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Friday, February 21, 2014

A trip down a memory lane


I do not handle stress well and I blame it on my heritage. On my mother’s side, we have mid-grade Russian nobility and Jewish “intelligencia” with a persecution complex, thyroid disorders and a penchant for drama.  My father comes from a family of robust Russian and Ukrainian peasants whose only genetic defect is an occasional bout of gayness. In other words, depression, suicidal thoughts and alcoholism run ramped in my family.

My parents have very different ways of handling stress or danger: my mother sulks then goes on an attack while my father flees and hides. Their diverse approaches to conflict resolution were especially fun to watch during a very contentious divorce battle. For about a year, even after the divorce was finalized, my parents were forced to share a residence due to draconian property and residence regulations in Russia. I added fuel to the fire by posting derogatory cartoons demanding my father’s eviction. Tensions ran high and arguments were punctuated by the use of umbrellas and heavy wooden chess boards as weapons.

My poor younger brother got the brunt of the post-divorce drama. I was 16 and, at least, understood what was happening and why, but he loved both parents and saw his world crumble at a ripe age of 8. There were no counselors or psychologists available at that time and all the grownups in his life were too preoccupied with their own crap to care about his feelings. Now that I am a parent myself, I feel horrible about that and wish that I was a better, more mature older sister.

In the end, my father left and was replaced by my mother’s mother, and the benefits of this trade were, as we found out, dubious at best. When grandma moved in, I was forced to give up my bedroom to her since she was sacrificing so much for us and it was the coziest room in the apartment. She demanded respect and bent us, the weaklings, to do things her way. It was easier to submit than argue. Now, 15 years later, she still lives with my mother and is in full throws of Alzheimer’s sprinkled with dementia, making her a rather difficult roommate. Her pastime consists of napping, spying on my brother’s sex life, buying shit through mail-in catalogs and waging a war on my poor mother. In her glory days my grandmother was the one who handled stress and conflict the best out of all of us.

She was born in the 1920s, spent her youth during the worse war of the XX century and successfully navigated the murky waters of Soviet medical politics, rising to the rank of the Chief Medical Examiner in our district. She loved her job and ruled the department with an iron fist. She was finally forced to retire at 75 and I’m sure her co-workers threw a party and ceremoniously burned her chair. I think if grandma had a choice, she would rather die on the job, keeled over her pile of cases and her microscope from an apparent heart attack.

As much as she was a tyrant at work, grandma was a dictator at home. Granted, the stories passed down to me by my mother may be influenced by the childhood trauma and benign neglect she had experienced, but I suspect that they may not be exaggerated. To me, however, she was a doting grandmother and a friend. I think she delighted in the fact that I looked up to her, shared my experiences with her and mostly that she was not responsible for my upbringing. Now her mind is mostly gone and she is reduced to a crumbling, hateful being. Every infrequent phone conversation I have with her revolves around her ungrateful progenies and her fear of death.   I am lucky that I can choose to avoid any contact with her, but my mom and my brother can’t, and I feel very badly about that.

As for me, when presented with a stressful situation, I cry. Then I freeze. Then, time permitting, I get drunk. Then I get mad and try to think my way out. Processing takes time though. I like routine and predictability. So when I am faced with a leaky tire, an unexpected bill or a bad ultrasound, I crumble.   When my car got towed for improper parking this past weekend, I freaked out.

We had a shitty week: one zaika had a fractured wrist, I received aforementioned medical news, our SUV needed two new tires and an alignment, plus two more school closures. AAAAAAA!!!!!! Let’s just say my recycling bin was full of empty wine and beer bottles. I hope our misfortunes and tribulations will end for now. Life is stripy: black/white, happy/sad and tends to lean towards equilibrium. Last night, Husband made awesome shrimp/pork dumplings; his cooking mojo is bouncing back so I choose to take it as a sign of hope and promise.

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