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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

yes, I am home

The avenues open up to me, sidewalks allowing a path towards Rector Street, then Duane. New boots clicking beneath me, sweat sticking the shirt to my back and a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket, New York is my favorite pair of jeans. I walk up and down the island for six days without a thought of policemen, without a thought of how to find an address. I can do it all with my eyes closed.

Yes, the Mars Bar is finally gone. Like a cockroach, I thought it could outlive any apocalypse - but no, not this one. Maryann is still around, laughing hard on St. Marks Place. We eat good food that was not here a few years ago, grabbing each other's hands and arms as we talk. She is well, this woman who taught me so much - more than how to make gnocchi. A new last name, a new haircut but beneath it all the same heart that bleeds, the same raw accent chewing through the words. She is Brooklyn. She is unstoppable. I imagine the day she can meet E and share her Flatbush wisdom with my child - maybe tell her what I was like in my 30's, when I was the Mayor of East 1st Street.

I call every morning as soon as I am awake, talking E through the day's events as she sits in that apartment waiting for someone to take her outside. They never do. She makes things work, teaching the cats to dance, finding lost dolls in the bottom of a closet.

We speak across the computer, our faces soft and distorted - light, shadow, color - night in one place, day in another. Her eyes are red. I ask if she is getting sick.
"No." She says. "I just cried a lot last night."
"Did something happen?" I ask.
She pauses, sighs deeply.
"No." She says quietly.
I will be home in four days.
"Nobody kisses me goodnight here." She says.
"Ever?" I ask.
"Ever." She whispers, as if she cannot speak anymore.
I tell her to get under the covers. I send her a kiss across the ocean. We count how long it should take to travel to her - maybe thirty seconds. I see her face change. A tiny smile is creeping across her mouth.

The tacos are magnificent, juices dripping down my arm as I suck lime and salt and pork from my fingertips. I will slug thick coffees. I will spoon into strudel. I will throw back glasses of fine wine. There will be egg sandwiches on homemade English muffins. There will be a walking dog from Katz's, the dry mustard smacking against the snap of the meat, the fragrant kraut seeping into the soft bun all gone in a matter of steps as I lick the mustard from the corner of my mouth.

There will be tiny cucumbers that look like dollhouse watermelons. I will cook duck, pasta and risotto. I will make shrimp quenelles, and chickpea blini. There will be caviar and compote. There will be a lemon mousseline and more. Friends will crack open bottles of prosecco, the corks making that magic burst. I will feed them, coaxing flavors from the bags of mushrooms I buy. Roasting, sauteing, steeping, reducing. I will see faces shining in candlelight, glasses bumping in toasts, plates wiped clean until we are full, sitting way back back in our chairs breathing in the night air that surrounds us.

They ask about N, about how we met. I describe it all, the impossible chain of events. I think to call her now, to wake her up in the middle of the night. But no, I will wait until it is morning. Morning and I am coming home with bags swollen at the edges, stuffed with winter coats and French perfume, with a tiny umbrella that looks like a cloud, with a small tin of smoked paprika.

And all at once the airport is solved, the lines running long as I shove a last hamburger into my face, running to the gate with a new guitar thumping against my side. It is raining.

Geneva, and more running to catch the connecting flight.

And N is there as I turn the corner, bags sliding off the cart about to topple to the floor. We kiss in the great hall, and I do not let go of her for some time. She is laughing at my new hat. As usual, she takes it and wears it. She has khachapuri for me, and a cold coke in the car. We will be home in an hour, where I dig her presents out of the chaos of my bags. We will sip strong tea and she will try on the Italian lingerie I bought her, and then it will all come off and we will be together, the way lovers do when they have been apart.

Now time to get E, after a flurry of text messages and negotiations. I will still stand in the hallway for thirty minutes until she emerges, raincoat on, a stray doll dangling from her hand. She is chirping like a little bird.

I will make her an egg sandwich when we get home, before the living room is lost in boxes and bags that explode from the suitcases. She gallops around the house in new pyjamas. She brushes her teeth for the first time in a week, as I make pasta. It is time for amatriciana, to kiss E goodnight as she squeezes her eyes closed, as N twirls linguine around her fork.

We all sleep that narcotic sleep, knowing we are together again.


Banker Chick said…
I cried, then my tummy rumbled with hunger then I laughed when everything seemed right for a moment in time. You are and excellent writer and I can't wait until Mondays, when I can read about your adventures, and hope that E will be all yours one day.
liv said…
A window into this beautiful life, albeit sometimes fraught with unwelcomed demons, is a cherished Monday (or Tuesday...) sojourn. The smells, the tastes, and now a moment with the delightful Maryann. You are a kind soul to take us with you when you could be keeping it all to yourself.
Welcome home. I hope it is smooth sailing there for awhile at least. Good luck with work and all.
Omgrrrl said…
Your head and heart live everywhere. Your feet are best suited in NY. Your soul resides inside your daughter. And your blog.


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