The woolen itch of winter has arrived. Wet and cold, whipping against skin and through cloth it fingers deep into the earth. The sky will hang low and grey for months now. We will wake in darkness, take children to school under a black sky, and by the time they are ready to be taken, black again.
The surrender is complete.
No more flurries. No more dry sidewalks and soft ground. The leftover grass is stiff now. The smell of diesel is thick, a cloud from the train station that hums with electricity and orange light.
The Russian winter with all of its fame and brutality has returned. To many, romantic. To me, as unwelcome as broken eggs.
E is suffering. Her mother takes her one day a week, dragging her to the office of a friend masquerading as a child psychologist. There E is bombarded with messages, constantly telling her that her father is a very bad man that tricks everyone, that it is impossible for a man to cook tasty food, that New York is some kind of hell she was saved from, that her father is a homosexual, a liar, a criminal, that soon her father will abandon her and go back to New York. She is told girls should only wear dresses, specifically pink ones. She is told she should not be capricious, that eating meat is bad for her, that playing guitar is extremely bad for her, that she will never ever get married or be happy unless she learns the piano and braids her hair. She is told rock and roll is terrible, especially for girls. She is told that her heroes are not real, that she believes in fantasies. She is told black is a terrible color, especially for a doll. She is told that her mother is some kind of saint, a wonderful person who cares for her deeply, a woman who has dedicated her life to E's happiness.
She knows full well it is some desperate attempt to influence her, to squeeze the Brooklyn out of her.
She refuses and argues every time. She says, "Girls can be pirates and boys can be cooks." They tell her she is wrong.
She tells them that Sasha is her favorite doll. Yes, with dark brown skin and missing one arm. She sits there, her own arms crossed, her mouth fierce, waiting for the hour to be over.
We have come to call this malicious woman "the fake doctor". I ask E how she pretends to know so much about me, and has never met me, or been outside of Russia. How can she know anything about New York, or her father?
E is split between a sort of passive resistance and pure anger. This woman who claims authority knows nothing, and E knows it. It is all a half-baked plot her mother is executing - some sort of last resort at manipulation. When E was younger, it was much more effective. It scared the hell out of me.
Now, it brings E closer and closer to everything outside that office and her mother's house. It drives her away, all the way across the ocean.
Every Sunday, I reclaim her at two, her face a blank and empty mess. Her voice a low monotone, acting defeated, acting cautiously. Then we talk, her hand squeezing mine as we shop for an elaborate dinner, buy some ice cream, visit the rabbits in the pet store, making faces through the glass at them. I spout private joke after private joke, until she laughs full and heavy, a cascade of shouts and snorts that make strangers look at us for some time.
She decompresses. She breathes. She puts it all in perspective.
By the time we are home, untwisting our scarves and kicking off muddy boots the world has reversed. That hour of torture, of terrorism and lies has been absorbed into the noisy city. We can go back to practicing guitar, making jokes about mustard, cooking together, drawing together, being a tiny family.