Tag Archives: tragedy

Offbeat

 (Continued from August 5th, 2012.)

For several generations, Galina was the boogeywoman of the town!  Myths about her bodily disfigurements had been roaming the village for decades.  One couldn’t find a single bench or kitchen sink in the place by which the poor cripple was not discussed (“rinsing the bones,” the Russian women called it).

Young misbehaving children were threatened into obedience by the mere mention of Galina’s arrival at nighttime; and all the homely girls summoned their gratitude for not having it in the worst of ways, whenever cousin’s name was mentioned at the summer dances in the open air.  (Bound to a cane from a young age, Galina wasn’t a visitor of such events.  But her name, turned synonymous with her life’s tragedy, was there — along with her bones — “to be rinsed”.)

In the days of summer, murders of children hid behind the fence of Galina’s garden every morning, to get a peek of her washing routine by the outside basin:

“Is it true she doesn’t have any hair underneath that scarf?” the rascals challenged each other.

“I hear her feet are just charred stumps.  I dare you to look!”

They would come from the cities, along with their cultured parents, to visit their grandfolks for the summer; and in a way that most fairytales originated from Russia’s countrysides, thusly did Galina become an unbelievable rarity unseen elsewhere.  A freak.

But when the cuz walked through the dusty roads or windy paths along the green hills, the other townspeople let her be.  When she scratched at the snowed-in gates, every household welcomed her in.  Because isn’t it a quality innately human to, even if secretly, be drawn to the tales of others’ accidents with fortune?  Galina always arrived bearing the news of the worst; and no matter one’s altruistic intentions, the relief of knowing presented itself in the darkest corners of one’s conscience:  “At least, bad luck wasn’t happening — to me!”  And into most companies of the village gabbers and gossipers, Galina was admitted, too.  Like a debilitating snowstorm that strikes a town with chaos but also an eventual promise of a good harvest, the old cripple was accepted with a certain surrender, with which most Russians honed their spirits.  For no easy habit it was to live through Russia’s troubles!  One often chose to float along and to not fight back one’s destiny.

It was in the summer of my twelfth year that I became particularly interested in the history of Galina’s womanhood.  Truth be told, I sympathized with the cuz, watching her eat with her fingers at my grandparents’ dinner table because most utensil were too cumbersome for her misshapen mouth.  Earlier that school year, most of my girl classmates had gotten their periods, and they began to skip morning gym classes.  Instead, they sat them out on benches, with mysteriously bashful expressions on their faces; and no one — not even the Afghan veteran Timofeitch, who’d been teaching us for the past two years — could say a word to them.  I, in the mean time, was still bound to my flat-chested, thinner-then-a-broom physique, with no growing pains in my breasts to prevent me from relay competitions.

“Oh, but at least you have very pretty eyes!” mother offered me her lame consolation, when after our fifth grade dance I came home in tears.  Despite the Korean-made dress of hideous neon-green, in which mother had decked me out that afternoon, I spent the entire gathering leaning against the wall; and watching Alyoshka — the dreamiest creature in my class — take turns dancing with any girl who had boobs.

What was it like to be pretty, I was dying to know; and when would my turn finally come?  Mother claimed it was a curse even more brutal than being unmemorable, as other boys, I was certain, found me to be.  “Beauty comes with a responsibility,” the woman claimed, lowering her gorgeous Georgian eyes underneath the bushy eyebrow.  “Oh, Lord help us all, poor women folk:  The responsibility!”

Surely, cousin Galina had lived through my suffering!  She must’ve understood it!  But the very idea of having a heart-to-heart with the complaining relative sent me into a state of anxious shyness.  I suspected she would avoid the topic altogether, and instead try to pond off information about the terrible luck in store for some other unfortunate adult.  And just like the smells of her flesh, I found her gossip oppressive.

