I woke up at 5:30am, made myself a coffee, a few sandwiches for all of us, and then woke up the kids. I seated them in the car with blankets, their neck pillows, and doudous and we were on the road before it was 6. It was dark and warm inside the car. And then there was a heavy smell of smoke as we passed Sonoma and it made us all dizzy for a few minutes. Close to 7 we saw the first rays of sun on our right. The road was smooth and empty.
The book with the red cover and the word “Persepolis” in white letters was on the passenger’s seat, next to my handbag and the black winter jacket. I saw the book with the corner of my eye as we drove north through villages and hills.
That day the fall occurred suddenly as we were on the last stretch of the road before Tahoe. The trees were yellow, red, and green. And there was some snow on the branches. The mix of colors became fall and reminded me of how it was in Moscow in my childhood. The kids were singing on the back seats when we parked at the coffee shop for breakfast at 9. We had arrived to the lake. For an hour I read the book. I did not notice how I left my coffee unfinished and I have no idea how the kids entertained themselves meanwhile. With the book I stepped into some other life, that life was not mine, but nonetheless was very familiar. Almost as the fall in its present colors.
The whole day we hiked and played in the snow. And as I enjoyed the simple things with kids I was also thinking about my uncle that was sick in Moscow and I was worried about him. And then I told myself that there is nothing I can do and I just have to live my life and take care of the kids. In any case, if I would be very sick, this is what I would like others to do. I would not want my family to be worried about me. Life was this way – you have to live through things finding balance between being present to every side of life and not worrying worthlessly.
I opened the red book again when the kids were swimming in the pool. I first read in the hot tub, but then it became too crowded and I sat on a sofa facing the pool. I stretched my body under the last beam of afternoon sun, my legs were still wet and I was getting cold. And then the book got the rest of me.
The moon was beautiful that night. It was the thinnest moon I have ever seen, with the outline of the full round moon as a shadow. It was low, right above the mountains, and I looked at it while the kids ate their candies. I held my son’s hand, it was small, cushiony, and a little bit sweaty. We had an argument before dinner and I had to raise my voice at him quite a bit. And he cried and I felt the pain of having to be angry at him. He looked helpless, as if he never did anything right. And the pain was the shadow of my love for him.
I finished the “Persepolis” book laying in diagonal on the opened sofa bed in our hotel room. The kids were getting ready to sleep in the bedroom as I read the last page and closed the book. I remembered how I was left to live by myself when I was 14. I was in Barcelona and I could not remember if I was scared or not. I just remember how my dad bought me a table set that consisted of a few plates, a cereal bowl, and a tea cup. It was purple and made in Portugal. And when my parents left I looked at this set on my kitchen counter and I felt very hollow. But then I had committed to a new life and there was meaning to it.
I still had two of the purple plates and the tea cup. The cereal bowl broke years ago.
I went to the hotel lobby and as I was going down the stairs there was a couple. They were American, in their fifties probably. He had a kind and simple face and grey hair, and she was making some remarks about fishes in the pond. There was no complexity behind his wrinkles. And I suddenly understood why I could not fall in love with American men. It was not the lack of kindness.
I got an espresso from the bar, went back to my room, filled the bathtub, and kissed the kids goodnight. In the bathroom I took off my clothes, got into the tab, and did not think about anything. Or else I was afraid I would cry. I just sat there peacefully feeling the water on my skin.