The truth be told, I had other ‘relationships’ in the past: I dearly loved Moscow; I spent two years with Pittsburgh, I truly adored New York and I greatly enjoyed Montreal. Each city was a stepping stone on the never-ending hike of my perplexed biography.
So, my first love was Moscow. As kids we held each other’s hands and played in sand pits, while my parents watched over us, hoping that we would never grow apart.
I cherished the Kremlin lights and was mesmerised by the New Year’s fireworks. I jumped into the Moscow crowd and rushed to theaters, concerts and city attractions.
As a teenager I sneaked out to skip school at the Red Square — the centre of ongoing celebrations. I remember the happy faces of newlyweds and tourists, who flashed their cameras and spoke a myriad of languages I could not understand.
My beloved Moscow took me out to Arbat – the legendary street, famous for its Victorian houses, curly lanterns, funky musicians and numerous souvenir kiosks.
Arbat was always packed with Russian immigrants who came from overseas for a short visit, hoping to heal their everlasting nostalgia. They searched for Russian dolls, floral scarves and old-fashioned jewelry. They could not make up their mind and seemed quite lost on their quest for past that was mistaken for present and future.
I used to make comments about their peculiar gift choices, unaware that I was about to join their circles in the very near future…
At the age of sixteen, I was accepted to an American high school in Pittsburgh, and I bravely took the offer, without thinking twice.
Moscow took my decision calmly. We quietly arrived to the city airport on a rainy, foggy autumn day. I was waiting for my turn at the check-in counter, looking at my parents from afar. My Dad wore a nervous smile on his face; my Mom sobbed, signing to call her upon my arrival.
Moscow stepped aside, arrogantly observing my run-off. The city was humiliated, yet unwilling to make a soap opera scene.
A grumpy officer firmly stamped my passport and showed me the way to the plane.
I found my seat by the window — it showered heavily outside. The doors were locked and the steward made announcements in English.
Suddenly, I realised that from then on I would always be a stranger — hence, I had no way back.
So, I started to attend my school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh turned to be a dull, boring old grouch. Obsessed with its coal mining, Pitt hated noises and always went to bed early.
I wandered through the town, trying to develop appreciation for its seriousness to no success.
At the same time, I could never dismiss the winning image of Moscow. I knew that since I left, Moscow did move on. Moscow had it all: prestigious cars, luxurious resorts… In other words, my first love couldn’t care less.
Back then, I used to go to the nearest Russian shop, where I bought phone cards, which took me home, at least temporarily. I closed my eyes each time I spoke to my relatives and friends, trying to imagine how they looked.
However, life went on and my past was getting blurrier, and my telephone conversations got shorter and shorter. I finished high school and got accepted to college in Montreal, Canada.
Montreal was a dream, especially when I compared the charming harbour of Quebec with the ordinary Pennsylvanian. Montreal had lovely European manners and American open space. I was fascinated by the nature’s royal attire, scenic lakes, crispy snow and English speech infused with French aroma. I had an illusion that I was in Moscow every time I strolled through Montreal’s sophisticated architectural masterpieces.
Montreal took me out for coffee in cozy outside cafes. We played snow balls, went skating and lost ourselves in the crowd. I felt happy again, for the first time since I broke up with Moscow. But soon my study program finished and I moved back to US to continue my education.
At the age of nineteen I became a boasting university student in Manhattan, New York. I made sure to tell everyone — friends and strangers alike — that my Uni was located just minutes away from Empire State Building and the Fifth Avenue.
Every morning, I felt like Cinderella, who went down the dirty subway steps in Brooklyn to find herself on the fairy Manhattan ball half an hour later.
New York attracted me with its magnitude of cultures. I held my notebooks tightly and walked by the glamorous skyscrapers flashing legendary signs of ‘Tiffany’, ‘Armani’, and ‘Gucci’.
I followed the golden-cheeked cabs, driven by Asian taxi drivers, well-groomed businessmen with iPhones glued to their ears, model looking girls with ‘Starbucks’ coffee cups, and homeless bums. I saw myself as Carrie Bradshaw’s twin, empowered with my coffee cup and a fancy mobile phone. Life was beautiful.
Sometimes, when the Big Apple was getting too much to swallow, I went to Brighton Beach – the Russian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, where I allowed my nostalgia to run wild.
I browsed through Russian eateries, old-fashioned cafes and bookshops. I bought overpriced Russian books and magazines and took them to the ocean shore, where I read excitedly. I breathed in fresh, salty air, listened to snow-white seagulls’ songs, while Russian pensioners passed-by discussing politics and complaining about the prices on meat, potatoes and liqueur.
Six months later I met my future husband, who was a student from Melbourne, Australia. New York was a charming scene to date. I was sure that the New Yorker had prepared a fascinating future for both of us.
However, my fiancé was serious about moving to Melbourne, unlike me. After all, I knew every single corner of the Big Apple, where I made lots of friends, I was about to finish studies, and my parents were thinking to move to the New World.
Two years down the track I realised the importance of Melbourne for my husband. He missed the Australian stranger, used every chance to come up with its history and faithfully ate Weet-Bix for breakfast.
Once again I had to leave stability and pack up my consciousness to meet the mysterious future. It was a sunny summer day when we left to JFK airport, cuddling our one-year-old boy.
And again, the city was calm. The Statue of Liberty waved to me. New York smiled widely and asked to come visit him, when I have time.
Melbourne had his winter coat on. The tree branches could barely hold on to their dull leafy gloves. I wrapped myself up in a bulky sweater, but it was not warming me up. I stayed home for days regretting our decision to move overseas. I refused to see the Australian beauty.
The following spring, however, my attitude changed, when Melbourne dressed up in exotic floral garments; I smelled the aroma of eucalyptus perfume in the air.
One day I was on a tram ride from St Kilda to the Melbourne University. I looked in the window and suddenly saw the new, unknown side of Melbourne.
qI was afraid to admit that I liked the furry tops of slim palm-trees fringing the aquamarine ocean shore. I noticed young, cheerful students from all over the world, who rushed to Uni with a smile on their faces.
To my own amazement, I found myself drawn to the National Gallery fountains, historic Flinders Station and funky Federation Square.
These days, we go out with Melbourne a lot. We meet in evergreen parks, massive libraries, museums and restaurants. We listen to each other at the beach. I feel that I finally found my new home, after so many years of travelling, and somehow I feel that this relationship is going to last.