“So, grandma?” I started up one evening, while helping grandma Irina transfer a woolen thread from a spool into a yarn ball.  The winters were unforgiving in the Urals, with snowfalls of at least a meter deep; and as the harvest season was winding down, grandma Irina busied herself with supplying her entire family — from the distant relatives in Siberia and to her best friend in the Ukraine — with woolen sock.  The tips of the spool rotated against my fingertips, leaving them slightly raw with early blisters.  So, I’d switch them out periodically:  The pain was nothing in comparison to my desire to dig up some information on the cuz.

“How come babushka Galina had never been married?”

Grandma Irina knitted her brow but didn’t stop masterfully looping the thread around the yarn ball.  Her fingers moved quickly.  The yarn looked like a blurry trail.  “She isn’t your babushka,” she corrected me.  “Now hold the spool evenly!  Level out the left side!”

It was obvious:  The topic, alas, would have come to a halt — if grandpa Sergei hadn’t stepped in.

“Oh, but as the Lord himself had witnessed:  She promised herself to so many men, none wanted her after they were done!”

“Seryozha!”  Grandma scolded, shooting me a look of pure horror.  “The child’s too young to know such things!”

But grandpop was already on a roll:  “Oh yes!  In her time, Galina was the biggest floozy this town has ever seen!”  He smirked:  The Sunday banya with his drinking comrades had loosened up his demeanor and tongue.   “Not a single skirt has been able to live up to cuz’s reputation since!”

(To Be Continued.)

“I Was in the House — When the House Burned Down.”

Trembling.  Waiting for clearer thoughts to come in.

Here comes one:

“How is it that I’m shivering in a 110-degree heat?”

That’ll do, for now.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently.

Standing on a street that to a bystander’s eye would appear idillic and “homey”, she wonders about the horrors that could be happening behind the closed doors of these same “homey” homes, with pretty white doors:  the quiet, muffled horrors of domestic violence.

“Beware — of pretty,” another thought comes in.

There is a reason why she has always loathed the sight of the white picket fence:  They reek of false advertisement and broken promises — of broken hearts.  And the heart that break due to the broken promise — takes longer to heal. She is now cradling her heart, in her heaving chest; but it would take her years to learn just how long the healing would take.

Her thinking is fragmented.  If only she could get a grip on this shivering:  If only she could catch her breath.  But the body takes its time.

There is a violence that lives in every body:  A violence that strikes at another — or at itself.  It always comes from the darkest corners of one’s soul and it prefers no audience.  But those whom we love the most often fall victim to it.

So, she is catching herself wonder about the suffering that others endure when love betrays its goodness.  It is much better to be thinking of others, in moments of extreme pain.  Because the end to her own pain — she cannot possibly see from here:  In the “homey” neighborhood that has broken its promise to her and found her homeless, in 110-degree heat.

Besides, the suffering of others should remind her that someone is always having it worse.

“How can it possibly be worse?!” another thought flings itself inside her throbbing head.

The chest is heaving.  The heart is beating fast:  It is not broken yet.

“Do people die — of broken hearts?” she thinks and sits down on the curb to catch her breath.  Is that what happens — in heart attacks?

A Heart:  Attacked.  That would be the name of her cause, if she were to stop breathing right now.

She stares at her feet.  The pedicure on her toes is of her own manufacturing.  She’s had a hand in that.  The chosen color is pink:  They have just passed Easter, on the calendar.  The pair of shoes, that she’s had very little time to peel on before leaping out of the house, are multicolored:  Each strap bears a neon shade.  When she first laid her eyes on them, on a shelf at Payless, she thought.

“When in the world would I wear those?!”

Now.  She is wearing them now.  And in a juxtaposition with her black tank top and blue bicycle shorts, they fail to make any sense at all.  She chuckles to herself:  Yes, she actually chuckles — while shivering — because she is thinking that she must look like a burnt house victim, right now.

And isn’t that what happened, anyway:  Her “homey” home has burnt down on its promise?  It has collapsed on itself, and no matter its false appearance from the outside, behind those pretty white doors and the white picket fence — one can only find ruins.

