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the white table

The days are not long. The nights are short. Guitars are hiding in cases, with scraps of paper tucked inside. The pen is full. There is a fresh notebook, with creamy pages. The little white desk is in the middle of the living room, a cascade of receipts and laundry perched on it.

I clean it off, have lunch as it stares back at me. This focal point, this fulcrum where my thoughts become real, this cheap folding table from Ikea. It is familiar, and patient.

the nightmare is just beginning

I am sitting in the messy living room, surrounded by E's toys, her half-made bed. I am almost catatonic at this point. Somehow, I feel N's warmth. I can taste coffee a little bit. The rest is empty. Lost. I feel like I am outside of my bones. I can't smell anything. I know it is cold outside. I see the hard little flakes flipping around. I am not hungry. I am beyond sadness. I have not seen E for four days now, and do not know when I will.

Last Friday was the most recent court trial. I walked briskly that morning, taking E to school, wrapping her ponytail with an extra bit of flip in it. We made plans for me to take her a bit early, to get an ice cream and maybe make some shrimp for dinner. She smiled at me, her giant brown eyes connected to her smile. She touched me gently on the shoulder.

"Good luck." She whispered in my ear.

She disappeared into the classroom. That is the last time I saw her.

In the street I have to walk quickly to be on time. I pass the man who has a face like it was hit with a frying pan. He nods, smiles, his single tooth jutting into the cold air. I pass a blind woman in heels, tapping her red and white cane across the slippery sidewalk. She smiles too. I feel the day kicking in, shoving my hands in my pockets and plowing down the street.

I had a night of no sleep. I woke up a number of times, my body itchy with nerves. I did nod off at one point and dreamt up some kind of screwball comedy. I was part of some group that had to sneak an 18 ton truck onto a commuter plane. We were some sort of dream team. We had the ashes of a dead friend with us. It seemed like we could somehow pull it off.

Entering the courthouse I feel a muddy taste in the back of my throat, like I just swallowed a lot of sea water. I sit, waiting for my lawyer and translator to arrive. I look at some notes I have made. Last year, this was one of the first days when I was living in the new apartment, a freshly single father. I had taken my guitar and saxophone, balancing them precariously on E's carriage as I trundled them down the avenue. People stopped and stared.  A pretty self-explanatory story for to mull over in their glistening SUVs.

That carriage eventually broke one day, and E toppled into the snow laughing her head off. We left it right there, with cheap pink plastic flipping around in the wind, the broken wheel already freezing into the wet sidewalk. The next morning, gone.

In the courthouse the clock ticks terribly loud. The judge enters and we stand. Statements are made. E's mother tells a pack of lies. I respectfully object. I point out that perjury is a serious crime in America, and that obviously goes unpunished in Russia. The judge is young, blonde. She speaks incredibly quickly. She wears black tights and white sandals. She leaves the room for ten minutes at a time, hoping we can come to some peaceable agreement. This is impossible, as E's mother is out for blood. She is suddenly trying to erase history. She is suddenly embarrassed. But she is in Russia, and there are no laws to stop her from lying, manipulating, cheating, abusing, terrorizing or blackmailing. She can do whatever she wants to - drunk, buck naked and beating her child and the Russians will not bat an eye. This is Russia, get used to it. If you don't like it, there's the door. Foreigners and children are little bits of paper flying around in the wind. Wherever they land, whatever they need is of no importance or concern. Here they protect the mother's rights to lie, cheat and steal until she grows fat and weary of the game. Here every custody battle goes to the mother, no matter what kind of monster she is.

The clock is still insanely loud. Nothing is resolved. The judge removes all language that describes me as a wife-beater. She removes all language that puts me in a bad light. E's mother writes a document that says she has no negative comments to say about me. She signs it, with a sneer on her face, flipping the paper back at my lawyer. My translator is exhausted, a kind man who speaks English very softly.

The trial is over. In ten days the divorce will be official. Nothing about E is resolved. I pay everyone, walk out into the street. I think the worst is over now. We can all get on with our lives. I go home, check a few emails, shovel leftovers into my mouth. I take a short meeting on old Arbat. It is 4. I think to buy a star to put at the top of our tiny christmas tree with E later on. The store is close to here. But then a tiny voice inside me says, no - -go to the school now and take her.

And I am suddenly running down the icy streets. I fall once, twice - one of my knees is definitely bleeding. I am out of breath, almost there. My back is wet with sweat under many layers. I enter the school, up the dark stairwell and into E's classroom. I look at the backs of their heads, do not see her ponytail. Maybe she is in the bathroom. "Where is E?" I ask. The teacher tells me her mother took her hours ago.

