatiana’s daughter…”  There, Marinka took notice of me.  She looked back at our mother for a go-ahead.  The silence was thick enough to be cut with a knife.  I pretended to not have heard anything.

But mom had no patience for not knowing:  “Oy, Marina!  Don’t stretch it out, I beg of you!  What did you hear?!”

Sis ran her nails to tame the fly-aways by pushing them behind her ears.  Her hair was thick and gathered into a messy construction on the back of her head.  Ringlets of it escaped and clung to her sweaty neck.

“Well?!  WHAT!”

Whenever mother spoke, I noticed the tension Marinka’s shoulders — a habit of a child who took on a regular beatings from a parent.  In boys, one saw defiant thoughts of brewing rebellion.  But it looked different in girls.  We had to bear.  It could take decades to grow out of oppression.  Some women never made it out.  They would be transferred from the rule of their parents’ household to that of their husbands’.  Forgiveness already started seeming too far-fetched.

Marinka blushed again.  Lord, give us the courage!  “He and Tatiana’s daughter were seen having dinner together in the city.  He took her to a rest-aur-ant!”  She slowed down, for effect:  Dining at Soviet restaurants was NOT a casual happening.  “And she was dressed like the last whore of Kaliningrad.  She now wears a perm, although I’m sure it’s not her parents’ money that pay for it.”  Sis was on a roll.  “I mean you see how Tatyana dresses!  The thing she wore for her husband’s funeral!  A woman of her age should watch such things!”

It felt like something lodged inside my throat.  Was it words?  Or a hair-thin bone from a sardine sandwich from my breakfast?  Although I didn’t understand the situation completely, I knew it wasn’t something that left my brain untarnished.

Mother, by now, was smiling ear to ear.  “Hold up!  Which daughter?!  Oh, Lord!  Is it Oksanka?!”

Marinka shot another stare in my direction.  You’ll break your eyes, I thought.  Oh man, I wanted to get out of there!  Blinking rapidly to remove the layer of forming tears — the shame!  alas, the shame of it all! — I fished out the next wrinkled potato from the iron basin at my feet and hurriedly scraped it with the dull knife.

“Well, Oksanka, mamotchka!  Of course!  She’s got that job at the City Hall, remember?”

“Well,” mom shook her head.  “WELL.  That little bitch!  She knows how to get around, I’ll give her that!”

I looked at Marinka, she — at me.  Mother bluntness was a common happening but even we were surprised at her bluntness.

“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” mother concluded.  Marinka chuckled, fear freezing her eyelids into an expression of panic.  The clock of her girlhood had stopped its final countdown.

(To Be Continued.)

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.)

Mother of Myth!

From what was told of my mother, back in the old country, there had never been — and considering that she would immigrate her fine ass to the U.S. of A. later on, in life — never again will be a beauty of equal proportions.  Now, okay!  I get it!  Being the first prototype of a woman I had been born to emulate, I was supposed to be in love with her.  (In certain years, though, my affection would seem to border on affection of lesbian proportions.  I adored my mother, wanted to be — not as much as like her — but with her.  A female version of the Oedipal complex.)

And, of course, considering the passageway that we, children, take in order to encounter this world — god bless it for being so bloody beautiful! — I knew my mother, from her very insides.  There is no stronger bond, they say.  But I must’ve studied up the woman’s inners pretty well; because my own tiny fist would carry on clasping the genetic bouquet — of her generosities and neuroses alike — from the time it was the size of a shriveled potato and until the future days of my own aged self, when my fist would shrivel up again.

While taking residence under my mother’s lungs, I swore I felt her heart’s rhythm go berserk when she discovered a letter from her in-laws about what they had really, REALLY thought of her:  “A girl so dark and pigheaded!  What is she, anyway:  Some gypsy’s bastard?”  According to the myth, that letter included a few racial slurs at my expense, too.  (Way to go, pops’ peeps!)  So, mother — lost her shit.

She always stood no more than five feet from the ground, but don’t be fooled by the compactness of her being:  Her rage had super-human powers!  Upon discovering the letter while doing her husband’s laundry, so blinded became her vision, so overwhelming the heartbeat, she had stormed out of the flat we’d been assigned by the Soviet Army headquarters; and she marched — on her now increasingly fattened from water retention ankles — back to her own parents’ house.  Fury on two points of contact with the Earth!  A few kilometers stretched between her marital base and the house of her girlhood, but this babe refused to hitch a ride from a parade of old Volgas catching up with her, along the route.

