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Virginija Kulvinskaitė (Cibarauskė) is a writer and literary critic. She was born in Vilnius in 1983. She studied Lithuanian language and literature in Vilnius University; in 2017, Cibarauskė earned her doctoral thesis, wherein she analyzed the relationship between an author’s biography and their works.

In 2018, Virginija Cibarauskė published her poetry book Antrininkė (“The Double”), which for that year was included in the list of Top 12 Most Creative Lithuanian Books. In 2019, Cibarauskė made her debut as a prose author with the novel kai aš buvau malalietka. This book, dubbed a “contemporary novel,” imitates the autobiographical genre, but the author asserts that even despite certain biographical coincidences, the protagonist Virga and her experiences are all made up. The book is written in a colloquial-esque tone and contains ample elements of slang. The novel focuses on the 1990s, the narrator’s teenage years.

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Graphic Novels

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leaving lazdynai

 

(an excerpt from the novel “when I was malalietka [1]”)

 

 

lazdynai is so distant from where i live – new town and the neighborhoods surrounding it: old town, the station, krasnūcha and the center – that if it hadn’t been the half-year i spent in the video rental place, established in the lazdynai iki supermarket, the whole neighborhood would have remained a land of lions and tigers and other animals foreign to me. when i tell people that i worked in a video rental place, they are less surprised than when i say i worked as a receptionist at a dental office, though both of these jobs are directly connected – i didn’t last long at either, and thanks to them, finally understood that i hate people and don’t want anything to do with them. this epiphany was inevitable and consistent with my experience. when i came back from ireland, i had half a year left of my academic leave, which i later lengthened. i needed to live somewhere, so i convinced my mom to take me in. there simply weren’t any other options. but she accepted me on condition that i find a job. that’s more or less what she said – you won’t be lying about on the couch: if you aren’t studying, find a job.

            it was my mom who found the job for me at the dentist’s office. at the time, i felt like i was floating in outer space – single again, back in the room of my childhood, in the same bed above which hovered the same bookshelves with the same books. i wasn’t toking up, and i barely drank. to tell the truth, i barely ate, i hardly talked to a soul, in other words, i mostly slept. there was this one time i thought i was going completely nuts: i wake up to this half-light outside my window (it was october already), and i have no clue if it’s getting light or dark, what day of the week it is, or even what year. my relationship with aurelijus was mixed up with the crushes of childhood, and the constant hunger was like a black hole where my stomach should be, pulling me back decades to the start of adolescence. the present was gone. i was living in a vacuum.

            aurelijus’s skype was usually disconnected, and when he got back to me, he would tell me about dates with an elementary school teacher from belfast, about how she was petite, freckled, red-headed. i then imagined how her skin gleams in the autumn sun, and so on, and that it was me who was to blame for everything – and probably, that’s the way it was.

            one day, my mom came home from work and said this can’t go on – tomorrow i’m going to a job interview at the dentist’s, or, i move out. her friend who worked in the dental office broke her hand, and she needed someone to replace her for a month. I thought i could get out of it by raising a ruckus – at the time, i was a master manipulator, relying on all kinds of childhood traumas, reproaching my mom for never wanting me, for leaving me for months with relatives in the country, for never understanding me, and for my generally being like i am. usually, my mother would cry, then she would start defending herself with more and more passion until she would conclude that i need help, while i would theatrically scream – “you made me like this, it’s all your fault!” i had, by then, perfected the art of reproach while arguing with aurelijus. but this time, my mother barely heeded my shouts and sobs. she didn’t even knock on the bathroom door when i ran in there to cut my veins. that was the moment i knew i would have to go to the interview.

            i didn’t expect them to take me, but the very same day i was sitting in reception at a kidney-shaped desk answering the phone. i had to register patients, work the cash register, and, at the end of the day, fill in the record book for services and sums, sometimes for debts and discounts. i was relieved from having to discuss costs with the patients – especially about prostheses and other complex procedures – until i got my bearings. but i had no designs on that. every day, i took a book to work, and as soon as i sat at the desk, i began to read with hysterical speed praying that no one would call – answering the phone had always been hell for me. every time it rang, my heart would start thumping. i tried to take a deep breath and speak calmly, listen carefully, but it always seemed as if i didn’t hear something or understand something, that i wrote down the wrong date or time, or the wrong dentist.

