Wedged between the flimsy walls of this yurt, there is a piece of silk…dangling. My Kazakh host mother gave it to me. She placed it in my hands and told me to never lose it. I still have this piece of silk four years later. It made it all the way with me to Boston. When I see it, the memories of my days in the Peace Corps rush back to me, and I hold back tears. I remember the endless months, living as a front…a cold, drafty front where I was forced to live as a “straight” person in this developing country. The State Department’s policy for queer volunteers was for us to “go back in the closet.”
We were told to march our way back behind the walls of heteronormativity into a cold little closet, one I had spent my entire life trying to never be sent back to. Shit man. But, did I sulk? Of course, I didn’t know what else to do but sulk. I fell into a dark abyss known as the trifecta of loneliness: vodka, beer and chashlik.
Some say home is a state of consciousness, but the reality of living in a post-soviet steppe was telling me this would never be my home. The hard, stony looks from the locals told me this would never be my home. And the bruises I collected on my body from run-ins with the secret police physically told me this was not my home, that I would never be safe here.
One icy night in particular stings my eyes as I try to ignore the thunder/rain/sludge slurping at my mahogany windowsill. I look at the piece of silk, clutched tightly in thick wads, wrapped around my palms and throbbing from the quickening of my pulse underneath. The memory still feels all too real. It’s all coming back to me.
There it is. I remember like it was last week, but really it was years ago. In the middle of winter, the police, thinking I was a spy from Istanbul, stopped me. When I signed up for Peace Corps, I was too naive to realize what I was getting into. My skin not light enough in America to be white, and my eyes not squinted enough to be Kazakh, I stood there with all the defiance of what this inquisition stood for.
Shoddy, navy-knit sweaters with impractical buttons decorated the carcasses of these self-important and insignificantly mediocre police bureaucrats. My luggage flying into the interrogation van with a biblical thrust…a thrust of satisfaction mostly. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought this policeman nearly busted a nut with the thought of having captured a delinquent American. I was going to be arrested for being “another.” Sure, I was used to it back home, but damn, not here! Not when for once in my life I was doing something karma points worthy.
Maybe they could read through the whiskey colored eyes my mother gave me. Maybe they could smell the years of cocaine use reeking from my skin.
Maybe they could see the pride shimmering off the edges of my cheekbones.
The pride that read: I sleep with men, and they call me sweet stuff in the trenches of pleasure.
I’m sure the wisps of the silk my host mother gave me that dangled from my bag didn’t help my cause either.
As the rail-thin officer phoned the chief to meet up with the rest of the wool-clothed vultures to gawk at me, I couldn’t help but steal furtive glances filled with jealousy at his frame. Damn it, I did it again. Had I known how unacceptable being gay is in Kazakhstan, I would have never come here.
It pains us as humans to think of this, but we have such a heavy burden. Many of us like to think of only the good, if only we could all think positively. We carry so many bags with us, not just those under our eyes, but also baby momma bags, dime bags, guilt bags, bags of all sorts.
Some bags hold blue chips, black and milds, c-notes and switchblades, but my tattered Marni bag, every year this one collected the memories, pain, and orgasms. That sounds so trite, or whatever. Every shuffle and step I take makes my squirrelly bag squeak. And there I stood, with so much fucking luggage in the middle of the Kazakh steppe. Bags galore. Relieved to have some of the weight lifted from me when the police officers ripped my bags from my hands, wishing they could take my emotional baggage too. If only life worked that way.
What still surprises me is that even though I ended up being pushed around and banged up, the silk I was given never got tattered. It never once got lost, nor did it ever fail to hold the tears that dripped from my eyes…its strong (but thin) frame withstanding the rivers and oceans of saline my eyes thrust into the delicate fibers. Drooping from my hands, the silk has never looked sturdier…and, like me, something fragile that was made to last will never be broken (even if the warning label says otherwise).