(Although six months pregnant, the woman was still a total babe.  And even more so, considering that now her breasts and hips had been gearing up for my arrival.  My mother’s assage was always worthy of anyone’s obsession:  Hence, my own Oedipal Complex.  But the two perfect hemispheres of her breasts I would not witness in real life again until, by then on the American continent, I would discover the new ideal of a woman:  in Playboy ads.

But then again, it’s not like Motha Russia was ever ill-equipped at building the female form.  Perhaps, the starchy diet of the natives was to blame for it — we threw potatoes into everything!  Then, slathered sour cream on top!  For centuries, the Russian broads were always famed for their bodywork.

For instance, how does that one poem go:  “She’ll stop a horse in full stride / Walk into a burning house”?  So, that dude knew a thing or two about them, Russian women.  And understandably, he sounded like a doomed man, nyet?)

“Hey, black-haired beauty!  You wanna ride?” the silly players rolled up behind my mother’s glorious hips that, underneath her nearly transparent house dress, swayed like a pair of brand new church bells.  Angelic stuff, I tell you!

They were the men about town in those days of the U.S. of S.R.  I mean, a man with a Volga!  What woman wouldn’t dream of one?!  But the danger of finding themselves decapitated by my mother’s fierce tongue — without the help of any anesthesia, because, in wrath, the woman rejected all her manners — made itself clear with the single sideways askance glance she granted them.  Medusa, had she been non-mythical, would find herself taking lessons from this sister!  To turn all men to stone!  To entertain some wicked fashion of wearing a snakes’ nest on her crown.  The message got transmitted to the players with no static, and they kept their rolling by.

Oh, how mother was determined!  (I’ve seen some mad women in my life.  But if the rage that boils my own blood at times is just a mere taste of what it’s like to be inside my mother’s being — I do pity the poor fools standing in her way!  Oh, do I ever pity them!)

Young mother watched the coffin of a Soviet bus roll past her, too.  That thing had zero to no chance of making it over the next ditch on the road anyway; and if my mother mounted it, she knew that she would have to simmer down when someone offered her a seat.  And that conflicted with her personal religion, which ruled:  Revenge was better served at scorching temperatures.  

So, mother kept on fuming.  She waved off the driver’s curious linger and kept on marching.  The Soviet coffin passed, and the exhaust fumes ventilated that clammy spot that, in the heat, forms where women’s thighs collide into each other.  My mother realized she had stormed out of the house while wearing no underwear.  What outrage — What scandal! — it would’ve been on any other day, but that one.

Now, mother’s family was never one to practice any organized religion.  They seemed to care for no church and for no party.  But hallelujah!  There was soul!  And the only thing that seemed to arouse my predecessors’ souls to erection — was myths.  Historical accidents of magic.  They swore by them:  Some cats in my family said they saw the ghosts of the old guys at those crucial points when a mortal needed a little guidance by the hand of god.  There was, for instance, one old cracker who claimed the spirit of his drowned baby sister awoke him from sleep and got him out of his house, just mere minutes before the black Chaikas of Stalin’s secret police parked outside his gate.  The women claimed that they would see their dead mothers, on first nights of their marital copulation; or during childbirth.  If I were to believe all that, I’d say I had been born into one of the most resilient clans whose offspring liked to fuck around with the supernatural.  Or, it could be that, after centuries of oppression, we all began to lose our marbles.  Collectively.

You call it what you will, but there it was:  contributing to my family’s survival and the unheard of strength of our women.  And now, it was carrying my mother — albeit commando — through the dusty, roadless suburbs of Eastern Motha Russia, on an Indian Summer’s eve.

“You see, the things that man makes me do?!” the chick was growling at me.

Or maybe, she was chanting at her absent-minded gods who had allowed for her suffering of being overshadowed by this other woman in her man’s life.  It’s bad enough that in three  months, she’d have to give over the spotlight to me, whoever the fuck I thought I was?!  (Back in the days, there was no ultrasound to assist Soviet women in their burdens of motherhood.  With my gender underdetermined, mom wasn’t sure if I would be born to worship her in my male form; or if she would find her greatest competitor, if I were born a girl.  My gender was up for grabs in the elders’ prayers, too.  The old women scrunched their constipated faces over glass jars of holy water.  The wise guys shrugged.  Apparently, with all those ghost stories, no spirit bothered to show up and shine the light on my future gender.  My mother, though, could truly care less; for motherhood was sort of “thrust upon her”.)  So, yes:  It was already bad enough that this fine broad was only around the corner from surrendering her currently unconditional, undivided reign.  To add to the damage, the suddenly obvious conservative culture of the natives reared its head, and this recently wedlock-ed woman realized that:  She would ALWAYS take secondary loving from her man.  That’s just the tragedy of women.  And in my own womanhood I’d learned:  No woman had the guts, nor the consciousness, nor the strength to beat her mother-in-law in a competition for the love of that one man-in-question.  No woman — but my mother.

