I hated to do it, but I pushed the guilt aside and called my dad to ask if we could Skype. Francine wouldn’t be home for several more hours, and I needed to talk to someone about what just happened. Everything I worked so hard to bury was coming for me, and I couldn’t handle the onslaught of emotions alone.
He picked up after the third ring. “I’m not bothering you, am I?” I mumbled an apology. Since we have daylight now in Arizona, my father is experiencing nightfall in Russia. I hoped I didn’t wake him.
“Nonsense, Vasilisa. Hearing from you is always a pleasure. Give me a few minutes and we’ll talk over video.” Dad didn’t sound sleepy, which made me wonder if I was pulling him away from his work. He wouldn’t tell me if I was anyway, that’s just the way he is.
“Very well. I’ll wait.” I disconnected the line and went to pour myself my third cup of coffee. The spoon clicked against the glass as I stirred in some sugar and I frowned. What I really wanted was some vodka instead.
Growing up in Siberia was difficult for me, but I always found solace in drinking. I drank to keep warm, I drank to drown out my loneliness, I drank to sleep in peace so the nightmares wouldn’t come. The only caveat being how mean I get while I’m drunk. When I lived on the streets by myself, I didn’t bother anyone. I’d drink and pass out mercifully. After I met my first girlfriend, Olya, I stopped drinking because of how often I’d snap in irritation and make her cry. My sobriety only lasted a short while, since I found her cheating on me after I’d saved enough money to rent us a small little room out of the cold. Returning to the metro station left me feeling bitter, and I couldn’t face it without vodka. I only made a real effort to set my vice aside once Francine and I became one, and she’s honestly the only motivation I have to remain sober.
My craving for alcohol doesn’t come often anymore, but it’s been bad enough for me to relapse a couple times since my move to the United States. The last time happened two months ago, and it almost destroyed everything I have going for me here. Francine and I had been arguing one evening over a flirty colleague of her’s at work, and I demanded she talk to her boss about a schedule change. Every time I go to the restaurant, I see the way this girl, Miranda, is always hanging around Francine and it crawls and bites me under my skin. Russian women are known for being wildly jealous creatures, and I’m no exception. It happened that Liza and I were having lunch at Joey’s Italian Paradise, and I saw Miranda touch Francine’s arm and giggle at everything my girlfriend was saying. Liza saw how appalled I was and pulled Francine aside for a minute. I received dirty looks from the slutty waitress after, and told Francine everything when she came back home. She insisted the woman was just being friendly, but I’ve seen for my own two eyes that’s not the case. I’d been feeling overwhelmed with interviews and all the paperwork I was filling out for my green card, and listening to Francine brush off her co-worker’s behavior was more than I could take. So without thinking (or maybe thinking too much) I walked to a convenience store not far from our apartment and bought a pint of vodka. I drank half of it by the time I got home, and Francine was so upset with me she left for the evening to stay at Liza’s. She can tolerate so much from me, but not drinking. I don’t remember that night very well, but I woke up curled in the bathtub fully clothed with the knuckles on my right hand busted wide open. It didn’t take long to discover the completely shattered mirror above our sink.
My girlfriend returned a few hours after I’d cleaned up all the small pieces of glass and bandaged myself up. She quietly agreed to a schedule change. I felt horrible for overreacting and promised I’d never do something like this again. I can socially drink sometimes if it’s a martini or wine cooler, but I can’t say no to a ridiculous amount of vodka. It’s an odd comfort, and an old friend.
I knew Francine wanted to believe me, but when she asked me for my wallet and identification I understood she didn’t. Without a word I handed everything over. I hadn’t thought about vodka since that moment.
But damnit I wish I could have a glass of it right now to take the edge off.
Trying to shake the desire only made me want it more, so I focused on bringing both my laptop and coffee into my bedroom, and sat cross legged as I waited for dad to Skype me. A few minutes passed until his request to video chat came through, and I accepted it instantly. My dad smiled kindly from a brightly lit desk. Hoards of paperwork surrounded him, and it intensified my regret. I should have waited for a better time. Then again, dad was always going to be busy. He ran his own oil company among a hundred other smaller tasks. At least he wasn’t rushing off to a meeting. It looked like he was working from a hotel room tonight. He noticed my off putting demeanor and stopped scribbling in his yellow notepad to peer closely at me.
“My dear Vasha, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
I’ve always been terrible at hiding my emotions. My feelings could be seen written all over my face constantly, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I’ve been this way since I was young. When Francine and I first met, she asked me why I always scowled in photographs. I explained how faking is dishonest, and how I didn’t want to look back on a seemingly pleasant picture knowing I wasn’t happy. Without a doubt in my mind, I’ve smiled more during the time we’ve been together than I ever have in my entire life. Reflecting on this made me miss my girlfriend, and I mentally counted down the hours until she’d call me to check in.
