Tag Archives: self-love

The Other Half

(Continued from July 1st, 2012.)

At the end of the summer, Marinka aimed to take entrance exams to the two top medical institutes in the city.  Mother offered to pull some strings:  The woman was never at a lack of connects.  But I’ve gotta give it to sis!  She was determined to get in on the basis of her merit alone.  (In those days, the idealism of the Russian youth tended to have a longer expiration date.  Skepticism stepped in much later, flooding anywhere where the Soviet control of information gave room.)

So, after half of June spent on cramming for her high school finals, Marinka hibernated for about week; then, immediately resumed her studies.  Mother wasn’t thrilled about it:

“Now, instead just one bookworm, I have two Oblomovas in the house!”

Those days, I began to wonder about what constituted a woman’s happiness.  Mother, whose only expression of joy was overly stretched, forced —  a sort of a strained delirium — didn’t strike me as genuine, but something quite the opposite, nearing insanity.  She wasn’t happy in the way that Olya Morozova seemed, in her mother’s altered dress, on her own wedding day.  And any time I’d seen her since, blissfully pregnant or contemplatively picking tomatoes at a market on weekends, she looked like someone composing a complicated orchestral movement:  Lost in thoughts that she desired, never seeking approval (and why would she need it, with her moderate beauty, always basking in adoration?); content but not out of love or out of curiosity; fluid, available; kind.

For the first few weeks, mother struggled with the no longer vague signs of her oldest daughter’s ambition.  She sized up our bunk beds, branding us with the name of the biggest lazy ass in the whole of Russian literature:  Oblomov.  Other times, she tempted us with distractions:  a rerun of Santa Barbara or the news of other women’s misfortunes.  It would happen mostly in that late afternoon hour, when mother, having returned yet again from a day of hunting for discounts and gossip, was expected to be in the kitchen.  And we were expected to assist, simply because we were daughters.  And therefore born female.  And therefore, we had no choice.  (But one always had a choice, even in the country that didn’t advertise freedom.  We could choose the other way:  the way outside of the expected, of the presumed.)

In response to the call for confrontation, I listened to my sis remain motionless above my head.  It gave me the courage to stay sprawled out on my stomach as well, despite the signs of mother’s fuming in the doorway.  The smell of her perfume lurked more oppressively than her silence.  The anxiety of always, somehow, being perpetually wrong — inappropriate, incorrect — stirred in my chest.  What was to happen?

Mother exhaled audibly, turned on her heels and stormed out of our room, making a ruckus with the bamboo curtains in the doorway.  I held my breath, just in case of her abrupt return; until a few moments later, the kitchen appliances began tuning into an orchestra of percussions.  I suppose a light touch does not belong to every woman; and our mother exorcised her frustrations via the objects that reminded her of domesticity.

I slathered up the ladder to Marinka’s bed and rested my chin on the last plank:

Sis looked up:  “Hey, monkey.”  She stopped chewing on her pencil for long enough to smile faintly, as if to herself.  There was that mystery, again; the place of thoughts where women departed — to create, to process, to understand; or maybe rather to mourn, or to escape.

“Oooh,” I bulged out my eyes in the best dramatic delivery I’d inherited from mom, hissing:  “Mom’s pee-ssed!”

Marinka smirked — inhaled — and resumed making a meal out of her pencil again.  The two females had been in a bickering war this entire summer.  Still, sis would not speak unkindly of our mother, at least not to me.  To be the last to abandon her graces was my sister’s route to growing up.  Descending into silence, she never gossiped in return these days, only listened whenever mother couldn’t hold it in.

Sis was curled up in the corner or plastered against the wall.  She looked dewy and flushed.  Her eyes shined with the symptoms of the cooped-up syndrome.  She appeared sleepy and slightly dazed.  Colorful drawings of human insides, notebooks, flashcards, a pile of reference encyclopedias borrowed from the library, a tipi of stacked colored pencils were spread on top of the purple blanket we’d inherited from our grandmother in Siberia.  The old woman had died having accumulated nothing.

