Blink. Evacuate.

Blink. Our living room is filled with a yellow haze. A dull and persistent ache fills my head. I have one thought: get me out of here.

Moscow was filled with smoke. Fires raged outside the city. Peat Fires. Forest fires. Dachas, towns, and farms ignited in the record-breaking heat. And in the city, smoke, smoke, smoke. St. Basil’s was nothing but a few colorful domes peeking from a murky brown haze. We closed all the heavy drapes and moved like moles through the house and embassy passageways. In the brief moments that we dared venture outside, we breathed only through scarves and masks, gasping at the air conditioner on our return.

I’d already tried a simple escape, heading to the gorgeous and historic St. Petersburg with my parents and the kids. But after five days in a hotel room with the toddlers, I was utterly fatigued. We returned to Moscow to find it still choked with smoke. The embassy doctor told me it wasn’t safe for the kids. The Community Liaison Officer couldn’t understand why we were still there. They all said one thing: Evacuate.

Blink. Unable to wake B, I lift her to my hip. Reaching down, I grab the slumbering M and drape him across my chest. My oversized diaper bag digs into my hip and bumps against the airplane seat. Carrying two sleeping children down the aisle and to our connecting gate is impossible.

We had to go to California. It is the only place I can get help with the kids and we can stay comfortably for an indefinite period of time.

‘The evacuation could be two weeks, two months, or more. We just don’t know’ the embassy doctor laughed.

And so there I was: two babes, one suitcase, one stroller, and 24 hours of travel ahead of me.  Not until moments before we landed in Dulles (12 hours into our trip) did the toddlers fall asleep. Proffering two lollipops, I managed to wake them from the deepest slumber and I get them off the plane and through customs. I quite literally did not have enough hands to recheck our bags without their full cooperation. Thankfully, after much coercion and the candy, they were upright and moving.

In Dulles, the passport control line for US citizens was miraculously empty. As I approached the officer, my eyes welled with tears of joy and jetlag. Next thing you know, I babbled an abridged version of my life story to this government agent. I knew I was freakish. Somehow, in my haze, I thought I should keep talking. Making our way through the terminal, I explained our situation to the kids again and again. I knew my voice was too loud but I hoped that if they overheard, passersby would understand why us evacuees looked so stunned and bizarre. Moments before we touched down in LAX, a child next to us vomited everywhere. Welcome to California.

Blink. Sitting in the oversized chair in the corner of my parent’s kitchen, I smell honeysuckle and the sea. Family eats and plays around me. There’s nothing like my corner of California.

Nana showered the babes with gifts and goodies. Ghido took them for donuts. My sister played the piano and showed off her new home. The kids ran around naked, balanced on the stone wall, constructed a kitchen in the backyard, painted, went to dance class, and spent a lot of time at the ‘Fire truck’ park, where at their same age, I too played in the sand.

Blink. Turning away from the South Park Café, proposals in hand, I reapply my lipstick and head to the meeting at Chronicle Books.

I was only in San Francisco for 8 hours to hold meetings for my book production company. We needed to move the projects along and this was our window of opportunity. My returning to California anytime soon was unlikely. So we hustled to prepare and the next thing I know, Amy and I were doing business.

We talked books. We sold books. It felt great to get back into it. After the last meeting ended, I had 45 minutes to spare. On 4th Street in Berkeley, I drank a Peet’s coffee with Kel and kissed Sarah’s very pregnant belly. Her due date was imminent. Only now do I know how lucky I was to have felt baby Otis kick.

Blink. The lumbering hills of Ojai are awash in pink as the sun sets. My three dear old friends stand beside me on the balcony and we raise our glasses in a toast.

Somewhere over Canada on the hellish plane flight with the two kids, I vowed to find 24 hours for myself. I envisioned fleeing to a hot tub in Ojai. Imagine my unadulterated joy when I found out that Rob and Jul and were booked at the Ojai Valley Inn for the weekend. I hired two babysitters to cover for me. I buttered up my mom and cajoled Dal into joining us. And for an entire day, I was kid-less—stopping at the outlets on the way, getting a massage at the spa, walking into town, lounging by the pool, spending quality time with dear old friends. This was bliss.