            the office belonged to a forty-something dentist couple, and they both worked there. the wife clearly didn’t like me, or so it seemed. the husband had recently quit smoking, and when i went to the courtyard to smoke, he would often come with me – like most people who haven’t smoked for a little while, he genuinely relished the smoke i exhaled. by way of thanks, he told me all kinds of stories about his patients. some were quite funny, but i usually laughed just to be polite. after every one of those sessions, lilija, that was the wife’s name, would give me the evil eye. but she was the only one who ever asked for my help – to hold the spittle sucker, hand her instruments, hold a child’s head steady, and so on. yet when the old receptionist came back after two months, they didn’t ask me to stay.

            be that as it may, the dentists managed to drag me out of my vegetative state. that’s why i started to look for another job right away, and ended up at the lazdynai rental place. i worked in shifts there: three days from 10 to 10, then two days off. the rental spot was a little box inside the supermarket – three walls and an open space. if you wanted to go to the bathroom, out for a smoke, or to buy something, you had to lower the security shutter, only, its key didn’t work. that’s why i left the supermarket last, together with the security guards. and when i went to the bathroom, i was afraid we would get robbed. my co-worker, vlady, studied library science. every time after one of his shifts, i found piles of crumbs in the drawers along with containers of partially eaten potato salads, crusts of bread, and empty cans of energy drinks. even though it was vlady who was haphazard with the notebook where we wrote down the rented films, who let the debtors off, or mixed up the prices, whenever the boss checked, and he checked the ledger often and unexpectedly, i was left with the blame. the legal movies were on the shelves, and the illegal ones were in the so-called “little book”. to be exact, the “little book” only had photocopies of their descriptions. we kept the films themselves in a disc holder in the bottom drawer below the register. vlady showed me the customers who were allowed to rent illegally – i got to know these vip clients pretty quickly because most of them were locals. so, along with a few pornography flicks – our rental didn’t have a license for pornography – the “little book” had the newest action films and russian comedies. it seems the owner bought pirate copies in the gariūnai market. no inspectors ever came while i was working, but there were rumors that they get nasty before holidays, so when some unknown person asked for the “little book” before christmas, i called vlady – he would talk to the person and decide if we can rent to him. sometimes vlady would get bent out of shape over my lack of independence, but i was the one who cleaned up the workplace he messed up, and worked holidays, so he didn’t grit his teeth too much.

            it wasn’t bad in the rental place, except for the fact that the local drunks took a liking to me. they were looking for someone who would listen to their sad-sack stories. these usually began with their health, and finished with how nobody respects them even though they do everything for others. but the drunks weren’t as bad as the spongers. the spongers were always haggling, trying to get something for free, or to cheat me. they would rent a movie at discount and come back a few hours later asking for an exchange because, they claimed, it wouldn’t play. when i checked, the discs always played without a problem, but that wasn’t any kind of proof to them. the spongers were usually fifty-something or older men wearing discount clothing. sometimes, this one guy, who must have been the only lazdynai resident on hallucinogenics, would come by to chat. he looked cool enough, but got under my skin by always talking about how he was a dj at men’s factory, or that he knows saga and mamania and the other hip stars, showing me pics on his cell, asking me to do stuff with him like record a song together or go someplace. but i didn’t drive him away. i just pretended to listen while looking at an empty page in word – i was trying to write a short story, but was totally blocked.

            once – i had been working there for maybe a month – while i was staring at the computer screen, someone shouted “boo” in my ear. at first, i thought it might be some druggie, but it was my old buddy povky – he hadn’t changed at all, smiling that same childish smile. it turned out he lived at the other end of lazdynai. just like me, povky took academic leave after his second year: he was in computer science, but failed a couple of exams and generally got so fed up with everything that he took off to london to stay with his brother where he washed dishes and worked in construction. now, he worked at top center and planned to return to uni for the next academic year. he told me how he lives with this hottie with smokin’ breasts, but when i asked if they had been going out for long, he murmured something under his breath and suggested i go to their place after work. i agreed without thinking, it was good to see him. povky promised to pick me up after work, then split.

