The heaps of snow broke apart underneath my grey felt boots. Each step was crisp and dry as if the ground was covered in white confetti. If that were so, Siberia would have been celebrating for months. But deep in this cold wilderness, the forgotten college town had nothing to commemorate except survival.
It’s been 17 years since I experienced the frosty bone chilling air of Russian winter, nevertheless, its secluded beauty made my heart weep with nostalgia. At -30C my body felt the proximity of bereavement as if death itself embraced me in the most intimate of hugs. Instead of flight, I reciprocated the affection. Convinced that my cheeks were burning with elation rather than frostbite.
Visiting from the appropriately named town of Sunnyvale in Northern California, Akademgorodok existed in a different solar system, much less the same planet. And in some ways, this was my alter reality. After all, one decision from my parents to take a job in the United States and the subsequent acts of fate that followed turned me into an independent, tech-savvy, marketer instead of a single mother of one. An outcome so divergent a mere thought of it makes my chest pound like a stag outrunning a wolf pack. But the fear makes me appreciate my beginnings. As an expat, I thank the pines for their heights. For inspiring my family to reach for the sky, pluck the stars out of their isolation and bring them to down to palpability. They embraced reality and saw the 10 by 25 story soviet monstrosity of a housing complex as a reminder of solidarity. Each lit window, became a promise, that if it is truly just me in the world at least the world is vast enough for my dreams.