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secret windows (don't look back)

I found myself in a conversation with an old friend, about the crossroads of writing, nostalgia and memory. "Distance and perspective are the upside." I said. "The slippery slope is romanticizing and being nostalgic. Well, that's the memory trap no matter who you are."
"It's funny... I spent most of my life thinking that I had a rather dull adolescence, and it's only recently that I've discovered that these stories are a lot more interesting than I gave them credit." My friend replied. I admitted that I gravitate towards stories that are based on a mistake, a lie - thinking you had some great childhood, when actually it was a shitshow, and you fantasized about being adopted but sort of blocked that out.  


The question wobbled around inside my head for a few days. Was I too fast to judge nostalgia, to quick to brush aside its sweetness, stepping over it towards something invariably darker and sadder?  On Sunday, I was walking on Kutuzovsky,…

animals



E sends me a message, I don't feel good. I ask if it is from driving in her mother's car half of the day or if it is her stomach. 
No, she writes. I am not happy today. 
I know it is because of the neighbor's girl, L.
Yes, from L. Eva writes to me.
Tell your mother you really do not like being around her. I reply.
I did. E answers. 
She is on a picnic with three neighbors and their children. I know all of them in passing, some better than that. After a few minutes, I decide to call her.
"So, what's going on now?" I ask, quietly.
"L was pouring water in cups and she poured some all over my pants." She says.
"Was it an accident or did she do it on purpose?" I ask.
She pauses.
"I don't know." She says, her voice sounding dead.
"Did she apologize?" I ask.
"No." She says quickly. "And everybody laughed at me."
"That's not right." I tell her. "That's not right at all."
"I know." She says.
"What else?" I ask.
"I went and lied down on a blanket and L came and pulled my shirt up and was trying to touch my bellybutton." She says, sad, frustrated.
The hair on my arms goes up. 
"And did anyone see this?" I ask.
"Yes." She says.
"And what did they say?" I ask.
"Nothing." She says. "They laughed."
"And how do you feel now?" I ask.
"I feel bad." She says, about to cry.
I stare at the floor for some time. I think of the act, the betrayal, the invasion. I think of how everyone saw this and no one said anything. I think of the things I would have said and done if I was there, how E's hand would be in mine and we would already be far from this place, that my choice words for L's mother and father would not remain behind my teeth for more than a minute or two. I think of E, the smallest one, her pants soaking wet, helpless, texting me in some unknown patch of grass. I stay calm. I tell her in slow, measured words what do to and what not to do. After she hangs up, I swear for a few minutes. I know the act could have been innocent, some silly playing but even then it should have been corrected, acknowledged. Knowing the adults are all drinking and laughing at E, I imagine the embarrassment she feels. 
As the minutes pass, I get angrier. 
E writes to me. My hands hurt. What should I do?
I call her again. She has touched a plant, krapiva, a stinging nettle. I tell her to be careful not to touch her face or anyplace else on her body, to wash her hands with a lot of soap. 
"There is no soap." She says.
"Even a wipe, like a baby wipe?' I ask her, knowing full well no one there has one.
"No." She says in that same defeated voice.
"Ok, just wash them with water and stay calm." I say, half-full of doubt this will work.
"Ok, Papa." She says.

I spend the rest of the night checking in on her, until she goes home and falls asleep. 



The next day, I call in the morning.
"Are we still going to the zoo?" She asks me.
"Of course." I tell her. "I even remembered bread for the ducks."
She laughs once.

I am buzzed in and go up the stairs, waiting in the hallway for her to appear. After some time she does, her pants filthy, dirt and food crusted on her face. I buy a water downstairs and do my best to clean her up. She suddenly looks helpless to me.
We take the metro, changing and wandering the exits until we emerge at Barikadnaya. This was our Saturday, maybe every one of them that summer when she was five. We came out here, bought two hotdogs and ate them on the curb, then pressed our way down the messy sidewalk to the zoo entrance. The price was less then, but kids are still free. Most of the time I would forget to bring bread for the ducks, so we would tear off bits of our hotdog rolls, saving the last few bites to toss over the fence and watch them struggle to get it first, craning their necks back and gobbling them down. No matter what madness was washing over us, this brackish water and these ducks marked the first minutes of breath, of relief.



E still likes the monkeys, but has started to grasp the fact that these animals live in terrible conditions. They are stuck in concrete, with cloudy water littered with trash and dead insects. They waddle through the heat, patches of their skin bare and dry. Only a handful of zebras run on a field of grass and seem healthy.

She cranes her neck to see the polar bears.
"Why don't they have any snow?" She asks me.
I shrug my shoulders.
"They should have snow." She announces in a loud voice.

There are crowds of people pressing faces against glass. Mothers are dressed in carefully selected ensembles. Fathers have cameras swinging from their necks. Children stuff cotton candy and sugared popcorn into their faces. They are all having a wonderful time, snapping memories, laughing, shouting at the animals, pointing, whooping, cheering.

We walk slowly, silently.
E does not look at half of the animals, just holds my hand and squints in the bright afternoon sun. I want to ask her about yesterday, to go through the events and see if there is a new version of what happened. I decide to wait until later and we are eating hamburgers and milkshakes. Later, when there are no dead rats on the ledges, no stench of cheetah piss, no trickle of soda running down the pavement, no rush of heat from the cheap rides and the bumper cars.













Comments

Sarah said…
Lord Marco. I don't know what to say. I have been there and I still deal with the repercussions with my daughter daily...she was only there for 18 months. My son fared much better. I see it here in London with my children's best friends.....they are a major Oligarch's children and goes on daily with them. I am so sorry for you and E. Stay strong and believe in your purpose to stay in Moscow and protect your daughter. You will escape this someday. It will only be a bad dream to help her heal from. Be strong and know we are all routing for you!
liv said…
Your photos on this post are sheer genius, Marco. Even the downward pull of the doll's mouth eerily resembles E's mouth when she is sad. And the animals, yes, she is probably ready to be done with the zoo - she is comprehending too much of reality.

It would be hard for you, but I hope that you will take just one second to see what her world would have been like that day if there was no you to text - no you to ask, "what do I do?". You are saving her sanity one day at a time - bless you. So much love and hope comes from here to keep you strong and balanced as you do what you must.
Evie G said…
Marco....I haven't read your posts in a while....and reading this one today just put in back into the forgotten places of innocent and lost me. Wow...I am humbled by the words...the truth...the pain. Thank you for sharing...for opening....

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