know what you need to know
July 2, 2020
By Elena Koshkin
My mom always says that she’s already lived through one country’s collapse, she can’t handle another one. What is peace when you’ve seen destruction? Is peace a haven--a heaven--or is it just your bed? And finally having one of your own? The feeling that tomorrow, even if it’s only the slightest bit different from yesterday, is nevertheless a new day?
My mom always locks our door at night. She says you never know who’s going to come knocking. I’ve never understood what that meant. And I’ve never really asked her. I think I’m afraid to, I don’t think I can handle knowing what my mom saw in the ruin. I always wonder what my life would’ve been like if my mom hadn’t come here. I always imagine it much more rural. In my head, I would be wearing a stained white dress and reading a tattered book in a rye field. I’ve never been to my mom’s country, or “the homeland” as she calls it. How long do you have to have been away from a country to stop calling it your home?
My mom always says that our heritage is our language. I wish I had paid more attention when she was teaching it to me. I feel like I should’ve done right by her and learned it myself. But how do you fit in somewhere while learning the culture of someplace else? I wonder if my mom hates that I don’t sound like her. But every time I’ve asked she says no. Maybe she just won’t admit it.
My mom always talks about how she left. She was forced to choose between the country she loved, but was broken, and a country she had heard only stories about, but was safe. Safe. Is that the dream...in its beautiful simplicity? She chose between her home and her future. I think in the end, a home is where you can see a future for yourself. I think I’m still finding mine.
I always ask my mom if she hates that I fit in. When I was younger, I hated that I didn’t. Now that I’m older, I hate that I do. Something about feeling like you’re the only one in your whole family living a different life. My mom has accepted that she has lost her sense of belonging. Anywhere. Sometimes, very rarely now, she’ll say things like “If I were back home…” and I remind her this has been her home for 30 years. And we both sigh. I don’t know if it’s for the same reason. Sometimes I think about what I would’ve done if I were her. Would I have made that sacrifice? Would I have picked feeling out of place everywhere I went? Sometimes when I speak my mom’s language, I feel like it’s mine. In those moments, I see that my mom feels at home. I am her future. She picked me.