Wednesday, August 24, 2016

the goodbye party

august 21st, 1996. i've got my US visa and am deciding which books and audio tapes to bring with me to America. johnnie has promised to make me a tape--and I have provided him with some clean cassettes to make sure he can. he's coming to otvalnaya, a good-bye party. he, my cousin paul, olya and misha, masha and inna, lena, igor, sveta. each friend, a novel. including those who didn't show up (yura, misha r), my brother
my parents and grandparents are staying away. the apartment is small, and they don't have anywhere else to go, so my grandparents are keeping to their room, and my parents to theirs. kostya is at a math camp, so i have the use of the living room for the night. my girlfriends, Olya, Inna, Masha, come early to help boil and chop vegetables and eggs for the "salads", heavy on mayo: olivie (an egg, potato, and ham thing); the fake crabmeat with canned corn and rice; radishes and onion; some potato dish, something meat. a jar of olives. some store-bought sweets. at seventeen, we're fully capable of putting on a feast to rival our grandmothers.
there's alcohol. beer, champagne. hard liquor from my dad's cabinet. soviet champagne is sweet and cheap, and we can drink a lot of it. the first bottle gets open when we begin to cook, and it goes from there. the boys show up on time, and we all sit down to have a proper meal, during which the conversation is stilted. my friends all know each other, more or less, but they are from different schools, and there's a lot of history between some of them, and none between others. olya and misha have been dating since my birthday party that february, but they don't want anyone to know and have sworn me to secrecy. of course told everyone and by now their dating is no longer that secret. inna and masha had come into my life when sveta dumped me, but now that i'm sort of friends with sveta again, and they are all in the same room, they do their best at being civil with one another. lena, johnnie.
guys go out to the landing to smoke. when they come back, the guitar comes out. i've switched from champagne to beer and now switch back to champagne. the guitar: johnnie. we all crowd around him, and he plays a song after song. the beatles, it's been a hard day's night, one two three four. shcherbakov, okudzhava, vyssotsky. we call out our favorites. i happen to have two guitars. my parents had given me a new one for my seventeenth birthday that february--johnnie plays that one. that's the guitar i will take to rochester with me. igor takes up my old guitar. after two years of watching johnnie entertain the crowds at school, he's picked up some tunes himself. he and johnnie have practiced their duets. they sound amazing. my parents come out from their room. my grandparents, from theirs. everyone has a song or two to request. we all drink more champagne.
those of us who are not in love with johnnie yet, fall in love immediately. my cousin Paul has to trek across the city that night, and so leaves early, but hey, that johnnie, he says. i now know what you see in him. one by one each guest leaves.
i'm not doing well. i've drank more champagne that anyone else, mixing it up and down with the beer and the liquor, and i'm more drunk than i'd ever been before. several chunks of time are missing from my memories. several important chunks, when i think--or have imagined since--important words have been said. i may have kissed johnnie. did i? fuck if i know.
when partying in st. petersburg in the summer, we must be conscious about the subway and then the bridges schedule. first the subway stops running, then the bridges are open to let the oceanliners through, which means the kids who live across town have no way of getting back till the morning. the party either has to have a hard stop before midnight, or it goes all night long. on august 21, the sun is up at 5:30 am. the last of my friends leave around that time.
inna stays. we set up a cot for her in my room, and put on andrew lloyd weber's starlight express. hey, don't judge. andrew lloyd weber was amazingly counter-cultural in st. petersburg at that time, and that aria has a fine tune and lyrics that felt appropriate and simple enough so we could understand. i cried some, then went to the toilet to throw up. finally, we crashed.
it had been a fine night, weather-wise, warm and dry. halfway through the night, we opened the balcony door. all of the boys smoked, and so at some point they moved their smoking from the landing outside of the apartment to the balcony inside. by the time inna and i went to sleep, we'd been too tired to close the balcony door. a small but important detail. in the late morning, when i woke up, my face was covered with mosquito bites. i counted eight big whelps. before the era of screens, we were used to mosquitoes. if i hadn't been so drunk, i would've been able to cover up my face with the blanket or turn away from the direct attack. but I'd passed out, and the mosquitoes feasted.
thirty six hours later, at the airport, i still felt the itch of those bites on my face and the chunks of memories from the night of the party were still missing. my stomach felt shitty. my heart ached, but what did a little heartache matter in the sweep of a lifetime

No comments:

Post a Comment