…And Holy God, it is amazing how much Lev looks like his father here. Like, we broke out some of Alexey’s old baby pictures and had a look recently – and it is ridiculous, how physically similar father and son are (though the forehead and the hair are clearly mine, all mine ).
Incidentally, Sasha is oddly modest about the photographs she takes. Modesty is great and all, but in her case, it just ain’t right. This woman has somehow managed to immortalize some of the biggest moments of my life and done that in a way that actually makes me want to go back and look “at that photo taken of me right after The Worst Break-Up Ever” or “that photo we took when I felt as though I was about to DIE.” I don’t have that kind of talent with the camera and am flattered to be her occasional model.
Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?
Here’s what she said to me…
I had a friend, a slightly older chap, who had a young daughter – and would complain incessantly about how much OLDER he felt now that she was born. Besides the sheer weight of responsibility – very small children are so frighteningly and touchingly helpless, after all – there was also the fact that he just felt “done.” He was finished with life’s most exciting events, he said: falling in love, getting married, having a baby. To make things even worse, he had money and professional success. There was not a whole lot left to strive for, unless he started a secret affair with some appropriately conniving vixen, and he had the misfortune of being devoted to his lovely wife. It was like living in a country where history was over.
I feel much younger now that I’ve had Lev. History is not over – historic events fly past like bullets, which you have to dodge. You never know which one might undo you or someone you love. I don’t know where I find the strength for anything – or how on earth we have managed to survive so far. I’m contemplating ruinage of my credit history. Debts don’t get smaller, they get bigger. Teeth crumble inside my head. Gossip hisses like static around my husband and I. I feel myself folding and collapsing under the weight of Every Little Thing Gone Wrong – and then, when I’m down there, beneath the pile, I begin to feel as if I am five years old again, and hiding under coats and jackets piled up in an apartment during a party in winter. The coats and jackets retain the scent of snow. It’s dark outside – it’s always dark during the days of my second childhood.
We are not “the deserving poor.” We are survivalists. I used to think that I would just give away my money – give and give it away, not making a dent in my student debt for years and pretending as though that’s the way things are supposed to be, because zero customer protection translates into life ruinage for thousands of people like me – but then my body started falling apart, and I realized that my priorities would have to change. I’ve skimmed on healthcare for years in order to appease the vengeful Sallie Mae god. But I can’t afford to crap out early – because, you know, Lyovka. So when we can afford to go to the sea, for example – we go to the sea, and park our asses in front of it, and stare. We buy good red wine and drink it from mugs and listen to Noize MC.
“Mommy is not going to be a slave to the system,” I murmur to my son as I bathe him. “She’s going to occupy student debt.” “Hawww,” He replies sagely. His eyes are swamp-coloured, like his father’s.
“You didn’t make mommy boring – mommy’s life is at its most exciting yet!” I tell him. It seems hilarious to contemplate my friends – their newfound, self-proclaimed “boringness” like a forcefield around them. In order to be nice and boring, you have to be able to afford it first.
This past winter, when Mikhail Ugarov invited a bunch of playwrights to write on the subject of repressions, I wrote about fear – fearing for myself, my child (I was pregnant at the time), other people whom I love. Slava Durnenkov, meanwhile, had this to say:
“I feel as though I can work. Living isn’t possible – working is.”
And that’s what we do, I guess: we work. We work and see each other through the haze of the tasks in front of us, whether on Facebook or in real life. We pass through each other’s kitchens. We exchange witticisms. There is a memory I have of the Garden Ring: my husband and I walking alongside Slava in the dark (remember – it’s always dark). The pavement is wet. I like Slava. He radiates approval. I am the perfect wife for my husband. “May you live,” he says, clasping our hands, joining us, like a priest. “May you live.”
When I ask my husband if he wants his freedom, he says he doesn’t. “But you and I could have torn up the town for a little longer,” he smiles. “But what about…” I mention the ways in which we still do.
He laughs. His definition of “tearing up the town” is radically different from mine.
I didn’t notice how I started crying. I had been cutting down a story about deaths in a Russian orphanage specifically designed for the children of female inmates – children born in captivity, like tiger cubs in a zoo (though tiger cubs generally get better treatment). Space on the page was limited, 300 words or so needed to go. I was busy making my usual choices – cut down on some of the details? Trim some of the longer quotes? – when I was surprised to find tears cascading down my face.
“Well, damn,” a voice said inside my head.
Someone passed along a link to the infamous video of Judge William Adams beating his screaming, terrified daughter. I was roughly a minute and a half through before I had to turn it off and look at pictures of cats on the internet.
The voice inside my head became less charitable. “How do you expect to cover the news anymore?” It snapped. “Oh em gee, I’m a mommy now! Somebody get me to cover the more appropriate stories! Like the Moore-Kutcher divorce!”
I pretended as though I didn’t hear and scoured the internet for cheap offers on televisions (“Skyrim” is out and I NEED a new TV).
That voice and I – we’ll need to have a chat eventually, though. We will have to reach some sort of impasse. Our constant bickering is bound to get people to start looking at us kinda funny.
In my last play, I made fun of the “hormonal mommy syndrome,” or, rather, society’s reactions to it – but I am also one of those people who makes fun of the things she believes in (see my previous post on religion, for example). I also refuse to believe that hormones are 100% to blame for increased sensitivity following the birth of a child – after all, you end up getting a completely different perspective on life, and it can take a long while to get used to it.
As I dress my child for bed, I hold and kiss his flailing little arms and legs, the little arms and legs that formed inside me for all of those months, and I marvel at the fact that anyone could ever want to harm this pudgy, energetic little body – whether through deliberate neglect, or worse. I am amazed that violence should even exist outside of movies and video games, somehow tricking my own brain into blotting out the entire concept behind how the human race has come to dominate planet Earth. I go full Godwin on myself – wasn’t Hitler once a helpless, toothless, adorable being who grinned at his mother as she picked him up from his crib? Nature has made me invest heavily into life, and so I find it harder to contemplate violent death.
Young filmmaker Madina Mustafyina, part of the same project that allowed my husband to shoot “Katya, Vitya, Dima,” shot a documentary about a family of bums living outside a village in Kazakhstan. These two odious alcoholics have somehow managed to give birth to a pretty little girl, Milana. Seven-year-old Milana and her parents live in the woods. The mother experiences random, completely unpredictable bouts of primitive aggression. She hits the daughter right on camera. The daughter screams and begs and promises to be good. Later, Milana takes sadistic pleasure in trying to feed a captured bird to a dog. “I will kill you!” She rages at the bird. The bird – small, helpless, dirty – is Milana herself.
When Milana’s mother gets extremely drunk (as opposed to her usual state of being, which oscillates between somewhat drunk and very drunk) and stalks off into the woods to hang herself, Milana screams and begs the other adults to stop her, which they eventually do.
Would Milana have been better off in an orphanage? You know, the sort of place where she would be neglected by the underpaid staff and possibly allowed to choke on her own vomit? What does it say about our world when a small child like Milana essentially has two choices: batshit parents or a batshit state care system? The questions hang in the air. Not even “Skyrim” quite drowns them out at the moment.
These are the things that I can’t write about right now. I’m writing about them anyway.