Tolstoy; the great Russian literature master that I’m supposed to love because my mom is Russian once said “Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Those are probably the only words ever written by Tolstoy that I like and agree with. My giant Russian family is not unhappy, but we are dysfunctional. However, we are dysfunctional in such a unique way, that it would be a Herculean task to find another family that is dysfunctional in the same way as us. And I am proud of that.
My family is surprisingly happy, albeit incredibly dysfunctional. The matriarch, our mother Melina is crazy, but not in such a way that could earn her a straight jacket and a vacation in a place that doesn’t allow sharp objects. But she is definitely crazy. My mom has been a member of the KGB and a double agent, spying for the Americans. She married an abusive Irish man because it was part of her coming to the US. By then, she’d been granted asylum in the US and it wouldn’t surprise me to know that she’d been recruited by the CIA and marrying my father was a job assignment, because some of my father’s relatives were members of the Irish Republican Army during their busy era of terrorist activity.
She had five children with this man. And oddly, doesn’t regret it. My older brothers look decidedly Russian. My younger brothers look more Irish. I am not Russian female pretty or Irish female pretty, but I’m pretty for an Irish/Russian/American and I’ll take that.
I inherited blue eyes and bushy eyebrows from my mother. I mostly ignore the eyebrows, although it would make my mother feel better if I’d pluck them or perform some other form of ritual torture on them. Of course, she says the same to my brother Ivan who is just a millimeter or two short of having a giant Russian unibrow.
My mother is a Russian beauty, even in her seventies. She is tall, slender, curves in all the right places, and pouty lips. She manipulates her eyebrows into an unnatural shape that looks natural on her. She dresses like she’s twenty-one or so, which is strange considering, but see above… she’s a bit crazy. Aside from having breasts, my mom has always reminded me of a ballerina. She never was, but probably only because she wanted a more exciting life than dancing offered.
But mostly, my mom is one of the strongest women I know. Also, among the most stubborn. She occasionally wonders where I get my hard-headedness and determination to do things my own way, even when she predits it won’t end well. And her favorite thing to say to me is “I didn’t raise you like this.” Actually, mom, you raised me to be exactly like this.
I might kill electronics with a single touch, trip over dense patches of air, and not be able to cook to save my soul, but everything else about me, I got from my mother, even if she doesn’t see it. Including owning six dogs and a couple of bobcats. My mom collected stray children, I collected stray animals. A friend of mine had a Great Dane give birth to a litter of all male puppies and all of them oversized. He couldn’t sell them because they couldn’t be registered with the AKC (I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of that, but whatever) and he needed to rehome 6 male Great Dane pups that would never be registered and he didn’t want to break them up, because the pups were co-dependent upon each other. And so I took them.
Anthony, the man once hired to kill me, helped me train them to do a variety of jobs like sniff out bombs and attack bad guys, because you know my mom once dated someone who decided to become a big time mobster and the Russian mob doesn’t leave horse heads in beds…. they leave human ones to make sure you fully understand their position.
And then my dogs went through a midlife crisis when my cousin got pregnant and found some bobcats in the woods near our house. I used resources from my security company to try to find the mom of these kittens, all we came up with was a dead female bobcat shot near someone else’s property. And my dog was not going to give up those kittens without fighting us to the death. The vet told me bobcats actually domesticate fairly easily, especially when they have domesticated role models like the Great Danes and so now, my husband and I own Great Danes and bobcats.
And that same cousin is pregnant again…. my dogs are starting to act squirrely again. My vet says it’s not uncommon for dogs to adopt other animals… apparently, they have a biological clock just like people do and my cousin’s pregnancy triggered theirs.
All of my brothers work in law enforcement of one kind or another. I own a security agency that I can’t go to because my own security can’t be guaranteed. The irony isn’t lost on me. I married a coworker because he wouldn’t stand up to my mother; because his mother is basically a French-Tahitian carbon copy of my own mother. Despite our arranged misunderstanding forced wedding, we’re happy with each other. I love him. He loves me. He loves my dysfunctional family and I love his slightly less dysfunctional family.
And every day, we prove Tolstoy correct. Our dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own unique way. And not a single one of us would change any of it. Not Ivan whose wife tried to have him killed. Not me, who married because of a misunderstanding and no ability to stand-up to my mother. Not my brother Vladik who everyone is convinced is gay and just hasn’t realized it himself yet. Not Liam who has three kids, at least two of which are definitely not his, but he pretends to not know it, because he loves those kids just as much as the one who is. And definitely not our mother who started life behind the Iron Curtain and risked death to come to the US to start a family with a man she didn’t love and didn’t even really like, but got five wonderful children from. And who occasionally has to turn into the scariest creature on the planet a Russian Momma bear to protect her children from outsiders and occasionally from themselves, like she did with me when it came to Zeke.