The buzzing in my ears got louder and louder as I stared at Evgeniya’s message. There’s no memory, but she seems so familiar to me anyway.
She should, she’s your....
No. She doesn’t deserve the title. When has this woman ever been a mother to you? Maybe she held a bottle to your lips after changing your name on official birth documents, so dad couldn’t find you. Perhaps she put you in a clean pair of clothing right before dumping you at the children’s home...but anyone could’ve done those things. Surely she understands that doesn’t make her a mom?
“Detka, do you want me to stay with you? I can call Joey and let him know I’ll be late.” Francine whispered into my ear, and I let my shoulders drop. Yes. I wanted her to remain here with me...but I needed to do this alone. Her life shouldn’t be disturbed anymore than it already has been. She’s held my hand ever since I arrived in America, and I worried it was starting to affect her.
“It’s fine, Bunny. Have a good day at work. I’ll handle this on my own.” I kissed her cheek quickly and turned away so she couldn’t change her mind. My ears get bright red when I’m lying, or anxious. Both of those things were happening right now and my ears were on fire.
“Vasha-“ I felt her reach for my hand, but I stood up quickly. Damnit. Her persistence is both a blessing and a bothersome thorn in my side. I understood she just wanted to support me, and I wanted it too...but she needed to be on time for her new position. Punctuality and strong work ethic were both praised as qualities in our home, and we took them very seriously.
“You’ll be late, Francine. It’s your first day managing things at work. Please just trust that I’ll be alright. I love you.” I took her face in my palms and left a lingering kiss on the softest lips I’ve ever tasted. She relented, melting into me and returning the kiss before hurrying toward the door.
“I’ll call you on my first break, little bat. You know I love you and your hot ears too.” She smirked, and I grinned as she slammed the door and quickly shouted, “Whoops, didn’t mean to close it that hard!” We’ve been in enough fights to understand the definition behind a slammed door. Still, she called me her little bat so I knew she wasn’t upset even if she didn’t clarify it.
My smile was frozen in place, and I forgot my phone for a moment to brew myself another fresh pot of coffee. Bats are small, with beady eyes and leathery wings. They sleep during the day and appear scary to some because they’re all black and swoop forward quickly. I’ve held one in my hands before, and fed it a banana while it was recovering from an injured wing. I was sixteen years old and found it whimpering behind an abandoned shed on my way back to the orphanage from school. Francine calls me her little bat because I adore the color black, and I’m quite small myself. That being said, I’m also intimidating to the right group of people and I like it that way. I suppose if I had to be an animal, it’d be a bat. Being a wolf or a Siberian tiger sounds much cooler...but I know myself.
I heard my phone vibrate, but continued to stand in the kitchen and pour piping hot coffee into my favorite mug. It has different galaxies printed all over it and I love focusing on the stars. It might sound silly, but the material objects I’ve brought with me from Russia make me feel grounded when fear grips me. It usually happens when I’m alone in the apartment. Not so often anymore...but definitely for the first few months of living in America.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I didn’t know how to respond to the messages. Before doing anything, I decided to call my dad. He deserved to know what was going on, and maybe he could help me figure out what to do. I really wanted to pretend Evgeniya never wrote to me. She said she’d been watching me for a long time. What did that mean? Did she know I was being tormented at the orphanage I grew up in? Does she know I slept on the streets for years after I turned eighteen? Did she watch what happened between Olya and I? She seemed surprised to learn I’m gay. She couldn’t have been observing my life for THAT long....
I slowly went back into the living room and exited out of VK quickly. I couldn’t do anything until I spoke with my father. I knew he’d either be working or sleeping, so I began writing a message to his business email. He doesn’t check WhatsApp often, and this was important.
Email: Dad, call me as soon as you can. Mother wrote me on VK and I-
I stopped, becoming slightly angry with myself. I’m in my late twenties. There was no need to bother my dad with this right now. I’d wait until the next time we Skype. I erased the email entirely and returned to VK so I could read the rest of Evgeniya’s messages.
VK (Anonymous): Is there hope for us to talk, Yulia? You have siblings...a younger brother and sister. So much time has passed and there are probably things you don’t understand. I want to give you the answers you’re searching for. Here is my Skype information.
I stared at her Skype handle and considered blocking the account and going on with my life, but I knew if I did that I’d always wonder. She was right, the only thing I understood right now is her other children were deserving of a warm, loving home and I wasn’t. This was my chance to let her have it. Her excuses meant nothing to me. I responded.
VK (Vasilisa Krovopuskova): It’s Vasilisa now. You changed it, remember? I don’t know who Yulia is because you didn’t allow me to live up to that name. I’ll give you five minutes.
My laptop was in the bedroom, and I felt my heart pound in my feet with every step toward it.
I’d dreamed of my mother for several years after she left me at the children’s home. I didn’t know what she looked like, but the smell of buckwheat and honey always made me think of her. I imagined she’d realized a mistake was made, and any day she’d return to take me back home with her. A real home. With my own room, and toys I didn’t have to share. Not that I got to play with them anyway. I was smaller than everyone else, and I had to fight for my place to sleep and food to eat. It was hard enough doing that, so I didn’t bother arguing over dolls or television. I’d just lay in bed and daydream of what it would be like when mama came back for me.