Blink. Seven of us sit in the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. We all wear 3D glasses.

M’s Moscow birthday party had to be postponed, of course, but celebrating was in order. I baked a red Spiderman cake and we drove to Hollywood. M and B wore Batman and Batgirl costumes and danced across the stars on the Walk of Fame. We strode into the world’s most glamorous movie house where thousands of tiny lights glistened. A spotlight shone across the room as the organ player on stage banged out show-tunes. Toy Story 3, M’s first movie experience, was a big hit.

Blink. Umami Burger. Fred Segal, Santa Monica.

The embassy lifted the evacuation and called the families back. Our California trip was only 2 ½ weeks but I insisted on squeezing in one Girls’ Dinner. Jo told us what she wore to the Emmy’s. Jul talked about a new television show she developed. Dr. Nic spoke about her long day and Rob about her deals. Sam updated us on her media company. My LA ladies, what a tribe! So beautiful and accomplished, they made me feel important just for knowing them. And I couldn’t help but think I was fancy and cool, even when eating a burger.

Blink. The clock reads 4am and both kids are wide awake.

M’s schedule was this: fall asleep at 8pm, awake at 11pm, and stay awake until noon the following day. We returned to Moscow, followed by heinous jetlag that produced a full week of sleepless nights. The smoke was gone but my head was still full of thick fog. I didn’t know what city or country I was in or if I’d ever be upright during daylight hours again?

Blink. I’m sitting in the office at home. It’s noon and I’m sobbing.

Two weeks after our return, I got the bad news from California. Sarah’s Baby Otis was born a few days after I saw her, but he didn’t survive. And my young cousin Nancy was found dead in her apartment. I felt lucky to have seen family and friends so recently, but then I felt as far away as ever. There was nothing I could do from all the way over in Russia. And, I was so terribly, terribly sad.

Blink. American Embassy Clinic: Doctor, “Yes, it’s strep throat.”

First for B. Ten days later, for me. The fevers and aches finally subsided. We’re better now. Today’s my last day of antibiotics.

Blink. Autumn leaves in yellow and orange fall from the trees. The gold pointed roof on the famous Seven Sisters shines so brightly, I have to squint.

Today is a perfect, crisp autumn day. Eric’s traveling for work and I’m back at my desk, writing. Between walks among the golden leaves, I’m agenting, and talking to agents for the novel, and book producing. There’s so much I haven’t mentioned: the trip we took to Paris the week prior to the Moscow fires, or the fun we had with DJ & Dan, our September houseguests. Too much happened this last month. I’m moving so fast, it’s impossible to capture it all or even figure out exactly where it is I am. And anyway, as soon as I start to feel really settled, I know life will race away from me again. I need only to blink.

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About ericajgreen

Writer/Editor living in Reykjavik, Iceland
This entry was posted in expat, expatriate, Foreign Service, Moscow, Motherhood, Parenting, Russia, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Blink. Evacuate.

  1. Nina Laden says:

    Beautifully written and felt, Erica. But after all that blinking, I think you need a long, deep massage and some equally deep sleep. Rest up dear friend.

  2. Linda Griffin says:

    Erica, I feel exhausted…. Prague can not come soon enough!

  3. Nuala Kilmartin says:

    I thought life was busy for me until I read your blog !! I always look forward to your epic updates !! Take care x

    “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” John Lennon

  4. megan jacobs araujo says:

    wow. i feel you sis. you’re inspiration to me. you keep me wanting to be creative even in the midst of a To-Do list too long to list. you make me so proud. you are a world traveler and international mama to say the least. you keep writing my sister. these wild life situations make for one hell of a story huh? “use it all” they say…”use it all to create your art”. like my songs do for you- your words bring tears to my eyes. you are far physically but so close to my heart….always.

  5. Geri Krotow says:

    Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your life.

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