Or two. Or three. My mom called and gave me the secret news. It turns out my little sister gave birth to a son this winter and I HAD NO IDEA. She told mom to keep it secret, and today mom finally spilled the secret to me, making me swear I'll keep the secret, but then my sister showed up and mom gave her the phone and she told me the news herself, so at least I don't have to keep the secret now. Whew. But who the father is remains a mystery, and she won't tell me. And there is no internet where they are. Yes, they moved again. And so I became an aunt and I don't even know what my nephew looks like and I don't know when I'll see him. This is just like out of some crazy book. I mean, my whole family is this one dark mystery that I glimpse pieces of here and there, but the rest of it remains secret.
In other news, grandma is dying. And I can't afford to go see her, or go see my new nephew, or even send a gift. Truly, it's so funny I'm crying. And it's so sad I'm laughing. At least I know his name and his date of birth and that the birth went well and that my sister is happy, she told me she's happy. She sounded happy. She wanted a baby for a very long time, she told me. I believe her. There are unspoken things. I asked her who the father is and where he is, and of course she told me she doesn't want to talk about it. The tragedy of my family. The men who appear and disappear, and leave children and havoc in their wake. And the women bear it, survive, make ends meet somehow.
I'm often sick with guilt. I have managed to escape this. This rut. I have somehow succeeded in arranging my life so that I can do what I want, what I always wanted. Make stories. Write full-time. It's a dream and yet it feels undeserved. Like how can I do things for myself when the women in my family struggle alone? How can I be in love and together with a man, when the men in their lives are singular occurrences that have no permanence and no promise of anything good? And now among all those women there is a little baby boy. How I want to see him, to hold him, to smell his hair. He is three-months old now! How precious that is!
This is the mystery of one of my two sisters, a pregnancy I knew nothing about, a man she won't tell me about, and now a son. The mystery of my other sister is that her whole life remains a mystery to me. I know NOTHING about it, except the recent news that she is now making and selling comics. Could it be that she has plans to have a baby too? It makes me crazy with a wish to know. It makes me yearn for family I never had and never will. I have this ideal picture in my head—don't we all?—a mom, a dad, children, all together, always happy, always loving. This is not what I got, and so I write it into my books. The family in ROSEHEAD was one such attempt. You might say it's far from ideal, but it did wonders for me. There is a scene where Lilith's mom and dad sit on either side of her bed and kiss her and she feels normal, like she has a family the way she always wanted, and it's really me, that girl, feeling like I got what I wanted. The feeling was so real that I felt like I really did. Perhaps that's why writing is so addicting. Any wish you have can come true, and it fills the holes in your life and you feel complete.
There are still secrets and mysteries remaining, things nobody in my family will tell me, things I ask to clarify my past and get a brick wall beyond which they all hide. Janna is an attempt to break that wall, at least in some places. But writing a memoir...that's something else. It's not fiction. My biggest fear is that I'll get the facts wrong. Memory is fickle. It changes over time and different people remember the same thing differently, then how can I write something from memory if most of my memories are hazy at best? Maybe they'll float to the surface once I start. I don't know.
For now I'll keep dropping things here, on my blog. It'll be my repository of sorts, to come back to. Sometimes I feel like a private investigator trying to uncover unsightly affairs that have been cleverly tucked away in the dusty cobwebbed corners of my family's collective history. My mom told me how my grandma, who is dying, used to have a photographic memory and aced all her exams and was invited to do a PhD, but she chose to work in a health center for crazy people. Yes, my darlings, I've had a real touch with madness. She'd take me to work and I'd sit there and stamp prescription slips for her patients, for some really powerful drugs. It's why there were always mysterious pills in the kitchen in our house, pills that she occasionally gave to my mother, and some were fed to me in a spoon full of water and sugar. What were they? I think she only gave me antibiotics. But what if she gave me something else? I don't know and I wouldn't remember, and of course nobody tells me anything when I ask. Mom also told me that grandma loved her patients. The crazies. I remember that. She talked fondly of them. Also, she told me stories. I wish I could remember some of them. Who knows? Maybe some of them made it into my books, they were scary and vividly detailed. I remember the fear I felt from listening to her, but I don't remember what she said.
There is a story of her mother, my great grandmother, during war time. She had to go to work and left my grandma in a dug-out pit (!) in the ground (!!) with another girl. That's war-time crib for you, right under the sky. I suspect it was deep enough for them not to be able to climb out. My grandmother was two? Three? I don't remember what I was told. One? She was very young. And by the end of the day when my great grandmother returned, the other girl in the pit was dead. So my grandmother spent a day (a half a day? a couple hours?) with a dead child. What an experience like that would do to a little girl? I can only guess. And how much of this memory is true and how much a myth, passed from my great grandma to my grandma to my mom to me? How much did it distort on the way? I don't know. The horror is true, though. I felt it when I was told this story.
There are more stories like that. Stories of deaths and suicides and madness that touched my family. Now that I'm typing all this, I'm thinking perhaps I can pull off writing a memoir. It seems to be coming to me as I type. If you're curious about the terrors many Russians lived through, the every-day darkness of lives that was a secret, a mystery, that wasn't spoken about or dismissed like it didn't exist, read Petrushevskaya. All of her. I just finished reading her three novellas titled There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In, one of which was banned for many years, and there was nothing political in her stories to be banned either, but the government simply couldn't allow real horror stories of real Russian people to leak out into the world and to expose the cruel and inhuman conditions people endured their entire lives. Her writing will raise hairs on your neck.
In the meantime, little by little, I'll keep collecting for you my own little stories. Onward. Or, as we say in Russian, вперёд. Только вперёд.