So, what possibly could she be scheming in that moment?  Well, if I was getting the newsfeed from her heartbeat correctly:  My mom — was up to murder.

“You’re getting a what?!” I heard my grandfather’s voice as if I were submerged under a pool of bloody water.  Oh, wait.  I was.

My mother’s voice, in response, cut up the air like shards of hail.  She sounded cold.  Ice cold.  She wore that tone well:

“Abort.”  (Here is your first crash course in my native tongue:  Our words sound often like the very actions that they advertise.)

“You are NOT!  DOING!  Such a THING!”

Oh how, he roared, my grandfather!  According to the testimonies, the dude was as chill as the nerve-racked culture of centuries-old terror and rebellion could ever manage to produce.  The man was zen, by other-wordly standards!  He had been born and always lived by the Pacific Ocean; so perhaps, the frequency of tides had something to do with his temperament.  Some ancient astrology shit, or something.  Or maybe, it was that soul-thing of the fam again.  But never-ever in his life, had he been witnessed to raise a hand — or let alone his voice! — at anything or anybody living.

“Are you?!  Completely out?!  Of your silly little mind, WOMAN?!”  In that particular instance, his daughter stopped being his child.  In a primal standoff, she was no daughter of his.  No daddy’s little girl.  Neither was she the treasured firstborn of her reproductively challenged (or, some would say “cursed”) parents.  “The little sun of the Earth.”  “The baby-rabbit.”  “The navel of the planet.”  At her renouncement of me, my mother suddenly became a rep of that insane and crafty race, called Female.  And in his very first and very only act of violence, the sinewy arms of the old man had lifted up my mother — and by extension me — and not so gently threw us onto the nearest soft surface.  Mother and I went for a ride onto the faded couch from which my grandfather usually listened to the radio — or watched his knitting wife, while she cooed to him stories from her day.  (C’mon!  It’s obvious:  The fam had witches long prior to my mother; and this old man was just another doomed fella, head over heels in love with his broad.  Go figure!)

“You wait!  Till your mom!  Gets back!”  The old man was now heaving above my petrified carrier.  “You stupid bitch!”

By no means was it a scene unseen in human history before:  A parent contemplating a murder of his offspring as if to spare the world the damage that same offspring could cause later.  “From my hand you were born — and from my hand you’ll die!” kinda shit.  But in the ancient culture whose every glory  came from great suffering (of which my Motha Russia’s got a shitload!), such stories of generational collision are plentiful.  You have Ivan the Terrible, for one!  The man had famous rage in him!  (See the above quoted threat he had been testified to throw at his son, before putting an end to that son’s life, albeit accidentally.  Or, so some say.

Over a woman, too:  The Terrible’s daughter-in-law.

Just sayin’:  Russian broads!)

(To Be Continued.)

“It’s in the reach of my arms / The span of my hips / The stride of my step / The curl of my lips…”

I had a dream last night:  of walking into a room full of beautiful women.

Some of them, I’ve known for years; a few of them for long enough to have forgotten their faces.  Some of the other faces could’ve belonged to my future, perhaps.

When I entered through the door with chipping white paint — a door that was more obedient to the pull of gravity than that of its rusty hinges — every woman looked up at me:  A stunning constellation of loving, familiar eyes sprawled before me; each pair of eyes — with its own story of similar pathos that have led us all to the common denominator of womanhood.

A tearful redhead sat at the teacher’s desk, up front.  I assumed she was leading the classroom.  Lines of poetry were written on a blackboard behind her.

“I’d seen her somewhere,” I thought in my sleep.

Perhaps, she borrowed her details from my Russian Lit. professor back in the old country.  That one was a tall, mighty blonde that might have stepped off the pages of Nekrasov’s poetry.  Or:  She could’ve been one of those pre-Napoleon aristocrats, attending a ball in St. Petersburg, while wrapped in the fur of a red fox and emeralds to accentuate her gorgeous green eyes.

Her name was Tatiana.  She had a middle name, of course; but in a radical fashion, she demanded we didn’t use it.

“By god, I’m only a few years older than you all!” she’d correct some brown noser testing the air, in class.

