Tag Archives: vagabond

“Freedom’s Just Another Word — for Nothing Left to Lose.”

“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us.  It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” 

Wallace Stegner, The American West as Living Space

“What if I walked away, right now, into these open spaces ahead?”

I wasn’t sure if every 19-year-old entertained such thoughts, but as I continued walking in the midday heat of a Southern California summer, I could see the journey clearly.  I could see myself:  A tiny figure whose outline was distorted by the heat rising from underneath the thin-soled Converse shoes, walking slowly but with certainty, fearless in the way of someone who had nothing to lose.

I had lost enough that year to not fear the possible pain of the unknown.  I had lost enough to have nothing holding me in place.  My college applications had been sent off late and only to a handful of unknown institutions with rolling admissions.  Considering it was the end of August, I had assumed I had failed to get in.

Two marriage proposals had happened that summer, by two different men, neither of whom even pretended to understand me much.  A month before, I had lost all of my cash, my car and my place of stay; and the absurdity of my pre-college summer was finished off — with a death.

As a matter of fact, it was the dead that was still keeping me in place.

She had died untimely, from a heart attack-ed.  I was called out of my Anatomy Lab to receive the message.  It was just a note, written on a pink slip that rarely meant good news.  The couple of times that I had witnessed it being delivered into my classmates’ hands, they wouldn’t return for the rest of the day.  Sometimes, they would be gone for weeks; and when they came back, I noticed the difference in their faces.  It looked either like gravity — or weightlessness.  I was about to find out which.

My messenger — an unknowing work-study student from the counselors’ office — ran out on me before I could ask him for any details.

“I have a note,” I told the receptionist in the counselors’ office, while rummaging in my schoolbag for my glasses.

“I know.  They are still on hold,” she answered.

The supervisor of the office loomed in the background, by the copy machine.  I saw his face, however blurry, and knew if I could see him any clearer, he would tell me of his sympathy.  My hands continued shaking, as they searched the bottom of my bag for an item I insisted on needing before picking up the phone.

The next few days had passed in a slow-mo waltz of minutes.  There would be phone calls and somber cards; a weeping husband on a flowery couch; a line of uninvited guests who would never be around whenever I was attacked by a slew of forms and interviews from funeral parlors.

“Whatever you need,” they promised to the weeping husband, as they too began to weep.

Nothing had prepared me for the questions that happened that week, from the people on the other end of the phone:

She was a donor, they said; and could they have my signature — to take her eyes?

Make a list of all the things, they told me:  things to be placed inside her coffin.  Did I know which she had treasured the most?

Choose the clothes she would be most comfortable in, they insisted:  Shouldn’t she be comfortable, wherever she was going?

And was I sure she wouldn’t prefer cremation instead?  (‘Cause that wouldn’t cost us as much, they would mention under their breath:  After all, they weren’t completely heartless.)

The weeping husband continued to assume I was strong enough to take his place.  No one had asked me if I was ready or willing, or knowledgeable of her last wishes.  Perhaps, I had promised more competence than the bulb-nosed man on the flowery couch, who nodded and moaned, accepted troughs of food from the still uninvited neighbors, with their solemn faces and anecdotes about the dead.

“Whatever you need,” they mumbled over his shoulder as they hugged and strained their own faces for emotions.

On the morning of the funeral, I remembered shivering.  They had wanted us to start early:  The first burial of the day.  And the morning would be so cold, and dewy.  The husband continued to weep in the front row of gray plastic chairs, while I accepted envelopes and hugs from people I hadn’t known.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you.  It means so much.

The following week, I had promised to come back and clean out her closet.  The task of deciphering the bus schedules and routes seemed absurd and painfully sad.  I would study the indifferent faces of the drivers as they spoke gibberish about my transfers, and vouchers, and student passes.

I would get off on the last stop and study the desolate grounds and the open spaces ahead.

“What if I walked away, right now,” I thought, “into the open spaces?”

What if I followed the trajectory of black telephone lines or began chasing tumbleweeds:

Where would I end up?  And would I end up free?

And would that freedom feel weightless, eventually returning my joy; my forgiveness?

“She’s So… (Insert Guitar) HEA-VAAAAAAAAY!”

Don’t dwell on the past.

In so many words, my comrades have been telling me that, for ages.

