I remember how the smell of my mother’s lipstick would fill up the elevator.
I remember “Shamana”, a 25 year old alcoholic poet I was in love with when I was fifteen, chase after the taxi I got in that night.
I remember taking my friend to see Scratch the Floor, who were performing on Halloween’s Eve. But he got really drunk and cut his finger somehow. I remember looking at it and smiling. We rubbed the blood on our faces as the moon shined down and intoxicated people surrounded us, banging their heads, not questioning what we were doing.
I remember going to second base with the base player of that same band in this gallery’s shitty outside bathroom that had a colored light bulb. Red light spilled out the gaps of the old wooden door. There was a girl waiting outside, wanting to pee the whole time.
I remember a biker offering me straight tobacco, extending my hand, snorting it, feeling it tingle in my nostrils, and having to sneeze twenty consecutive times.
I remember my first cigarette; I was five and my grandfather let me have a drag.
I remember going on a drive on January the 1st with my drunken friend who was wearing a Santa hat.
I remember making out with this guy at a party in the ruins of an old restaurant after talking to him for the first time for two minutes. I remember he was wearing a sex-pistols t-shirt and was either actually a good kisser, or the vodka that was flowing through my veins developed a likeness towards him.
I remember waking up the next day with bite marks on my inner thighs that apparently weren’t his doing.
I remember the first time I got high. I remember feeling like my heart was going to break out of my ribcage.
I remember when I rode on my boyfriend’s new motorcycle for the first time. I remember the hand breaks didn’t work, nor did he know how to drive it.
I remember having to take twelve pills a day and mother discovering that the dose was too strong a year later.
I remember my friend Mikhail, who was so drunk he was tripping over his feet, pick me up unexpectedly to carry me over a huge muddy puddle while we were making our way home through the darkness. I remember clinging to his denim jacket, hoping he wouldn’t accidentally drop me into it.
I remember going to the woods to pee on so many occasions, they all blur together. I remember wiping the tops of my shoes with a leaf and feeling disgusted.
I remember being mistaken for a prostitute on the side of the road, twice. The first time, I was 14- crossing a bridge at night. A man and a woman in their thirties, they didn’t bother getting out of the car. The second time, I was 16- sitting behind a bus stop during the day. It was only a single man that time, also in his thirties. I remember he parked his jeep, waddled over, his stomach fat getting in the way of his thighs, and sat down next to me before going into his pick up speech.
I remember looking my reflection in the eyes and cutting my hair off when I was twelve.
I remember my friend’s father trying to kiss my breast in the elevator.
I remember feeling the needle go through my tongue.
I remember the look in my mother’s ivy eyes when she found a broken piece in my bag.
I remember making out with this girl on a rooftop, whose name on Facebook was “Slaughtered Vomit Pig”, right after we finished the bottle and threw it down- fourteen stories.
I remember having my heart broken for the first time.
I remember having so much dried blood on my legs that I couldn’t take my tights off the night I broke my nose. I was four. I don’t remember the pain. But I remember I was in a lot of it.
I remember losing five hours of my life after that last sip of strawberry skittles vodka at the Tbilisi Open-Air Festival 2012, apparently including a five minute walk to the entrance, security guards checking me and my bag, me showing them my ticket, getting stamped, getting photographed, and falling asleep in front of the stage on the grass.
I remember my mother yelling at me for wearing makeup when I was in middle school.
I remember thinking that I was going to die. I remember hearing the car hit the motorcycle. I don’t remember falling to the ground. I remember the motorcycle crushing into my leg and not being able to lift it off.
I remember watching my mother get ready to go out.
I remember the sirens and the crowd of people surrounding us, studying us silently.
I don’t remember them helping, or moving, or speaking.
I remember teaching myself how to paint my eyes.
I remember the first time I had sex.
I remember making out with a guy that was nicknamed “God” and how terrible it was.
I remember having to take so many tests that the natural anxiety we have towards needles completely disappeared.
I remember piercing my own frenulum.
I remember lighting a cigarette the wrong way.
I remember the way my mother smelled before she would go to sleep.