She shivers and looks over her shoulder at the sight of the house:

The perfectly groomed, neon green lawn — FAKE!

The deceivingly white and pink exterior — FALSE!

The beautiful rotunda window of its office space — LIARS!

A distorted face of a man has been watching her through that window.  She has just realized that.  He is puffy and unshaven, bewildered behind his thick-rimmed glasses.  His mouth begins opening once he notices her looking back.  He is that bug-eyed bottom-feeding fish that outlives the smaller bastards in a shared tank.  The existence of his type is necessary, in nature.  She knows that.  Symbi-fuckin’-osis!  But again, it would years before she sees his purpose in her life.

“GET THE FUCK OUT!” she can lipread on his gaping, bottom-feeding mouth.

“I hope I took my glasses with me,” another thought happens.

That’s when she realizes she’s actually not seeing the man:  She is remembering him, at this very moment.  The brain is taking in the memories:  The bits that it will then try so very hard to forget.

The shivering hasn’t subsided, but it has transformed into an all-over warmth that happens to the survivors of car wrecks.  This is:

The Body:  Coping.

That is the name of her current disease.

No, she wouldn’t die of A Heart:  Attacked.  Not on this day.  Her body has chosen to persevere, to survive the violence.

The shivering is violent.  The body is confronting brutality with its reserve of sudden energy.

This is what it takes — to survive:  To outlive the broken heart.

She wants to go to sleep but then realizes that it’ll be a while; for she has just leapt out of a burning home:  a “homey” home. The thought of anything too far ahead refuses to happen; and strangely calm, she is grateful for that. She thinks no more than five minutes ahead.

Not feeling her own body, she picks herself up off the curb and reaches for the giant black bag packed in the middle of the night.

And:  She.  Starts.  Walking.

It should be hard, in theory, to not know where she’s going.  She’s got no home.  She knows no shelter.

But she is only thinking of one step at a time — and only five minutes ahead.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently! — when you survive.

She’s chosen to survive.  It would begin when she starts walking.

Away.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

“I don’t see how your outlook can be helpful,” a lovely creature was texting me last night.

And I could do nothing better than to talk to her, but I was en route home — back to my sanctuary; a tired, little girl running away from the Big Bad Wolf — because I had my weekly long-distance call to make:  to Motha Russia!

For over a year now, I’ve made this call, every weekend:  To my old man.  I say “old”, because I assume he is such, my comrades.  But truth be told, I haven’t seen my father in nearly fifteen years.  Yes:  As others’, my family has had many tragedies; but this is the one — he and I have shared.

History does that It makes peg pieces out of people, moving them all around the world or taking them off the board entirely, as if a part of some sick master plan carried out by a player smarter than the rest.  A sly genius with a brutal vision.

I often wonder about my father’s memory — of his time and the way history presented itself to him, so obviously unkindly.  Although we’ve both lost our country to a collapsed ideology, followed by chaos, then a slew of changed regimes and a massive emigration (to which I ended up belonging), my old man’s lot had to be heavier to the millionth degree:  Because besides losing a county he’d spent four decades serving, he was losing his only child.

History does that.

Back then, in a reckless way to which most young are prone, I departed from Motha Russia with a courageous commitment to never look back.  And I didn’t.  Instead, I strained my eyes at the new horizon:  I had my whole life in front of me, my comrades, based in a whole new country; and however tumultuous or exciting — it was mine!  It was all about ME:  I was building this thing!  I was the one in charge!  It would take me a decade to build that life, while becoming the person my father had wanted me to be (but would not get to witness, still).  It would take a decade of hardships typical for any adulthood to eventually begin empathizing with my father’s lot.  But not until my own consideration of motherhood would I decide to reconnect with him.

In that first phone call over a year ago, my old man was so silent, I continued to question our phone connection.  Fuckin’ Russia!

“P:  Are you there?!” I kept repeating.

“Yes, yes, yes…  Forgive me.  Forgive me.”

And then, we’d go back to silence.

