Let me start out by saying I don’t enjoy confrontation, although one may argue, on occasions, my actions may have inadvertently caused it. I have been accused of being an instigator. Translation: I bring things up enough to bother someone else with doing something about it, because like I said, I don’t take pleasure in hostile encounters, but I do appreciate justice and answers.
For my parents, I worked hard to maintain my good girl image. I didn’t want to cause them inconvenience or ask for anything. I witnessed the immigration process right along with them, and my 5-year-old problems always seemed petty in comparison.
When my sister came along, I learned very quickly how eager she was to please me! It wasn’t long before I could use her to my advantage and have her do the asking when I couldn’t. (Or wouldn’t.)
On several occurrences, my sister, almost seven years my junior, did the rallying on my behalf. When my sister was two years old, I was childishly angry at my parents for something I can’t remember. The good Soviet immigrant girl would never yell at her parents; better yet tell them off. But this is precisely what the 8 1/2-year-old me wanted to do. I instructed my sister, Reena, “Go to the living room and tell mommy and daddy, ‘Fuck you.’ I repeated the words a few times to make sure she had it down. My sister beamed with pride; I was finally giving her attention.
She waddled down the hallway, her droopy diaper swaying back and forth and in the perfect little voice, just as rehearsed, “Fuck you!” My mother gasped and yelled, “Reena, you can’t say that!” She called for me. At first, I ignored her but she persisted and I eventually emerged innocently.
“Galina, why did you tell your sister to say those terrible words?” My mother was screaming, but she had no case. What did I technically do? I wasn’t even there. My sister is the one who did something bad.
“I didn’t say anything.” Deny, deny, deny.
“From where would she learn to say it then?”
“I don’t know. Not from me. Maybe she heard it out the window.”
Even now, I’m mad I didn’t come up with a better cover. I didn’t plan the comeback but because there was no repercussion, the instigator seed was planted.
In the years after we moved to Staten Island, we discovered the all-American summer sensation, the ice cream truck. I didn’t want to ask my parents for the dollar for ice cream; I didn’t think we had extraneous money for non-essentials (important 12-year-old thoughts). Better yet, I thought I was fat and shouldn’t be eating ice cream. But ice cream is my favorite, so I would tell my sister, who was busy playing outside, the ice cream truck was coming! She had no qualms asking our parents for the two dollars!
I wasn’t a shy girl who wouldn’t ask for something if I needed it, I just preferred not to bother my parents and rather figure out how to get it myself.
In retrospect I was selfish and not a good big sister. I was the commander, she was my soldier, I sent her to do my questioning because apparently first children have bossy tendencies and second children have balls.
My instigation opus was the last time I would ask my sister to do my bidding. One day my sister was in town from college; she lived with my father at the time in between school breaks. My father had brought his girlfriend from the Ukraine two years prior. I was perpetually wondering how she kept getting her visa renewed, but never built up the courage to ask my father. While on the phone with my sister, I got more heated the longer we discussed the situation. We felt left out; everything was always a big secret. My sister, on the other end of the phone, exhaled deeply and declared, “That’s it, I’m putting an end to this right now!” I loved when she got manic like this; maybe in retrospect, she’d think this was her idea. There was no turning back. I hear her yell, “Natasha!”
I hear Natasha appear to the bottom of the steps; my sister yelled to her from the top. “I have a question for you. Are you and my father married?”
My sister later told me she went white, wheels spinning in two directions, trapped with only one way out. “Yes.” Her voice was sheepish.
My sister said, “OK, thanks” and walked away continuing our conversation.
I know it was my father who wanted to keep it a secret. Not because he was embarrassed; he was proud of his pretty wife, 30 years his junior. My father just thought it was none of my business; it didn’t affect my life one way or another. This was just a piece of paper. But somehow, the moment we found out that my father had been married for two years without telling anyone stung. I’m not sure if I can define why it hurt like it did and I retaliated with the only way I knew how: I stopped talking to him for four months.
Last year my father and his wife invited us to share in their 15-year anniversary party. They asked me to say a toast and I felt put on the spot and surprisingly at a loss for words. I was never a part of their coupling, their romance or their marriage, but here I sat opposite them, holding a wine glass filled with water, wishing them congratulations and a lifetime of love and happiness. Where was my sister now? She would have said the perfect inappropriate thing.
Part of me felt like a hypocrite because I had just celebrated my second wedding, I was on my second chance at love. Who was I to judge theirs? Maybe it was my harsh judgment which prevented them from telling me in the first place. I should have been overjoyed our relationship had grown to a place where I could be asked to make a toast.
But it doesn’t work that way – the should have or the supposed to is never what actually is. Instead of a 40-year-old woman, I was a 4-year-old girl standing in front of her daddy celebrating an anniversary with someone who was not my mommy.