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talking to the trees

Most experiences cannot be discussed. No one wants to hear the ugly truth, and chances are you will be attacked for sharing it. To be able to speak freely means that you need a willing listener, otherwise you are just talking to the trees. Time and again I have come to understand that there is no difference between New York and Moscow, no difference between East and West. They are just cults of personality, built on violence and money and moral quicksand.

The life of an expat evolves from those early, awkward victories to one of assimilation or in cases like mine - eventually understanding that you have no country you can (or want to) call home. I am left with just these four walls and my family. This apartment is the only place I actually belong. This is the only place I do not need to soft-pedal my thoughts, where I do not need to apologize for what I have unearthed. The river of betrayal runs deep whether I look outside, or across the ocean. Willful ignorance, willful indifference…

the greatest show on earth

There is a handful of men in the street, with a collection of cheap bags around them. They are held together with swaths of duct tape, splitting apart at the seams, everything sliding out sideways. A policeman stands, yellow vest and hat glaring into the dim afternoon with his hands on his hips. A radio blasts voices, dangling from one of his hands. Two of the men are grasping at the bags trying to understand how to carry all of them. Their faces are down, defeated. One stands, shouting at the policeman. I see his hands waving, the desperation in his face. I know it all too well. He knows nothing will be corrected, but the shouting, the declaration and the argument makes him feel better. He knows their car is gone now, and they are lucky to have gotten the bags from it first. 

There are birds flying around inside the supermarket. Not just one or two but whole families of sparrows roosting in the open ceiling, their shit dripping onto the cabbages and cheap beer. It all seems so normal. No one bats an eye, as they argue about the price of potatoes at the cashier. 

We are walking, and pass two men in a parking lot. They are dressed in desert camouflage, smoking cigarettes with automatic rifles slung around their necks. The guns swing back and forth across their belly laughs. The men look calm, eyes closed as they lean back and spit onto the sidewalk.

On Sunday, there is a woman singing opera. As we approach the street market and the tiny makeshift stage we see her. Microphone perched in one hand, feet together at diagonals to look pretty she sings. People are buying cheap pots and pans, maybe a nightgown or some giant shiny underwear. There is a wagon next to her, stuffed with pumpkins and corn. Men take turns standing next to it, one elbow out as their picture is taken. I see them asking, "Do I look good?" before we head home.

Upstairs, we hide. E is drawing characters for a film we are making. I am cutting them out, filling in the colors of their lips and hair. We will record some of their voices today, cracking each other up with our faces in screwed-up shapes. When E gets hungry we make cheeseburgers and sweet potato fries. She draws a ketchup smile on all of them before we cram them down, talking through mouthfuls at the kitchen table.

There is an election going on today, more whipped up drama for those curious enough to watch. Only one in four people will travel outside beyond the opera lady and the picture wagon, beyond the underwear tables and militia to vote. E's school is one of these locations, so there will not be class tomorrow when they remove the machines. She can stay up late watching movies until she falls asleep next to me, one of my hands under her cheek.

I am up late, half-curious about who won, knowing that this has all been decided in advance. I read the fresh set of quotes, about protest, about recounts. Six years ago I would have believed what I was reading. Three years ago, I would have stuck to some slim edge of hope. I know better now. It is just a show, an elaborate chess match with no real opponent. It is a fascinating distraction for some, a comedy to others. It is noise and static, even annoying to many. I am reminded of when Stalin said, "It does not matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes."


liv said…
A circus indeed - with a very heavy price of admission.

I'd be hiding inside too, especially if there were hamburgers and french fries waiting!

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