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the immigrant and the exile

The expatriate remains patriotic - loving their country from a distance. Their loyalty does not waver.

The immigrant is a foreigner that works in another country as a result of some form of escape, some desperate act.

The exile does not love their country, and it can be said that their country rejected them.

Which one wakes up homesick?

Which one can shrug off the betrayal, the long shadow of the dream of a better life when it sours and fades?

There are days when  I see no difference between the immigrant and the exile, two sides of the same coin. The expat is a blind romantic, their decisions set as young men and women, their senses dulled to nothing. I have started to understand I am not an expat any more, as I do not love my country. I tolerate it.

the midnight sun and the white crow

The midnight sun keeps me half awake. Going to bed at 2am feels like an afternoon nap, with the sky turning pale blue along the rooftops. The cats are playing with my daughter’s dolls, some sort of night hockey with tiny plastic purses and tiny plastic shoes. Crows jump from their nest into our balcony, looking for bits of food forgotten on plates we have left outside. I do not sleep long enough to dream, but enough to drink coffee and splash water on my face as I make my way to the studio.

On the metro, I usually sleep an extra eight minutes. Today, I see a pair of feet in Velcro strapped sandals as I close my eyes. They belong to an older woman. The nails are unpainted, and her toes are crammed on top of each other, the large toe shoved under the long one, the pinky below them all. These are feet like my mother’s. They always made me think of fruit forgotten in a bag, squished into a dark corner and then found later.

I have not had words with my mother in more than ten years. It’s not easy to explain how this happened, but I do accept that this is the way things must be. When I was a boy, she drove us to the village pool every summer day like this one. When my brother and my sister and myself all got too difficult, fighting in the back seats of the pale blue Dodge Dart one of us would call to her.

“Mom!"

“I’m not your mother!” She would scream at us, swerving in the road.

Ice creams from Dairy Queen were all we needed to smooth out these moments. Dilly Bars were my favorite.

My parents got a divorce when I was finishing college. The collapse of their 25 year marriage in a matter of months was a complete catastrophe. I was not present to witness it. My mother quickly became a stranger to us as part of this. In a short span of time, she changed her last name to Aubergine, gave away most of her worldly possessions and became an American Indian. You might say that she wanted to become someone else at that point in her life.

I tried and tried to maintain some sort of connection with her. At that time, I was the spitting image of my father. I was even mistaken for him when I answered the home phone. I am sure that when she saw me, all she saw was him. I had completely ceased to exist for her, and had been replaced by a fountain-of-youth version of him. At one point I had to accept that this would never change. The more I saw her, the farther she pulled away.

As a teenager, my mother was considered the black sheep of her family. She ran around with a mafia boyfriend who was killed in a car bombing, then got a scholarship to SVA. She met my father there, and she never went home again. She found out her mother had died many years after the fact. She has a brother none of us have ever met.

One of the reasons I became an expat was to get as far away from my family as possible. I am sure it sounds cruel and heartless from the outside. From the inside, it is a last ditch attempt to live my own life with my wife and our daughter on my own terms. When you come from a family like mine, it is almost impossible to break the patterns that direct your life. By putting a twist on the slash and run legacy, and an ocean between us I feel at peace.

As the train pulls into Alexandrovsky Sad, I open my eyes and try to see what side of the track we arrived on today. The woman with the Velcro sandals is looking at me. She has short black hair and a calico dress. I motion for her to go in front of me. She nods, and smiles in approval.

In Russia, they do not have any expressions about black sheep. They say that in every flock, there is one white crow.

Comments

brenda said…
quite possibly, the best post yet. omg!! don't stop, m. i mean, if this is scratching the surface, you must plunge into the LOWER DEPTHS. (wasn't that gogol?) it begins to make such perfect sense to me now... you and russia and the crows and your extraordinary eye for both details and the big picture. i want more.
Richard said…
I'll have what she's having.
stefanya said…
i always loved your family, and as witness to its demise, i must say it was one of the most heartbreaking memories i carry with me from those days in oneonta. i'll never forget when i walked into the store that day, your mother's tears by the cookbooks. it still saddens me, how far you all are apart.
i hope in your self-willed isolation there might one day be a realization that it *must* not be this way - that sounds too predetermined, and somehow not like you (for as much AND as little as i know you). isn't it more that it's simply all you characters acting out your lives as best you can? everyone makes mistakes. everyone has their struggles. everyone is who they are. so why continue the crap when you don't have to? these are things, i too, need pounded into my head RE my own crazy mom. how to invite her into MY world that was created by ME and still feel good about who i am. how to share my baby with this joyous grandmother and watch her smile with the little one, while i still tend to deep wounds that slowly, slowly, heal. well, i ramble...i wonder if in your twilight 2 am moments, can you still feel her love? it's there.
Hothead said…
Your style is amazing, can't stop reading. You obviosly have a gift!

And just for point, Russians use both expressions, black sheep and white crow, but to be a "black sheep" means to be not good, while "white crow" means that you are different, better than others.
Hothead said…
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