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the immigrant and the exile

The expatriate remains patriotic - loving their country from a distance. Their loyalty does not waver.

The immigrant is a foreigner that works in another country as a result of some form of escape, some desperate act.

The exile does not love their country, and it can be said that their country rejected them.

Which one wakes up homesick?

Which one can shrug off the betrayal, the long shadow of the dream of a better life when it sours and fades?

There are days when  I see no difference between the immigrant and the exile, two sides of the same coin. The expat is a blind romantic, their decisions set as young men and women, their senses dulled to nothing. I have started to understand I am not an expat any more, as I do not love my country. I tolerate it.

new partner (and about yellow flowers)


The day approaches with slack-eyed dread. I forget sometimes, somehow blinding myself to seven years with a turn of the shoulder and a loss for words. This year, the trick is beyond me. There is less magic this time, as the day inches closer, stillborn. I wore my best coat and fedora that day. Both of them are long gone. Parables and expressions tumble out. Time heals all wounds, people say. It may be true, but like it or not the wound reopens each year. I can pretend the scar is clean and smooth and getting smaller. I can pretend it does not seep blood, and money and regret. 

I can imagine none of it even happened.




There are at least ten or eleven women wandering the flower shop, weaving around each other with lists and papers and questions like "where is the green ribbon?" and "did you take my scissors?". I am a walk-in, and must wait as they create antiseptic, homogenous bouquets. I see loose roses turning into stock photographs with the life sucked out of them. There is nothing human about these creations.

The one woman who deals with the walk-ins wears a thin purple turtleneck that is three sizes too small. Her body is sagging in many places, and I can see her underwear through the thin, frayed fabric. She wears no makeup. Her dark hair hangs limp over her ears. She speaks to me, eyelids lowered, immediately resentful to be dealing with a foreigner who talks and points and waves his hand around. I ask for peonies 

She disappears for a while, then helps someone else then goes into a back room. She returns with a bunch of yellow ones. I stare at her for a moment. Yellow flowers are only for when you want to say goodbye to someone, when you want to leave your girlfriend or your wife. Why she tries to pawn them off on me on Valentine's Day is so offensive that I think to stalk out, slam the door until the windows shake and never come back to this place. She stares at me, asking if I want them. They are for my girlfriend, I tell her. She shrugs her shoulders. This is the moment I have passed a thousand times in Moscow. Someone trying to sell me shit with a perfectly straight face, waiting for me to pull a few thousand rubles from my pocket. 

I shake my head no. Yellow is wrong, I tell her. 
She shrugs her shoulders. Her chin bunches up.
I point at at a handful of tiny pink peonies in front of me. I tell her to mix them with some pink French tulips and she slumps into action, more elephant than human.

She starts on the bouquet and it is a little bit messy. I like that. Maybe all bouquets should look like children made them. I see some lilies of the valley, and decide to get E a little bouquet too. Just some daisies and a few green leaves to round hers out. 

I think about the promise of the flower shop, the act of picking something beautiful. No matter what happens in life, this selecting and giving of flowers - there is something so terribly right about this simple act. I wonder why I don't buy flowers every day. 


It is dead cold outside but the sun has come out. People are coughing and sneezing. Somehow their breath hanging in the air looks like chalk dust.

I will always be the man who made a promise on Valentine's Day that ended with a ring on his finger. I can remember it banging on the cold metal banisters coming out of the subway. It suddenly felt heavy on my hand. That will never change. Every Valentine's Day I think of not just that, but of the anniversaries that followed, the tight faces, the early warning that there will be no gifts, no dinner reservations to be made, nothing exchanged except a sideways look and relief when the day is over.


I take E from school in the afternoon and start cleaning shrimp for dinner when we get home. 
"Risotto?" E asks and I nod.
She claps her hands and brings her flowers from the living room to the kitchen table. 
She spreads her homework out and begins with a math exercise.
"Pop." She says at one point. "You know I love you, right?"
"I do." I tell her, kissing her once on the top of her head. "And I love you."
E rolls her eyes, looking up at me from the page.
I put some music on, and it is somehow an old mix of songs. Music I discovered about ten years ago. The first track is New Partner by Will Oldham. I turn the volume way up, and suddenly am singing at the top of my lungs. 

Now you'll haunt me, you'll haunt me
'Till I've paid for what I've done
It's a payment which precludes the having of fun

And the key turns in the front door and N is home. I give her the flowers and she is all oohs and aahs. She reminds me how long it has been since I bought them, but she is smiling and laughing with that wise mouth and that light in her eyes. I go back to singing, and whirl E around the kitchen a while before the song ends.

When you think like a hermit 
you forget what you know

I've got a new partner, riding with me
I've got a new partner, riding with me
I've got a new partner, riding with me
I've got a new partner now

I am a man that was broken. I have spent so long pretending, but now I am peeling shrimp and the next song is coming on. Valentine's Day will be over soon. We will drink and eat and make jokes and E will fall asleep early. I will drink tea in the kitchen with N.

The flowers are open even in the dark.


Comments

liv said…
A partner who is worthy of pink peonies and french tulips?! And delights in them?....screw the past, you are a lucky man.

I loved that E brought her flowers into the kitchen - so sweet.
Two whole posts to savor while I sip my v dry Martini over here in the pouring rain. And you are as astonishing, as ever.

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