New York Tales from Curious Borough Dwellers

002 : Kseniya Melnik at Babi Yar Triangle, Brooklyn
Born 1983 in Magadan, Russia. Kseniya Melnik currently works as a muse to herself and others, writer, student, legal assistant and personal assistant to her younger sister. Why New York? Just the right mix of beauty and ugliness. She digs the following Gotham bits: $1 bodega coffee on every corner, ambition, built-in reading time on subways, brownstones and parks and the sense that she’s not missing out on anything. She is, however, a bit miffed by riding the subway when starving, people's workcoholism and perfectionism bordering on insanity, New York's ability to shatter dreams, hot and sweaty subway stations in the summer and stares. For more info on Kseniya Melnik you should send an email.

“We arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness.”

Three years ago my college boyfriend – I’ll call him A. - came to visit me in New York.  By that summer it was clear that it was almost over between us, but we didn’t know how to deal with our attachment to each other and significant, by our laughable teenage standards, history.

We set out to Brighton Beach, a place where neither of us had been before, but both had a connection to: I was born in Russia, and A. was fresh from a semester abroad in Moscow.

Two trains later we arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness in deli lines.  We wandered away from the thundering shadow of the main strip, which ran underneath the elevated train tracks, and found ourselves in a small triangular park.

Several children chased a ball, calling to each other in English and answering their parents in Russian.  More played on a playground nearby. Men in sweatpants and wifebeaters played chess at the built-in tables, bickering with passion.

Then I noticed several elders in wheelchairs, their heads drooped to their chests. There were five or six of them.  Some wheelchairs stood in a row, some faced each other, yet others were turned out at arbitrary angles, as though a single nurse had wheeled all of them out of a burning building and then forgot about them.

I hung my head and spotted a plaque right under my feet.  This little triangular park was a memorial for the Babi Yar massacre of 1941[1]. These people would have been alive in ‘41. And now they lived in wheelchairs, in America. I tried to shoo away any ridiculous comparisons.

A feeling of vague embarrassment came over me; I felt guilty for being there, young and mostly happy.  A. said something, but I didn’t hear what.  We sat down on a bench.  It was colder here, darker and even quieter, despite the noisy children at play. Their screams seemed muffled, like in space.

A boy threw a ball my way, but I was too slow to catch it.  The chess-playing men looked at me with suspicion.  A pack of pigeons took off into the sky.  I felt suspended between worlds. 

referenced works

  1. In late September 1941, Nazis who had occupied the Ukrainian city of Kiev earlier that month forced more than 33,000 Jews to the Babi Yar ravine, stripped them and shot them. A truck driver who had come to pick up the piles of clothing recalls the scene. An actress from a puppet theater in Kiev survived the massacre.

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017That's when I knew I wanted to live in New York: in the midst of those fragile bralets and bodysuits.— Ling Ma

016The guns, we tell the police later, were black like ice.— Tara Deal

015...my own talisman against the folly of my youth.— Andrea Jarrell

014Y'all in a band'r somethin'?— Abraham

013Perhaps it was the lanky teenager with the bright red book-bag that made me think I saw Adam.— Carrie Teicher

012I remember flattening myself against the streaky windows of the PATH train like an insect.— Erin Fisher

011I glanced up to see another shape hit the sand.— Ken H. Judy

010Vibrating almost imperceptibly in the breeze like a woody tuning fork.— Rob Giampietro

009Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. — Roland Kelts

008Shirtless Boris Yeltsin’s skin reddens as he reads a book.— Michael Maiello

007Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms.— Khoi Vinh

006His almost-loss was my almost- nonexistence.— Matthew Rand

005On the cold hard floor of the orphanage, I sang, longing for the day that they would come and rescue me.— Jen Egan

004He was a lawyer, after all.— Kristin Gardner

003The parking lot gate was open, and we ran in with the skateboard.— Lorraine Martindale

002We arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness.— Kseniya Melnik

001...the hourly clicking of Oxfords and high heels across the parking lot.— Tam Nomgum


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