One day, we go on a walk down memory lane.
We see the communal apartment where my parents lived in the early 1980s. I spent the first year of my life here.
We walk past the building where my dad grew up. He stops at the front door, considers ringing the doorbell, but thinks better of it.
There was a store on this corner, a public bathhouse across the street, he says. They’re gone now. Later, without us, he goes back to his old primary school, and gets kicked out by the custodian.
He had lived in this city for more than 30 years. Now, he has a whole different life in the U.S. His life is split in two.
-Does that make him sad, wistful?
-No. He’s firm on this. I can’t imagine what I’d be doing if we had stayed here.
Neither can I. It seems inevitable that we should immigrate to the U.S. How would my life have turned out had we stayed? I don’t know. I rarely even wonder about this alternative universe.
We go to Kupchino, a suburb on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. This is where we moved when I was a year old. Kupchino is home to ‘70s and ‘80s-era high-rise apartments, gray, multi-story blocks. These days, it's also filled with strip malls and big-box stores. They’re even building churches, unimaginable in the atheist Soviet times.
This is where we’d be living if we hadn’t left Russia, says my dad. This place leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
Everyone wanted an apartment here once, my mom sighs. There was a 20-year waiting list for one these!
Across the street from our old apartment building, there’s a children’s hospital. It was under construction from the early ‘80s to the mid-'90s. Now it’s open for business, but like everything else, it looks empty and abandoned. We visit my old school (below); it’s closed for renovations. So is the neighborhood library where my mom once worked. There's nothing here for us. We head back to the city. The nextday, we’re off to Moscow (where we almost get arrested).