I watched Marinka’s plump lips mouth off unpronounceable terms.  Mean smart! Ignoring my adoration (which was always too nosy or too hyper anyway), she leaned forward to flip a page; and, as she sometimes did in obedience to the flood of her kindness, grazed the top of my head with her sharp nails.

In those moments, oh, how I missed her already!

 

Some afternoons, when the heat became so unbearable not even the open windows offered much relief, we agreed to leave the house for the river bank.  Half the town would have had the same idea by then.  Mother grumbled about how we had wasted half a day on our shenanigans; yet, from the way she readied herself — nosily, running in her bra between the closets and the bathroom I wondered if she relished arriving to a packed beach.  Giant straw hats with floppy edges were matched to colorful cotton sarafans with wide skirts that blew up at all the wrong times.  There was a weightiness to most of mother’s possessions.

I was ordered to carry our picnic basket.  Marinka was loaded up with blankets, towels and old linen sheets.  We treaded ahead, while mother joined and laughed with various families, also en route to the river.

As predicted, everyone and their mother was out catching a break from the afternoon sun.  The tilted bank was dressed with a smog of accumulated heat.  For days, it hadn’t let up.  Sheets and towels were splattered on top of yellowing grass, and families in various states of undress moved around sluggishly.  Seemingly every kid in town, with the exception of the Slow Vanya who was home-schooled all of his life, was now squealing and splashing in the water.

As soon as we reached the top of the hill, an abrasive smell of fresh cow dung greeted us when the barely palpable breeze blew in our direction:

“Oh.  We’ve missed the collective bath!” Marinka said under her breath.  She was becoming funnier, too.

En route to and from their feeding ground, the farm cows were led into the river daily, to cool down and to get a break from the murders of flies.   They must’ve just left.

Without getting up, the mothers were already hollering their instructions to the frenetic children again:

“Be careful, Irotchka!”

“Sasha!  Don’t manhandle your sister!”

“What did I tell you about swimming that far?!  MASHA!”

There were some fathers who got into the water on occasion, but they immediately got flocked by their own and other people’s children with runny noses and, for whatever reason, fatherless, for that day.

Our stuff hadn’t hit the ground, yet I was already squirming out of my clothes and hauling ass toward the water.  Marinka dropped her load and scurried off after me, still in her jeans skirt with rhinestones on her pockets.

“Marina!  Please watch where she goes!” mother, already slathering herself with sunflower oil in a company of her girlfriends, barely took notice of the fact that my beautiful, olive-skinned sister shed a few shades and turned nearly pale with terror.

She stopped.  “Mama?  She’s fine!”

I too looked back.  Seemingly every hairy male appeared to have propped himself up on his elbows to get a better look at my sister’s behind.  Mother was already gone, having departed quickly from any parental awareness.  Marinka was expected to step in.

I slowed down and waited for my sister to catch up.

“If you’re lonely, I don’t have to go in.”  Devotedly, I looked up at my sis.  She seemed so out of place here, somehow kinder than the rest!

“It’s fine, my monkey,” she reached for my hand and looked ahead, at the glistening water at the other edge of the river, and the field of sunflowers there; or possibly further beyond all that, maybe somewhere where her life was going to begin.

“I’ve Been Tryin’ to Get Down — to the Heart of the Matter”

“Obscurely disappointed, as we sometimes are when the things we profess to dislike don’t happen, she looked up abruptly and smiled at him.” 

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

 

Closure.  What a strange, difficult little thing it is!  It takes a lot of sitting around.  It asks for a lot of forgiveness.  It eats patience for breakfast, drinks up solitude at night.  But mainly:  It takes a lot of sitting around.

Just as I am doing right now, while wearing a man’s dress shirt that once belonged to a man to whom I once belonged.  The day is promising to be loaded, with sunshine and work, and the laughter of friends whose love for me has been tested by time and loss, and by perseverance.  The weekend is slow to start; but I am learning to make a daily habit out of it — forgiveness! — like brushing my teeth, then yellowing them with hard coffee, straight up.  So, I’m willing to sit here — alone, for as long as it takes — until the daily dose of forgiveness finally enters into my bloodstream and gets absorbed by every rejuvenating cell in my body.  And then, surely, closure can’t be too far away from here!  Surely.

