December 30, 1991. That was the last time I set foot inside my parent’s home, the home that I lived in from age 12 to 19.
I didn’t know it would be the last time. Why was it the last time?
When we left, we thought we would return the next summer. But the house sat vacant for 2 and a half years, until it was finally rented out to someone and eventually sold.
I am suddenly very sad to realize this.
It wasn’t such a bad house.
It is now 2006, 25 years later. Only now, I realize that this was the case, that that time was the last time.
I am trying to write about December 25th through the 30th of 1991. I have written a short chapter about it. But I am not satisfied, and I woke up at five am this morning, thinking “Maybe I need more detail. What did the house look like again? Where were we sleeping on the 26th? Did we still have our beds?
Yes, we had our beds. We had the orange nougahyde couch with the cat-scratched arm in the living room. And we had the tweedy hide-a-bed couch there. The wood stove was burning—we must have left it full of ashes. The dining room table made of railroad-ties was still there. All our hand-me-down furniture from the church-going people who were done with it and didn’t want to have to throw it away—the things we had rescued and put to use. It was still there.
Our pets were not. I know the dog Penny had been given away, but I don’t remember what happened with the cats. I liked the cats better that the dog, too. I suspect they were given to the pound. Poor Chang and Bill.
It was cold. Of course it was cold. December in Alaska. There was snow on the ground, I remember that.
We had put all the house plants—well, the ones that were our favorites—down in the first floor. Someone from church had said they would take care of them for us until we returned.
April was going to take care of mine, and I don’t know where mom’s plants were going. But April told me that although she came to get them the next day, they were frozen when she came. The house had been left with no heat, so the plants didn’t make it.
Maybe she was lying. She did lie a lot. Maybe she forgot and didn’t get the plants for weeks.
But for the last days, while we were still in it, the house was warm but bare. The kitchen was cleaned before we left, because of course Mom did not want dirty dishes or dirtiness in general to greet us when we returned.
If I had known that I would never set foot in the house again, I might have done something different. I might have…taken a walk around my favorite paths and then walked through the door again. One last time.
But I did not do that. I was scared out of my mind. I was filled with thoughts of surviving in Russia, getting to Russia, and whether or not the Federal warning to Americans to leave Russia would result in us…being killed? Being thrown in a Russian prison?
But my little teenage mind was too tenacious to consciously dwell long on death or imprisonment. My most uppermost thought was of whether or not I would ever see my heartthrob Alex again.
I did not.
But I had at least been warned about that. He told me he probably would not be back when I returned. As it happened, he would have been back when I should have returned. But I did not return the next summer.
I did not return until a year later. And then only for a few weeks. We all turned around and went right back.
But Alex had warned me that he did not expect to be there when I returned. So I knew I would never see him again. I mean, I hoped I would, but I knew I might not.
I was not warned that I would never see that home again, except from the road.
When we did return, we did not stay in our home. We stayed in other people’s homes. I stayed with April, a mistake for sure, as it turned out.
But our home was still empty then. Why didn’t we stay in our home? I know why. For the same reason aspiring actors in Hollywood do not work to get good ‘normal’ jobs. They don’t want to be comfortable; they want to be actors.
So we, we did not want to be comfortable. We wanted to go back to Russia.
What did I want? Did I know what I wanted?
I was so pushed along by the currents. I remember wanting to go back to America so bad that I could barely breathe. Not that I didn’t love Russia. Not that the time I had spent there and the friends I had made weren’t the absolute pinnacle of my life—they were!
But if we hadn’t come back when we did, we would have lost our ability to return. The return airplane tickets we had would expire if we hadn’t left when we did. And they were not cheap. $2000 dollars in American dollars at a time when candy bars cost $0.35. Two thousand dollars when dollars cost 500 rubles and a loaf of bread cost one ruble.
If we hadn’t gone back, we would have been stuck in a volatile Russia with no way out. I didn’t like no way out. Even then, I had to know where the back door was.