I sat up straighter and cracked my neck. I was so afraid to look him in the eye. “Dad, mom messaged me on VK-“
“What?” He gasped in disbelieving shock. There was an underlying layer of pain in his tone, and it made me feel worse. I heard him tap his pen against the table. “When, Vasilisa?” Forcing myself to look at him, I inhaled sharply.
“It happened just this morning. She said she’s been watching me right before you found me at the Metro. That’s how she found you too.” I told him the whole story, everything from why she left me at the orphanage to why she abandoned him as well. My dad sat still, and rubbed his chin deep in thought. I took a sip of coffee, feeling like he’d speak any second. I wanted to give it time for everything to sink in.
“How is she, Vasha? Does she seem happier?” Green eyes identical to mine flickered at me, and I found another reason to admire my father. Hypothetically speaking, If my lover took away my only child and disappeared without a trace, I’d curse the woman to hell and hope she was suffering worse than I. The only thing my dad wanted to know was if the person who stole everything of value from him was alright. I shouldn’t have expected anything less.
“She seems healthy.” I answered honestly, and drank deeply from my coffee mug, trying to think of what I’d say next. “I think she’s still in Tobolsk. She told me she’s married. Apparently I have a younger brother and sister.” The more I spoke, the angrier I became. My dad noticed and cleared his throat.
“...I imagine you’re upset.”
“Aren’t you?” I asked incredulously.
“There has to be a reason...she must want to be part of your life, Vasilisochka.”
“Dad, did you know she’s against gay people?” I squared my shoulders and blinked at him. “She ONLY wrote to me because she figured out I’d moved to the United States. She said she wanted to have a conversation with me, and it revolved around my sexuality. She had years to come forward and make herself known. Now that she knows for sure I’m gay, she wants nothing to do with me. Just like when I was a child.” I was tired of feeling like an unwanted victim all the time. I was here for a better life, and I had one. I’d be damned if anyone tried to come in between me and my happiness. That included the woman who gave birth to me. I ended that Skype call because I didn’t want to wait for her to insult me, or Francine.
My father leaned back in his leather chair and sighed. “Russia isn’t ready to accept your community, Vasha. I don’t agree with their close minded approach, and you know I’ve always supported you without any conditions. Your mother comes from a strict religious family. Her parents prayed three times a week at our local Orthodox Church, and they detested me for not sharing the same views. I wish I could tell you something different, but sadly it doesn’t surprise me.”
I thought over what my dad was saying when my phone alerted me of a string of messages from VK. I let him know what I was doing, and opened them reluctantly.
VK (anonymous): Let me know the next time you’re in Russia, and if you want we can arrange a time for you to visit. There’s still so much we should discuss and I’d rather we do it in person.
VK (anonymous): I’d really love for you to come talk with me, at my home. Your siblings know about you and want to meet their elder sister. I’m sorry for everything I put you through, Yulia. How I wish things could have been different.
VK (anonymous): I didn’t have a chance to tell you, you look just like Andrei. It’s a good thing, your father is a great person and I’m sorry to have hurt him. You can tell him that from me, I can’t do it myself.
I didn’t think Evgeniya would write again so soon if at all. I looked up and read it aloud to my dad verbatim. When he said nothing in response I felt my ears get hot again.
“She’s a fucking coward. She should apologize to your face-“
“Vasha don’t be upset for me, my dear. Your mother was under tremendous pressure. All this time I thought she was ashamed of herself for not living up to her parents expectations, and tried to make up for it by leaving you at a children’s home and vanishing from our lives. I was under the impression she believed her father, who told her she didn’t deserve a family of her own. She’s not a terrible person...I understand why she doesn’t want to face me. Are you thinking about flying back home to meet her? We could surely arrange something. It’s been at least a year since I’ve gotten to see you in person.”
I sat quietly, messing around with the hole in my skinny jeans. Right above my knee, making it bigger.
Did I want to meet with Evgeniya?
The question hung over my head as my father patiently waited on a reply. My life was here in America now. I was afraid of what might happen if I agreed to this visit. I didn’t want to meet Evgeniya’s husband, or her other children. I had my father and for a long time it was challenging enough for me to accept his presence in my life, after spending my entire childhood in the hands of sadistic, unfeeling strangers. I was so used to fending for myself, I didn’t know how to accept any shred of decency from anyone. I’m a little more open to most things, but not to being hurt again. On the other hand, maybe I could convince her to see my father. It was the least I could do, after everything he’d done for me. But as far as I was concerned, Evgeniya would remain nothing to me.
“Vasha?” My father’s voice jolted me out of my thoughts. I nodded at him.
“I’ll talk to Francine and let you know.”