Feelings by Alexander Girshin

The moon was shining / is shining. It's as bright as a single headlight of a car stranded at the side of a desolate road somewhere in the middle of nowhere / somewhere in middle America. Middle America because I’ve been there and I know what it looks like at night when my car was stuck at the side of the road in the dark during a cross country road trip.

The engine had stalled and the steering wheel - viscous, nearly frozen, the engine stinking of burnt oil, singed rubber, rust; past lives of birds and squirrels. Insects, mainly insects. I never killed a bird or a squirrel on purpose, not with any of my cars.

And it’s like you’re battling some mechanical mammoth when you’re trying to force the steering wheel to the right to get the car off the road and onto the shoulder; and this giant force, this completely alien force - call it inertia - wants to keep it in the middle of the road.

But when the car's stalled in the middle of the road out in the middle of nowhere, - which is somewhere, really, but you don’t know where it is, and you don’t really care because what does it matter as long as it’s somewhere out there and not in here - so the car’s engine has passed out but two things are still going: the car radio, which is playing opera. You don’t know which opera it is because you’d turned on the radio after the opera had already begun, and a single headlight, but it’s beautiful. It’s the most beautiful opera written by some genius a century and a half ago somewhere in Europe. You know it’s from Europe because the language is not American and not even English, and it’s so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes because you’re lonely and you haven’t touched another person since you’d said goodbye to your mother and that was over two months ago. At this point you start wishing that you could be touching someone right now, someone right here next to you listening to this opera with you and holding your hand while the engine, still hot and smoking, is making a steadily abating ticking sound. What is that ticking noise?

You push the heavy door open because it’s at a drunk slant and you've got to kick it to make it move or else it’s not gonna move - that’s the kind of slant it’s at - and you climb out of the car and step out onto the gravel with your bare feet cause you can’t afford comfortable shoes and it sure sucks to be driving in uncomfortable shoes with sweaty feet, so you'd driven barefoot. Well, you walk out into the night and you jog ahead to escape the odor of the steaming engine; revolting - why would someone who abhors automobile engines decide to drive across country? - and makes you nauseous so you try not to breath it in, and skip ahead over the tiny rocks on the asphalt; it’s painful but you pretend that you’re a fakir, so the pain feels good. And there you are, staring at the front of this car/your car - but it’s no longer really yours because it’s given up on you and you, on it - you stare into this one shining headlight and as the opera is playing from the inside of the car; you imagine that this headlight is the moon, a full moon smiling on you as you lie flat on the grass, together with her, some imaginary her, looking up at the night sky.

