Give Me Back My Nesting Doll -- creative nonfiction by Andjela Starcevic
From the day we are born, we will slur crumbs of a language through our stubby teeth, a language of six feet of snow and ushankas we never wear, red parades and the first dogs in space, nuclear bombs and panic rooms, of failed dictatorships and yellow stars and American entertainment. In our ghoulish little homes and charred schoolhouses, we will sing the hymns of our patron saints and swing from the prosthetic legs of the rusty swings in our imported American style puffer coats, more pale slivers of wrist hanging out with each passing year.
We will walk under the earl gray sky to the local all-purpose store, white brick stained with soot, window stained with vine. Maybe we will decide to splurge and walk to the big supermarket for hours at a time, and pass their parking garage, sheets of charred black walls hanging off the side of the concrete building like sheets of metal, like skin peeling off of a sunburned back, something we hear about but only ever see on crystal ball TVs. We will wait in the very long line for a very short time because there isn’t much to buy and none of us are skilled consumers. We will go home and put cheese on bread, cheese in bread, and cheese on bread with meat and onions. This cream cheese of ours is called Kajmak, pronounced ky-mok but Billy calls it cazh-mack when he does his class presentation on the former Soviet Union, so I disguise my first real laugh in months as a cough.
We will learn English because that is standard and we must all be intelligent and hardworking, but inside we do not worry about mastering it all that well, because there will never come a time to use it. Europe is Paris and Rome and Zurich and London and Milan and the kaleidoscopic pretty city. Europe is chocolates and gondolas and restaurants and fashion shows and all the beautiful landscapes America doesn’t have because Americans must live in the ugliest country in the world, right? I mean, compared to Europe. Maybe no one wants to look at ruins, at the schools and homes sitting charred on our roads for decades now, piles of black bricks as remembrance of what used to be a hospital wing. We listened to our world crumble over and over through homemade towel gas masks, huddled under stairwells in front of our radios all those years ago. Now, we pass by a building that looks more like a burning piece of paper and our mother might say that she was working her night shift in that hospital when it was bombed. This will be our routine of remembrance until some of us trade our rusty red stars for fireworks and stripes.
Sometimes we are reminded that we are not alone; that some other people in the world are not cursed to sit under a rain cloud. What do other people notice, we think, when they think of countries like ours? Our women are young and attractive and sensual, forever preserved in the ranks of the harems that have owned them. We are Ice Queens, with cheekbones galore and fashion model boy bodies and sleek straight hair. We need one strong American man to thaw our cold hearts, to find the small golden nesting doll we all carry within, since we are only using them for their money to begin with. Partly cloudy people will, of course, deduce that as soon as we open our mouths to speak. We are exotic and erotic, with embroidered flowers on our black skirts we will drunkenly hike up for any passerby, with rosy cheeks and golden eyes and kolo dances and braids in our hair.
If we are unfortunate enough to turn forty in a pretty city, we become manly bodybuilders with mustaches and unibrows and grunts and sweaty tank tops and warts. Maybe we are the Evil Queen in disguise from Snow White, little babushkas in shabby clothes and headscarves who can’t speak or laugh or walk or eat, only spew gibberish about soup, wishing we had escaped those desolate playgrounds we so foolishly call home. We are slutty Russian princesses, big eared Botox bloodhounds for visas, and we are housewives with American babies who yell at us in Gap denim shorts and aviators. If we are very very lucky, we might be romanced by the future president or Wall Street mogul, or we are the next emaciated top model. They like us because we are easy. They like us because we are foreign but not too different looking, because we are sassy but not too strong, quick but not intelligent, needy but down to try anything. They like us because we skip around our rotten frosty second world with golden hair and painted cheeks, basket of bread in hand, and dream of dreams, until someone stronger and smarter, and raised to be just that, whisks us away.
We might stay there, in these pretty cities. Maybe we have changed for the better, but something about the beak nose and black eyes and wooden hair and translucent skin and lisp in the voice and premature wrinkles will keep on telling us that something is not right. After some time, we may feel like we have shucked our origins, like we are blissfully pagan, like our ancestors in the days of yore, still blissfully untouched and pure, but we will still be met with this wrongful reflection all the same. Rhinoplasty, hair bleach, colored contacts, white Jeep, switching your Is for your As every once in a while down here in the south. You have to be pretty to earn the life of a pretty city resident. We could pray for beauty, but there are none of our churches down here for miles. Most of us in the pretty cities haven’t prayed in over a decade.
And we will eventually do better. We will grow old and forget, too tired to tell our children to remember, but for now we are resigned to watching another carry this yellow toothed burden. Our mothers are so well spoken, but for them it is immediately being asked so how long are you visiting for? at any cash register in particular. Our mothers might be doctors, studying like dogs and listening while they were told they were destined for something much greater than they would ever be allowed to become, but the check is always passed to their American boyfriends with the booming voice, all bald headed smiles and Happy Meals and unemployment and blue & blonde yokel kids. And our mothers will be upset in the car, and the boyfriends will say they are being ridiculous. And the boyfriends will have known them for years now, and they will have known no words in the languages of our mothers. And he, like all the others before him, will make fun of her pronunciation of his.
Why is it that when she opens her mouth and I hear her accent like rust in a tunnel, I know that her fight is already lost?
Our mothers might be kind to strangers, but they are told no, I mean where are you originally from? after they say here with another beautiful Ice Queen frown. And so our mothers will begrudgingly tell the truth, and they might say ohhhhhhh, interesting with a dead smile, and that is always the moment I know they wish they hadn’t asked.
Look at me. Find me. Forget me. Whisk me away.
Andjela Starcevic is a high-school student who loves cats and reading, horseback riding, and drinking way too much Diet Coke. She's very much ready to move out of North Carolina.