The ballroom of the United States ambassador’s grand residence in Moscow was dark. On the ceiling, above the ornate crown molding and the arched windows, yellow and blue geometric patterns swirled and then faded in their weak attempt at a light show. In front of me crowds of young Moscovites, some in suits, some in trendy knee high boots, swayed to a slow beat. John Forte (formerly of The Fugees and famed for his arrest for possession of liquid cocaine and later a presidential commutation) was in Russia, here to play as part of a musical exchange program, a tour promoting hip hop music and ties between the two countries.
Long dreads swaying, John Forte strutted through the crowd, passing under the extraordinarily large chandelier and the oil paintings hung in gilded frames. My mind flashed to my first Public Enemy concert and the night I was head banging at the Palladium in Hollywood for the Butthole Surfers concert. I was sixteen again, wearing my thrift store dresses and combat boots watching Angelo from Fishbone undress on stage at the Roxy. And then slow lights faded above me, blinking me back to the present, back to the ballroom of the Ambassador’s residence. This wasn’t high school. This wasn’t the Sunset Strip. A Russian band was the opening act, two guys sitting in folding chairs strumming at their guitars and singing a slow, melodious tune. Mr. G nodded his head to the beat and checked his blackberry. My friend translated the lyrics: This isn’t sex in the big city, this is love in a small room.
By the time John Forte moved from the floor to the stage, the crowd was docile, and mostly seated. And while his soft, thick voice held a powerful beauty, he kept his energy low-key. Maybe it was that he wore a tie, or he knew the venue wasn’t ready to rock it. The crowd at the back laughed at the strange intersection of hip hop and diplomacy. Was it a fun night? Yes. Was it important to bring a new young crowd to the embassy? Absolutely. Was it cool? Well, almost.
Maybe it had to do with the weather, but everything this last month felt almost to me. For three weeks we had temperatures well in the negative numbers. Coinciding with the February school break, the kids and I were stuck inside, the air too bitter cold to emerge for more than a quick dash across the compound. Ice skating or sledding in negative 15 degrees Fahrenheit is impossible with toddlers. Then, one day, the snow and bitter cold seized. Dazzling sun reached across the field and when I walked outside, my face turned to that awesome yellow ball in the sky. I couldn’t help but hope this was the start of something. A neighbor dared to whisper it: Spring is coming. For three days, there was no snow, and temperatures hovered around zero. More neighbors murmured—I heard the word bantered about in the cafeteria and in the video store. And even as I laughed at them, “No way, it is only the first week of March!” I let that little idea flit around me, landing as quiet as snow, somewhere on my subconscious. But I needed only to try wearing pants without long underwear, provoking the gods of fate, for it all to turn on me. A blizzard returned, snow coming down in thick patches, swirling, pounding, never-ending. And now the weather is frenetic, even within a day: sunny, then freezing, windy, then snowing. We almost had spring, then we lost it.
One night, Mr. G and I, desperate for a break, trolled through vacation websites. We needed a long weekend away. Somewhere warm, somewhere that didn’t require snow boots. Dubai? Antalya? We emailed our friends in Turkey for recommendations and drooled at the photos of hotels with infinity pools by the sea and cheery kid’s clubs promising adults hours of alone time. Huddled under blankets, we stared at the computer screen and debated which package holiday company was best. Confused by the Russian websites, we called a travel agent. But with a VIP visitor coming to US Embassy Moscow, we weren’t sure which dates Mr. G could take off. The Russian travel agent dissuaded us from Antalya—too rainy in March. Too boring if it rains. The cost of flights to Dubai were prohibitive for last minute fares. And two weeks later, after all that back and forth, the dates we penciled in had passed. And our planned escape was pushed back. We almost had a great trip to somewhere spectacularly sunny.
When weather is schizophrenic, it is best to focus on work. So I wrote and edited as much as I could muster. The kid’s book production biz moved in fits and starts this month. Editors from New York made urgent calls to me to discuss signing up Ever After Studio projects, then grew silent, then called again. We delivered a proposal to one client and a big publisher reopened talks about another project. With my own fiction writing, I revised more of the novel and submitted to contests. I learned that two submissions came in second place in two separate contests. Then I read one editor’s harsh feedback on my winning entry and worried I needed to rework the whole piece. I felt good about it, then I didn’t. It’s like I’m almost there.
My body too responded to this dynamic, waffling state, this season of in-between. My teeth, pained for soo long, healed and I began to chew again. The stitches dissolved, I opened my mouth wide, and I was almost better. But there is still that one small corner of my gums that throbs when I awake and aches when I eat. This tiny, painful part reminds me daily that I’m not healed yet.
And amidst all this wobbling, all this starting and stopping, Mr. G worked around the clock. Vice President Joe Biden was coming to Moscow and the husband was at the center of organizing it all. With him at work on weekends and then early in the morning and until late at night, I felt like a single parent. I wondered and marveled again at how anyone does this without a partner. Too many bedtime and morning routines without help put me near the brink and I felt my frustration boiling under the surface. Overly tired, I was quick to lose my patience with B or M. All the school holidays, with no way to get outside, only added to my building sense that nothing in this overseas life was sitting as it should be—I’m not “there” yet–I haven’t gotten it quite right yet (work, parenting, body, state of mind). Then, one afternoon, the phone rang and I was asked if I would host Dr. Jill Biden for a coffee at my house. Suddenly, I was jogged back into feeling important again. Hah! I must be doing something right to have such a big time event in my house. I meet with heads of state, after all. Things really are in place, or near enough. Of course, when the advance team came to inspect our house as a possible venue and left in under four minutes, I realized that it wasn’t happening. Not only did she not come to Casa Green, I was not invited to the coffee that she hosted somewhere else. But it almost happened. Right here, on the couch where I’m sitting now.
Languishing between seasons, moods, states of health, and mixed-up schedules, February and early March found me stuck in the frustrated stage of ALMOST. But then, just yesterday, I started to feel a real shift. A long, fast run today in the gym had me singing out loud. The words of my dear friend telling me that my writing career is budding and that I’m on the cusp, actually resonated. By the time I post this, the VP visit will be nearly over, I will have had a chance to meet and greet with him and Dr. Jill, and I won’t be a single parent anymore. A few days after that, my short story wins will be announced on the literary contest website and the next projects with my studio will be well underway. And, hopefully, by the end of next week, our vacation will be booked. For the entire day today, the sun was shockingly bright and vivid against the white, melting snow. Maybe, just maybe, spring really is coming. I can almost believe in that.