And a few years later you are indeed lying flat, not on the grass and not under a moon, but on a desolate beach, and dog flies are biting the heck out of you and evading every swat of your hand. Those dog flies are dog-smart, you know, and swift. And this time you do know where you are (out on the cape), but she doesn’t, not really. You tried to explain to her where you were driving her to but she didn’t get it. She expected something entirely different; they all do. When you’re already there and you try to tell her again, she doesn’t believe you. She’s been to Nice. This is not nice. She lies next to you but she’s not holding your hand. She is stiff and foreign and she’d taken penicillin this morning and the night before and there’s no hiding from the sun. You’re at the same latitude as southern Spain. No, northern, you correct yourself. Directly across the ocean from Cape Cod is northern Spain - the ocean is eternal and ageless and has been repeating the same mantra since you’ve been there and ages before anyone has ever been there and it's not conscious of you or her being there and doesn’t care whether you’re there or not. Now she’s sitting up. She says that the sun is too hot to be lying under, here where there are no other people. What kind of a beach has no other people on it? And she’s not looking at you as she speaks. She’s looking out at the eternal ocean as if she can see the mountains of her home country across these vast waters. In profile she looks just like Virginia Woolf, but the German variety. (Just type Virginia Woolf into Google Images and you’ll see her, image #: 95-virginia-woolf-1902.jpg - okay, so her forehead is a little bit higher, more rounded at the top and her nose, same length, protrudes the slightest bit more forward. But otherwise she looks just the same: as if she’s peering into the deepest, darkest fathoms of disappointments. But from the front she looks different, higher cheekbones, face more rounded, upper lip more full, more of a Lolita - the 1958 version. Sue Leon, so much like Sue Leon from the front. That’s the thing about her, when she’s languid and pensive she looks like Virginia Woolf, and when she’s happy and sexy, like Sue Leon. And how about when she’s angry, who does she look like then? When she’s angry she doesn’t “fucking look like Virginia Woolf or Sue Leon. I look just like my own damn self, you patronizing bastard!” But she seldom gets angry.) You watch her and feel the coolness of the sand in her shadow and the sea creatures palpitating your arms and legs and parts that seem irrelevant splayed out under this blazing sun. She is not naked. Her white dress speaks of higher standards, of a culture removed from your own, of shopping in Paris and Madrid and Barcelona. And you want to reach across this narrow isthmus of sand and touch her hand and say something that makes her smile. But this spit of sand is like an ocean and there are fathoms between you. You get an idea, a jolt of excitement. If you are feeling too hot let’s jump into the water! The sea is frothing with foaming waves that look like the ocean is in the process of giving birth to the world - raw, oblivious to the weight of the two humans, who might just as well be pebbles upon the sand, or stubs of driftwood, and when the tide comes all the way in a sweep of a wave, it would take the two of you away without a hint of remorse or the slightest acknowledgment. You stand and walk toward the water. When it's thigh deep you plunge into the next rapidly approaching tumultuous wave and slip under it. You feel like a dolphin, but the water is too cold, -  must be a current from out of Labrador. Jolted, you escape with the next beach bound wave that jars your skin onto the sand and come out triumphant. She’s got to appreciate such a feat of bravery. Ah, it’s cold, you report, - cold but refreshing. She gives a smile as you dab yourself dry with your teeshirt cause you weren’t foresightful enough to bring along even a towel. The teeshirt is inadequate so you swing your arms rapidly while facing the sun like a young gull flaunting his wings in the sun after a frosty morning, feet still glued to the nest. Soon you sit back down on the sand next to her and you still feel cold. She turns to you and says I don’t think we can be together. This is not who I am. I am not this primitive organism just out to survive somehow, somewhere. We are not a good match. Is this the kind of life you want? This is not the kind of life I want. This is not really my life, you apologize. I only thought we wanted to get away from my mother’s house for a while, to see something else. You take me to this desert place without even a place of shade to pitch our tent. And all of these animals are crawling all over me and biting me, and it’s too hot and desolate. There are no people here, no one! What is this place? Is this the kind of place you like? You want to convince her that it’s beautiful here but you can’t find the words that make it beautiful. It’s nice here, you say. There are a lot of bugs but they don’t bite. They’re just sea fleas, totally harmless. You try to catch one with your hand but your hand feels invalid, foreign, disowned. If you could catch one of these fleas, at this point, you would probably even eat it because you’re hungry and you like the taste of the ocean. You'll want to keep it within you after you part with it. I have no feelings for you, she states as a matter of fact, and you hear it as a strange language, as if she had just spoken French or mispronounced English with very bad grammar, and you’re trying to grasp the meaning of the statement, trying to imagine what it would sound like if she had said it in Russian; or if, instead, you were saying it. What would you mean by it if you were saying it? And then you think about feelings and what it’s like to have no feelings for someone and you peer within yourself, trying to find your feelings, see exactly what you feel. And it amounts to nothing really, nothing more than just wanting something; perhaps a curiosity as to what might happen next, or something within you that keens desperately to be filled. So the feelings you have are not actually for her, but for yourself; for your own absence or lack. You want to feel good and she may have the capacity to make that happen, to make you feel good. You want that again, that good feeling as you had had this morning back in the tent before the sun came up over the high dune, and in the shadow you found pleasure with each other, such poignant pleasure that you became someone else entirely, someone much better than yourself, who feels bliss. You want that bliss to continue, to become relentless. But you look at the ocean and it is relentless but also blissless. It’s just there and it has no feelings. And you're sobered by the sight of it, you know that this is life, and feelings are only conjured and interpreted; and, as an epiphany, you want to proclaim that you too have no feelings for her! But she beat you to it and you resent that; you begrudge her that she's said it first, that she's rational enough to understand how she feels toward you, which is that she feels nothing; brave enough to have said it first.

Feelings come and go, you say. According to Osho Mutti on YouTube, love is like a Spring breeze that comes from across the dessert and descends upon you, and you breath in its fragrance and you feel it overpower you, but then the breeze dies away and you ball your hand into a fist and there is no coolness there; no love, no feeling. And she looks at you and says it’s just too hot. It must be the penicillin. The label said that one should avoid gratuitous exposure to sunlight when taking it. And I’ve had too much sun. I think we should go now. You stand up first and extend both hands to her, - offering to lift her up onto her feet, - and she joins hands with you, springs up from the sand as if it’s a dance move - limber, blithe and magnetically charged, and as you wrap yourself around her delicate otherworldly form - cohesively familiar. You kiss her slightly parched mouth and it’s like a persimmon that’s been hanging in the sun for too long, at the gash now bursting with sweetness.

Six years later she tells you that she still loves you very much but she is also in love with someone else. You are watching a minuscule spider, like a miniature tarantula, jump from the sunlit window sill onto the side panel and make its way up toward the fissure between the frame and guide. I haven’t done anything with him yet but I know that I’m going to. You know what's brought this on. Six months and limp as putty. There was a first time, and the second, she pushed your face away from between her legs and she tried to coax you out of it: a slouch like a guy who’s showed up late at the office after only two hours of sleep and he’s trying to stand up straight before the desk of his supervisor but his body just wants to collapse. It’s been many nights of almost no sleep and this employee is ready to cut himself off and throw himself in the river or down the toilet. And you don’t know why you can’t sleep. It’s like a privilege that’s been suspended, like the chemicals for sleep are no longer being produced by your body and even the recipe to produce them is gone. And you’d just returned from a trip to Mallorca where these sappy twenty-year-olds beat the fuck out of you in chess. But you’re Russian. You’re the master - the master! Nope, says the oligarch Uncle, the Russians have lost their game to the west a while ago. Now these “Don’t Google It - Just Ask Me” striplings are making money hand over fist and have a bright promising future with whopper-size-social-network platforms and minds that calculate at least ten moves ahead of your own. While you’re trying to figure out how to defend your queen, trapped between two pawns, from the onslaught of Knight and Bishop, they're fine tuning their five year plan and generating flow charts in their heads.

