Yuri says that to make me laugh. He speaks in this funny accent and sounds out every syllable very slow: “Beeee-yoooooo-teeee-foooooool.”
“Do it again!” I’ll say, laughing and clapping my hands.
Then he will pointedly not do it and I will beg, beg him to do it again. I will pout and stare at him.
“Please do it again?”
He’ll wait for a moment, thinking about this, considering things. Then, with a very forceful “b” sound, very plosive:
And I will dissolve into giggles and Yuri will smile and we continue with the day.
Do you ever stare at someone and wonder deeply what it’s like to be them? The first time I remember this happening was when I was in Washington, D.C. I was touring with the Neo-Futurists. We were all out to dinner. My brilliant, talented, achingly pretty friend Chloe was sitting next to me at the restaurant we had chosen, somewhere in Chinatown. My day had been spent in despair, dread, sadness: my marriage was in crisis and I was sick. I spoke very little that day, ate nothing.
And I will never forget looking over at Chloe and just desperately wanting to be her. “Just be Chloe,” I thought, and actually tried to will it to be true as I watched her. It seemed so easy, so possible; we were sitting right next to each other. She was laughing at something Bilal said; she was dipping into her sweet-and-sour sauce. Someone asked her a question. Couldn’t I be Chloe, instead? Couldn’t I just have her calm, happy, crab rangoon-dipping life instead of my ostomy-bagged, confusing, strife-stricken one? Time and space seemed utterly surmountable in that moment, like I could smush myself next to her and pop! be Chloe instead of me. She didn’t notice that I was staring at her, I don’t think. Sorry, Chloe. That was a bad day that you likely remember well. I hope you didn’t think I was going to stab you in the neck with a chopstick or anything. It wasn’t like that.
When Yuri speaks sometimes, I look at his mouth and his teeth. What is is like to have those teeth? To have that mouth? And while we’re at it: what’s it like to be a dude? Though I have wanted to be Yuri with less desperation than that time I wanted to be Chloe, I have wondered about how it is to be Yuri so strongly a few times that it counts. It happened when he got the job in New York. Sometimes it happens right when he wakes up in the morning, sleepyheaded and warm. It happens when he comes home after meeting up with various brothers. It definitely happens when he speaks Russian.
What does it taste like to be Yuri? How would he solve Problem X? What would he say? I want to know from the inside out.
There’s a Nietzsche quote in my book: “What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences otherwise than we do?”