You will saw apple wood for barbecue, eat the barbecue chicken straight off the skewer outside, and drink vodka for lunch because it fits the occasion.
D is with me visiting my grandparents and it’s been an incredible, but terrifying experience. It’s vulnerable to share a side of yourself that is completely tucked away behind a two hour flight to a small city in an autonomous Russian republic, a charter bus to an ever smaller city, and a 15-minute walk from the center of town, through the crumbling ruins of houses built in 1898. But he’s here, and it’s unsettling, but wonderful.
My grandmother is continuously feeding him chunks of meat, inspecting every piece with her fingers before handing it to him; she plies him with pickles, dill leaves, spring onions straight from her garden, and Russian tea with heaping teaspoons of jam. She frets about our inability to help her around the house (because we as two functioning adults are not capable of things like watering a plant or washing a dish in her opinion). She keeps him away from my grandpa, who tries to see how much D can lift, how many fish he can gut in under five minutes, or the extent of his tolerance for vodka and slices of raw onions.
I’m only here for three days and it feels like both way too little time, but also a lifetime. I’ve idealized this place since my childhood, but coming back and seeing the crumbling streets, the same bazaars selling potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and so little else, the old ladies in the streets wearing mu-mus brings it back to a sharp reality. It both hurts that I can leave in just a day and that this is the reality for so many people here. In comparison, the way that I grew up feels decadent and wasteful, even thought it was just your standard American New England childhood. Just the idea of having year-round peaches, Chobani greek yogurt, or 31 kinds of Cheetos in a grocery store is something that brings me guilt and makes me want to escape so I don’t have to deal with confronting those feelings here. And I think that’s something I can’t resolve by bringing D here. I can’t explain those feelings of guilt to him in a way that won’t make me seem like a horrible person. Wanting to leave to go back to Moscow makes me feel like a horrible person. But staying here feels even harder.