True, we were all quite young then, and typically confused.  But we had grounds for it though:  Our country was falling apart at the seams.

One morning, Tatiana walked into my first class of the day in a solemn mood.  Her magnificent hair of a Russian blond beauty was pulled back into a messy bun; and by her eyes, we could tell that she either hadn’t slept or had been crying all morning.  Or both.

It was common for Tatiana to bring up politics in class.  After all, she belonged to our generation:  of curious and passionate, and justifiably confused.  But that morning, she would remain silent, stunning all of us with the expectations of the worst.  And she would stare out of the window while burying her chin into the cream-colored crocheted shawl wrapped around her magnificent, mighty shoulders.

Inspired by a thought, every once in a while, she would look at us and inhale, as if grasping enough air to deliver the news.  Breathlessly, we watched her.

Caution:  Courage at work.  

But she would lose the train of thought, tear up again and bury her face in the shawl.  After the longest minutes of our assuming the worst, Tatiana left the classroom; and none of us would see her again.

But I would — in my last night’s dream, about walking into a room full of beautiful women.

There were a few from my college years:  Of various heritages, they were American-born, opinionated and seemingly fearless:  The tall one, with an Irish brogue, had been known to lead her life along a courageous path of rebelling against the confines of tradition. The quiet brunette, cradling her little girl in the corner — under a tent of her long East Indian hair — had been burdened with the most gentle of hearts I had ever loved.  And I had loved her the most — and oh, for so very long! And I had known the brown, graceful one with the pixie haircut very little back then.

A handful of others came along after my most innocent years of womanhood.

The one who stood up to applaud me had recently left for her homeland:  She had always been luminous and proud, in the way of an African queen.  She wore a heavy necklace when she left for her odyssey:  something borrowed from the neck of Nefertiti.  And she wore that again, in my dream.

The poetess who had guided me toward a path of quiet victory had borrowed a headdress from my favorite writer of Caribbean descent.  And she walked to the front of the room to introduce me.  

I struggled with the door for a moment, then pushed it with my hip. There is nothing in the world that won’t obey a woman’s hip!  On it, we bounce our children, or carry the weight of our unhappy burdens.  With it, we can dislodge any jam in our way; make a man lose his sleep over it, or find his rest — in its soft curvature.

“Well…  That’s been conquered,” I said to the women, once I turned around.  They laughed:  A sound that may have made me smile in my sleep.

While the laughter subsided, I studied the floor under my feet:

There was none.  Just dirt, covered with loose planks of wood; and as I made my way across them, the boards chomped and sank into the wetness.  I couldn’t tell where exactly we had gathered that day:  Which of our old countries had granted us refuge.  But this morning, I had slept in, for a change, missing the sound of my alarm clock and the call of my obligations. And I would have much rather remained dreaming.

But God Bless the Child That’s Got Her Own

“I want…  I want…  What is it that I want?” she was squeezing herself into the corner of a vintage, peach-colored chair that couldn’t have been a better throne to her feminine divinity.

She scanned her eyes across the tiny room she’d made her home, as if the answer were somewhere around there:  Was it under this tiny bed that she’d surrounded with her art and nature?  Or had it fallen out of these mismatching picture frames in various degrees of hanging on and leaning against the walls, as if Frida Kahlo herself had been living, working, pacing here?  Had she slipped it, by a forgetful accident, into the unfinished pack of cigarette on her windowsill — the only visible sign of her insomnia and self-destruction, committed in the name of the departed, then turned back into her art; her nature.

“I want to be adored!  Because I — I adore!”

This entire evening I had been watching this face — and all that hair — and her gentle grace; and I had been wondering:  Was I just like this, in my own youth?  Or did I possess more corners:  All anxiety about my self-sufficiency and my self-enough-ness?

I’ve arrived here from a harder history, you see.  For centuries, it had been unforgiving to our women’s youth and tenderness.  Back where I came from, we worshiped our men, but only behind the closed doors of our bedrooms.  For the rest of the day, it was a nation filled with female fighters, women-survivors –hustlers — who assumed enemies in every living soul (especially other women, younger and more tender) and who are most content when standing in breadlines.

But by now, I had paid my dues around here.  I had suffered and survived the often ungraceful — and sometimes undignified — existence of an immigrant.  I had done my share of standing in different lines to get approved as worthy; only to rush myself back to the university library and learn at double the speed, just so that I could be more than that:  Just so I could be equal.  And I worked.  I worked hard, harder than most of my colleagues, American or foreign-born, like me.  And only behind the closed doors of my bedroom would I worship my men:  For the rest of the day, I was just an Amazon, refusing to let them in on any of my softness.