I realized:  Silence — was the sound of my old man’s crying.  An Alpha to the core, he had never cried in front of me, but once:  On the day of my departure.  So, words would fail us that day.  So would the connection, several times:  Fuckin’ Russia! 

But in between the silence, and my committed redialing of the operator, my old man would continue to say:

“Forgive me.  Forgive me.”

As if it were all his fault, the way life had played us.  As if the loss of connection — throughout our lives and that evening — were his responsibility to bear; because he was the adult, after all.  But what he didn’t know was that I too had learned the burdens of adulthood, which I was by now willing to share.  As far as I could see, between us:  Forgiveness was unnecessary.  Love — was.

So, it’s not that my last night’s chat with the lovely creature was unappreciated:  I have adored her for years.  But as we had witnessed each other’s recent love affairs go to shit due to the lapses of our men’s courage, our endless pontifications on their reasons, and feelings, and intensions — blah, blah, fuckin’ blah! — were beginning to feel gratuitous.  Why were we giving these guys so much benefit of the doubt?  Why were we wasting our loves on men who didn’t even want it?

So, I wrapped it up, perhaps clumsily and rushed (because last night, I was a tired, little girl, running away from the Big Bad Wolf):

“A person in love will do everything possible to be with his beloved.  My guy — was NOT in love with me.”

To my lovely, my conclusion had to seem brutal.

“I don’t see how your outlook can be helpful,” she said.

I dared to forget that she too was suffering.  Forgive me.  Forgive me.  So, I attempted to decoy the whole thing with a self-deprecating joke:

“I’m Russian:  I’m used to tough love.”

The joke didn’t work.  I lost her.

But this morning, post the conversation with my old man, I have to reconsider the pattern of my rushed departures:  If I am not loved — I leave.  I burn bridges.  Seemingly recklessly, I impose change with my departures — onto the lives of others and myself — and cope with the consequences later.  But what I don’t do — is wait around for a man’s change of heart.  

My lovely of last night was not the first to accuse me of brutality of my choices.  I’m tough, she says;  “so strong!”  But to me, love — is a matter of black-and-white, really:  It is a privilege that cannot be wasted.

Too hard was my lesson with my old man, my comrades:  No matter the turmoil of history or life, you do NOT take your beloveds for granted.  Because there is way too much unpredictability in life.  Too much chaos and pain.  And to forsaken a love — is a choice I can no longer afford.

Thankfully, my old man was on the same page last night:

“Run:  He is not in love you,” he said.  “Run — for your life!”

And so, I did:  A tired, little girl running away from the Big Bad Wolf.

Yesterday… All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away…

Glorious morning to you, my most beautiful creatures.  You hearts beloved by me or someone else, but still:  beloved!  My exploring Doras and Little Princes, who sooner or later have had to grow-up — fall out of love with roses and sheep — but oh how I pray have never grown out of your childlike curiosity.  “You princes of Maine… you kings of New England.”  You bohemians and gypsies whose eyesight has been humbled by the size of the world, but whose souls expanded across the universe.  You decent beings, with daily acts of courageous living:

How I wish for your world to be ever-so kind!  How stubbornly I hope that there is enough love in your lives to give space to your mournings and strife — and to resurrect and heal you at the end, every single time!  As trials and tribulations of humanity affect you via headlines or, more directly, via personal tragedies, I know your souls can summon the grace you didn’t know you possessed — and your hearts can prove to be resilient.  There shall be more forgiveness, if you want it — I promise.  And there shall always be more love!

This morning, I woke up thinking of my goddaughter.  Three time zones away from my spoiling hand (and wallet), she is quickly growing-up on the opposite coast, where over a decade ago, I chose to grow-up myself.  There, at my college, is where I met her mother — my best friend.  My total BFF!  My “dudette” and confidant.  The Sister of My Heart.  The woman of unbeatable grace, and of spirituality so disciplined, I have yet to find someone to measure up to it.  It is her love — and the love of her family — that has replaced this gypsy’s lack of homeland or home.  Seemingly forever — or for as long as my ever lasts on this planet — I shall continue coming back to that love, after every insignificant defeat; and every single of my tiny victories, I shall stubbornly dedicate to her.