Then you were at her grandmothers for five days, five days without sex? How can we manage? I’m not going to have sex at my grandmother’s; it completely turns me off. My grandparents have slept in this bed and you want to have sex here? But she let you; but soon it was time to stop. It was all those gaping faces on the walls, couples, children, family, always smiling, always having some sort of inside knowledge that could be used to sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. Doctors, scientists, children with IQ’s that shatter the bell curve. And they are brilliant, lucid grey eyes that can see it all, but haven’t yet - shining faces. They could be models but they’re way too smart for it. Maybe opera divas? No, too last generation. They are angles that are the future; have been designed one hundred, two hundred years from now but have been given in advance to special couples, couples who have earned it, couples whom the gods have favored and to whom an advance has been given (perhaps for experimental purposes) to lead the dull masses into the future. We need them, and soon, direly. There they were glaring down from the walls, and it seemed somehow bestial, wrong.

Finally, back in your apartment you look through the pile of books you had amassed during your European excursion, a box full of mass market hardcovers written by gurus who've done it right and now want to tell you their secrets. And you leaf through the money ones and the diet ones and the Feng Shui ones and then you pick up the sex one, “The One Hundred Hour Orgasm” and you can’t put it down. You even do the questionnaire of the first chapter, fill in all the numbers on a scale from one to ten and you’re left feeling that your sex life is not up to pat. That night you wanna try your new learned techniques on her but she rebuffs you because you haven’t slept much the night before nor the night before that, and she doesn’t want to be your “sleep nurse.” “I don’t want to have sex with you just so that you can sleep.” Which is a good point.

You never should have left that book on the table because eventually she picked it up and it made her cry. The scores you entered for your sex life - your mutual sex life - disappointed her, shocked her even. “I would never have put a five there! How could you say that’s a five? You get it so much, so much more than other men do in this white-collar town. You’re lucky you get it at least twice a week! What do you want - five times a week, or what?” You feel ashamed and guilty for ever having filled out that questionnaire and tell her that you were extremely tired and felt neglected when you did it and that you wouldn’t do in a normal state of mind. So forget the g-spot; “One Hundred Hour Orgasm.” We don’t have to try it. But since she's read that questionnaire, it stopped working completely. All of those questions to which you had given yourself a high score, and her a low, turned around and now you were the slacker, the one with the “decreased sex drive”, the one who ”didn’t want it as often”. And this went on for months and both of you started to worry although you couldn’t help but laugh at the turn of fate, how ludicrous it was. You just need some sleep. But it wasn’t working. Even after a few nights of sleep it wasn’t working. And you felt like a total sucker: jobless, and now screwless. “You can’t even give me a decent fuck anymore.” You agree to go to therapy, but you put off making an appointment until it doesn’t really matter anymore.

When she had acquired a new lover it started to work again. It wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t go away; and she was happy. Maybe her getting another lover wasn’t such a bad idea anyway. She had her life and you, yours. And you happened to be living together. Isn’t it the woman’s turn, to have their concubines and harems? A man nowadays needs a lot more money to be the Pasha. And you had nil. You couldn’t even support her, let alone a harem. You could leave but where would you go? Back to your mom’s? And you love her. Being one night away, sleeping out in a tent at the nature sanctuary by the beach you were wondering how she is: is she asleep, does she need you? She can’t even call you if she needs you because you don’t have a cellphone. And the next morning you already miss her, think how much better it is to be lying by her side at night even if you can’t sleep.

You are holding each other’s hand. And the other person, let’s say it’s a woman, turns to you and says, you know what? I have no feelings for you. You look at her, the full moon catching a diamond in the jewel of her eye, and say - honestly, I have no feelings for you either. I spend much of my time trying to generate feelings for people but the only person I really have feelings for is myself. We all have to survive. So what else are you supposed to do? By this point you’re not thinking straight anyway. And who really cares? When everyone out there is dying, do you think one more minuscule death is going to change much? You think the neighbors will report you? The neighbors are half-dead themselves and blind with hunger. Even God's stopped caring by this point. So you boil the baby to save yourself and the rest of your children and nobody cares. How about the rats? Aren’t there any rats left that the mother can eat? The rats have all starved and died a while ago. It’s a cold winter, already January, isn’t it? At least Masha should live. Masha played piano - you know she used to play Bach and List, even Brahms. Now her fingers look like icicles. She’s been eating clay from the cellar. Her hair is thin as winter straw. She needs to eat; she’s talented. She can make it someday. And I too need to eat to take care of her and Milan.

Born in Odessa, Ukraine, 1979
Emigrated to NY, USA 1984
Graduated from Purchase College 2008, with a concentration in painting
Now living in Rye, NY