Waiting for America

Excerpt from "Wienerwald"

In early June 1987, two days after I turned twenty, my family left the Soviet Union for good. We'd been trying to emigrate for nine years, struggling, losing hope, and regaining hope. I was ten when my parents decided to emigrate, and I was a junior in college by the time we were finally leaving.

It rained during our last night in Moscow, and as my parents and I walked out of our former apartment building early in the morning, the streets and sidewalks lay under a blanket of poplar fuzz, a Russian summer snow. We rode to the airport in a black BMW with diplomatic license plates. Our friend and protector, a cultural affairs officer at the American Embassy, personally drove us to Sheremetyevo-2, Moscow's international airport, and delivered us to the terminal. This was done to safeguard my parents and me from any surprises that the KGB was saving for the last.

In the midst of airport chaos I said goodbye-forever, I thought at the time-to my whole world. Traveling with us were my grandmother, my mother's younger, divorced sister, and her eleven-year-old daughter. My grandmother was a robust blue-eyed seventy-three-year-old widow with wavy amber-dyed hair. In her coriander skirt and silk blouse of a pale tulip yellow, my grandmother looked a lot younger than her Soviet age. With both hands she clung to an oversized brown leather purse. In Moscow my grandmother, aunt, and little cousin had always shared an apartment and formed a nuclear family. Now they were the first to go through customs. A tall female sergeant, who in another life might have been cutting women's hair in the antechambers of concentration camps, separated my grandmother from her daughter and granddaughter and led her away for a "personal inspection." At this point my little cousin, as if realizing the finality of our leaving, started bawling, smearing large tears across her high cheeks and frenetically waving over the divide to her father, my aunt's long-divorced husband, who was staying in Russia with his new family. It was impossible to watch this innocent creature in a polka-dot dress, with pale curls sheared like those of a little lamb, say goodbye forever to her own father. I was almost glad to be summoned over to the customs booth.

 

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