Nineteen years ago today an otherwise routine TWA flight landed in the Kansas City International Airport with me, my family and all of our possessions on board. We walked out into a 70F day wearing winter jackets and fur hats to start our lives in this country with a few hundred dollars and our broken English.
To mark this date I will answer the question I’ve been asked the most during these years –
How do you say “fuck” in Russian? What part of Russia is Ukraine? Do you miss the old country?
Do I miss the old country? The short answer is no. I really don’t. I don’t long for the streets and the beaches; don’t miss the sound of a familiar language; don’t care to mingle with the people; don’t feel like I belong there.
There is a long answer though, to a slightly different question: do I miss the old country between 1969 and 1992? Yes, I do.
I had plenty of time to think about nostalgia and even test it out by going back several times. I think that places don’t mean much without the memories. Memories is the difference between the place that means something in one’s life and just another tourist attraction. You walk down the streets and remember a place where you first walked next to a girl; or a spot where you stood on your first day of school with a giant bouquet of flowers; a storefront that used to sell the best ice cream in the city; a toy store where you wandered in without any money; a street where you got punched in the nose (and still have a crooked nose as a reminder); a park you used to go to with your parents; a place where you learned to ride a bike; a building where you first love used to live; a street where you walked wearing a gas mask to win a bet; many other things, probably not that important in the big picture but still somehow stored in your head all these years. These things I miss, but they are no longer there, they were just a brief moments of my life and there is no way to go back and relive them. Maybe it’s better that way; that’s what makes these memories unique and a huge part of who I am.
I don’t have to go back to a specific place to reminisce. The place since moved on anyway – rebuilt, reinvented, repainted, renamed, refurbished, re-branded, repopulated, recycled and replaced. I no longer feel like I am a part of it. I feel like I am going back to the old country when I talk with my childhood friend in Argentina, or call my old neighbor in Boston, or catch up with my army buddy in New York. Old country is us. Old country is our memories. Old country is these photographs. Fuzzy and oddly vivid, just like I remember.