They wait for me at the agreed-upon intersections in San Francisco, at New York delis, or at coffee shops — when in LA-LA.  Some hear me speeding by, in search of parking, while simultaneously texting them:  “b there in a min.”  They watch me march into a joint, with my hair pulled back.  (Unless traveling long distances up the coast, with all the windows rolled down, I keep that mane tamed at all costs.)  I walk into my rendezvous, smiling at the clerks and saying hello to strangers; then, I scan the room for my beloveds.

I see them and immediately move in for a hug:

“It’s been so long.  So happy to see you.  Ah.”

I wrap myself with their bodies: I am not big on personal spaces between beloveds.

And when that’s all done, I start dumping my loads onto the nearby chairs, peeling off my purses and sweaters.  I’m the type of a broad who carries a first-aid kit at the bottom of her endless bag.  A nail file.  A pair of scissors.  A tampon (always!).  A dozen hairpins.  And a sewing kit:  Never know when you may need one.  And you bet your sweet ass, I have a notebook somewhere in there, as well.  I just have to look for it.

“Well, maybe I left it in the car.”

I don’t even own one of those dainty purses I see other girls carry on their forearms into clubs.  Those things always make me wonder about the gap between the purpose they’re meant to represent and their actual functionality.  It’s a metaphor gone awry.  A promise meant to be disappointing.

But then again, the lesser the load — the lighter the female, right?

Perhaps.  But I doubt it.

In my defense, with time — with age — I’ve gotten significantly lighter, it seems.  It wasn’t a determined decision to drop the endless self-flagellation ceremonies of my 20s.  Instead, they just sort of slipped out of my daily routines; giving room to more decisiveness or to very tired surrender.  Having realized I’m merely an impossible debater to defeat, I stay out of arguments — with myself.

And so, I’ve gotten significantly lighter.  And so have my baggages.

I flop into the chair, across from the face I have now loved for ages, and I let down my mane:

“Ah.  Can I get you something to drink?”

It’s a habit that just won’t go away:

I examine the needs of my beloveds before I check up on my own.

But they’re fine.  My people — are always fine.  They are resilient.  Strong and competent, never helpless.  And even if they’re not fine — that’s fine too; because if ever they ask me for help, I never go telling on them.  And neither do I ever mention it again.

“Seriously.  Don’t mention it.  My honor!” I say, as if threatening.

Love comes with no ties attached.

We begin to talk:  A quick game of catching up with the lapsed time.  A survival of our separations.  If it were up to me, I would have all of my beloveds live with me in a commune:  Some Victorian house balancing on a cliff above the ocean, with a menu of attics and basements, and hiding places for their selection.  And at night, we would gather at a giant wooden table in the middle of an orchard, and we would search our oversized bags — and baggages — for nighttime stories and lovely fairytales about surrender.

But my people — are vagabonds and gypsies; and they go off to conquer their dreams, and to defeat their fears, on the way.

After enough is said to make me want to have a drink or to toast, I finally get up from the chair and start making my way to the counter, smiling at the clerk, again.  In a couple of steps though, I look back, flip my mane and say:

“Sure you don’t want anything?”

Equipped with replenishing elixirs and an item in place of bread that we can break together, I come back to the table, rummage through my purse for a napkin and jumpstart the next round of storytelling.  And I guarantee, most of the time, these are stories of broken loves and departed lovers.

But my people are fine, of course.  They are resilient.  Carefully, they process their losses; and they start dreaming of the next adventure.  The next love.  The next story.

“I’ll drink to that,” I say and tip my mane back while chugging down my drink.

When it’s my turn, however, my stories don’t come out with an obvious ending.  Instead, they offer endless lessons and questions.  For years, for decades, I have been known to mourn my lovers.  I flip each story on its head; and as if yet another endless bag of mine, I rummage through it for details and conclusions.

And that’s when my comrades try to put an end to it:

“Don’t dwell on the past,” they say, and they go to the counter for a refill.

I don’t really know what that means:

None of my stories are ever put to rest.  And neither are my loves.

Instead, they bounce around, at the bottom of my endless baggage, waiting to be pulled out the next time I am in the midst of rummaging for words.  Which must be why I retell each tale so many times, committing it to my own memory and to the memory of my beloveds.

So, dwelling on the past:  I don’t really mind that, as long as I don’t dwell in it. And in my defense, I have gotten lighter, with time, and with age.  And so have my baggages.

