by Diana Ruzova
Diana Ruzova is a writer based in Los Angeles. She has an MFA in Literature and Creative Nonfiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her writing has appeared in The Cut, Oprah Daily, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Diana is working on an essay collection about the contemporary immigrant experience. You can find out more about Diana and her work at dianaruzova.com.
The trip was a luxury, months of coupon clipping at the dining room table. On the third day we took a dinner cruise. We sailed for an hour, docked for another: a meal and a show. I wandered around the deck, leaning over the railing to talk to the fish. Mostly, I was curious how I looked to them, so large and dry. As an only child, I found many ways to entertain myself, most of them included quiet conversations with animals and inanimate objects. Back inside, I watched my parents remove the ice cubes from their water glasses with salad forks, the ice pooling on their dinner plates. I sat down next to them, my plate empty and iceless. Someone turned on the disco ball even though the sun was still setting. A few kids smaller than me began to dance on the carpeted floor trying to catch the rays of light. The family next to us, big hearty Americans, were chomping at the bits to dig into the buffet. There was a sound check and then, entertainment. The host wore a Tommy Bahama’s shirt and wove around the dining room stopping at each table, probing the audience. Most of the people were from the Midwest. And where are you fine folks from? He roared with enthusiasm into the microphone, head cocked towards our table. He had shiny white teeth that looked like they belonged on stage. I wondered if he drank a lot of milk. His energy made the room buzz. Now, I guess he must’ve been blown out of his mind. Where ya from? he repeated. My parents looked at the ceiling, at each other, at me for reassurance, leighs wrapped around their necks like gold chains. RUSSIA! They exclaimed in unison before I could intervene. Papa’s Soviet belt that held up his Levi’s shorts was now too small for his gut. The amber earrings dangling from Mama’s ears appeared to suddenly house insects. Papa even smiled with his teeth, the disco ball catching the silver heavy metal fillings in his mouth that had yet to be removed. They beamed brightly at the host, thrilled to understand, participate, afford. Well, woweeee, all the way from the USSR! How are you liking it here? The ship swayed side to side. We were somewhere off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands. The sky was a ripe golden pineapple. The truth was we liked it here very much. Or at least I did. I could not remember life before our immigration, only the struggle to assimilate as if I went through some big reconstructive surgery and woke up as someone else. This was years before I began to value our foreignness. This was years before I wore my smallpox vaccine scar with pride. This was when any utterance of other made my stomach churn. I sat under the disco lights, heavy, as if I had swallowed a bag of rocks back at the hotel instead of a box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I fingered the puka shells around my neck, adjusted my sale rack dress covered in giant hibiscus flowers and sunk deep into the wicker chair. I began to fish out the melting ice cubes from my water glass onto my plate. We weren’t from RUSSIA, we were from Los Angeles, I told the spoon.