Nohbdy by Alexa Naparstek

you ask my honorable name? Remember 
the gift you promised me, and I shall tell you.
my name is Nohbdy: mother father and friends,
everyone calls me Nohbdy.”
-Odysseus, The Odyssey

     There were two faces sitting on the couch, peering down at my body, and clutching glasses of red wine between the empty space of their fingers. I did not speak, instead I found myself noticing the space between the three of us, how disproportionate it was. My mother and her friend laughed, then made their eyes lock with mine. My mother’s friend is a conservative soul with no filter.
“Your lips are absolutely gorgeous, goodness. They’re so full—unlike mine.”
I stared blankly at my hands.
     “You know, I’m starting to think about getting injections as I’m getting older.” She sipped her wine.
     My mother chimed in. “I know, right? They’re like Angelina Jolie’s. People pay for lips like those.” They sipped their wine in harmony. I stared at the middle couch cushion between them—it is rather difficult translating their compliments into sentences that would make me feel good. But, to them, my face must have looked still and my mind blank. I was seeing but was not truly watching a moment of our interaction. The friend spoke once more.
     “Ugh! And your cheekbones, doll they’re going to be so prominent when you get older just you watch. You have that Asian-like bone structure, so pretty. Wish I had that.” I looked at her and noticed my mother nodding her head in agreement. The two women were merely observing me. Complimenting me. A compliment is meant to make the receiver gain a better sense of self, and so I wonder why my stomach inverted. Their good intentions punched me in my shut jaw. I felt my skin droop and my heart then nestle itself within my ribs, it wanted to understand safety. I felt the weight of uncertainty press against my shoulders, the blood beneath my flesh to pace itself, and I was not sure as to why these body parts existed. I stood up and left their presence. I suspected it went unnoticed for no one spoke a word.
     I was eleven years of age when I watched my government throw bricks and beat its people with metal bats on the news. A man’s eye was crushed and bloodied from a policeman abusing his power and bat. Cameras showed an elderly man being pushed and restrained with rustic handcuffs. I have never seen such brutality before, and in my own country. I then understood the meaning behind revolts. Every newscaster’s monotone voice seemed to soften the blows to the protestor’s back as a pillar of steel kissed his flesh and laughed when it bled as they repeated “the crisis is Ukraine.” I watched my people die. There were shots of faces being engraved into history, people to be celebrated for this movement on its anniversary sometime in the future. They all wished for secular autonomy, for Putin to leave them be, for Yanukovych to resign. And for a moment after, I looked at the faces with crumbling lips chanting Slava Ukrayina, and thought: I don’t look like them. I don’t look like any of them.