Oops, I Did It Again! (and Other Psychological Disorders)

Crawled out of my skin last night, hung it on the door knob and, till this very gloomy morning, I haven’t put it back on yet.  Stark naked I write to you, my comrades — souls all over the world who share with me no private history but the common ground of humanity.  And every once in a while, completely unexpected (for my art needs no reason to exist), I hear your “Gotcha!” echo via an electronic transmission; and in that moment, you’ve gotta know:  you repair my very heart.  So:  Fuck yeah!  Fuck da!  Thank you for reading!

Still stripped and skinless, superimposed by the little girl I once was a few decades ago in a country that exists no longer, I am about to have a lil’ tete-a-tete on the topic of grief.  ‘Cause you see, you magnificent co-participants in the utter chaos of living — I’ve got me a shit load o’ that.  (“A shit load,” by the way, is V’s democratic solution between the metric system of her Motha‘ Russia — and the rest of the world — and that other one she still doesn’t know how to convert to.)

I haven’t lived long, my comrades, but certainly a lot; enough to accumulate some losses.  I’ve lived through deaths, heartbreaks, break-ups and a divorce.  I’ve commemorated violence — others’ and my own — by jotting it down on my skin.  I’ve been thrown around by historical turmoil and have survived poverty.  And although I still insist on calling upon humanity’s goodness, I have seen it at its very worst.

And that is exactly where grief comes from:  From its mama — the Loss. I wiki-ed it for you, my stubbornly good people; and according to wiki-wiki, it’s “a multi-faceted emotion.” A free-for-all, eh?  And emotional twofer.  A Round Table for your every feeling.  (A’right, V:  Settle down with those metaphors!)  Numbness, blame, sadness and anger — yep, I’ve done ‘em all, a shit load of each, to be precise.  But the part of grief that I still seem to be unable to reach — like the only dream I deem to be impossible — is acceptance.

I gotta tell you, I have managed my forgiveness of others, “for they know not what they do,” right?  (But that IS a funny one though:  forgivenessFor me, it rests somewhere between mercy and the resignation of justice. In other words, only when I’ve suffered enough and when I want to be justified or carry the weight of the mistakes no longer — I cry uncle and I forgive.  Sometimes, forgiveness results in dismissing the offender entirely:  leaving him to his own devices and never wanting to hear from him again.  Other times, my forgiveness is more peaceful:  It permits for a friendship after the shit storm settles; but boy, do I tread carefully there.)

But acceptance:  That one — is a bit of a moody bitch for V.  Just when I think I’ve tranquilized the ghosts of my past, some current player wakes them with his misbehavior; and off I go:  reliving the emotional free-for-all of griefs I thought have already exorcised and put to sleep.  (“Hush, hush, you little monsters!”)  And if I’ve learned anything from my relationship with my beloved shrink:  these above mentioned players — the hooligans that set me off — are here for a reason.  They are part of V’s pattern.  Kinda like that Britney song:  “Oops, I Did it Again!” — right?  So, until I figure my shit out — the hooligans will continue to pop-up out of my Pandora’s Box.  (Does that sound naughty, or is it just me?)

So, I am starting to gain some unsettling glimpses at the correlation between acceptance and self-forgiveness.

“DING-DING-DING-DING-DING!”

— I can forgive others:  Check!

— I can forgive my life for its sorrows:  Check!

— But can I forgive myself for my choosing all the wrong hooligans in the past chapters of my life?  Not so fast, you Russian gypsy!  Thus far, it’s been seemingly easier — messier, but easier — for the vagabond in me to pack-up and run away.  I am a woman with no country after all!  But alas, to stay and to deal with the hand I’ve been given (or rather, I’ve given myself) — that, my comrades, has been much harder.  Because at the end of it:  I must hold myself accountable. Isn’t much easier to blame others; to parade your scars and bad deals in order to earn the compassion of your witnesses?  Or to suspend your self-forgiveness via embarrassment?  Yep.  But in the end — I’m SO gonna go existentialist on my own ass here (no pun intended) — it’s between you and you.  Or rather, it’s between me and me.

Well, that’s enough psychology for one Saturday morning, nyet?  I’m gonna go put my skin back on and get to work, my adored boys ‘n’ girls.  But in the mean time, allow me to leave you with this little bit of wisdom by another foreign comrade-in-arms.  (Shit!  We, foreigners, do like to get heavy!):