In this space — a vacuum of patience — I witness the little creatures of my habitual emotions.  While I sit still — alone, for as long as it takes — they scramble all over my spartan joint, and climb onto a sturdy axis of an abandoned vintage carousel, then disburse again; and they make a sport out of riding past me while making funny faces.  No one else has been making a use of this carousel for a while.  It’s been replaced by easier, more thrilling entertainment.  So, its worn-out horses and yawning lions and tamed dragons are no longer ridden by children with vivid imaginations.  Their paint is now chipped away by time and weather, not by the tiny fingers of little heros awaited by their worried mothers on land.  So scary, so powerful they used to be — these horses and lions and dragons — but now, they are merely complacent and fragile in their aging.  Disheartening.  The theme park attendant has dosed off in a glass cubicle of the carousel’s control panel:  Its old tune has been his lullaby for years.  Little does he know that this simple ride is now being conquered by the creatures of my habitual emotions.

And so I watch them pass:  these feelings that once used to seem so big.  Now, they’re just silly little hooligans, making a sport out of riding past me while making funny faces.

Here comes Anger:  a hotblooded little rascal with a dire need for a haircut of his sun-kissed, messy, surfer-boy curls.  He shoots me an askance glance of my future, impatient son, irritated by my habit for physical affection in public, yet who seeks it at night, in the midst of all the nightmares he’s inherited from his mother.  So many times, he has tempted me to follow him onto these rides, but somewhere halfway through, he gets serious and distracted again; and begins pulling away from my routine roughing caress of his head.  So now, I just sit still instead, for as long as it takes.

Denial was born a pretty girl.  A very pretty girl!  And as all very pretty girls, she’s gotten quickly spoilt and moody on me.  She has learned to get her way, never working harder at it than fluttering of her glorious eyelashes; but oh how disappointed gets her little face when I happen to not comply!  (I’m still the grown-up around here, after all; and I know what’s good for her!)  So, she gets mercurial on me, pulls away and pretends that to change a course of action — was her idea in the first place.  I don’t surrender to her mood swings.  I’ve learned not to.  And when she comes back around the next time and flutters those glorious eyelashes at me again, gently, I shoo her away — and I wave a pretend goodbye.

Here comes Fear, riding in on a mythical creature that even I, with my worship of myths, cannot identify.  Fear is an orphan.  Fear is messy.  Fear adores chaos.  I used to have a lover who reminded me of him:  Very charming to make-up for the giant chip on his shoulder, he could juggle his manipulations in his sleep.  And it was hard to fall in love with someone like that, but even harder to fall out of it (because I always adopt my lovers no matter how much chaos they bring, on their move-in date).  So, as I watch Fear’s indifferent face pass me again and again, I wonder:

“What compassion must it take for you to finally settle down?  Or must you remain unattached and unpredictable; disarmingly charming when seeking shelter but brutally messy upon your every departure?”

Fear is an orphan.  Fear adores chaos.  But he ain’t welcome to come around here any more!

They all used to seem so big, these creatures of my habitual emotions.  But now, they’re just silly little hooligans, on this sad carousel with lullabies instead of jungles, who make a sport out of riding past me, while making funny faces.  They are sort of my children, natural and adopted; and I have always had plenty of love to give them.  But as all parents who get better with time, I too have learned the psychology of my children.  And although my love has never lost its unconditional clause — it has gotten a lot more patient.

So, as I sit here — alone, in the vacuum of my patience, for as long as it takes — I can already feel the calmness of forgiveness entering my bloodstream.  So then, surely, closure can’t be too far away from here.

Surely.

“Without Love — There is Nothing.”

Today, I woke up feeling quite melancholic.

“Well, duh?!  You bitch are Russian,” you just might say.  “Don’t you guys pass out with your head collapsed amidst empty shot glasses and wake up reciting Chekhov over a cup of oil-black coffee?”

Da.  So, that happens! 