“I want to be adored,” she repeated, then looked in my direction.  Had I seen it laying around her artist’s quarters, by any chance:  This adoration that she deserved and was willing to return ten-fold?

“You know?” she asked, then didn’t wait for my answer and said, “You do know.”

My comrades and enemies had so far been unanimous at calling me out on my generosity.  In my motha’s fashion, I tend to grant it upfront, as if to back up my name with it.  My name:  Truth.  (Or Faith, depending on which language you speak, or whom you ask around here.)

But even that has altered a little bit with age and cynicism:  I am slightly more withdrawn these days; more careful.  Because I have yet to raise a child, so I cannot give it all away.  And because I myself haven’t finished dreaming yet, so I need my strength.  Because these days, if a lover’s departure must be easy at all, it is only if I hadn’t lost myself in him.  So, I take my time now.  I only meet my people half-way.  And I wait:  I wait to see if I am — to them — indeed, the adored one, too.  

Some souls though!  They still know how to draw it out of me:  this uncensored generosity, this kindness that hangs in the back of my first name, like the middle initial “V” by which I had been called for most of my life (in all languages).  And she — the soul resembling the past child in me and the future one, at the same time — had been like this from the first embrace she’d once decided to grant me.  Never once had I caught myself wondering if I was going out too far on the limb, for her sake.  Because I knew that her need — was not all consuming; that I wouldn’t lose myself in it (even though, I’d much rather, at times).  And in her case, my generosity felt returned ten-fold:  The more I gave, the more it replenished me.

So, despite the exhaustion (that this late at night begins to feel like defeat), I had shown up to her home.  Other women had come and gone already.  I could tell by the variety of the pink shades of lipstick they had left of champagne glasses.  A couple were in the midst of departing as soon as I arrived:

“Here!  You look like you need a lot of space,” they seemed to be saying while peeling on their coats, and sweater, and ponchos, and shawls.

And I did.  I did need (even though I had come here only to give).  I immediately dominated her bed.  I took over her library, dreaming of the day I could find my own name leaning on it, sideways.  And after the last woman departed, I took over the kitchen too:  Putting away the disorder, just so in the morning, she would find a clean slate.

She chirped behind me — my darling sparrow! — about whether on not to discard this aging chunk of cheese, or whether or not to dismiss this old lover.  Occasionally, I would look back — at that face and all that hair — and wonder:  Was I just like this, in my own youth?

But then, suddenly, I blurted out:

“Did the other women bring you food?”  My words came out commanding and little bit too loud.  She got silent.  I landed:

“Oh my!  So sorry!  I’m so sorry!”  Wiping my hands on the towel with force, like all the women in my family do, I gushed:  “I sound like my motha.  I’m so sorry!”

But her face showed no evidence of having been undermined or offended.

Instead, she rather seemed tickled by this hard softness of mine — an underbelly she must’ve suspected long ago (or why else would she decide to grant me her embrace?).  She was in the midst of being adored — by me — and she knew it.  She adored it.

And I, suddenly finding myself standing out on a limb, didn’t mind this incomparable generosity of mine:  Because it was already replenishing me, ten-fold.

My Russian Badass

As any immigrant, I suffer from a dual personality.  Actually, I’m a bit of a special head case and the list of my personalities seems as endless as the line to Moscow’s first McD’s back on the verge of Russia’s democratic regime; but if you’re one of those purebred Americans (do those even exist?), you should know that in the head of any emigre reigns a border-line schizophrenia.  I’m kinda like that Nina chick from Chekhov’s Seagull:

“I’m a seagull — I’m an actress.  No, I’m a seagull!  Nyet:  an actress!”

In my head’s case, the endless tug o’ war is on the topic of my identity.  When it comes to the tales of V as a child — she is a Russian little bugger; and those memories and dreams happen in a whole different language.  But as a woman, I’ve built my history here, in the U.S. of A.  My first love, my first sexual partner, the first heartbreak, the first loss of a loved one — all happened here.  So, when it comes to my consciousness as a lover, I doth speak English.  In other words, when things get hot ‘n‘ heavy between me and my boos, my tongue communicates in the language I’ve adopted by choice.

So, the hardest question from an American that I can ever answer (besides:  “Do you guys have TV’s over there?”) is this MoFo:

“Which country do you prefer?”

Fuck me!  That’s the hardest toss-up ever.

