I cannot recall the moment the plane landed on US soil. Nor can I remember the experience of disembarking with crystal clear clarity; however, I do remember the feeling that came over me. I remember the feeling of wanting to kiss the ground when I realized that I would never have to live in Russia again. Perhaps I may have gently lowered myself down to my knees and kissed my driveway when we reached the house. I will never forget the feeling of being home. I had been away for two years. But it was a feeling that I soon learned was not necessarily what I was to find.
I was thirteen years old when I moved back to the United States in August of 1992. We moved back into the house my parents had built in Portsmouth, Rhode Island in 1989. It had been a year since the Soviet Union had fallen, Mikhail Gorbachev had been ousted by the August 1991 coup, and Boris Yeltsin had become the president of Russia. I was a thirteen-year-old who had watched the lines of tanks slowly make their way down Leninsky Prospekt. I was a thirteen-year-old who learned the name of guns from my perch on a balcony. I was a thirteen-year-old familiar with car bomb sweeps and the reality of kidnappings and assassinations.
In early-90s Russia, our childhoods consisted of hitchhiking around Moscow with packs of cigarettes as a bartering tool; running around the Kremlin and GUM; dodging Gypsy kids, who tried to rob you with knives on the Arbat; alcohol and cigarettes on rooftops at ten-years-old; bitterly cold White Nights; skating in Gorky Park; a lack of heat in your apartments and schools; food shortages and the famous bread lines. One vivid memory is sitting at my desk in my 6th grade classroom. We all wore our winter jackets, gloves, hats and scarves inside while we did our schoolwork. With each breath exhaled, we saw our breath fill the air in front of us while every table took a five-minute break to warm up at a space heater.
In the USSR and Russia, the KGB had bugged our apartment. Occasionally, my parents would sit me down at the dining room table and ask me to tell them about my day at school. As I told them about my grade on my newest paper or how I felt about a test I took that day, my parents wrote notes to each other in order to not be overheard by the KGB. I do not know what they would write to each other, but I simply knew that I was to keep talking until they were done. Our telephones also were bugged and I am sure some poor KGB officer had been bored to death by my pre-teen conversations.
Life was difficult. Besides the food shortages and political upheaval, one’s spirit was truly tried in a country that was both beautiful and full of history, but was also freezing cold and hostile. There were times when my father would leave the apartment after curfew and come home having been “warned” by the KGB to stop doing something. There were times I found myself in a car with my father when he wanted to loose a car that had been following us. I was a child whose neighbors was the KGB, who had offices on the third floor of our apartment building where we had our apartment on the top fourteenth floor. It was a life that only a few people understood; people who lived in the era of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War; kids that did not live in the comfort of the West.
Life in Moscow was different than the American – or Western – childhood. When I moved back to Rhode Island, I found myself shutting down around my classmates. Kids that I had gone to school with several years before I left. A million reasons run through my head, but perhaps I thought I was too different – foreign – to relate to them. They also did not seem to want to know me. Nor did I have anything in common with them. There was an innocence in my classmates that perhaps I did not have when I returned.
I have heard the description Foreigner frequently throughout my life. Classmates have used this word, as if my birth had taken place on some foreign soil and not in the smallest state. Even today, some of my closest friends are still under the impression that I was born in Russia or in Latvia, like my father. As a child, until the age of fourteen, I had been repeatedly told that I did not have an American accent. Over the years, I have lost count of how many times I have been asked if I was English. When I was fourteen, a British woman asked me where I was from in England. Once an Australian classmate of mine asked me if I was British, Canadian and then Australian before her words fell upon American.
I am an American. But I do feel like a foreigner in my own country sometimes; or that I do not completely fit in here. It’s as if I am always looking to the East, pulled by some unknown energy that radiates across the Atlantic. How does one define the feeling that a place is home? Is it a place that you simply rent or buy? Is it somewhere that you were born, lived and died? Or is it a place that your soul feels peace and rest in? Since I returned to America in 1992, I have honestly felt like I lost a part of myself. Along with any foreign accent I had. As if part of my soul was left in Europe during my layover in Germany. It was like a child – my twin sister – sitting beside me at the terminal gate. For a moment, I turned and looked off to the side. Long enough for her to get up and walk away from me.
And so I am moving to Paris. In May. Perhaps the belief that this will work out is found in my past. At the rip old age of 30-something, I have already had a pretty remarkable life and while the world has been harsh and cold around me, it has also been filled with people that have inspired me to believe that there is a life that is romantic. A life that was beyond my own definition of mediocre. A life that is there to pursue. Perhaps my youth spoiled me. Perhaps the intensity of the USSR and then Russia infused me with an adventurer’s addiction. Perhaps the exotic nature of Malaysia has made me fascinated and obsessed with color and visual beauty. Perhaps my family has been too exceptional for my own good.
Perhaps I am betting on a pony that is a long shot, but I believe in her stamina and speed. She is me, myself and I; the only thing that will take me home. I am tired of trying to make Los Angeles – and America – feel like home. I want to live a romantic existence; a life that poets and writers put pen to paper in an attempt to express; to capture. I want to experience the romance of life; a life that painters and filmmakers express on a canvas or screen. My family and friends have told me to follow my bliss. Even as a child. They have told me time and time again that only I am the author of my life. Even if given a harsh blow, it is defined by how we react to it and what actions follow. Dreams do come true if you want them. They also say to follow your gut when you pick your pony.