            waiting by the closing iki store, holding a bag with a six-pack and a bag of chips peeking out, meeting him didn’t seem like such a good idea after all. povky, as usual, was late, and that reminded me of how often he promised things and forgot – never showed up. one time, we had to go to this party and agreed that i would buy beer and wait for him at maxima. it was an especially cold winter evening, and i loitered by the maxima doors for almost an hour without any sign of him. later, he tried to justify it by saying he went to a new girl’s place and forgot. then, this other time – it was summer after our final exams – we were sitting on the school steps waiting for his friends who were supposed to sell us weed. i didn’t really like those friends of his: a bunch of thugs high on speed driving a 500 series bmw, though they were cool with us, they knew povky’s brother, who was bad-ass, that’s why they didn’t treat us like losers. when they finally came, it turned out they only had enough weed for one joint which they had already rolled and planned to smoke, but they had speed up to the ying-yang. finally, the doobie came my way, povky snorted some speed with them from a massive attack disc, and we split for the country to have a swim.

            be that as it may, we ended up in this small town at a birthday party for the aunt of one of those dudes. the party was in a block of flats – and i only saw the next day – located in some field. the aunt was a giant woman, so big that when she wanted to go to the bathroom, we had to pull aside the table. some balding, happy old fart was always at her side – her fiancé. strange people would come and go – neighbors, not neighbors, friends, not friends – who knew? povky and i agreed to stay until the last bus, but he got sloshed, and so did i. i was so wasted that i started to pass out at the table. it seemed like i was going in and out of consciousness. someone said i should eat something, but in the end, they took me to the living room where they made a bed for us: the guests from vilnius. before going to sleep, i asked povky to pour me a glass of water and put it by the bed, but he either didn’t hear, or was too out of it, because when i woke up at night and groped around the bed, i grabbed a bottle thinking it was mineral water, took a gulp, and got a moutful of warm strawberry cider. i barely managed to get to the kitchen – i didn’t even try to find the bathroom. povky’s friends were sleeping in the hallway in blankets, the aunt and her man where somewhere else, but the worst of it was that the water – both hot and cold – was turned off. maybe they were trying to prevent drunk guests from leaving the faucet on – i have no idea. i could only get back to sleep in the early morning. i kept thinking i was dying. when i woke up again, povky was gone. the aunt made coffee, i called my mom and lied that i slept over at inga’s. i promised to be home in an hour. then povky came back with a case of beer and got the party started all over again. it wasn’t fun for me anymore. i wanted to go home, but povky’s friends were already high on speed and it was impossible to talk to them. we had no money for hitching a ride – povky spent not just his last cash on beer, but emptied my wallet as well, even the change.

            that’s why, when he showed up with a girl wearing a short, unbuttoned pink jacket, my mood was in the dumps – i didn’t know myself if it was from the waiting, the memories, or because they looked happy. his girl was actually very pretty, taller than me, with straight hair that was dyed platinum blond. her first words were, “you’re so small.” but when laura laughs, it seems like she shines from the inside, and i can’t manage to be mad at her, or at povky, or at the two of them together. so that’s how we started to party: usually they would pick me up after work and we would either go to their place or to gravity. laura and povky would drop some ecstasy, but alcohol was enough for me, along with the fact that i could dance alone, then dance with them, then with someone else, until the world shrank down to a color-coded musical box where my body seemed to move on its own and i felt comfortable, calm. there were always people attaching themselves to our group because of laura – men bought drinks for her, and for us too, just for the chance to dance with her. we would come home on morning buses completely spent, and slumber in the arms of one, then the other, and if i didn’t have to work that day, i felt completely happy.

