Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Finding Natasha – Madison Smartt Bell





Back in October we made our first trip back to Romania with W. It was a wonderful trip.  Plenty of time with the family and W traveled extremely well.

Going back to Negresti is not just a trip back to a former home, it’s a chance to time travel. 

I knew before the trip that I would have for time traveling with my son, feeling emotions from those old days but with a companion from the future so W and I took every opportunity to get out of the apartment and onto the little streets of Negresti.  
At least twice a day W and I would venture out onto the cold(somewhat cold), still dusty(not as dusty), still dirty(not as dirty) streets of Negresti.  We’d make our way out of the apartment, taking dark the uneven stairs with care and onto the sidewalk outside of the apartment bloc.  
Each time, be it the bright light of the morning, a midday glare - or the dusky evening purple light,  I’d take a quick couple of seconds to assess the surroundings, see who was walking down the sidewalk as a possible portal to the past.  We’d start our walk down the sidewalk and usually turning right towards the “commercial” street.  Heading out onto the street for W was all about reaching the playground.  
He had his priorities, I had mine.  
Heading out onto the street for me was all about returning to 1998 - reaching back.  Things changed in Negresti - but not much.  Infants that were born when I first arrived there were now old enough to be my students if I were to teach there again.  Time failed to stop for me as I wish it had. I walked with W down the streets doing my best to casually stroll and to make myself as visible as possible.
Sounds, smells the light - all were the same.  1998 returned to me often on those walks.  I ran into former students who apologized for their English as I apologized for my Romanian. 
Time travel. 
Nervous laughter and smiles - and then it was over.
We continued down the street. There was a brief tug from the past, a tug towards the bars with their smoke and cheap vodka.  Thinking back to those days, I determined that a good deal of self-examination and discovery took place in those “establishments” brought on by the clarifying effects of the booze.  
Walking the streets in 2013 I realized that there would be no going back.  Those smoky rooms were gone for me now.  
I would need to discover myself elsewhere - but honestly, is my discovery all that important in the role that I now serve as a father? Yes, to some degree I suppose - but perhaps existing in the present with my son is far more important that strolling down the dirty sidewalks and dark smoky rooms of my past.  It’s time to remember the past, not live in it - I must live in the present and the future with my son.

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