Another anniversary is ringing in my ears. A year ago, I was sleeping on the floor on a series of sofa pillows. I was waking up to a madwoman pouring boiling water on me. I understood there was nowhere I could go, and that E who slept on the couch and woke up to all of this needed to be protected. I stayed in that house as long as I could, knowing I would take E to school every morning and make her dinner every night. On the weekends we would disappear to the ancient Moscow Zoo, concrete and shit and lethargic animals covered in callouses. She would eat some chips. I would eat a sausage and feel a little bit sick from it. If we remembered, there would be bread to feed the ducks, the geese, the giant carp in the sluggish water next to the flamingos.
We hid together. We spent hours on the playground until it grew dark, until we were starving. We kept away from her at all costs.
Impossible to believe that things could change, after years of solemn acceptance. But nothing did change. I just got out, and found a way for E to spend four or five nights a week with me. The slow burn that started that July had gained incredible momentum. Regrets were blurring past me, I was a juggernaut, a man trying to ride a rocket out the front door without crashing into the walls.
A few days ago, the threats grow more brutal, more precise - surgical. Back then she threatened to have me killed in a vague, angry slur of words. I knew it was just a tactic. But no one wants to be told "I will have you killed very soon". You don't digest well after that. You don't sleep well, especially on the floor.
Now, I am scrambling as usual to run interference, to pay the bills, to keep good food around, to sleep a little. Being a single parent, all alone in a foreign country is one fierce pair of shoes. But when you do make a good bowl of soup, when your kid does take a bath singing like a wild angel you feel a profound sense of accomplishment.
This morning, taking E to school in the cool autumn air, she smiled up at me, twirling her fingers around mine.
"Pop." She said. "Pop, I don't know everything."
"You know plenty." I said.
"Pop, I am going to ask you a lot of questions, OK?" She asked.
"Like what?" I said.
"Like, are there any blue cats?" She asked.
I shook my head no.
"Like, umm - when it will snow in New York?"
"Not until December. " I said. "But, here I think this week."
She bit her lip in thought.
"Like, why can't I just live with you?" She asked.
We kicked the dry leaves on the sidewalk.
I took her inside, kissed her goodbye.
Downstairs, I used the old bathroom by the entryway. No lights on, just crumbling paint and old white tiles. I stared at the sink, where the hot water comes from one faucet and the cold from another one. Turning them both on, letting them run together in the basin I stared at my hands in the dark morning light. I thought about how it would have been easy to turn off all of my feelings when that madwoman poured boiling water on me. I imagined a way for the guilt and sadness, the wounded confusion could be turned off, but all the sweetness could remain, all of the cool hands on foreheads, the surprises, the music. I thought about how everything is one jumble, like it or not. Too easy, any other way. Everything comes out of one spout. I could not have survived if I did not leave myself open to a shy woman in my kitchen last January. This is my weakness that is used against me time and again, but I cannot live any other way. My head is firmly attached to my shoulders. I am the hot, I am the cold.