            i had finally found a girlfriend who was so different from me that in her company i always found something new. besides that, laura gave me lots of attention and was patient in her own way, though with others she could be callous, explaining to me that sometimes there’s no other way. she even seemed to be attracted to my depressive and persnickety nature. she was also impressed that i write. and though she avoided talking about herself, i learned that she had worked a bit as a model, which is why she quit school after tenth grade. but she never made a career of it – not everyone manages to be in the right place at the right time. after that, she went to beauty school, and during my lazdynai years, she worked at a hair salon. i think laura understood quite quickly that i liked her not just as a friend, but she liked to be liked and would often show the initiative, kissing me or caressing me on the dance floor, as if in jest – this always attracted attention, but we kind of liked having spectators. and with povky everything was as before – not exactly a friend, not exactly a boyfriend, we had our things in common and that was enough. so long as our partying ended with nothing more than frenching and cuddling in bed together, everything was cool. but when all three of us started having sex – together, and separately – well, povky more or less made love to laura, but when i started to do that too, everything changed.

            bit by bit, we each started to count how much attention we got from whom. for example, when before, povky used to go out with laura without inviting me, it was all the same to me. i calmly slept on the sofa while they made love in the next room. but, little by little, i started to wonder why he’s with her and not with me, why she’s with him and not with me. the astonishing and euphoric generosity we showed each other in bed the first few times disappeared pretty quickly – it seemed that we each started to fear being the one who gets less. at first, i thought it was just me who felt this way, but one time laura demonstratively got up out of bed and left the room almost as soon as povky and i started making love, even though he had just made love to her, and before that, i had gone down on her, in other words, she got a hell of a lot of attention but left the room slamming the door anyway, as if we had insulted her, hurt her feelings. that got me so upset that i couldn’t think about anything except her, sitting in the kitchen, bitterly smoking one cigarette after another. so, i pushed povky off me and staggered after her. i wanted to yell at laura, call her an egotistical dunce – because what she was most afraid of was appearing more stupid than us – but when i saw her standing by the window in the corpse-like light of a february morning, that image – a naked, crying woman smoking in an un-remodeled soviet-era kitchen spilling over with empty bottles and dirty dishes – it seemed like an image from a šarūnas bartas film. the longer it went on, the more we resembled pathetic characters from who knows what films suffering from who knows what problems, but who can’t stop acting out their roles. when i asked her what happened, laura uncrossed her legs and planted them on the floor as if she were getting ready for a fight. but i didn’t feel like fighting at that point, so i kneeled in front of her and put my head on her knees – i thought i’d stay that way a little while, then say something, but there was nothing to say. nothing at all. after a few minutes, i felt laura’s hand on my head. when we went back to bed, povky was sleeping.

            more and more often, they would come to the rental place one at a time and tell me about their relationship and what they imagined each felt for each other – it was interesting enough at first, but then it started to hurt. laura was always going on about how povky kept saying what a good friend i was, and how that makes her jealous because i was his friend, but she was just his fuck-buddy. actually, though, it seemed to me she was saying that povky doesn’t see me as a woman, doesn’t desire me, but desires her. and povky would complain that laura is using him, lives with him just because she broke up with her man and doesn’t have a place to live, and she doesn’t pay for rent, or for anything else. and that was proof to me that he wants her, and that’s why he supports her, but doesn’t even buy me beer and always reminds me if i owe him money for some evening out – since our teenage years we always repaid our debts to each other, but now that took on an entirely different meaning. i also had to listen to laura’s sob stories over how povky and i would return to our studies while she would return nowhere, and that in five years no one would look at her anymore, that if we met her in the street again we would pretend we didn’t know her. when i told her that she could go study somewhere, that not everyone had to go to vu[2], that there were all kinds of colleges, she would start in on her old song of how “it’s easy for you to say,” or, “you just don’t understand.”

