My grandmother was a poor peasant from Russia; I never knew my grandfather, Pyotr. The last anybody heard of Pyotr was in 1939, when he “disappeared” to a gulag in Siberia. My father was born a couple months after that, in 1940, and in the winter of 1941, when the Germans were deep in the heart of Russia and stories of killings spread, my grandmother decided that she would not lose my father to the Nazis, to Stalin, or to hunger and the cold. She fled—she has still not told anybody how—and she reached America with the rags on her back, a spoon that had been blessed by the Patriarch Nikon, and my father, who was originally to be named Abraham, but out of fear of action triggered by a religious name, had been officially named Dimitri. My grandmother held him tightly, calling him “my sweet Mitya.”

According to the authorities in the Soviet Union, my father had no father; my grandfather was wiped from existence as he was taken away. When I was younger, I could not wrap my head around it; how could a man exist and leave proof of his existence—my father—and yet not exist? I later realized that it was simply denial on the part of the authorities. Little did I know that my younger self, who saw a paradox of existence and non-existence, was right. How could somebody exist and not exist? It must be corrected.

My father married twice. The first marriage was childless but not altogether unpleasant. The second marriage produced my older brother and me. My grandmother always had a strange way of showing her emotions about my father’s choices. During the first marriage, I am told, she did not scold him for picking a Jewish bride, as Russian mothers of that generation were expected to. She sat without emotion during the ceremony, clutching the heirloom spoon. Later, she took my father aside and, clutching his arm with surprising strength in her bony fingers, whispered with urgent eyes: “The world corrects its mistakes; it does not care who it hurts. Do not bring children. It is a mistake. It must be corrected. It will come. He will come.

I am not sure why they never had children—perhaps the warning, perhaps medical reasons, perhaps something else. The second marriage, though hardly the most fruitful, saw two children born. My grandmother arrived to pay her regards to the birth of my older brother, telling my father, “You have made a mistake. It must be corrected. It will come. He will come.” She did not pay her regards to my birth two years later.

Growing up, she seemed distant to me. Whenever I was over, she would move as quickly as she could to grab her blessed relic and hold it tightly. She looked at the air around her, muttering in Russian. I asked her what she was doing, and she reluctantly acknowledged my presence, saying, “Something cannot come from nothing. It is a mistake. It must be corrected. It will come. He will come.

My older brother protected me from schoolyard bullies and tried to help me as much as he could as we grew up. He gave me advice about the things boys had to know—school, card games, girls—and by the time he was eighteen and graduating high school, he was my hero and provided all the guidance I needed. About that time, things started to change. It was not the people so much as the air, which seemed to hold less oxygen and felt static at all times, constantly threatening to send out a spark at any point and any time.

My grandmother sensed the change first and started to withdraw from us more, if that was even possible. My father noticed, and took us by one day. My father banged on her door and we heard footsteps inside, but the door never opened. “Open the door,” my father shouted at the door, “it’s Mitya. I have the boys.” We left in confusion.

To celebrate his graduation, my brother went on a fishing trip at a friend’s cabin in the woods two hours away. When they arrived, the four friends noticed that none of them had brought a bottle opener. My brother called me, begging me to bring one from home. “Couldn’t you just run by a convenience store?” I whined. I relented after only a couple minutes; I loved to drive.

About halfway through the trip, my father called me on my cell phone. “Have you heard from your mother?”, he said, “Because she should have been home a while ago and I haven’t heard a thing.” I was a bit worried, but figured she just was working late. “Oh,” he said, “let me check the driveway, I think I hear her car.” I heard him go outside and stop, then call out my mother’s name. “Huh,” he said, “that’s weird. She left her car running in the driveway, but she’s nowhere to be found.” I began to ache and felt a bit hot. “I think…”, I started, but the phone call had ended. I was about to dial again when I felt a sharp pain in my temples, as if chisels had been hammered into each.

I don’t know how the car stopped on the road or how I didn’t crash. I was numb, worried, and hopeful that I had just fallen asleep at the wheel. “You’re just a worrier,” I thought to myself. Still, my grandmother’s words rang in my head. “It is a mistake. It must be corrected. It will come. He will come.

When I got to the cabin, I found my brother in the front room, staring at the kitchen table. “I didn’t feel well,” he said, and I noticed that his face was pale and sweaty.

“Let’s go for a walk,” I suggested.

We went into the woods, walking along a trail that had been partially grown over. Neither of us talked. He looked at the ground in front of him; I looked at the trees. Some of them seemed odd. They didn’t sway like the others. They didn’t look quite like the others. The just didn’t feel right. When I looked again, the oddness was gone, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see something that looked almost like a tall, slender man.

We stopped by the side of the lake. I could not see where his friends were fishing. I started to pick up flat pebbles and skip them across the surface of the water. My brother was always better at this, and I turned to make a joke and suggest that he try. I looked over my right shoulder and turned and turned and he wasn’t there. I was a bit spooked, but reasoned that he might want to be alone. I was about to turn back to the water when I heard a guttural sound that only said: “RUN.”

I shot back towards the trail and ran as fast as I could, stumbling over vegetation, feeling something bearing down on me, getting closer, closer…

As I ran, I realized what was happening. My grandfather did not die; he never existed. My father should not exist, nor should my brother, nor should I. It is a mistake. It must be corrected. It will come. He will come.

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