Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Sometime in 1986 - Baba Dunya – my maternal Great-grandmother. She’s been bedridden for many years, had strokes and was paralyzed on one side. I disliked visiting her, disliked the smell of medication, the constant gloom in her room, inability to carry on a civil conversation. I think everyone was a bit relived when she passed, it made my grandmother’s apartment less cramped. There was always a wedding photograph of Baba Dunya and Ded Mitya above her bed, where they were twenty and painfully beautiful. I want to remember them that way. When they took her outside for the drive to the cemetery, my grandmother was beside herself with grief, screaming and throwing herself at the coffin. I got to watch her do that twice more later in life. I don’t know if watching her did something to me, but I’ve never cried at a funeral. We all grieve in different ways, and mine does not involve public tears.

Two other things I learned from this death – the traditional Russian dish of kutya (sticky rice or wheat pudding with raisins and honey) you taste at funerals to pay respect for the dead tastes like shit; and kissing goodbye to a dead body that is not embalmed and has been displayed around the apartment for two days is gross. I can’t eat rice pudding in any incarnation anymore.

Winter 1987 – my cat Phil’ka – this is rather silly. Probs in winter of 1985 my dad brought home a tiny squealing ball of Siamese goodness. We previously had this magnificent Siamese cat Nestor, who was a rescue from the ruins of a demolished apartment building nearby, but somebody stole Nestor after about 2 years, and I was distressed. So when a colleague of dad’s had kittens, he brought a little guy home. He fit in the palm of my dad’s hand. My dad is crazy about cats, btw. So we named this one Philimon, for some other emperor, as the Siamese are so freaking majestic. Unlike Nestor, who was a smart angel, Philimon turned out to be a dumb brat who scratched everyone, and marked. Because he was so little when we got him, he was handfed, and he insisted on being handfed when he got older. My grandmother would cut up fish into tiny bite-sized pieces, and Phil’ka would sit on her lap and eat one piece at a time from her hand. He refused to eat anything else, or in any other way. And since nobody fixed kitties at that time, Phil’ka got in the habit of going outside to court some ladies. Until he never came home. Until some time after his disappearance I went outside to play in the snowbanks in the yard, and found his little body. Frozen, in the snow, cut clean in half on midsection by a snowshovel. I’d like to believe he was already dead by the time he got dismembered, but I will never know for sure. I got hysterical and made my dad go out, collect the cat into a garbage bag, and dispose of him.

August 7, 1987 – Anatoly Papanov and August 16, 1987 - Andrei Mironov – two very famous Russian actors, who were in multiple iconic comedies together. We tend to idolize the dead, so it’s even harder when people who are already idolized pass away suddenly with a heart attack on stage at age 41. It was a very cold summer, and Papanov’s last film “Cold Summer of 1953” had just come out, so ever since I associate cold summer weather with loss. It was also the last quiet summer before my hormones turned me into a short-tempered raging bitch until 1992 or so.

August 15, 1990 - Viktor Tsoy – this was a hard one. I was really into rock by then, and Kino was king. I would buy records when I could, they have become plentiful and affordable. Kino was music for young people sang by young people in Russian – together with Nautilus Pompilius they were very much Gen X (before there WAS Gen X). Sure, there were other Russian rock bands then, but they were all closer to my parents in age. Kino was OUR generation. Plus Tsoy was exotic and hot. They criticized the politics, but also sang of young love and angst. And that August Viktor Tsoy went on a fishing trip in Latvia, possibly fell asleep in his car, and collided head-on with a bus. I wasn’t a hard-core fan who would travel to his grave or anything, but for me this was the equivalent of John Lennon dying.

May 1991 – Yanka Dyagileva – what is it with musicians taking their own lives? She was a local rock chick from Novosibirsk, a rarity in Russia – most famous musicians then were from Leningrad. She recorded ten or so albums of acoustic angst-y rock, similar to early Ani DiFranco, very unusual and cool – women were absent on that scene until Zemfira came along, really. Then fell/jumped into a river after a long bout with depression. It’s extremely disheartening to learn to love a musician only to have them die right away.

Sometime in 1992 - Car Accident in high school. A guy from my grade whom I knew since we were 5 and his younger sister (who used to bully me relentlessly) were riding with three others from a wedding. I did not know the driver. Russian car from the 80s, seatbelts not mandatory. Wrapped around a telephone pole. Guy’s sister went through the windshield from the middle of the back seat. Driver and shotgun-riding passenger joined her. Instant death, broken necks. My classmate and his friend got lucky, the seats saved them. Later in the summer, my classmate crashed his motorcycle. Imagine being their single mother – two children dead in once summer.

1994 - Kurt Cobain – not even going to blog about this. Everyone should remember where they were.

In the fall of 1996 I entered the semester of my college career of which I have very little recollection. This was because JW (my roommate at the time) and I would get stoned on Wednesday night, stay stoned for the next four days, add some alcohol to the mix on Fri and Sat, sleep most of Sunday, and repeat the cycle the following week. Part of it was because we could. Part was self-medication. We had this joke between us, that if the phone rings at 8 am on the weekend, it’s because somebody is dead. I think the first person to die was her high-school friends’ mom, who she was very close with. Or maybe it was the friends’ gay dad. Or maybe both. Things were a bit fuzzy. Then it was my friend K’s mom. Then it was JWs grandmother. Then it was my American sister M’s dad. Then it was JWs girlfriend’s grandma, I think. Sometime around this lk’s grandmother died too. Big mess, in other words. Granted, most of these people were older. But we weren’t even 21 yet. That’s a lot of fucking funerals. We HAD to joke about it, because we thought we’d go crazy otherwise. However, the one funeral in my life that I would give anything to have gone to wasn’t meant to be that way.

1 comment:

riese said...

I've always been obsessed with the suicide of Kurt Cobain as central to our generation's everything. It seems so inevitable/meaningless.