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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

a sort of homecoming (speaking English)



The record skips, playing the same fragment. The return taxi from the airport, that last lurch of my shoulder against bags heavy with gifts, the surrender to the couch and E tiptoeing around me so I can sleep a little. She waits so patiently to see what I got her in New York. The morning is lost in stolen moments on that couch, and at night when everyone is snoring and I cannot sleep. Nine years of doing this and it never gets easier. Mind in one place, body in another, but the mind wins in the end.

I dreamt today, after closing my eyes for 20 minutes. V was talking in it, her voice so round and sweet. She was walking, running even. A long shiver ran down my arms, as if I had somehow missed the transformation from crawling baby to one year old in that week I spent away. She was wearing purple pants and I was making jokes about dancing in purple pants and she was rolling her eyes. She spoke English in the dream.

E did not speak English until she was almost five. There is no irony lost on the fact that today is an anniversary, a day I shove aside but cannot ignore. Six years ago, we slept for the first night away from that crazy apartment in a new home. A home no one thought I could find or pay for, a home they called a fantasy, the punchline to a shitty joke. All the same I was rolling my suitcase down the sidewalk over a thin layer of snow. proving them wrong. E was with me, and we went out for sushi across the street as there was nothing to eat. After dinner we tiptoed into the new place, and she turned all of the lights on and off, as if each switch could do something magical. She put some of her dolls on a shelf, and put on her nightgown. We danced that night, sliding around the fake wood floor. She rolled back and forth like she was in the snow making an angel. E did not have a room in that tiny apartment, just a sort of half closet with a tiny sofa shoved into it but she loved it all the same.

I cannot remember what she said, but it was all in English. The words had been coming for a few months, spoken out of the side of her mouth. That night we spoke English as if the barn doors were swung open and all of the animals ran out in one clumsy, thundering rush. We had constructed a tiny America on the 9th floor, looking out at the dark sky and the smoke curling into it.

Everything that happened in New York last week suddenly feels insignificant, a footnote to laying on the bed with V jumping on my belly. This low point in American history, the fear, the skittish thoughts, the disgusting news all evaporate. There are no big questions here, just what toy to hand V next so she can chew on it, smacking her hands hard in the air and squealing. This is the underbelly of the expat. When things go sour in your old country, you can shrug it off much easier. You already have problems to deal with, visas to renew, work and bills and garbage to remember to take downstairs. Nothing matters but what is right in front of you. E asks me what I am making for dinner and somehow that is all I can think about.



Comments

liv said…
Home safe and sound, not only your family is grateful for your return.
I can only guess the number of photos you took in NY. Your work is always enthralling, Marco. You have that skill of capturing JUST the moment. It's a small select group of artist's who can do that. I would love to visit NY through your photos, for me they would be so captivating that I could, for a bit, forget all the craziness here.

Humor me, give me an E holding V.

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