Still Haunted

Still haunted by your absence, I enter the city prepared. On campus I forget you. I do not look for you or go to your apartment. I do not even remember you: the unbound knot of your spine, our awkward first trip to the city, photographs of your mouth on my body.

I do not walk the five blocks to see you. I forget about the distance.

In the city, we do not speak of you, your present absence. We forget. We drink wine and compliment each other. I do not dream of you. You do not approach me.

I see no one. All are names and blank faces striding past into the darkness.

I am one of a group which boards the train at the station and miraculously moves as one through the tunnels. We surprise each other upon arrival, for we are unintended.

I board the plane with Proust. Outside, the runway lights imitate a flower or the curvature of your profile, two intersecting lines of brightness reflected into my eyes.

I remember you. I let you go. I let myself go into the darkness of the world, the unending horizon.

An exercise in memory

Things discussed in the span of three hours:

God, atheism, Buddhism, mental health, Catholicism, nature v. nurture, memory, whether the duality of good/evil is fair or ultimately biased, whether we can have a conversation that doesn’t result in one person being told he/she’s wrong, happiness, karma, reincarnation, Mario, texting, breakups, whether I will be punished for having free will, whether a person who is isolated from birth will be an atheist or a believer in religion, serotonin, anger, vespas, uncertainty, the inability to write, drugs, being used, using, San Francisco, leaving, abuse, parents, detachment, despair, dependence, birthdays, peer pressure, breaking the rules, death, weed, cigarettes, alcohol, therapy, fear, irrationality, farting, insecurity, men, women, children, cheating, sex, being thirsty, disability, fragmentation, the norton anthology of literary theory and criticism, dance, tagalog, age, Lennard J. Davis, honors classes, communication, mutual respect, friends, the 1950s, sexism, TV shows, USF.

A city to come home to

St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad, St. Petersburg, Peter. In my mind, the present iteration for the city of my birth is “Absent European.” The city, built on the backs and bones of thirty thousand men, brought Russia into the age of modernity, but it is absent. It is absent from my memory, absent from my grasp, and there is an absence of hope of return to the city of my life.
The duty of every Russian writer must be to write about St. Petersburg, for the greatest have done so: Gogol, Bely, Brodsky, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov. I follow in the footsteps of giants, traversing Nevsky Prospect, laboring over these rectilinear streets, these canals that contain the bones of thousands.
As a child, I chose a school in the center of the city over the one I could see out my bedroom window. Each morning, one of my parents took my sister and me on the hour long commute to the city center by subway and tram; crushed between absent-minded men and women heading to work, we emerged from the metro station on Nevsky to the voices of street peddlers.

The MFA application season is upon us

Time is going by so fast. I just graduated, god damn it. It hasn’t been nearly six months. Today, Seth posted a new post on the MFA Blog about where people are applying, which prompted me to think back towards what I was doing this time last year.

All I remember is the Honors Thesis class, and the brutal workload of taking six classes, being in class for 23 hours each week. My relationship was dead. We barely saw each other. I learned how to think. I impressed people with my writing. Bharati Mukherjee provided excellent commentary on my essays and treated our class like professionals. That was refreshing. I made progress. Some weeks I only saw J once in seven days. I wasn’t yet starving. I wasn’t yet alone.

Recollections of the bridge

We used to cross the bridge on buses, in the afternoon and at night, when the city lights flashed across the bay. Once, we must have stayed late at a party and missed the last train. We went to the Transbay Terminal on 2nd street, waited for the bus under the building overhang, stood among the night shift workers and drunks. For some reason, it is the only time I ever remember riding the bus with her at night. She looked pretty, but tired, and she sat in the front of the bus, in a seat facing the back. It was the only seat available; every other seat had been taken. We must have done this several times, but I only remember that single time. I had to stand the entire way, and she nearly fell asleep on the forty five minute trip. It was 1am, and the city glowed, a perfect backdrop for photographs taken from Treasure Island. I remember a man with a bike, and a woman with tattoos, and older black men who looked exhausted, but not from drinking.

After the bus goes through Oakland, it drives up Telegraph Ave towards campus. You can see it from miles away – Barrows Hall is visible first, from 50th avenue, around thirty blocks away. As you reach Ashby, twenty blocks closer, the Campanile emerges. It is the defining campus building, built east of center, a long walk leading away from it downhill, to the west. Someone once joked that the walk was created so that the Campanile would have a place to fall in case of an earthquake. From the top of the tower, you can see the city, the ocean, a bit of the hills behind the campus if it isn’t foggy or raining.

The insomniac speaks

I only remember what we used to do when we were alone. She was a lovely cook, and the kitchen window in her apartment was broken, shielded by white blinds. She never asked the landlord to fix it. Did I miss something, sitting at the glass table, eating chicken adobo and other delicious homemade meals as she stood by me and kissed me on the cheek? I must have missed everything entirely, everything said and unspoken, everything given. I must have missed the way she wanted to watch old films in bed. Why did I refuse? Why did I say the most dreadful thing when I tried to leave her? “You have no self-esteem and I just don’t know how to make it better. I don’t know how to fix you.”

The Persistence of Memory

I’ve lied. For many years now, I assumed I lived in Canada for a year. I was only there for three months. I just found this out today. How did I forget? I was in Toronto from August to November 1993, right after I turned nine. I’ve always thought I lived there for a year. Now I know what it feels like to find out what you always thought was true is actually a bit of a lie. It’s a really strange feeling, and I wonder what else I’m not remembering correctly.

I think that this memory lapse has something to do with the incredible amount of traveling my family did from when I was eight until I was eleven. We went to the US, the Bahamas (twice), England (twice), Canada (once), drove from Miami to NYC and from Miami to Los Angeles. We drove from St. Petersburg to Göteborg, and from Göteborg to St. Petersburg. It’s no wonder my memory of these events is shaky. Even my mother doesn’t really recall specifics.

I think that although my chronology is false, I still remember details which don’t require chronological accuracy: how on my first trip to the US (New Jersey), we spent two weeks on a farm with lots of cats. How on that trip, the daughter of the friend we were staying with was thrown off her horse and trampled after having given me a ride on the horse just a few days earlier.

I can tell you that when we stayed in the Bahamas, I found a handgun full of sand on the beach and then had it taken away by the manager of the hotel (which was also an aquarium) with whose son I had explored the little island we lived on.

I remember the tiny plane we flew on from Miami to the Bahamas. I remember the first time I saw a tarantula the size of a fist in the jungle. I remember all these things but I can’t remember when they happened.