Monday, December 3, 2007

December 3 – Day 77

The snow had melted and froze again over night. Russians do not believe in salting their streets as it poses a threat to their footwear, something that signifies more to them than apparel. Shoes are a definitive status symbol and a regular obsession. Moscovites march along the ice covered cobblestone in four inch stilettos or Italian leather without the slightest consideration of the impracticality or safety issues. I was less inclined to traverse the virtual ice rink and for that reason ducked into a metro station I rarely frequent halfway along my walk to school. It was fairly empty for early the morning rush hour and had I not been futzing with my I-pod I probably never would noticed the minor commotion. I was glancing down as I went through the turn style and had paused to adjust the volume when I caught her eye. She was an elderly babushka, most likely a metro employee who carried the lines of someone who had seen too much. She was answering the questions of a lax looking security official but stopped mid-sentence when she seized my glance. Her eyes held me there staring into her own and a feeling deep inside me told me I should turn away as fast as possible and ignore the situation. But I didn’t. Instead my eyes moved to the ground and there I saw an image I would give anything to erase. It was the body of a man, splayed cavalierly in the metro corridor. In instant I memorized the way it looked; how he was positioned, what he was wearing, the black garbage bag that covered his face and upper torso, and the vulgar apathy of all the passersby. It felt like I was the only person who seemed to find this all horrific and unreal. It took me the entire train ride to realize what I had seen. It was a human being cast aside like garbage and no one seemed to notice. I went to my ballet class and tried to dance but I could not get the image out of my head. Stupid, inconsequential nonsense kept happening throughout the day and I found myself becoming more and more upset until I thought I might be violently ill. Something about the image plagued me beyond the surface trauma. I am not sure what finally made me snap but I started sobbing in a way I haven’t in months. I couldn’t pull myself together and I could not pinpoint why I was so terribly upset. The idea of a homeless person dying in the metro is awful but not unexpected. I thought it was the reaction, or lack there of, from the employees and officials and average citizens but even that didn’t seem to explain the wave of nausea I felt every time I imagined the man’s body – his brown boots and green trousers and the yellow jacket with sleeves that came just below his wrists. And then there was the black trash bag pulled over his head. I thought at first that it was some sort of attempt at digression but the idea just didn’t fit. I dunked my head in the sink, hoping it would calm the swelling in my face and force my tear ducts to close. Instead I started to wale harder. I just wanted to calm down, to get a grip but as Lexi sat next to me stroking my hair, I knew that wouldn’t happen. Someone must have notified the administrators that there was a situation because Colleen, my American program coordinator and Marianna, our Russian confidant came to find me. I squeaked out between gasps that I had seen a dead man and they told me that they knew. In what was I believe was their best attempts to comfort me, they told me that this is a regular occurrence and while such ‘criminal’ activities are by no means acceptable to the Russian people they are something that the people have accepted as a way of life. I was not sure what hearing. They were saying these things about bodies being dropped off in the metro or found in the river covered in garbage bags and it was just too much to process. Marianna tried to hug me and told me to just pretend I had never seen anything. ‘The living are for the living and the dead are for the dead,’ she said. In my mind I thought with disdain, ‘And this is how you ended up with Stalin!’ They asked me if I could pull myself together so I could participate in the Michael Chekhov workshop and I tried my best just that but as I practiced activities on psychological gesture all I could think of was the dead mans shoes. Could what I have seen really been the result of mob activity, this idea that we frequently talk about and do our best to ignore? I was lost in this thought when Jon-Michael got up to perform his piece and dropped to his knees before me. It was at that moment that it all made sense. I looked at the bottom of his boots, treads worn raw from the Russian winter and realized they were the same shoes that the dead man was wearing. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the bottom of his shoes and then I knew why. They were new, they were clean, they were not the shoes of a homeless man. It was everything I wanted to pretend didn’t exist in my beautiful fantasy about saying goodbye without anger or resentment. I will never forget that image. I just hope that I am not the only one.