            honestly, i had understood for a long time that i was fully tangled up in their lives and relationship, and, what was so horrible, couldn’t accept the attention of either one without bitterness or jealousy. i would observe and compare how they behaved with me and how with each other. i saw how laura would be especially sweet with me when povky was around, and how povky would simply ignore her around me, talking to me about what only we would know, like something from school, while sneaking glances at laura to see if she was jealous. it seemed to me that laura’s sob stories about her shitty life were not an attempt to get sympathy, but a rebuke, that she was waiting for affirmation that she is wonderful, intelligent and that i would always be her friend, that everything would turn out ok. this behavior of hers seemed wrong to me in principle because i wouldn’t dare ask for any such affirmation from her. i had no hopes of getting any. but maybe it wasn’t like that at all, maybe i imagined everything, i don’t know. after every discussion of our relationship that would turn into a circus of shouts, slammed doors, and flying objects – especially when we were drunk or stoned – i swore i wouldn’t meet up with them anymore. honestly, i didn’t want to be with one or the other. i needed them both. i needed things to be how they were at the beginning, but it wasn’t like that anymore, so i simply needed to end it with both of them. yet, whenever one of them showed me a lot of attention, or we had a rare day when we all got along, i would melt all over again, and then everything would repeat.

            one time, before easter, i left the rental place and went to the bus stop so lost in thought that i got on the wrong bus – i usually take the 22, but that evening i realized i got on without even looking at the number. in the naive hope that all the buses from there would go to either the train station or the center of town, i pulled out a book: anderson’s tales, something i had read almost a hundred times over because i didn’t like to read new books in the rental place – the people and noise were too distracting. but i understood something wasn’t right when the bus drove around the traffic circle and went straight. i closed my book and decided to get out at the next stop, but it didn’t stop for so long that i got scared i would get out and not know how to get home – it was pitch dark outside. we were bumping along through gariūnai, and i decided to wait and see what was next. there were only a few people left, and they got off one by one, here or there, until i was alone. after we went through gariūnai, the bus passed a little forest, turned this way and that, entered a kind of roundabout, and the driver shouted that i should get off because it’s the last stop. i got out with rubber legs, dug my cell out of my pack, but as soon as i pressed my mom’s number, it died – i had been planning to buy a new one for a while: my motorola couldn’t hold a charge.

            so, i was standing alone next to this dark bus with a road stretching out straight in front of me that had houses and some kind of gardens on each side. i thought about going to the first house to ask to make a phone call. then i remembered i don’t even know my mom’s number – all the numbers where in my dead phone’s memory. i thought i could ask those people to call me a cab. i imagined them as simple villagers with dirty, cold homes, heated only by a wood stove. when i knocked at the door, they would all be sitting in their largest room watching tv. or, maybe i would hit on a place where they were all drinking “bumbeer” – reinforced with alcohol – and maybe they would offer me some, and maybe i would accept a glass or two while waiting for the taxi, and i would catch a buzz. i would slowly realize there’s no taxi coming, and they would be repeating to me that any minute now – five minutes, and those five minutes would drag on and on, and i would collapse from the reinforced beer on a couch with greasy armrests full of cigarette burns – i hadn’t eaten all day, so it wouldn’t take much. would they drive me away the next day? or maybe they’d let me stay? maybe i would want to stay: drinking every day, not working, not seeing povky or laura, or my mom, not knowing anything about aurelijus, and no one knowing anything about where i disappeared. at first, they would look for me, then they’d forget. that’s how it always was with missing people. after a few years, i would turn into a woman of unknowable age and a bluish face, thin legs, belly bloated like a toad’s – my liver would be eaten away, my teeth rotted, no thoughts in my head at all…

            “are you staying, or going?” yelled the driver, sticking his head out the front door. the lights were on again, the engine rumbling. “are you going back to lazdynai?” i asked. he said he’s going to “the good hope[3].” i didn’t get on so much as jump, thinking about how lucky i was: from the good hope to home was as easy as pie.

 

1. The Russian term малоле́тка (malalyetka), appropriated in Lithuanian, is used colloquially, and even pejoratively, to refer to a minor. It may be used to describe an individual that is under the statutory age for sexual intercourse or drug use or to emphasize an individual’s lack of maturity.

2. Vilnius University

3. Gerosios Vilties (Good Hope) – a bus stop in the district of Vilnius

 

 

Translated from Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris

 

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