Ten years ago, we were inseparable.  Oh how many endless, pontificating walks we taken back then, along the campus of our all-women’s college!  (Yep, I was of those naive feminists back then; and thank Shiva, I haven’t grown out of it!)  And oh how many human emotions we thought we could deconstruct to a complete understanding, while en route to pick-up some Chinese food!  The stories we’ve collected and retold, one brown mouth to another’s brown ear (or pen to paper and fingertips to a key board) — they are infinite!  In a group of fellow writers and nerds, we dominated the office of the college newspaper, staying up past enough sunrises that even the campus security gave-up on hoarding us back to our dorms.  (Oh, we were official!  The Midnight Moths, they called us.  And we demanded to be reckoned with!)

When the academic year of 2001 began, my schedule was overloaded with journalism classes while BFF was quickly becoming a computer wiz.  When the news of a plane crashing into a Manhattan building popped-up in the corner of my computer monitor taken up by a QuarkXpress tutorial, I shrugged it off as just another freak accident which any self-respecting New Yorker should be able to take in stride.  (And that’s exactly what I decided to be then:  A New Yorker –with internships and friendships in the City, and a quickly developing sense of style, identity and womanhood.)

But then — there came another hit…

In that room, chairs were shuffled in panic.  Somewhere, in the back, a classmate broke down.  Recently returned from California, I was wearing too summery of an outfit; and as further headlines floated up onto my computer screen, I fiddled with the belt of my wraparound skirt.  And then, there was the face of my teacher — the mentor to my aspiring journalism career — and that face was paralyzed by a lack of any comprehension or adult composure.  I think she was about to cry.  What was happening? 

No way, was I sticking around!  I was out!  The first to leave the classroom, not at all interested in the consequences, I went looking for my BFF.  If only I could find her, I thought, the world would not dare to fall apart on us.

I found her.  On a staircase where we’ve watched marathons of Will and Grace and Peter Jennnings during our Christmas decorating stunts.  I’m sure she’s seen me demonstrate some very embarrassing, sleep-deprived behaviors on those same stairs.  But that day, my girl just sat there.  Silent.  Stunned, I fiddled with my belt:  In our now decade-long friendship, that morning — would be the only time I would see her cry.  And her face!  It seemed I would never forgive the world for that face!  For not until that day — and not since — have I seen her resemble a little girl.

She is a mother now.  A mother to my goddaughter.  Always inseparable, even in this experience, my girl has granted me the privilege to live vicariously — with her.  And as I watch the face of her daughter (via BFF’s disciplined acts of photojournalism on Facebook), I wonder about the world that she is about to experience.

Thankfully, that kiddo is never easily entertained.  Perpetually, her face looks like that of a philosopher or a writer — and she makes this Russian mama ever so proud!  (I am pretty sure that if ever I am to experience my own motherhood, my child will turn out to be one of those goofy, grinning munchkins — just so that I myself learn to lighten up a bit.)  With my breath stolen by that little brown face, I am waiting for her to start talking.  What will she say?  How will she comprehend the world still filled with misery and misunderstanding which I haven’t been able to fix for her?  Where will I find the wisdom to teach her that despite the daily testaments to some terrible human behavior, she shouldn’t fear — but inherit the life of grace and love from her magnificent mother?  What will happen to us all?  How will I shield her?  How will I endure witnessing the loss of her innocence?…

Oh, hush a bye, my little darling heart!

For love has not expired.  It will never expire — if we choose.  I shall show you what your mama has taught me:  That no matter the acts of disappointing human behavior, love strives — still!  We may be no longer innocent, but hopefully ever-so wise; wise enough to know that love — is the universal homecoming for us all.

So, hush, my little darling.  Hush, my little darlings.  

Hush.