Wednesday, August 24, 2016

the goodbyes

today is the 19th of august, and I'm becoming very conscious about my timeline. the Russian internet is filled today with the memories of the 1991 coup, when the conservative wing of the communist party tried to oust Gorbachev, and Yeltsin emerged as the defender of the liberal freedoms. on august 19, 1996, Yeltsin had just stepped in to his second term. he had won the reelection just barely (and by means that we now know were far from honest), having lost positions as a result of Chechen war and the continued economic woes. the first Chechen war was drawing to its close, but it had become clear that conflict was simmering all around Russia and the former Soviet lands. my male friends all had gotten into the universities, but nevertheless, the danger of draft weighed heavily over their decision-making. by entering universities, my female friends and i received the tacit permission to fall in love for reals and to experiment sexually though we were as tacitly aware that our years were numbered and really what we needed to think about was marriage and children. careers too, but since so few of us were going to study the subjects we felt passionately about, careers felt very secondary. love came first.
on the 19th of august 1996 i did not yet have my passport back from the American consulate, but i had a ticket to Rochester for august 23rd, and i called a party, to be held on the 21st. after graduation that june, I had seen my friends only intermittently. this would be the last good-bye. my brother was at a math camp, and my cousins weren't around either, so i didn't get to say a proper good-bye to them. i did not invite the boy i'd been dating that summer, my first boyfriend. none of my other friends knew him, and it would be awkward. i don't remember how i said good-bye to my childhood friend from dacha. i have a feeling we played the last badminton game together and shook hands. during that last year we had gone on what i think now were a couple of dates, but things had been forever awkward between us. we'd known each other too well and loved each other deeply but the relationship between families was weird and we couldn't really handle it. that's how it seems now. there were too many people involved.
i was saying goodbyes that week as though i were leaving home forever, even though my father managed to buy me a ticket with an open return date. unlike Nabokov and Brodsky, and the people of their generations, who had been forced out of Russia without possibility of return, I was free to return. thinking about this now, i see that very freedom as a heavy burden of responsibility weighing on my shoulders. unlike the generations before me, i was supposedly making a free choice, so i better make the good one, the right one, the one that would lead me to everlasting happiness. if i did leave, I was not allowed to come back until i made a success out of my life -- no regrets allowed. i have not since admitted to having any regrets in life. frank sinatra can admit to having a few, but Olga will have her way without any. sorry for this silly reference, i'm drinking wine and trying to put myself in the mind of a seventeen-year old.
in a way, in 1996 I was saying good bye to the world that ceased to exist in 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. i was saying good bye to the opportunity to build something new in its place. my friends and i had read enough realist novels to expect that we would all change and grow apart, and this was the first step toward that. though, talking about novels, I had also read more than enough socialist realist novels, and so i swore loyalty and collected everyone's mailing addresses and promised to never change and hey i did good i actually did hold back the change for a good number of years and hey i am still in touch with so many of my friends and am so much better able to express my feelings toward them due to improvements in emotional vocabulary but hey none of that changed the fact that i was leaving

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