Is that so astonishing? How many people do not survey and make sure they know the way out of any given situation they find themselves in? I do. Maybe that’s when it started for me, the fall of ’91. That was indeed the season that set a lot of personality cement.
But we finally and at the last minute did not let our escape ticket expire. We went back to Alaska and did not stay in our home.
Did I want to go back to Russia? Yes, I did. I do believe that I did. Russia was the best time of my life. And we had left those poor people at the school hanging. Maybe they needed us.
Maybe they didn’t. I don’t know.
But I did go back. All of us went back. And I ended up living on my own—well, not with my parents—in Yakutsk.
After Masha went back to college, Mirnyy was much less interesting.
Yakutsk was pretty good. I met Lena.
But then when I came back from Yakutsk, when I returned to Alaska and left Russia behind for good I also did not go back to my home.
It had ceased to be my home. I didn’t want to live with my parents anymore, and living in their house would have meant so many things.
It would have meant free rent…But, no, it wouldn’t have. The mortgage on the place was 1200 a month. The church was paying that while my parents were missionarying in Russia.
Would the church have allowed me to live in the empty house while my parents were in Russia and they were paying the mortgage?
By ‘the church’ I mean the pastor, April’s dad.
My earning power at age 20 would not have managed to pay the heating bill, let alone the mortgage.
I am certain that Mr. Byron would not have let us stay there. I say ‘us’ because Chris had come back too.
I didn’t want to live in my parents’ house when I got back. I wanted to be an adult and making my own way.
I did not want to live in Wasilla, with no prospects and no hope. That town had been tapped out before I even got there at age 12. It had nothing for me. In Wasilla, the best I could hope for was a job as a checker in a grocery store. And I would need several years of experience doing entry level work before that promotion to checker could be an option.
I didn’t want a job as a checker. I wanted more.
More meant Anchorage. Anchorage was the promised land, as far as I was concerned. That city would never be tapped out. The big city. It had so much going on, I would never run out of it.
And that was where the university was. I wanted to go to school. School! And school where I could take part in the social life. Where I could date if I wanted to, something I hadn’t really been able to do. My first year of college was a mine field of avoiding and deflecting possible dates…The ‘rules’ for accepting a date were too extensive and embarrassing and, basically, impossible to make it happen.
But no one even thought about the house for Chris or I. No one suggested that the dusty door be opened to let us in there.
My parents’ car, the one we were going to leave behind until our return had seized it’s engine right before we left. There was no family car to go with the family home. Certainly, the subdivision that the house was on was remote enough that we would need a car to be able to live there. It took 15 minutes to drive to the nearest grocery store from the house.
And it took 25 minutes to drive to church.
And an hour and 25 minutes to drive to the University of Anchorage.
But I didn’t want to stay in that house, because it would have meant going to church in Wasilla.
I could not do that. I could not not not go to church in the church I had gone to all that time.
I had decided that in Russia, the first year. I had decided that, and told my parents about it. We had discussed it, and the consensus was that I would not have to go to that church again because I would not live in Wasilla. I would live in Anchorage when I returned, and I would choose a new church there.
But only my parents and I knew of this agreement.
No one from that church suggested that I had a home in my parents’ home anymore. My parents included.
So, the last thing I remember is looking back on the dark brown carpet of the first floor and seeing our plants sitting together in the middle of the floor. My impatients plant and African violet that had been given to me age 14 in the hospital and the spider plant.
Chris gave me the spider plant later that 14th year after we had been fighting. Mom was sick of us and told us to do something nice for each other. I made Chris a cup of tea. He painted a card for me and gave me a spider plant he had grown from one of the spider plant babies. I felt cheap then, for my measly cup of tea.
The spider plant survived. The other died.
But that was the last I saw of that house. I never saw my room again. I never walked in the woods and returned through the door again. I never warmed my hands on that wood stove or whacked creosote out of the chimney pipe again.
That was it. The end. And I didn’t know it at the time.