Looking out of the car window from the backseat, my eyes try to take everything in as my lungs subtly adjust- or readjust- to the city breeze. Even though it’s June and the air feels hot against my skin, it enters my lungs as a cool current. I close my eyes and face the window, letting the air hit my face, the speed my father is driving makes it impossible to breath in at times. My feet stick to the soles of the black flats I am wearing. I take them off and put my feet up on my seat, because I can do that here. It’s my father’s car, not a friend’s, or the school shuttle or a public bus. I could drift off to sleep and there would be no consequences, no stops would be missed or bags stolen. The safest place in the world- my father’s car- where I have taken many naps and created thousands of childhood window drawings.
My mother is sitting in front, twisted in her seat so she can talk to me. She says everything with a smile, laughs at everything I say and disregards things that normally would upset her. She always looks exactly the same; the one constant that remains unchanged. We pass through a graffiti-filled tunnel; I smile because I know most of the artists.
It’s hard for me to understand how quickly buildings seem to multiply in Tbilisi. They take over parks, forests; even children’s playgrounds. Half the town is made up of construction sites and the other half with, hollow houses that stick out awkwardly with their newly dried paint amongst the old Soviet structures. People don’t have money for expensive new apartments, and those who do already own more than one (the others locked up for future children or renters).
I missed the magical spring period, when everything turns bright celery green. Instead, I’ve arrived in mid June, just as the edges of leaves are curling into brownish yellow from the scorching heat. Everything about Tbilisi seems and looks different- is different- even if the difference isn’t visible at first glance, because time and distance leave nothing untouched. Nevertheless, I feel as if I never really left. My lungs are used to this air, and my skin to this sun. The feeling of belonging here is stronger than any other emotion I have ever experienced. Knowing what street leads where, exactly at what second one neighborhood ends and the other begins, which bus runs on schedule an how late, which stops are closer to your destination. Knowing that no matter what, there will always be a bed you are welcome in, a light left on, understanding how the city breathes, what it has for breakfast and lunch, what it drinks, what it smokes, what it wears, what it’s talking about. Knowing that any stranger in the street isn’t truly a stranger, because of how many things you know about their life: like where they bought the clothes they are wearing, or what kind of sheets they probably sleep in, what neighborhood they probably live in, and what kind of desk they sat on in elementary school (because you sat on the same kind), a wooden one with metal legs and curse words etched in ink, and because of the small size of the city, that you probably have been in the same bus or subway car at some point in your life.
We just passed another new Dunkin Donuts. It’s only been a year since the first one popped up, and now they are everywhere. It’s not surprising after the commotion they caused. Dunkin Donuts were the only form of sustenance anyone ate for those first seven days. People walked around with perpetually pasty fingers and sprinkles stuck to their lips, contaminating everything with sugary stickiness. People of all ages hoarded them and stuffed their mouths with the sweet circles, probably thinking, hoping they would magically ingest “Americanness” along with them. Mothers desperately fed them to their children, families had them for dinner and breakfast, they were carried around as presents, the whole city painted a mélange of white, pink and orange. So many donuts were purchased in the first week; they had to close for two days to restock. Tbilisi ran on Dunkin.
The closer we get to home, the more my emotions rise.
As the car turns onto our street I see the familiar shops and vendors. They have crates of vibrant vegetables, fresh fruits and spices in every shade of yellow. The space their shops are in used to be garages that people sold for three times the normal price, because they were on the street and could be turned into shops. The man in the shop is watching a Turkish soap opera in his tiny television, attached to the wall as he weighs carrots. I can see the bakery, its transparent walls offering a peak inside, where a man is bent into the giant, old-fashioned clay “stove” that’s used for making traditional long Georgian bread tonis puri or lavashi.
Coming back from Bennington, a small town in which a car is needed to get a pack of cigarettes and the sky is almost always filled with constellations, having everything at the tip of my fingers feels comforting. My street recognizes me as I recognize it. We have shared so many days and nights, experienced kisses and fights, seen and done and cried. We have painted on each other. I with spray-paint and it with mud. As I get out of the car and start walking toward my building I notice my footsteps, which are still engraved in the pavement outside the local grocery store.