There are vicious text messages on my phone from her. Threats. There is an email I will come home to. A sort of death sentence. A promise I will never see E again. That she will punish me for saying she was a liar today. I try to call, to speak to E for a minute. The phone is switched off.

No surprise that I take that half bottle of red wine and drink it in silence in the living room, in the dark. No surprise N finds me this way. Holds me, talks me through it. She makes me sit at the kitchen table. Eat something. Drink some tea.

But I feel nothing. I know what has happened.

And when I go to take E like I do every Sunday I am turned back. I am told the police will come if I try to take her. I call E on the phone. She says she does not want to see me. Her mother is whispering in her ears, and then she says maybe I can see her on Tuesday.

"But today is Sunday." I say.

"I don't want to see you." E says, her voice choking in her throat.


wha said…
Dear Marco, I am so sorry to hear about your heartbreak now. But please know that you are not alone and we are all thinking of you and Eva now. Remember that Mercury is retrograde now, and as it moves forward on Dec 30, many situations will be reset, restored and renewed. We are with you always, dear friend...

Bill Attride
Ella said…
Dear Marco, I've been following your blog for quite a while. I am so sorry that all this has been happening to you and your lovely daughter. But I am not surprised. How many times I wanted to warn you that this might happen. Being from Russia I know too well that this is the norm not the exception. With horror I follow events in that country and thank my lucky stars that I left it many years ago. in 1975. Good luck to you and your loved ones ad lets hope.
Anonymous said…
Hi, I'm one of your readers. All I can tell you is that if you don't have friends in the police or the judicial system you can be sure you wont change anything. I've seen similar cases. Women here are evil and the last thing they care about is their children's happiness. Wish I can tell you that everything will get better but I'm sure it won't. This is just the beginning. Then she will go for your salary, then she would sue you for anything that comes to her mind, an it goes on and on. Be strong.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous- how can foreigners have friends in the Russian system? It is impossible. I would think that the attention of the International media would influence the court into making a more sober decision based on the facts..a more acceptable decision instead of the brutal cookie cutter one you describe
Omgrrrl said…
Dear Marco,

This is fucked.
Annie said…
How I didn't want to read this. I was worrying about you. So sick at heart.

I know some lovely Russian women, and you do,too. But there are crazy women everywhere, and I am just devastated that your sweet little daughter is with one.

Hoping so much that the rage will wear off. Praying that she'll get bored with revenge, and more bored with childcare and once again it will be convenient that E has a father.
Allen said…
Know that you and your family are loved and that there are angels at work beyond our comprehension. Time is a dimension beyond our control.
Bloody knees and all!
Sarah said…
Dear Marco, I have been a reader for a long time and my heart is broken for you. I am just so very sorry for you and E. I pray she will calm down and realize having her go to you is a help to her. Let's hope time will help her calm down. All the best to you and yours.

Mother Theresa said…
Oh, that is just terrible! I've haven't followed your blog for very long, but from what I've read, I believe you are a good person and a loving father. I don't know if all Russians are like E's mother or own experience with an ex-friend from Russia has been that they can be very vicious when they want, but I guess that can be true of people from any country, so I don't want to judge. But I hope somehow justice will be done and that you will be able to have your daughter back soon.
Rabbit blogger said…
dear readers- my deepest thanks for your kind words and positivity. Today, I was not allowed to see E for yet another day. her mother caused her to get sick and does not give her any medicine or medical attention. This facilitated an excuse that E should not be disturbed by my visit or a trip outside. A brilliant tactic.

If you would like to help us, any attention that journalists or politicians can provide may be a powerful tool in turning the tide of Russian beaurocracy and general lack of basic human rights.
Annie said…
I'm a bit concerned about making waves... Didn't you say that the custody issues aren't settled yet?
Surely, you should be a good Russia-loving expat until then?

As I looked through your facebook photos of the "year in food", I thought - all the judge needs to see is that! Really! Make them into a book! That is one happy, loved litte girl.
SovietCity said…
Marco, I'm so sorry to hear about this terrible situation.
I can't imagine how you must feel.
My thoughts are with you.

I also have a Russian wife and a little daughter so I know how crazy Russian women can be.

Give it a little time, perhaps your wife will calm down once her anger subsides.

Keep strong, and don't give up.
SueNoks said…
You have come a long way.

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