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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

not any more

The store is not open yet. A truck is parked on the sidewalk outside. Men with armloads of flowers are shoving through the doors, half-sliding across the muddy tiles. I jump in between them and stand with my hands in my pockets. The room stinks of roses and lilies, like cheap perfume. Women in sweaters wear long faces. I try to get their attention. They ignore me, walking in and out of little rooms, their hands empty.

At one point, an old woman wearing half-glasses asks me what I want. I point at some yellow flowers that are not peonies, but something like peonies. Then some purple ones. Four and three, I say. She wraps them in silence, in simple paper. I pay her and she gives me the wrong change - too much. I give it back and her eyebrows are raised. Her face lights up a little. I tell her it will be a long day. I tell her it smells wonderful in the little store. 

Walking through the frozen park, passing playgrounds submerged in dirty snow I think of Misha's gift, the crystal plate for chocolate cakes. I think of my friends in jackets in my old kitchen on 1st Street, throwing back shots of cognac before nine in the morning and then taking the cab down to city hall. 

No, that was someone else's life. 

I am not the man that got married on Valentine's Day. Not any more. 



Inside, I pull my boots off quietly. I slide into bed next to N, kiss her ears. 
She moves. 
"Happy Valentine's Day." I whisper to her.
She smiles, her eyes still closed.
The paper rustles. 
She reaches, squeezing the little bouquet. 
Somehow it falls off the side of the bed. 
"Oy!" She says, suddenly awake, reaching for them, pulling them carefully back to her pillow.

I make some home fries, scrambled eggs. The patter of the shower, and N brushing her teeth are the only sounds. The flowers are in a vase now, in the center of the kitchen table.

The day passes in silence. I work without listening to music, taking breaks to cube some fresh pumpkin and start it roasting slowly in the oven. Squeezing fresh lemons and blood oranges, I cook down half of the juice with some Russian honey. Mixing them together, they go into the freezer in a metal bowl. It will be sorbet in a few hours. I make a mound of semolina flour on the kitchen table, crack eggs in the center, add a splash of good olive oil and knead the dough. The house smells warm.

I get E from school. She has a message scribbled on a heart to show me. We sit at the kitchen table, as I roll out the pasta into crooked sheets, cutting them into squares. She drops tiny spoonfuls of the pumpkin in their centers, sticking her finger in her mouth to taste them. A plate fills with the tortellini, their points looking like funny hats. 

This is what I will remember next year.





Comments

Banker Chick said…
You must have made the flower lady's day. and E's and N's day too. Sweet new memories.
liv said…
Ranunculus, wonderful flower. Always reminds me of a cross between a peony and a rose.

No, you're not that man anymore. You live in a new world with a new love and a new direction.

How many life's live within one man?
I have just spent the better part of 24 hours reading your entire blog...front to back. I am left feeling raw, helpless, shocked yet hopeful and inspired. I found your blog on the expat forum, researching Moscow. We may be moving there from sunny Florida; returning to the Motherland of our son (adopted from Chelyabinsk).

Your daughter is precious! And N reads as a beautiful, loving and dedicated lady. As I read, the one question that always came up is "how in the world did you meet this woman (E's mother)?! What happened to make her "kidnap" E? How long after did you follow? Please forgive me for asking such personal questions.

You are an amazing man and father! Wow! Tough, brave and hard on the outside, but soft and tender on the inside. That is what a daughter can do to her daddy. And the food?! I was hungry the whole time yet stuffed the whole time reading descriptions and seeing pictures. How does N stay so slim?!

Blessings to you your sweet little family!
Katie

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