The Russian proverb, “One battered person is worth two nonbattered ones,” merits consideration. Aren’t those unpummeled by fate on the foolish side, lacking wisdom gained through the miracle of enlightening only a good thrashing can offer? At this point in life, when I’ve been clobbered so many times, it’s borderline indecent, this statement makes me prized beyond rubies—a luxury item. Ah, just you wait. To undermine my ironclad logic, there is another old saw that says that less-dilapidated people bought in bulk are bargains—a penny a dozen on market day. How to reconcile the two? But this rude statement, with its faulty rationality and camouflaged scandalous stinginess, is a fact never proven by science. Perhaps it’s wise to disregard it, since the research methodology utilized is questionable at best. In all fairness, the difficulty of proving this hypothesis is rivaled only by that of disproving it. I could be a sensible woman. Though it would be nice to feel a little bit priceless.


Feel free to judge my outrageous claim for yourself. Allow me to share a few highlights. The mighty former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a place where I was given birth to by my mother, unwillingly on her side, but that could hardly be considered my fault. I didn’t begin my life alone—Mother was there for the birthing, but that’s as far as she’d go. It was only a matter of time till I realized how doomed I was.




chapter one

On this particular Sunday, the last Sunday in August, at the sweltering end of a summer of endless rain, the sky was shamelessly cloudless. There was nothing to stop the scorching sun from cooking the city asphalt into a stinky, sticky mess, and the life-giving, earnest luminary did its ruthless job well. As if smuggled in, one lonesome wisp began to gather itself into a cloud-like formation in the middle of the weightless dome, wasn’t encouraged, and dissolved at once. For us mere mortals who happened to be in the habit of inhabiting a pale blue spot of a planet (its Northern Hemisphere) suspended in the golden rays of a smallish yellow sun, adrift on the outskirts of an ordinary galaxy, the eighth month was the muggiest one of all.


Heading for a lake to escape the tired and dusty city was Karl’s idea.. If you’ll allow, shall we pause here for a second? My story, technically speaking, began not here—ahem, far from it—but for our purposes, it might be a great place to start. So with no further delays and with your permission, ladies and gentlemen, please meet my current boyfriend, Karl—a six-foot-four, blue-eyed, yellow-haired, wide-shouldered, poster-worthy German with a soft spot for whole-wheat blueberry pancakes.


chapter two

The Russian Easter masquerade party in a Fifth Avenue loft in trendy downtown Manhattan was an event to await with anticipation. What I didn’t look forward to was my boyfriend’s costume, and for that matter, my costume too. No matter the occasion, or the season of the year, or the phase of the moon, Alex insisted on dressing up as a gestapo officer in full regalia. One had better make a lot, and I mean a lot of hoopla, heaping praise after praise on him—how masculine he looked in it and how original and sophisticated the whole affair was when I hated, hated, hated the whole thing.


Things might necessitate a persnickety consideration if I ever found myself in need of filling the vacancy to father my future children. The way things were for the moment, I figured I could afford to take my time, keeping it simple and not pondering too long over the implications of such a decision.


chapter three

I must lose my virginity. Tonight.” Hannah’s radiant blue eyes looked serious and a bit worried. She held up her hand. “Mama, before you say anything—”

The universe tilted a little, and the soapy sponge—bool’k!—tumbled from my hands into the greasy skillet full of hot, scummy water soaking in the sink. This isn’t good, I thought.

“I know what you’ll say. ‘Why rush things? Wait for the right man, fall in love, then have sex.’”

“That’s right,” I said. “Sex isn’t a purely mechanical problem of how to fit thing A into thing B—”

“Oh God, no. God. Don’t even start, Mama. This negativity of yours is driving me nuts.”


“You’re so old-fashioned.”


Adam & Eve

Cat-o-therapy, for reasons that escape my understanding, was no widely adapted term. Warning: Not recommended for persons allergic to cats. Sorry! I will not advocate it for people infected with ailurophobia (the fear of cats) either. On many occasions it worked better than the trendy pharmaceutical treatments utilized in psychotherapy. Amazing how much more preferable Adam was to Zoloft. Were two cats sufficient to exorcise Mother and the other plump relative out of my system, or did I need to adopt seven more in a hurry? A hundred and fifteen to cover the problem, you say? Hmm...Zoloft, then?

The techniques of cat-o-therapy varied a little, but were easy to learn, the results immediate and always positive, and what was awfully convenient—the only prop required was a cat. Any cat would do. In some rare cases, light prewashing was advised before handling for the first time. Naming the kitty was a must. To avoid being scratched and bitten, please ensure that kitty knew who you are, that your intentions are pure and honorable, and that all participants, both feline and human, are on a first name basis. The good news was that if one expected a free spirit and creative independent thinker, there it was. A note for the overly cautious: Imaginary pets are great and all that, but a less effective remedy (though, no argument, better than nothing).


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