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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…

One


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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