There is no pride stronger — or devotion more realized — than the one an immigrant feels toward his or her chosen country; especially if the country they’ve left behind gave them some tough lovin’ back in the day.  Some of my fellow ex-patriots, for instance, react to Motha’ Russia’s name with dry heaves:  So impossible is their forgiveness! But seemingly, I’ve finally reached the very delicate balance of being able to not only fully participate in my American life, but to cash-in on my Russian-ness.  By that I mean that, for the very first time since I’ve switched continents, I am able to speak of Russia with forgiveness and admiration.  Now, I am not blind to the irony that out of all the choices of my potential homelands, I had to go choose the largest mother fucker after Motha’ Russia; so that I could continue my gypsy bounce without having to switch visas.  Also, I don’t need the help of my shrink to point out the element of rebellion in the Soviet child’s selection of the country her father spent his entire life opposing.  (Papa was a Soviet Army officer.  ‘Nough said.)

When I encounter my fellow Russians on this fast American land of mine, I gotta say:  They are kinda badass! I now reside in a close proximity to the Soviet Emigre Central, otherwise known as West Hollywood — still the most liberal ‘hood you can find yourself in LA-LA Land, in my opinion.  So, I tend to run into a few of my former country’s comrades.  Yes, I’ve seen the type of the middle-aged, purple-haired woman who looks at you as if premeditating ways she can kill you.  I’ve passed the line-ups of male retirees playing dominos on park benches — all unanimously wearing tracksuits — while they maintain their stoic silence despite the shortness of my dress.  In Hollywood clubs, I’ve picked-out the cluster of young Russian males, in black leather jackets, telegraphing their attraction to me with no more than an eyebrow raise.  But those types are usually guarding a handful of decked-out, made-up, pretty and very expensive Russian girls with demands of such high maintenance, you’d think they’ve never lived through deficits of toilet paper or winter-long power and water outages.  (See my rant about dem Russian girls:  https://fromrussianwithlove.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/from-russia-with-love-very-very-expensive-love.  So, yep:  I usually stay away from those.)

Recently, I’ve even encountered a couple of Russian business types.  By “business,” I don’t mean they handle those jobs that a real-life Tony Soprano would be helpless to do himself.  Here, I am actually speaking of Russians who are in pursuit of some honest livin‘ — and some American dollars.  (Although, if a Russian “businessman” ever threatens to kill you — I recommend to just take his word for it:  It’s just safer that way.)

From this year’s encounters, I began to wonder about the source of my pride I feel toward the better-equipped, better-integrated generation of Russian movers ‘n’ shakers in the midst of their American professional careers.  First of — and most importantly! — these types are always well-educated.  Even if most of their college life unfolded in this country, my dear ex-patriots maintain a very high standard of learning.  There is no such thing in Russia’s educational system as “an elective subject,” you see, my comrades:  You bust yo’ ass and pretend to enjoy soaking-up every science, every art and every humanity.  So, it’s been my experience, that usually, my peeps know what they’re talking about.  The second reason for my pride for my fellow ex-patriots has been better articulated by the previously mentioned Boss Soprano:

“You Russians, you got all the angles.  You come over here, you bust your ass.”  He did manage to get himself some Russian ass at the end of this pep talk, but still:  Russian emigres are some of the hardest working people I know.

And then:  there is the cultural heritage.  I’m not just talking about the again mandatory exposure to the richness of Motha’ Russia’s arts.  I mean:  The national strength that originates from one’s ability to bear and persevere. As we all know, Motha’ Russia has got herself a long and tumultuous history.  Oh how inventive She’s been in the ways to make her children suffer!  Famine, political unrest, centuries of oppression and dictatorships; wars and invasions; inflations and poverty; exile and holocaust — She’s got it all!  (She sounds like a lovely place to visit, doesn’t She?!)  And still, the people of my old country refuse to settle down.  No matter the forever-looming danger of persecution, they insist on practicing their right to an opinion and the pursuit of change. (Here is a tale of one recent Russian whistle-blower:  http://soviet-awards.com/digest/pavlichenko/pavlichenko1.htm.  And I thought, my blog was controversial!)

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” the bard once sang.  Considering the length of those damn Russian winters, the unrest of my former people seems never endless.  But just as my own Russian motha’ prefers to love me from afar, something tells me it is better to practice my affection for my former land from a distance as well.  And still, whether they choose to suffer back home or excel in their pursuits on the American land, I have to hand it to my Russian comrades:  May your stubborn courage and high expectations of your Motha’ country finally deliver a summer of rest and prosperity.