     Day after day of watching the Revolution unfold, my eyes surveyed every face that marched on the streets, every face that became bloody and proud. I then started to stare for minutes upon minutes at any opportune moment where my reflection could be found, to pick apart my own face. Quickly, I learned, the faces that marched weren’t my own.
     It became a topic of intrigue, a puzzle and experiment that I could analyze and criticize. Insecurity, or security to be truthful, about my appearance was, for the most part, fairly absent, and so I easily became critical towards my face without feeling dreadful. It was then when I noticed that my eyes were odd: curved inward at the lid, and one, the right, was droopy; my eyebrows were modest, growing forests; I had a demi-arched “thief’s” nose, and high, high cheekbones. After properly assessing my face, I immediately drafted crude Punnett squares for each of my features. I spent nights agonized and hunched over my desk, my left-hand repeatedly carved squares into notebooks, while I tried to reverse engineer my genetics using what I didn’t repress from seventh-grade biology lessons and Bill Nye’s ridiculous skits. From a young age, I knew that I did not care about beauty or rare features. I wanted to look at myself and see those who came before me. To see those who traveled across lands and lived. Widows peak: dominant. Brown hair: dominant. Left-handedness: recessive, even if both parents were south paws there’s a twenty-six percent chance the child will be too. I had information, but it did not benefit my sadness.
     Weeks went by and I was told my biological mother was a brunette and had brown eyes.
     I refused to look at reflections for months.
     I still haven’t the slightest idea what I look like.
     I sat in my grandmother’s driveway, clutching a frail, handmade vinok—a Ukrainian headdress—and my mother laughed while she encouraged me to put it on to show my grandmother. I had not detected the unintended cynicism. And, upon reflecting, it was not cynicism but a sense of hope that failed to radiate from her; had I noticed, perhaps I would’ve allowed it to radiate from my own body as well. The headdress was poorly made by my own hands but, it was my own hands that crafted the object. There were thick plastic flowers that etched into my skull and knotted up my hair, ribbons got caught in my underarms, and a growing smile panned across my face. I resembled one of the girls screaming at Berkut on the streets of Kyiv. We walked into my grandmother’s home, she looked at me, made eye contact with my mother, then chuckled.
     “Ti nefto pano se kefali sou?” What’s on your head?
     My smile responded to her, stating that it was symbol of pride for Ukraine and so she scoffed. My grandmother, bless her heart, has an antiquarian soul with a blunt tongue. She said you’re a Greek girl. She spoke with her hands and accent, then continued, you were born there but was raised Greek. My heart metamorphosed into a new shape and grew dull, plummeted to my feet, and began to bend and ache. If it was anger or sadness or both, my recollection does not say. My body turned hot. I ripped off my vinok, and, consequently the plastic stems and wire ripped straight into my skin; my mother took notice of this and tenderly asked why it was removed, placed a hand upon my shoulder, but I did not answer. I cannot remember if I shoved her skin off mine. My tongue wouldn’t move. Sitting on the breakfast bar stool and cowering over my paralyzed body, tears rolled down my face and met my heart on the floor. I wept. There were no answers given to my mother for I did not know them. I was not sure why I felt grief, yet there was, and continues to be, a resounding hole within my heart. My face was saturated from tears and there was a distorted image to the left of me.
     My grandmother placed the vinok on her head. My mother and her laughed.
     A card was given with a piece of paper in it that bore block letters spelling out: DNA TEST ARRIVING SHORTLY. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEX. My mother’s eyes met mine and instantly my cheeks became drenched from tears. Finally, thinking to myself, I was getting somewhere. The next day, I spat my hermetic salvia into a tube and used more to secure the package.

     My results relayed to me a suspicion that I held within my head for years. There was something more. It seemed that months of raw dread rotted away as my heart beat and I clicked on the map that my DNA was brightly illustrated on. Ukraine/Russia. Caucasus. Middle-East. I had substance. I had reason. For now, I understood why my skin shimmered copper during the summer and why my hair doubled in size from a single brush stroke. The Cossack was no longer a Cossack, but one that traveled across deserts. I felt my collar-bone rise as weight leapt off my shoulders and rolled down my back. This is what I wanted. The muscles in my face writhed with excitement, my body tingled and my heart beat with pride.
     But this lasted for mere moments. I still was not told of my origin; the colors were neatly filled in globs within regions and borders. I couldn’t have cared less at this point, it meant nothing to me because there were no flags for me to bear any pride and pride in being a child of the Black Sea’s states was not taught to me. I felt loneliness reside in my stomach once more. I had an urge to throw it up (and this was not the first, nor the last, time). I wanted to crawl beneath the wooden floorboards and feel all the material coddle my reclining body, like my mother would have had she selfishly kept me. I soon came to realize, and understand, this was the burden of being a former orphan.

     Answers were given, and yet, they were redacted. It seemed to me that not even science could cure an aching heart nor a nomadic mind. I bore a heavier weight of knowledge without closure of which I dragged alongside my feet for many weeks at end, resulting in sleepless nights and screaming at Elohim for placing me within four walls of trauma, then into the arms of loving people who I felt distant from. I screamed at him for doing so rather than ending it when I left the womb. This time, my lips spat out blasphemous saliva. I cannot say that in these moments I wanted to live. In the back of my mind I knew this conundrum sprung from its own origin, and its results bore grief and anger.
     There were many moments proceeding where I did not comprehend, due to the overwhelming amount of internalized frustration, and denying it attention did not help, either. Naively, and hopelessly, I believed that receiving information and checking my results obsessively would aid my crisis, but this, I found, was simply not helpful. It is tantamount to any form of self-destruction. I have found myself at a point where discovery of new features that I have never noticed before, and pondering where they might have come from—who they might’ve come from. I still, unfortunately, have little knowledge as to how I look. But this is the burden of a child who has yet to see herself.

Back to TOC