The only problem was, mom was twenty seven years too late.
I stared back at the fragile blonde woman with apathy in my eyes. I hated her, and I wanted her to know that. She fidgeted nervously on the worn navy blue couch she sat on, and I crossed my arms impatiently.
“Yul-Vasilisa, it’s so nice to talk to you.” Evgeniya had round blue eyes to match the fullness of her face. She wasn’t overweight at all, but looked well taken care of. Not too thin. We had the same ears, and they appeared red too. I wasn’t sure if it was from the cold, or if they were red because she was nervous. I looked away for a second because it was overwhelming.
“Why now? Why are you showing up in my life? I don’t need you anymore.” I spoke clearly, but my throat felt like glass about to shatter. I was so close to losing my mind with grief.
“I’m your mother-“ she began, and I lost it.
“I NEEDED A MOTHER TWENTY SEVEN YEARS AGO, EVGENIYA! Why’d you do it? Why couldn’t you leave me with my dad? He spent half his life looking for me! You ruined two lives! How old are your other children? Did you stick them in a home too, or are they living a good life with you?” I stood from my chair and paced around, not looking at the screen. I heard my mother begin to cry, and it only angered me more.
“I know the feeling, I cried too! I cried every night at that damn home wondering what was so wrong with me? Most of those kids were there because their parents died. Imagine how it feels to understand you’re there because your parents didn’t fucking want you.” I felt hot tears slide down my face and I wiped them away with the palm of my hand. I was shaking and regretting not involving my dad.
“I thought I was doing the right thing...” Evgeniya stood up too, and I fixed my stare on her tear streaked face. “I was young, Yulia! My parents forbade my relationship with your dad. My father threatened to have him killed because he interfered with my plans to leave Russia and attend a ballet academy in New York City. Andrei had these ideas of getting into business for himself, and I believed in him. We were seventeen years old when you were born, living in his parent’s cramped apartment with eight other people. I saw how stressed your dad was becoming, trying to save enough money working at the factory to prepare for your arrival. I knew we’d never be able to provide for you, Yulia. I didn’t want to send you away...but your father loved you so much, I would have had to pry you from his cold fingers before he’d agree to my decision. I changed your name so he wouldn’t come take you back. I thought...I thought you’d be provided for. You’d always have a hot meal and school supplies. My love for you has never been in question. I left your father to pursue schooling, so we could have a better life. New York didn’t live up to my expectations, and I came back to Siberia to care for my ailing parents. I’ve made my mistakes...clearly. I learned your father found you a few years after you left the orphanage, and I’ve been watching you as often as I can.” She was sobbing, and having to catch her breath to continue. I started feeling conflicted, and sat back in my chair.
“...when did you find us again? Why didn’t you show yourself?” I knew my dad still loved my mother. He makes excuses for not remarrying, but I know the truth. I knew he’d be hurt when I told him everything that Evgeniya confessed to me.
She composed herself, wiping her face and sitting back on the couch. I could see her shake visibly. I definitely got my temper from her. My father was much more collected.
“I didn’t want Andrei to think I wanted him back now that he was successful. He became everything my father told him he’d never be, and I’m convinced it’s bitterness that ultimately took my dad’s life. Andrei wasn’t afraid to go after what he wanted, and it took him far. I didn’t know it was that bad for you...I hated watching you struggle on the streets. I noticed you drinking, and when you slept I’d come sit by you sometimes. I left you food and money. I was afraid you’d disappear if I told you who I was. I found you shortly before he did, and I stayed as far away as I could after that. I’m married now, to an Engineer...your siblings Dmitry and Alexandria are only four and two.”
I was stunned. She had a whole other life. It was almost as if my dad and I never existed. Another thought came to me.
She didn’t know about Olya, because this was after we broke up and I returned to the Metro.
“Yulia, just tell me something...and I’ll answer anything else you want to ask.” She looked frightened, and clutched the gold cross hanging around her neck. I never stopped looking into her eyes as I nodded. I knew what was coming and didn’t feel any fear.
“You’re in America now...the girl in your photos..is she...are you...?”
It was pretty obvious. Francine and I took very affectionate photographs, and some of them made their way to my VK account. Not to mention, I dressed in a masculine way and held myself as such. There weren’t too many feminine qualities about me.
I decided to put her out of her misery.
“Yes. I’m a lesbian. The girl in my pictures, her name is Francine and we’re together. I moved here for her.” I watched my mother deflate and resisted the urge to smirk proudly. I was finished hiding. I lived in secret my whole life. It was time for everyone to really see me.
“Oh my God...” Evgeniya breathed in disbelief, and I remained silent.
There was nothing else to say.
“Goodbye, Evgeniya.” I said softly, and ended the Skype call. What was the point of asking anything else? Her reaction told me everything.