"Get up, get up! There is a hurricane here, and tanks in Moscow!"
One of my eyes opened, registered the time on the clock - 6 - and closed again. My brain, partly awakened by the assault, tried to process the information. The hurricane was the only understandable thing. It was expected to make the landfall in New England today, although it was not entirely clear what I was supposed to do about it at 6 am. Tanks, what tanks?
I made a somewhat impolite and highly figurative suggestion as to where my mother could shove the tanks. The suggestion was disregarded, and I was pulled out of bed and into the pile of clothes on the floor.
Figuring that there was no chance of going back to sleep under the circumstances, I crawled into my parents' bedroom and curled up in front of the TV. The parents were trying to talk over the TV, turning up the volume in order to hear what was being said, and then talking even louder in order to hear each other.
There were indeed tanks in Moscow in the Red Square, and it sure didn't look like a military parade. Some government dudes whom I'd never heard about before had declared the state of emergency and seized the power, or were trying to.
Every once in a while either ourselves or the TV cut to the local news. Rhode Island and Connecticut had also declared the state of emergency in expectation of the hurricane landfall, and Massachusetts was about to follow suit. People were being evacuated on Cape Cod and all over the coastline.
Every once in a while the TV would show some people who had actually gone to Cape Cod to watch the hurricane and appeared to have quite a good time at the beach. For a moment I considered driving up there, but the huge car line on the Sagamore bridge (in the wrong direction, to be sure, but what goes to Cape Cod must come back) and the perspective of being disemboweled by my mother made me think better of it.
At some point my parents left for work, promising to be back by noon, and I wondered why they bothered. I stayed with the TV, watching the tanks and the hurricane. It occurred to me that the tanks didn't feel particularly close to home. Not that I didn't care - I certainly cared just as must as about Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall - but it was just an important but distant historical event, which I could watch on TV while being quite certain that if those tanks fire on the crowd they won't hit anyone I really care about.
Argh! Suddenly I realized that Tanya's brother was due to arrive in two days. From Moscow. And could be in that crowd right now. And they could close the borders. For many years, like they've done before. Probably already have.
I figured I'd better call Tanya. She never read a newspaper, watched news on TV or in general followed the current events in any way, and was probably the only person in New England who hadn't heard about the hurricane. (Which was a bit ironic considering that she is nowadays, among other things, an award-winning journalist.) Waking her up at 8:30 was cruel, but I figured the earlier she knows, the better.
She was already awake, having just arrived home from some party. As I told her the news she considered telling me that this is a really bad joke, but then she realized that I am not a person who jokes about such things at 8 in the morning. Or indeed jokes about anything at 8 in the morning.
We were interrupted by a wail worthy of a whole regiment of banshees. "Oh shit," said Tanya. "Mom was listening. I'll calm her down and call you later in the afternoon."
I drove to the supermarket, figuring that this emergency calls for ample supplies of salmon cream cheese and crackers, and came back home in front of the TV.
By noon the winds were already high, the tanks were still in Moscow, either the hurricane watchers on Cape Cod or the people filming them had found some shelter, and my parents came home.
"We need to take shelter," said my father.
"We are in the kitchen," I pointed out.
"That's not enough. What if a tree flies in the window?"
There were some branches of trees already flying outside, but such an event seemed a bit unlikely. As we considered the probabilities, my father grabbed all the food in the fridge and ran to the basement, screaming for us to follow him. For the next couple of hours we were having a picnic in the basement and berating him for cheap sensationalism and a tendency to panic.
By 4 or 5 the wind subsided a bit. Tanya called me. "Come if you can," she said. "Be warned that my mom is naked and standing on her head." Anya called me too, relating the story of how she went out and got blown away. Anya is a very small person, who at the time was also extremely thin, and unfortunately fond of big clothes. She went out in a big skirt, a big jacket and with an umbrella, and almost got blown away like Mary Poppins. She managed to grab on the the building, kissed her umbrella good-bye and decided to remain home for the duration.
When Tanya opened the door she repeated her warning. "My mom is naked and standing on her head." I don't mind nudity, and "standing on one's head" is a normal Russian expression for making a lot of noise, but when I came in I was confronted with Polina who was actually naked, and standing on her head in the most literal way.
"Hi, how are you?", I said, all the time thinking about the proper etiquette for talking to a naked person - mother of a friend - standing on their head. The obvious problem here is that when they are standing on their head, and you are not, you are pretty much talking to their genitals.
"How the fuck do you think I am!" wailed Polina. "I am never gonna see my son again!"
"You can't know that," I said, hoping for the better. "He might not be the first person they'd be interested in."
"They are interested in everyone!"
I really liked Polina from the first sight, when she found me in her home at 3 am (I was giving Tanya a ride and she asked me in for tea) and opened the conversation with "Are you real? I thought you were a hallucination." I answered that yes, in fact I am real, but if she prefers to continue considering me a hallucination she can certainly do so. We got along pretty well after that.
I wished I could say something to reassure Polina, but she was beyond reassuring, and at some point said that we could leave her in peace and go buy some potatoes. Minding Anya's experience, we left umbrellas at home and went on a potato quest. The wind was howling but there were no more trees flying.
When my parents picked me up at Tanya's and we got home I was looking forward to watching the news again, but suddenly the lights went out, both inside and outside, and apparently in the whole area. It's amazing how dark it is without the city lights.
"Shit!" screamed my father. "The fish sticks are gonna melt!"
"Good riddance," mom and I thought simultaneously, and added out loud: "Leave them in the freezer, they's survive till morning."
"No! We gotta cook them!"
For the next hour or so I was holding up candles - did I mention how much I hate candles - and fantasizing about where to stick them along with the fish sticks, while my father was frying those fish sticks and expressing grave concern about their eventual fate.
The concern was not misplaced - by the morning the fish sticks had mysteriously disappeared.
Tanya's brother Borya arrived safely two days later, with his wife, two children, and a perpetually constipated dachshund named Max.