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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…

no museums (Fernando)


The move happened quickly. There was a long hour standing in the new kitchen, as papers were copied by hand, waiting for passport numbers and signatures. We went from room to room, pasting pink post-it notes to everything we were asking them to take away. There was a decrepit sofa that E said looked like a giant dead monkey. There were cabinets with ceramic families inside them. There were broken tables, and they were all going away to the landlord's country house if we payed to transport them.

I breathed in deep, imagining a room with only our things in it, not stacked on top of books and chairs the landlord had left behind, a sort of Soviet junk museum that they considered gold.

E would have her own room, looking out at trees and a big sky. I would have a kitchen where I did not have to ask anyone to move their chair to open the fridge. N would have fresh air, and closet space. It all felt too perfect, and I waited for the second shoe to drop but somehow it never did.

The day came when the last box was slogged through the front door, and we sat in the chairs that were left. A faint smell of old lady perfume and kasha drifted past us as we opened doors. The tea kettle was unearthed. E skipped from room to room, imagining things I will never know. N sipped from the red cup, her hands wrapped around it as she always does. There are only two red cups left now, and we cannot find replacements for them.


We leave early for school, navigating the streets to the little bus that takes us halfway there. In this mashrutka, you pay 30 rubles and hope to get a seat as the driver weaves past the corners like we are in Monte Carlo.

We step into the cool air, and walk the same way to school and arrive 15 minutes early.

E goes behind those familiar doors. I imagine N in bed, her lips pursed, her face curled beneath the covers.

On the way back, it is a different mashrutka, and the driver has the radio on. It is cranking an Abba song.

They were closer now Fernando
Every hour every minute seemed to last eternally
I was so afraid Fernando
We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die
And I'm not ashamed to say
The roar of guns and cannons almost made me cry

I find myself humming along. The old woman next to me turns her face slowly, studying me. I smile at her, knowing this is a good way to look like I am on drugs, or am "simple" as they say here. She looks at me, offering no reaction. I hum a little louder. She turns away, looking out the window at the sun dancing on the cold asphalt.


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