Thursday, July 21, 2016


later that night in September 1996, on the day when I moved into the dorms, having helped me to find my way to my room, Dave came up to visit and brought his roommate, Jason.
my roommate hadn't moved in yet, so they sat on her empty mattress and stared at me. I sat on my bed across the room. I had a horrible suspicion that once we'd learned each others' names and where we were from, we had nothing else to say to each other. though this was my first night in the dorms, i'd been at RIT for a month, and had learned to explain right away that I was from "St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad," and no, there were no white bears there. silence lingered.
I tried to study Dave and Jason without looking at them directly. at that time I didn't know how to look people in the eyes, and didn't think that I should. looking somebody in the eyes felt like such an intimate gesture, nearly a caress. so i looked either at the window or somewhere above their shoulders. at some point, the guitar must've come out as an aid through this awkwardness. (I studied business at RIT, and later on, the need to look people directly in the eyes came up in my classes: a revelation.)
did I see in Dave then what so many people have pointed out to me since, that he looks very much like my brother and several members of my mother's family? I don't think so. but I do remember being comforted by the name "David." I struggled with learning the names of my new friends at RIT, the names that represented so many ethnicities and histories. in Petersburg, i grew up among people named Masha, Misha, Alexei--names that repeated endlessly. I was always one of three or four Olgas at school. In comparison, English-speakers seemed to have endless imagination for names. But with David, I struck on something familiar: my grandfather's patronymic was Davidovich, son of David.
meantime, silence lingered.
this was awful, because I really did like these kids. they seemed cute. it was so sweet of them to visit. i was lonely and afraid to close the door and to remain completely alone in the strange room, when my thoughts would naturally turn to all the Mashas and Mishas whom I was missing.
but awful too was this lingering silence. if they stayed, and if conversation seemed unlikely, we needed to do something. did they feel this too?
at some point, I got up from the bed and continued to unpack my clothes. "what are you doing?" Jason stopped me.
"how come you're putting all of your clothes on one hanger?"
"I only have five."
"why don't you get more?"
"i don't need more, look." I showed him the way it made sense to hang a skirt on a rod then a t-shirt on the shoulders of the same hanger, then a couple of button-downs on top, and cover all with a sweater.
"but don't you want to see all of your clothes?"
"why would i?"
the conversation is not verbatim--this all happened twenty years ago, and i had stopped keeping a diary when I arrived to Rochester. the fact is, aware now that I had a problem, I eventually accepted the guys's offer to fix it. they led me down to the corner store in the tunnels under the dorms, where Jason surprised me with a gift of a dozen hangers. I still have them, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment