Galina Itskovich

Я родилась и выросла в Одессе, a с 1991 года живу и работаю в Нью-Йорке. Психотерапевт, преподаватель-эксперт, клинический консультант, я пытаюсь делиться тем профессиональным опытом, что нажила за годы эмиграции, со страной моего рождения. Пишу большую часть своей жизни, но впервые решилась опубликовать написанное 4 года назад. Переводы, стихи, публицистика и короткая проза на русском и английском публиковались в журналах и альманахах русского безрубежья, а также на сетевых литературных порталах и в коллективных сборниках. Финалист, шорт-листер и призер различных конкурсов.

I was born and raised in Odessa, and live and work in New York City since 1991. I’ve been writing poetry and short fiction in English and in Russian for many years, without any attempts to publish until four years ago. As a first generation immigrant and a psychotherapist working with the variety of patients from many cultural and ethnic groups, I continuously explore my own and others’ struggles, and search to integrate life experiences before and after the immigration. Poetry, short fiction, essays and translations of poetry in two languages, appeared in a number of literary journals and almanacs.

 

Синопсис из повести «If Anything Take Personal Days»

The afternoon was so hot that the sun itself was on the verge of fainting. The unending sunset was aiming straight at the Grandma’s freshly open grave, as if somebody up there practiced shooting a basket.. A cemetery rabbi, who also doubled as a funeral director, read quickly, in a strangely animated voice, today’s Torah portion. He then hurriedly walked away, vigorously jumping over reddish chunks of dried-up dirt that looked more like horse manure than the respectable cemetery soil.

This brand new section of the Jewish cemetery was merrily pushing its way through patches of the ill-looking, transparent forest. Sashka glanced over the gravestones closest to him. All names were Russian sounding, and last names sported “-ich” and “-man” at the end. New immigrants had brought their elderly to die here, turning the Land of Opportunity into a soil of opportunity, and took advantage of the added benefit of being buried properly and cheaply in the Jewish tradition. However, the Christian customs that they’d brought with them from their umbilically connected, ever-present Russian homes rooted too deeply in their Jewish minds. There were flowers, flowers everywhere. Each Monday, flowers were thrown out by the cleaning crew, and each Sunday morning they stubbornly reappeared on those graves that hadn’t been abandoned yet. First-generation immigrants, who’d settled for discounted rates of the Orthodox burial ground, couldn’t insult their dead by denying them a bouquet after death. After all, the beloved crowd had been ignorant about the rules of Judaism prior to dying, and who knows in what heavenly section they ended up at the end of their day.

 

***

…life in the warm climate rarely stays concealed indoors. By the night time, spare the coldest days of a short Tashkent winter, women and men (actually, mostly women, as men invariably flocked after work to tea houses — and, yeah, tea was served there, too…), dwellers of a three-winged building and four one-story houses that had formed a geometrical square, were done with their chores, and all moved into the inner courtyard. Russians with their massive glasses of tea in metal glass holders and Uzbeks with their china teapots and small teacups, elderly matrons armed with knitting needles and new mothers with colicky infants, and, of course, those looking forward to their nightly game of nardy (mah-jong) were all taking their regular seats on two benches attached to the wooden table in the middle. Those who didn’t manage to squeeze onto the bench brought spare stools from home. Later on, certain chairs would get reassigned to the courtyard forever, and would become a part of the landscape. The courtyard was the true apotheosis of the international friendship that had been so widely advertised by the Soviet propaganda. Inhabitants of the place — Russians and Uzbeks, Bukharian and Ashkenazi Jews and one Armenian granny — were ever passionately discussing unfaithful wives, drunken husbands and naughty kids who lived within the radius of three blocks.  The courtyard was a news center, a court room, a social club, a judgment day. Nothing escaped neighborhood gossipers’ attention. No one could avoid their adjudication.

However, discussing that family was an ill-mannered thing, like picking your nose in public.

…As long as Sashka remembered himself, family life revolved around Grandma’s hospitalizations. Mother was getting hospitalized, too, but her comings and goings were somewhat peripheral to Grandma’s grandeur. Mother was almost apologetic about having to go to the hospital, as if she was faking symptoms that had brought her there, whatever it was, from episodes of paranoia when she was hiding in a closet or running away, to medical troubles of all sorts. On the contrary, Grandma’s theatrical descent into insanity was, undeniably, of the apocalyptic nature. She was wailing, drooling, spinning, falling to the ground, and fighting paramedics. Mother seemed to fade into woodwork of those days. However, she was actually there, protecting Sashka from dramatic scenes and accidental injury from darting plates and cutlery, hiding things that could be broken during a big fit, and, a grand finale, running to use the neighbors’ home phone when it was finally time to call the ambulance.

 

***

They never went to the hospital empty-handed. Sashka liked the ritual of wrapping apples into yesterday’s newspaper, pouring the chicken broth in a small glass mayonnaise jar, and then putting all these goodies into a handmade netted bag of undetermined color that was normally used for trips to a market. He learned that apples were a hospital food, while hard boiled eggs and fried chicken were a train food, and an uneven piece of warm lepyoshka was a courtyard food that he would take with him on long summer days when he wasn’t planning to come back home for lunch.

Life wasn’t hard to navigate: Every food had its place. Every gesture had the same meaning across situations. Every sound signified a specific time of the day; sounds of the national anthem of the USSR on the ever blasting radio meant that it was six in the morning, and that Grandma would start screaming at Mother to get up, and that the milk women would soon start ringing their bells in the street, as they walked from home to home with their huge metal jars and bent metal mugs attached to their belts; a falsely cheerful voice of the kid coming from the radio meant that it was now Sashka’s turn to get up and get ready for school; muffled singing behind the bedroom wall meant that it was Friday afternoon and neighbors were drinking to the end of the work week; screams coming from the same direction meant that their party was coming to an end, they were already fist fighting, and it was past midnight. Sensations were predictable, and it felt good. Looking back, Sashka was reflecting on his own childhood resilience and at his psyche’s unconscious attempts to turn depravity into a sentiment.

Sashka was as fortunate as to be born in one piece, since, according to Grandma, he wasn’t meant to happen. She had thought that Mother was too crazy to give birth to babies and to take care of them. When Grandma found out that Mother got pregnant with him, she beat her up for starters. She screamed and yelled at Mother for not taking good care of herself, and even cut out a strand of hair in right in front, as a punishment. Grandma then accompanied her to the polyclinics to demand that Mother had an abortion done, but when the doctor looked at the crying Mother who was holding on to the bald spot right above her forehead, he refused to discuss anything with Grandma, and told her that Mother was an adult and could decide for herself. Could decide for herself!

Did Grandma corner Iosef into a marriage at this juncture?- another mystery, never to be solved. … Lucky, lucky!- not to come out retarded, crazy, or an autopsy ready. When Mother was in labor, they discovered, somewhat late in the process, that his was a breech delivery. He was coming out with his arm in front of the head, and a midwife just pulled him out by the arm as he was struggling through the birth canal. She probably never thought that a son of the loony Flora would ever have any use for an arm. Just fished him out as if he was an octopus. Sashka couldn’t feel anger, just sadness, when he thought of this woman who probably never remembered that delivery failure of hers, despite of being reprimanded by a doctor for a job poorly done. Once again, he was lucky, as it was just his left arm that got injured during delivery, and, therefore, he was capable of writing and doing physical work. Mother often told him how scared she was to feel the midwife pull him like that. In her constricted, consequential world, it was only logical to punish her for doing things her way, the wrong way, but why did Sashka get punished?- she couldn’t grasp it. The meaning of his birth trauma kept slipping away from her. “The arm was just hanging down,” she kept repeating in childish awe and surprise.

 

***

Flora was pacing and getting agitated, rubbing her face with both hands, trying to cover her whole body with two small, swollen palms, with her knotted, flat, printless fingers twisted by arthritis, left without papillary lines after twenty years of folding cardboard and  seven years of needle pricks. Pieces were falling out of the Mother Puzzle. Her whole being was a fracture that never healed. It was important to get her into bed. To get her into tomorrow, and then we will see how to live after all that.

 

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