Every time I call Russia, I hang up the phone bewildered. Was it true? Was it fiction? How can I separate the two into bits that make sense? Primarily I call my mom, sometimes my half-sister, sometimes my cousins or my step-mom, but most of the family drama comes from my conversations with my mother. I have just started reading The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton and got to thinking. This is human shit and blood and sweat that we're all wallowing in and yet are afraid to expose. She wasn't, Anne. She turned herself inside out and dropped her guts on your face, whether you wanted it or not, but you related. Of course you did, it was the hidden stuff that gave you nightmares.
And I thought, maybe I should stop being afraid of exposing all this family drama I have dangling over my head. I fictionalize it, because I don't want to hurt anyone, having been hurt so many times by other people that I know how painful it is. And yes, I'm a storyteller, and this is the stuff of life. And unless I commit it to paper, it eats my insides like acid. Perhaps that's what Anne did, perhaps that's why in the end she killed herself. It's not easy being naked among those who are clothed. You get pinched and cut and slashed and, in the end, beheaded.
The stuff that happens in my family is a bad horror show, only it's happening in real life.
"Hey, mom. You called?"
"Oh, yes! I just finished making the inheritance documents for dad's apartment, and can you believe it, he was stashing away his pension, and there was a total of $10,000!"
"Wow. That's a lot of money."
"But it's all gone! My sister [my aunt] took it all out. How could she do it? That's thievery! She must have forged the documents. Half of it is mine. I asked her, and all she said was, 'I needed it,' with this unperturbed look on her face. But she promised she will give me my half back when she sells this property [she's a realtor]. I'm afraid she's going crazy, you know? She makes all these promises and never fulfills them. Maybe she's going through a nervous breakdown like you did?"
"Um...I don't know..."
"Anyway, I just got done making these documents that will get me half of our dad's apartment [my grandpa who recently died], and I will write a will, in case I die, so that you and your sister will get it, and she [my aunt] will get squat."
"Thanks, mom. That's very generous of you. But why would you die?"
"Because she wants me to die! I can see it. I had heart palpitations again, and she was just watching me curiously, watching me suffer. She is weaving ropes out of me, getting me all worked up so my heart would fail. Can you believe it? She wants me to die so she can have the apartment. I won't allow it. I was taking care of our parents, and she was gone! She wants me to die!"
At this point I can only say, "uh huh," "uh huh," and wonder, is this stuff real? Like, do people do this stuff to each other in families? Apparently, in mine they do. Have been doing since I was born, there was always some kind of a fight going on, for money, for food, for survival (although I know my mom tends to exaggerate at times). I remember eating things outside of the house because I knew that if I brought anything inside, it would be eaten or taken away, or I would be beaten for no reason, or for some odd reason, and mostly I tried to spend the time away from home, so I ran around with boys and stole plums from the neighbor's trees and foraged for anything edible I could find.
"Can you maybe send me some money for the notary so I could finalize the documents?"
"I'm sorry, mom, I'm broke! We barely had enough for food this month and went a little over budget because we did this big dinner, the kids were over, my Anechka came over from California..."
"Well, that's too bad."
She quickly loses interest in the conversation. I have no money for her. She must go seek it somewhere else. In general, I can hardly put a word in to talk about my stuff (like I just lost my medical insurance that I had through Royce, because we're not married). I mainly listen to all the drama. There is so much of it, that she has no room for me. That's okay. I'm used to it, so I listen.
"I'll have to kick your cousin and her boyfriend out of dad's apartment if I have to sell it, but if she wants war [my aunt], I'll have to do it, but I can't do it without the documents on hand."
"If I send you a dress I have knit, will you be able to sell it? How much could you sell it for?"
"Mom, I have no idea. I don't really go anywhere, I just sit here and write."
"But you have friends with money?"
"Well, yes, I know people who like to dress nicely or like designer dresses, but mom, there is no guarantee they will buy it. I can try." Here I start joking because unless I laugh at this, my brain will leave me. "Hey, don't fret, I'll make my millions soon and move you over here. Just hang tight."
She laughs. Score! Goal achieved.
"Speaking of millions, I gotta start writing mom, gotta get my work done, so I can make some money. So I'll call you in a couple weeks, okay?"
This is but a snippet of the whole talk, and I frankly have forgotten half of it by the time I started typing this, but this is where my stories are coming from, the dark weird unexplainable shit that my characters try to comprehend and constantly doubt their sanity. Because I constantly doubt mine when I listen to this, or when I think of my dad who both hurt me and loved me, and of my half-sister who denounced me after I exposed what he did, and the rest of them all cooking in the mire of gore that they forgot is there, it doesn't stink to them anymore, they've been sitting in it for so long. They are all simply fighting to stay afloat. There is never enough money for food, and they constantly battle for a place to live or for money to pay rent. My other half-sister, the one on my mom's side, just lost her apartment (I don't know all the details) and is camping out with friends now. On top of it Russia itself is like a top of a sleeping volcano. You never know when it erupts and propels you into air, burning your possessions and leaving you charred and naked.
And so I write it all out. Listen to it. Watch nightmares (I do have nightmares almost after each of these conversations), learn to laugh at it, and write and write and write. Slowly my feeling of guilt is diminishing, the guilt of having made it out of that cesspool. I feel like I have to help them all out, only I'm not standing on my own two feet yet, so I can't. So I feel guilty. Then I understand that it's not my responsibility. And I feel a bit better.
And you ask where I get my ideas from. The wealth of horrors I harbor inside me...oh, you have no fucking clue. There is so much of it, it will last me centuries. Only by then I'll be dead. That's why I'm writing like crazy. I'm afraid my lifetime won't be enough to bring to light all these stories.