I was a child when we came here. I still remember holding my mother tight in my arms, cradling her face and wiping her tears as the train took us away from our home...HER home...as I promised her that I would be her strength wherever we would go...
America was THE dream. That magnificent something where anything was possible. I
I got only a glimpse of our country. The way our government punished us for years. Individuality...intelligence...passion...were repugnant.
Sins for which we payed.
Secrets we hid in our kitchens late at night.
When we gathered at night we listened to underground rock bands who sang of that unreachable place...and tears clouded the world as we danced in the candlelight.
You will never know what it is like to be on a waiting list for an "forbidden" book. To stand in endless lines for a piece of fruit for your child. To battle every day so that your child feels loved and special. To beg for a phone...to pray that one day you won't have to share a 3 bedroom with 3 families and the kitchen will have only one fridge and not three. That running water won't be orange. That you can move to a city simply because you want to and not require a permit from the government to do so.
How does this still exist??
She was an actress then...the best memories of my childhood were spent in that old theater with her bohemian friends who treated me like one of them and shared everything they had with me as if I deserved it. We longed SO much to come here. We hoped that our lives would simply fall into place and become the glossy perfection we saw on screens late at night. And though in some ways our expectations have far exceeded anything we could have imagined then, the road has been paved with blood and tears. I still remember watching these melancholy young actors...kids, really, beautiful in their tragedy...delicate in their sadness...tell jokes by a fire, give their souls for their art, search for meaning, in a country that was never going to give them anything except disappointment. The country that would beat them into submission and make them faceless clones passing time until death.
It is so difficult to put into words what we thought the world...and America...was. The reality is not bad (that is not my intention)...but it is hard to convey with words those fleeting images of this far away land that we thought gave you happiness as soon as you stepped onto the ground. No, it was not realistic. But I miss the naivete nonetheless.
I thought things got better in my homeland. But tonight, when I watched our "Grammys" I saw a singer who sang about flying over Moscow away from the "cage" to Europe. And the crowd, usually sullen and morose...smiled and clapped and waved...and cried. Because they are still there. Trapped, persecuted, unable to fulfill their potentials. Artists, intellectuals...the forgotten children of Europe.
We are not a third world country, far from it. Yet this response shows how deeply unhappy we still are.
The song playing now cannot be translated. It is a goodbye to America - where the singer has never been. He is mourning the loss of something he never possessed. He faces the reality that life will never change. Years later, though I have never lived communism how my mother or my friends have, it still brings back pain. That delicately excruciating pang of nostalgia for my childhood...my youth...my beautiful country that I so deeply loved and didn't want to leave. The self pity I feel for never being able to belong anywhere since... and the unforgiving realization that no dream is ever real. The perpetual guilt I feel for having my success be paid in my mother's youth and happiness. The America I thought I would find...that Paradiso that we created in our heads.
I have made the most of what she gave me, far more than either of us had expected. I have taken "The American Dream" and I have pushed it to its limits. I am the story parents tell their children. And I worked to the bone to get it. And now, on the almost eve, of another decade I am reflecting on what once was. I look to the future...but I can never forget the past. I was but a child, but those memories are burned in my soul.
My blood is Russian. My heart is American. Where the rest of me ends up is anyone's guess...