I never travelled as a kid but I did play “spin the globe”. It’s that game you play by yourself where you close your eyes and spin a globe, then use your index finger to stop it. When you open your eyes and see where your finger landed, that’s the next place you pretend to visit.
It seemed whenever I played this game, I landed on Russia. The largest country in the world, of course, but my 13-year old self took it as a sign. A sign I had some connection to this frigid, far-off place. And so began my Russian obsession. Mostly 19th century Russian stuff, since that’s all I could get my hands on, but I took what I could get. I borrowed books on Russian history, read all 800 pages of Anna Karenina. Ignored the strange looks of passers by as I sat on the beach with Crime and Punishment while other kids read Harry Potter. I imagined myself a Russian beauty with a pale, heart-shaped face and ever-blonde hair. I knew without a doubt I’d marry a Russian, study Russian in university. At night, Tchaikovsky blasted in my headphones while my mother and her boyfriend slurred daggers in the kitchen, diminuendos punctuated by crashing glass and the thud of bone on drywall. Sure, my pants had holes in the seams and I slept on the floor, but I burrowed in a dreamland, my own Nutcracker fairy tale, dancing the mazurka with a Russian beau.
Into high school, the Russia obsession wore off as I hid behind textbooks, essays and public washroom stalls instead. And I never ended up marrying a Russian, though my stomach still jumped like Pop Rocks whenever I met one.
So anyway, when I finally dispensed my spit in into a plastic tube and mailed it off to some questionable address, I expected no surprises. French and English, maybe some Irish. But then the results came back.
“You see!” I shouted at my husband.
“What?” he said.
Ok, 8% Russian, but 8% isn’t nothing. It was a validation, a vindication, a punch in the face to anyone who laughed at War and Peace falling out of my broken-zippered school bag. It was proof that the dreams that had insulated and sustained me as I bobbed in the gutter had some grain of truth, some justification.
Until a short time later when Ancestry DNA sent me an “update”. Turns out DNA was not to be trusted. One day I was 8% Russian, the next only 0–4% Russian, which was quite possibly no Russian at all. I quickly closed the app and said nothing to my husband. Spent the rest of the evening in the comfort of Smirnoff. And as I dropped my spinning head to the pillow that night, I saw it on top of the dresser – the Russian doll I’d held on to my whole non-Russian life. The girl within the girl within the girl within the girl. Each shell a reflection of the one beneath it. I closed my eyes and dreamed.
Andrea Lynn Koohi is a writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Maine Review, Pithead Chapel, Streetlight Magazine, the winnow magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, The Daily Drunk and others. Find her on Twitter @AndreaKoohi