But V is not V if she won’t analyze the shit out of a situation.  My pondering usually looks like this:  With my face hidden behind a curtain of frizzy gypsy hair and my forehead scrunched up to eventually give me a headache, I pace around with a very firm step I’ve inherited from my mother.  While doing so, I look down—and only down!—which has made my previous lovers wonder if:

1.  I was dangerously pissed off; and

2.  if I was about to hurt them. 

(Trust me, no self-respecting American wants an angry Russian on his hands:  It’s just not that therapeutic for the cock!)  In other words:  I look fucking intense and there ain’t nothing anyone can do to snap me out of it.  Men have tried and failed, painfully.  Embarrassingly.  Because the worst thing a person can do to me in that moment is torture me with interrogations on what may be wrong or what he can do to help me.  No one can do jack shit!  I am my own responsibility, like the only child that I am.  I am my only source of misery and I am the creator of my light.  As a fifteen-year old, I once made my father—a Soviet Army official and the biggest power player in our town at the time—weep and turn gray in front of my eyes when I told him that I would be leaving his country (not mine!) and he had one choice of action:  to support me unconditionally—but never financially!  So, what skill can a lovely American with a charmed life summon to cope with a stubborn, high-strung, survivor’s will of mine?  Nada.  Nothing.  Thank you very much:  but I got if from here!    

Back to reality.  It took me a few hours of Nina Simone surfing to find the reason for this morning’s broodiness of mine.  It eventually revealed itself a couple of nights ago, when a beloved suffered in my arms from a friend’s betrayal.  A generous soul, he had been unjustly attacked by a person in the grips of jealousy and self-loathing.

“Is that all there is?!” my beautiful boy wondered.  “Does it ever get easier?”

Oh, but it does my darling.  Oh how it does!  Because these relationships are mere lessons, and eventually—you fucking learn.  Some people carry on with their friendships, no matter how disappointing they’ve turned out to be.  Then, they couple up with a person and a shrink that annoys them the least—and proceed to bitch and moan about the failure of human nature in others, and to judge their friends behind their backs.  They still hang with the haters and the competitors, only to be disappointed again; and to bitch and moan; and bitch and moan; and bitch and moan.  That’s one approach (in which one must get a certain level of enjoyment from being miserable).

I personally dance to a different tune.  I stubbornly keep the high standards in every love of mine.  My friends are a group of meticulously selected, time-tested Mafia of ball-breakers and perfectionists; and I can count them on my two hands.  They are the bunch whose numbers I’ve tattooed into my memory for an extremely rare occasion when I might need help.  For those few, I shall book a red-eye to anywhere in the world and double over with pain for the length of the flight because they are my very limbs and heart.  Their names have been written into my will; because unless this gypsy steals a child to inherit her money—they are the masters of the Estate of V.  They are my family—because my life has granted me none!  They are my witnesses with the harshest verdicts (but not harsher than the ones I reach on my own) and an army of shadows that follows me through my chaotic existence.  But if I just happen to reach back to grab them—they metamorphose into a fucking armor. 

The rest—I call “acquaintances.”     

“A pretty grim outlook, Russian,” you might justly point out. 

Yep.  Life’s a cunt.  But here is its secret.  (Man!  I’ve gotta start chargin’ for this shit!  ‘s alright though:  I’ll just have to settle for my first book contract!):

A life is nothing without love.  Life summons as much of an impact as a kernel of sand in a sand storm:  The world may know of its existence—theoretically—but neither does the world care about or empathize with its journey, let alone its suffering.  The only way to matter—is to love.  To love your Self first—yes!—to love your Self enough to do the best you can.  But most importantly—to love another.  Because that Other is the ear and the eye and the skin that will remember your happening.  You will not be forsaken!  You will not die forgotten if you’ve had the presence of soul to shut up the bullshit of your ego and to surrender to changing your and at least another person’s make-up—by loving.

So, this gypsy is calm.  Because she’s got herself an army of shadows!  Her Mafia of Lovers that marches to the beat of her heart.  Because no matter the scar tissue all over my brown skin, I shall never—I pray!—look at an opportunity to love and wonder, “Why should I?” but nod, and reveal myself from behind the gypsy-hair curtain, and utter:  “Fuck yeah.”