Look homeward

I was in the U.S. Embassy applying for a new passport for Lyovka the other day.

If you’ve been in Moscow long enough, you’re struck by how efficient and friendly the staff at the U.S. Embassy tend to be (on a sidenote: when my Russian husband and I were getting our paperwork approved at the Foreign Ministry in order to get married on Russian soil, everyone was also really efficient and friendly as well – and that’s when it strikes you, the huge difference between the Foreign Ministry and the Federal Migration Service. The former is alright. The latter is Mordor). Nobody’s angry at you for showing up. If you couldn’t print the PDF form, they just provide you with one. There are comfy chairs in the waiting room. There’s a playroom too – where I nursed Lyovka last August.

At the security post. U.S. Marines watch you with their feet propped up. You wonder how they get on in the city. You want to go home. You remember that you no longer have one. “We’re women, our choices are never easy.”

I always knew that I would leave North Carolina one day, but not before it rewrote my DNA, made the arrow in my inner compass point ever westward. North Carolina is a chronic illness. The outbreaks are always inconvenient.

And there is so much death on the news. You want it to be meaningful – it is not. You want to mythologize death – it will not be mythologized. Planes fall out of the sky. Doctors kill infants through neglect – and grandly tell the mother frozen in the hospital corridor that “but you gave birth to a very sick child, we have all of the necessary paperwork – that we just made up to cover our asses.” People spend their days killing other people and go home to their families in the evening – talk shows scream from the windows of their apartments. The old are always burying the young.

You need permits to do anything, permits to live, permits to breathe – and yet no one needs a permit to stomp a bloody trail through someone else’s life. It just happens. These things happen. “We wanted what was best – it turned out like always.” Shrug.

When he sleeps in his mustard-colored pajamas, Lyovka looks a bit like a squash. After we put him to bed, we drink wine. If my husband is off working on a movie, I’ll write. Self-righteous middle-aged American women who may or may not drive SUV’s but tend to have “accepted Christ as their personal savior” send me nasty messages on Facebook – because I became a mother without asking Sallie Mae for permission. “I would have never had children if I were still in debt!” “Enjoy your rootless existence, watching your child grow up without a home!”

Lyovka’s concept of home is currently defined by me and his father. When he made his first trip to the Embassy, he spent most of it sleeping in his sling, tied tightly to my body like a baby kangaroo. “Can I see him?” The consular staff member asked. I came closer to the glass. This was official procedure. His birth was being recorded – we were notifying the government of his existence.

“Wow. What a peaceful sleeper.”

Two countries mingled within him, borders rearranged, and he slept on.

US Airways Flight 1549 and a Gaza protest nearby

First of all, I have a new hero, his name is Chesley B. Sullenberger, he rocks that pilot’s uniform, and he also rocks crash-landings into the Hudson. La Guardia to Charlotte on US Airways? I’ve gone that route many times. I’m still trying to figure out if anyone I knew was on that plane. Anyway, I’m just glad that everyone appears to be OK.

Second of all, here’s what’s going on in Amman today:


This is the only picture that came out somewhat decently (I really need to get my other camera fixed), and what you don’t see, unfortunately, is the abundance of Communist flags alongside Muslim Brotherhood flags. An interesting combination, if I may say so myself.

Anyway, the good news is, it was another peaceful protest. Not at all consistent with the popular FOX News imagery of those “ranting and raving A-rabs.” Considering all of the protests that have been happening here in Amman, I have received several concerned e-mails. But I’m fine, and, like everyone else, just waiting for a truce.

The Obligatory Christmas Music Video

Is it weird that this song makes me miss North Carolina? You might as well change the lyrics to “little sister brought her new boy friend. He was an aaa-rab.”

Well, except that I’m nobody’s little sister (sometimes I wish I was – although being a little cousin ain’t so bad either), and my parents were more of the hard-working middle class immigrant stereotype, but still.

You know what I miss about Christmas with the family? The clutter. The happy clutter, to be precise. I miss the twelve different kinds of wrapping paper, all frayed at the edges, and I miss the coffee beans spilling out of their little gift bags, and the stains of red wine in the glasses that I always forgot to wash, and other such nonsense.

Of course, if you’ve never been to Jordan, please don’t be deluded that we don’t have Christmas around here. I’ve been binging on mince pies for what? Like, three straight days now. Many people have holiday lights and Christmas trees peeking out from their windows, and I pass a huge Christmas billboard on my way to the office, which is, in some ways, better than passing one hundred Christmas billboards on your way to the office, I think (call me a bitch, but there’s something about the image of a gift-wrapped Lexus that fills me with misanthropic hatred and envy).

It’s just not the same, that’s all.

Bullet in Tennessee

Bullet in Tennessee

This was how it ended.

People found comfort in the fact that it was “meant” to come down to a blood-spattered backseat of a grim new-model Chevy with a hood bent like a crocodile muzzle, to a hole in your delicate, mysterious brain; what better way to exorcise genius?

The note that they found on you was addressed to your sister, “whom [you] loved.” It wasn’t meant to dismiss your parents, this note, it was borne out of your love of precision.

Your parents lived mostly in their thoughts: somehow managing to talk above your head even when you became a head taller than both of them, or else lapsing into “cool” phases, offering you wine and unsolicited advice about condoms. Your sister was near and keen, mouth hanging open in wonder at everything you did: college math in the seventh grade, tae kwan do black belt, balancing a spoon on your nose and explaining stochastic differential equations at the same time.

You dutifully went on double-dates with me, knowing that my best friend Ruth pressured me to “not just be the freaking third-wheel all the time.” For Ruth’s benefit, you brushed strands of hair out of my face and, with a look of desperate teenage longing, whispered things in my ear: Continue reading “Bullet in Tennessee”