This story started in Kiev. My girlfriend was there for the summer on a research grant, studying elections in post-conflict regions. I tagged along.
I worried about going to Ukraine. At that time, Kiev was only a year or so removed from violent street protests, and there was still the war with Russia in the east. Ukraine was a place you heard about on the news—a dangerous place.
Which, in the end, was exactly why I decided to go. I wanted to throb with the energy of revolution, to pity to the poor Ukrainians and their stoic sufferings, to feel interesting and complicated war-emotions—to be, in short, Young Man Hemingway. I wanted to have an Experience.
Mostly, I walked around, drank beer, looked at churches, and read detective stories by the river.
Before bed, my girlfriend and I watched CNN International. Every night, Wolf Blitzer told us what was happening in the U.S.—which was, mainly, shootings. Shootings in churches, shootings in strip malls, shootings in movie theaters.
The U.S. became the place we heard about on the news.
I began to realize how safe I felt in Kiev. For example, when I enter a theater or a classroom or a store in the U.S., I look around. I look at the men, young and old, to see if any of them have bulky clothes or deranged stares. I look for the doors—to see how he could get in, how I could get out. I caught myself doing this sort of looking in Kiev too. And then I remembered: no, you don’t need to do that here. This is not a place where people are killed simply for being out in public.
I wrote the first draft of the story at the end of the summer, back in Massachusetts. I lay chest-down on our bed, my right arm pinned under my body—an awkward but comfortable position. (I am left-handed.) I did the entire draft in one sitting, and my shoulder hurt a little afterward.
I wrote that draft in pen on a small sheet of lined paper. A few days later, I typed it, and did all the subsequent drafts on the computer. This is my normal procedure. If I try to write a first draft on the computer, I get intimidated and distracted.
As usual, I gave the first typed draft to my girlfriend and asked her to tell me that it didn’t suck. As usual, she reassured me that it didn’t suck and then told me, kindly, how to make it suck less.
As you can see from the draft, I had a lot of trouble with the final paragraph. Getting the right tone—rancid kindness—was hard.
If you liked this story, you might also like another story I wrote about guns (and Ukraine)—“A Normal Country,” which appears in the fall 2015 issue of Lowestoft Chronicle.
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