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  • The question I seem to get asked most when returning to Russia from those living there, is which country is better or which I like better. I find it impossible to answer that question. Both Russia and America are great nations with faults and benefits. I find myself lucky to be able to view both objectively and not take sides on issues which they seem divided on. I see both sides of the story. But this is not a story about Russia or a story with a political agenda of pacifist goals, its the story of a life caught in the middle, the life I could have had.

    In the winter of 1993 my family immigrated from Moscow to New York City and thus began two lives, the one I was living and the ghost of the life I left behind. I am not sure how it was for others, but for me the immigration experience was awful. Not the actual trip but the life that started here. Perhaps, that is why I found it so difficult to let go of the past and for years, I was determined to return. I found it difficult to make friends, to fit in, to be accepted, to make jokes, to share my feelings and so on. Later, I found it difficult to date and be relaxed around people, to be liberal in my thoughts and actions even though I so wanted to be, and to be content with the life I had. I always thought that if I had not lived in America or perhaps in New York, my life would have been easier. I would imagine the alternate reality of the other Lana and what her life would be had she stayed in Moscow. Now I realize that both lives would have had its share of peaks and valleys and the original life would not necessarily have been better. Or would it?

    I imagine the timeline picking up in 1993 and the original life going on to finish public school with a plethora of friends and bright memories. This Lana had no bullies, school fights where she always loses and people who laugh at her outfits, words and hairstyles. No, this girl is liked to the end of school and into university. The part I dwell on the most is that I imagine this life being less self conscious, less critical of herself even if she gains weight and puberty arrives early and furiously to a girl whose body is not ready and the mind which is still that of a child and remains so for a while. This life does not care as much even though she is uncomfortable, she does not dwell on it with a furious, bitter and acute hatred of the life across the ocean. This life does not bind her chest and cry herself to sleep because she feels herself to be huge and deformed, especially compared to her gorgeous skinny friends with boyfriends. This life just goes on, dreaming of one day paradoxically simply falling in love with a man slightly complex, maybe as soon as college.

    Here is where it gets muddy, would that girl have pursued her dreams of creativity and went on to an art program? I imagine not, as this life needs to be practical and the choices are limited, but at least college is free, though not easy. Would this life have at age 20 or so have already began to plan a marriage and children because in Russia, thats just what you do, you don't imagine an alternative. Would she have walked down the isle at around the age 22 just because "its time" as they say.

    Would this life have gotten her large rabbit teeth fixed with braces and have actually smiled in photos on her wedding day as the life in America was planning on doing? Would she have joined the gym to tame the complex relationship between food and body and to look great not just in her wedding dress, but all dresses. Probably not, she might not have ever quit gymnastics and maybe would have taken up swimming and maybe would not have gotten fat off of pizza, candy and processed foods, though genetics would still win eventually. Either way, should would likely have gotten married in her early 20's surrounded by her family. This life has a family readily accessible to say toasts and give hugs and sing songs at dinner. No matter how well the new life does, this life has family beyond parents who don't even get along. In the old life, they separate because there is no America to hold them together. But still, this old life has a family.

    Now, this family may even include children, something the new life finds incomprehensible though believes that "all happy families are alike" to her great frustration. The old life while often quiet and brooding, does not ever sink into deep long depressions because she is never really isolated from anyone or filled with self hatred. The old life eventually becomes typical, linear and content. Here is where I draw the line on their differences because here, is where I imagine the lives intersecting.

    You see, both lives have differences but I believe that at the core, both of them are similar even though they only have the first 10 years in common. I truly believe that the life left behind would find itself evening out with the life I have. One path, location agnostic. The timeline where these lives overlap still have a shy, self conscious girl who is creative at their core. This girl loves Barbies but plays with legos just as much, never plays with baby dolls and is not that fond of the color pink. This girl writes poetry, fearlessly climbs trees (and into abandoned churches) and paints.

    This girl truly believes that she can be an astronaut one day because astronauts are awesome and no one ever told her she couldn't. This girl will one day cry at the airport because she so badly wants to be a pilot, a step down from astronaut, but still awesome. This girl is easily bored and will not end up with a simple man. The old life would likely get divorced as more than half young Russians do and take care of the child, if any. The old life would discover photography and take out her old paintbrushes and learn design and start creating. She may end up working at a place that allows her to do that. She would eventually start making money and begin traveling, something the new life was able to do very early on.

    Knowing the individual at base of these divergent lives and the limits and constrains the old life would have, I wonder which would indeed have ended up happier. My trips back home allow me to slip into the life I could have had (sans imaginary ex husband and children) and have the benefits of family, simplicity and mental stability. My new life feels unlimited, open-minded and worldly. If I could go back to that 10 year old before her life split in two and give her any piece of advice it would be to follow her heart sooner rather then later because she knows herself better than she thinks. Darling, it does not matter where you are, just reach for the stars and hold on to that paintbrush.

    Week 14 of 52 - Story a Week in 2014
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