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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…


One in five people in Moscow has tuberculosis. We wash our hands constantly, even after just touching an elevator button. At the first cough, we kept E home from school. N retreated to her mother's apartment with V. The all-familiar quarantine, even for a common cold. From the outside it probably sounds excessive, paranoid. From the inside, it is the only way to find peace. Do every single thing you can, meaning, control all you can control which often feels like a few molecules of prevention, like trying not to breathe the air around your head.

E lounged on the couch as I worked, sipping bowls of soup, watching full seasons of American tv shows and chattering about time travel and alternate universes with me as we sat together in the kitchen. Having our little family separated weighs on me. I find chances to meet N in the street when V is in the carriage, peeking at her face sleeping under that pink hat tucked so carefully around her cheeks. I fill the time, trying to be productive while the house stands quiet.

And then on Friday, I get that brackish taste in my throat, the ache, the dry cough. On Saturday, E goes to her mother's house and I spend the night by myself in the house that feels bigger than usual. Walking the empty rooms, collapsing on the couch to take naps, the time stretches into some cross-country highway that I am creeping across. E calls me, asks me how I feel, then a final goodnight. N calls. I hear the baby shouting funny sounds. I hate being sick, or more truthfully - to be alone. Me, the mayor of East First Street,  Mr. Table for One, the guy walking home in the rain at 4am from Hell's Kitchen all the way down Fifth Avenue without a twinge of regret. I didn't even need furniture in those days - just a mattress on the floor and a kitchen table to fill with unopened mail. I ate soup from the pot, standing over the sink.

The long night eventually wraps itself around me and I lean back against it.

In the morning, I buy eggs, flour, bitter chocolate, sugar. The cough is leaving, bones aching like I am an old man but I find myself standing in the kitchen separating eggs. I melt the chocolate. I measure, splash extra things in like some espresso, a glug of aged rum. The phone rings. Time to wander out and get E, somehow feeling better in the street with the sun on my face. Sometimes resting and being sick makes you feel more sick. Better to ignore it and keep living. We bake a chocolate cake, using a new recipe with no baking soda or powder just seven eggs with the whites whipped separately for extra lift. And then by afternoon I am feeling fine and soon N will call me to help her get the carriage into the elevator and V will wake up maybe then or maybe later. The house will be full of warm smells and chirps and shouts and laughs. The cake looks good. I hold it out to V when she wakes and she presses her tiny palm against it.

"This is your first birthday cake." I tell her and she stares at me, serious as I am.
She makes a little sound, a quiet monster grumble.
"Next year, you get to lick the spoon" I tell her.


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