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talking to the trees

Most experiences cannot be discussed. No one wants to hear the ugly truth, and chances are you will be attacked for sharing it. To be able to speak freely means that you need a willing listener, otherwise you are just talking to the trees. Time and again I have come to understand that there is no difference between New York and Moscow, no difference between East and West. They are just cults of personality, built on violence and money and moral quicksand.

The life of an expat evolves from those early, awkward victories to one of assimilation or in cases like mine - eventually understanding that you have no country you can (or want to) call home. I am left with just these four walls and my family. This apartment is the only place I actually belong. This is the only place I do not need to soft-pedal my thoughts, where I do not need to apologize for what I have unearthed. The river of betrayal runs deep whether I look outside, or across the ocean. Willful ignorance, willful indifference…

pinch me - I am Alice

There are memories stored in all of the objects in my office. I throw most of them away, reducing everything to the bare essentials one more time.  There is a new pile of E's drawings, some watersplashed with distorted faces, some half-finished. A testimony to how many long nights she spent with me here, eventually falling asleep on the sofa.

There is dust, and the smell of stale bread crumbs. There are boxes here that have lived full lifetimes. Still kicking, still holding together, with ancient tape crusting the corners. These boxes have crossed oceans, and could they ever have imagined they will live behind a Soviet hotel?

All at once the room is empty. The floor is littered with dustballs and clumps of E's colored clay, some broken broken crayons, a handful of discarded business cards.

I remove the sign outside the door and shove it in my bag. 

The burly truck driver is sweating like mad, swabbing his short grey hair. I must pay him extra to help me with the couch. I give him half a bottle of whiskey as a gift.

There is the exhilaration of quickly saying goodbye to this room, and giving the key to the guard. This room where fights thundered through the walls, where chairs were broken to bits.

And then, suddenly swinging into the passenger side of the truck. We are high on the road, looking down at well-dressed ladies in fur-collared sweaters, at guys behind black windows opening them a crack to flick a cigarette butt into the street. I remember riding with Fred so many mornings in Redhook, when Brooklyn was still the Brooklyn of my fantasies, populated by wise-cracking old men, bubble gum popping prostitutes and mythical pizza parlors. We carted scenery to all kinds of places, sometimes a fancy showroom on 57th Street, where we ogled the office girls in their perfect white pantyhose and slit skirts as we cued up for the freight elevator. In that truck we argued about the correct way to grill a steak, and agreed on the best chili powder (ancho, followed by pasilla). In that truck we lived lifetimes in bridge traffic. 

And now somehow, in Moscow I ride high on the road again, thinking pinch me - I am Alice. I have to get the Tajiks from downstairs to help me, bargaining with them to carry the sofa up nine flights for $30 and to take the rest up the elevator for $10. I hide the cat in the bathroom and she scratches on the door as the apartment fills with a choatic array of drawers and well-taped boxes, a glass tabletop, a damn good espresso machine.

I pay them, they do not shake my hand but offer their forearm, some strange custom I try to act unsurprised by. And then the place is quiet beyond quiet. I let the cat out. She climbs and sniffs everything. I sit on the sofa, missing the pillows - they are somewhere. I look out at the pale sky, the low hanging clouds. I will take E from school in a little while, I will call N now and tell her everything went fine.

I place the sign on the windowsill, and pull the rabbit doll from my bag. This is where the magic will happen now.


Annie said…
I'm glad everything got to go. I was fearful at first you were throwing some things away. Can't do that.

Whatever did you do, with the forearm?

Good luck with the magic! Why the move? Something more upscale?

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