Mykhailo Volodymyr Grovenskiev
A lumbering man that appears to be a homeless commando.
I don’t know what my father did for a living. I believe he was a good man, but I also believe he did awful things. I remember coming down the stairs of our home at night and finding him crying in the living room, a cheap bottle of vodka in front of him. I never said a word. I would sit on the stairs in the shadows and listen to him cry into his shots.
I was born in the USSR – in what is now Sevastapol, Ukraine. I grew up near the sea until I was ten when we moved to Kiev. Shortly after that, my little sister, Isla, was born. My Babushka helped our mother rear us. She taught us right from wrong and how to make all our family dishes. Every morning she read the Tarot – she was of Romanian descent we were told. She helped mother everywhere she could, for father was rarely around.
Father worked for the government – for the Soviets. He worked strange hours, long hours. Mother was kind and my childhood was spent exploring the great city. In 1990, the country passed their Declaration of Sovereignty and Ukraine was established. The new republican movement challenged the old Soviet regime. My father, fearing that our family was at risk because of his strong party ties, made arrangements for me and Isla to travel to the USA with full papers. Before we left, my Babushka gave me her Tarot deck and said simply: “Where you are going, this will guide you.”
I arrived in America at age 14 with my sister, age 5. I did not speak English well, but in New York we found a community of ex-Soviets and they gave us the news – a coup had been attempted by the Soviets and failed. I knew my father was involved somehow. To this day, I have no idea if he is alive or dead. I know nothing or my mother or my grandmother. In many ways, I feel responsible for not bringing them to the states. There simply was not enough money. Everything takes money.
I worked where I could, putting my earnings away and struggling to learn the language. For the next fifteen years, I did everything I could to bring money in. Many of these things I am not proud of – I hurt people, I stole, I lied. I was always stronger than I was smarter. There has always been a market for men like that. I would not let Isla work, only study – I told her “Study, become smart. Find a husband. Don’t be like Mykhailo.” We never had any money, but we seemed to get by. I saw little of Isla in those days. At nights she would cook for me if I was home. We practiced English together and played American card games. We didn’t talk about home much.
Someone told me they saw Isla on the streets, talking with men. I was full of rage – at best she was using my money to buy drugs or sell them. Or worse, she was selling herself. I knew I could not provide much, but to stoop to this? This is disgraceful. I understood why we always seemed to get by – Isla was working, too. Though doing what I could hardly imagine. I had failed to provide so she was forced to this. So I leave to find her.
I ask around, I beat some men up. I find out she works out of a nearby bar. I go to the alley behind the bar and I see her. She is there with a man. It is dark and at first I am sure they are kissing and groping each other. I move closer, nearly running. I am seeing red, as they say. When I get close I see that Isla is not awake – she is limp in this man’s arms. It is too dark to see him but he is tall and his arms wrap around her as he bites at her – is he sucking her neck? Eating her innards? Speaking into her mouth? I don’t know.
Before I can strike him he sees me. I only remember two things: his yellow eyes and a sudden shadow flying towards me. Everything goes dark, and then I died. While I was dead (and I knew that I was dead) I saw a faint light in a vast darkness. It was hardly a candle’s luminance. I felt that if I exhaled, the light would be extinguished. I watched it for countless hours, maybe days. It wavered but never went out. And then it grew – it grew hot and soft until it was enormous. And there – in it’s center – I saw a cross, upside-down. In the light of the cross I felt the love of an absent father. I felt the struggle of a nation against tyranny. I felt the satisfaction of providing for my family. I felt redemption for my failure. I knew this was my symbol. I could take it and possess the flame, or leave it and pass into the next realm. I took it.
When I woke up, I was on a simple cot. I rolled over and saw a priest sitting there. He welcomed me to the Church of St. Jerome. He knew nothing of my sister, only that my body was found in the alley and I was brought here. Everything I had was gone, and it was all my fault – I failed everyone at every turn. I didn’t know what to do, but in my pocket I found my Tarot deck.
First, the central card, unseen but viewed as the “core” of the decision or question: the Seven of Wands came up – “Standing courageously for your beliefs in the face of adversity. Fear of failure overcome by the will to succeed. Great obstacles met with heroism and determination. Inner strength brought to bear at a critical moment.”
Next the center of the cross, the obstacle that stood in the way. The Five of Cups was drawn. Traditionally, it represents “Suffering a loss and wishing for what might have been. Being crippled by sadness, grief, and vain regret. Indecision brought on by the feeling that you made the wrong choice. Ignoring what you still have.”
What did I still have? Anger. Memory. Fists.
It went on. At the bottom of the staff, the card which represents your environment, the people you are surrounded by and your interactions with them, a surprising turn: Four of Swords (Truce): “A time of tranquility and intellectual repose in the midst of a great struggle. A temporary retreat from stress to re-gather inner strength, reaffirm convictions, reorganize thoughts, and formulate a new plan. The need for vigilance in a moment of calm. May suggest a withdrawal from the material world to find spiritual guidance.”
The need for vigilance.
Finally, the top of the staff. The ultimate outcome. A dark rider on a white horse appeared. Death. “A major change or transformation, possibly traumatic and unexpected. Freedom from the shackles of the past. A new beginning. Death coupled with rebirth.”
I mulled this over as I spoke to the priests of St. Jerome over the course of my recuperation. I learned many things very quickly:
The world was full of darkness. There were shadow-figures and ancient evils that prowled the streets. Old stories – stories Babushka had frightened me with as a child – were very real and very present. I had seen one such being, they believed. I learned that there were men and women who actually sought out beings like the one that attacked my sister. These were driven, courageous, half-or-more-mad individuals who trained tirelessly to hold back an ever-encroaching darkness.
I learned that an upside-down cross is the symbol of St. Peter. That when he was crucified, he asked that his cross be upside down. He did this because he was unworthy to die the same death as the Messiah.
I have seen many things. Things I cannot really explain. I do not try to explain. My job, my burden is not to think, it is to hold vigil. In the Vigil I am reborn. Like Peter, I am unworthy to die this way – a failure at everything in my life, but I will not fail in this. I will never rest, never stop. I will hold the darkness back, though it will surely cost me my life. I have died once before, I do not fear death. I fight now for my soul, and for the souls of all mankind.