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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

lucky dog, shiny dog

We are in the Ploschad Revolutsi metro station, deep below Red Square. E has never been here before, and shouts while pointing out the bronze statues in every archway. None of the happy workers are standing. Men and women with guns and scythes, with hammers and noble jawlines. Teenagers run in packs to one of a man kneeling with a rifle and a dog. The dog's face is burnished, luminous in the soft halflight of the metro. They rub the dog's cold nose, laughing, joking, then pirouette onto the next train. 

"Pop." E says, tugging my hand. "I think the dog is lucky."
We approach the statue. 
I lift her up. 
She presses her tiny hands to the dog's face.
I see her wishing. 

We take the next train.
"Do you really think it's lucky?" I ask her.
She shrugs her shoulders.
"Maybe it's just shiny." She says.


Every time I retrieve E, she gives me a long report about what she goes through while she is in her mother's house. Now, she is dragged to some kind of child psychologist every Saturday. A doctor that has never met me tells her I am some sort of monster, that I am a poor excuse for a human. The doctor tells E that her mother is wonderful, some kind of saint. The doctor tells E that she is sad, and that she must not be sad, that children are never sad. The doctor tells E she should help her mother, and go outside in the street and play by herself, cook for herself, and always wear clothing with flowers on it. She tells E she must drink a lot of black tea and wear her hair in braids.

E disagrees, to the letter. She tells the doctor she is not sad at my house, and she is dismissed. The doctor tells her that rock and roll is bad, that America is bad, and that Russia is the only good place in the world.

E cannot wait to turn on the music when we get home, with bags of fruit swinging from our arms. She pogos on the big soft chair in the living room, whipping her hair around. I hand her the tiny guitar I bought her.

"No, Pop!" She shouts. "AIR guitar."

Her face squeezes into itself. A sudden wind swirls through the apartment and a door slams shut. She ignores it all, playing her imaginary power chords, jumping higher and higher.


She dozes off after we eat lunch. I know she is not tired so much as emotionally spent. Her face is filthy. A cat scratch hovers on her cheek. I want to put some antibiotic on it, but think better not to risk waking her. More important she sleep that sleep we all have in our own bed, if only for an hour while the sun walks across the walls.



She dreams.

She turns, hands twisted awkwardly around stuffed animals. I play some guitar, very softly with just my fingertips. I sing her a lullaby.

I want her to sleep all the way until morning, maybe to think that this doctor was a kind of nightmare, but not real, maybe to believe she never left on Saturday and just slept for a long time, that she imagined all of it.


She wakes up late, feet padding to my bedroom door. I am already up before she knocks. I know that sound.

"Pop." She says, holding her arms out to me.

I hoist her up, as she forces her face into the back of my neck. I carry her around the dark apartment, singing the lullabies I have always sung for her. I feel her breath chugging in and out of her tiny body. It slows a little. Her arms go slack around me. I do the old trick of making my way to the hall mirror, looking at our reflection to see if she has really found sleep again.

I sing one more for luck, then fold her back under the light sheet.

In the morning I will eat cold, tiny nectarines I think, as I go back to bed.




Comments

Incognita said…
What a poignant and real account of what your dear little daughter goes through, your reading of her mind, your empathy. Every little gesture of hers is so exquisitely captured and recorded, every little twist of emotion. Your writing offers such a keen sense of her that I too can all but feel her breath "chugging in and out of her tiny body." May your daughter be lucky, may you be lucky Marco! You both deserve it.
Annie said…
Lucky dog, I hope. And not only because I rubbed its nose.
Banker Chick said…
Your daughter is lucky to have a father who can make at least a part of her life stable and loving.
matthewjoy said…
I found you today on the Voice of Russia. Your blog account was interesting for the first year or so, then you took that year off and everything changed in your life. I know because I did the same. Reading you makes me somehow to want to write another blog besides the one I have now, to recall my tragedy and truth. My three were kidnapped when under 6 years, and even here in the so-called great u s of a, I was powerless. Mine are in their 20s and never speak to me, nor do I know where they are, perhaps dead. Their mum trained them well, just like she. Naive? no longer. Cynical? definitely. The years roll on and the alcohol proves beneficial. Mine had a brother in prison for murder and another in the Mafia, so I relate to being in fear of your life. As I try to memorize my Russian off the flash cards I make, cause I want to live there someday, I dream of leaving this place of forever winters, to a place in Siberia where I can finally be happy. You are so lucky to be an expat. Someday perhaps,I wish you could buy me a round of vater and lunch. We probably wouldn't laugh. Like you wrote about your two acquaintances who were drinking with you a few years back in that dingy office. He saw your glass full, his friend's was half-empty, and he looked at you and nodded in agreement. Often times, silence says everything without words. Pass the Petrovska please?
Marco North said…
mathew - to say I am deeply moved by your story is a massive understatement. please contact me so we can talk.

about your comment that the site started a certain way, then that year lost then the return....I often feel like just deleting that first group of posts. they are so misleading. maybe i should put a comment, a disclaimer in them to help frame them, essentially explaining what is NOT being said there. What do you think?

marco
matthewjoy said…
Your first posts are what got me hooked to begin with. Don't get rid of them. I commented because I saw that I could see the change in your life events and your attitude. I saw exactly when your tragedy came about and that was what made me comment.
I looked for Petrovska tonight and I couldn't find it. Just as well because our Vodka is way over priced and out of my range. That's why I am left with beer.

Let me tell you friend, you are not alone. But you are not the worst off either. I also am not the worst off, anybody has worse troubles than me. We live to find a better way to cope. Life in Russia is not much different than anywhere else. I have studied the Gulag and the people therein. I survive because I have seen how they survived. That is my secret and I pass it onto you. I read the book by Anne Applebaum and that has helped me immensely. World history, anthropology, psychology, politics, age...it all plays a very valuable part in my recovery. dosvidayia

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