Wednesday, August 24, 2016


on August 23, 1996, my parents drove me to the St. Petersburg International Airport. it was then a small barrack-like building, three kilometers away from the much larger domestic terminal. my father pulled up to the curb and, once we unloaded the luggage, left the car there.
inna and johnnie and olya and misha and sveta and lionya had promised to come and see me off, but i didn't actually count on it. the international airport was poorly served by the city's public transportation system; the bus from the nearest subway station took an hour. what a long way to go, and for what? to then have to say good-bye? how sad, how pointless. i wasn't feeling well. i was still hung over from the party two days before. my face was still puffed up and itching from the mosquito bites. my period had started, and though i didn't believe in pain management, i decided to take an analgesic for the flight. i was nervous. (in therapy, lately, i've observed that i don't use the word "scared." i'm not very good at recognizing the feeling of fear until it becomes anger or sadness. i remember being anxious. i was very, very anxious)
my friends were there, at the airport. some of them had hitchhiked, caught rides, and got there before me. they teased my dad about being so cool as to drive up to the airport door exactly on time. johnnie handed me a tape with an injunction to not listen until i was actually airborne. each friend found a moment to take me aside to share their latest news. each promised to write. and then my flight was being called to registration. it was really good-bye.
though no, not really. the airport building was small and see-through. the queue zigzagged, and after each step of the registration process, i would look toward the entrance, and see everyone, my parents, my friends, still there, waving madly. that went on for what seemed hours. the zigzagging, the processing, the waving. i could not hold back the tears. by the time i got into my airplane seat, i was just bawling.
then followed another small torture. though the international departures were housed in a separate building from the domestic, the two airports shared the same landing strip. so the international flights had to taxi for about fifteen-twenty minutes to get to that strip. we rode through the fields of unmowed wild grasses edging the forest, where sparse birch trees gave way to pines and firs. i could see the tops of the pines waving in the wind. august was mushroom season, and i could practically smell the boletus and the russules growing in that off-limits forest where nobody was picking them.
i fished out my tape deck and put on my headphones. i heard johnnie's voice. instead of making me a mixtape, he'd made his own recording. this was as unexpected as it had been unprecedented. it was a mix of the songs he knew i would like and he knew i wouldn't like and the songs that he was just learning to play. front and back--ninety minutes of music. my neighbor in the airplane, whoever he or she was, must've been pretty scared at that point. i looked like a big girl. how many more tears was i capable of?
finally, the plane took off. i looked and thought i caught a glimpse of an old apartment building where we lived when I first started school. then, mercifully, we entered the cloud cover. exhausted, i fell asleep so soundly i didn't wake up until the plane touched ground in Shannon, Ireland.

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