Patient’s Name: Chekov, Pavel
“Are you telepathic like Spock?”
The kid’s eyes go wide as he leans forward in anticipation. “Why yes, Doctor, I was born this way! In Russia, it is fact that children with natural curl are—” – A World of Crazy
Pavel doesn’t have parents. He is a bright-eyed little boy of over a hundred young children in a cramped Russian orphanage that is barely supported by the government. He does not stand out because there are too many children like him. Nothing is his own, not even the bed in which he sleeps; it’s shared with another child similar in size (small) and Pavel lies awake at night thinking about what his parents might have been like. Who had the curly hair? Were they both blond? It’s not until he grows much older, in America, that he realizes chances dictate that his mother was unwed and his father a nameless face. Such is life.
In the long hours of idling in a yard bare of much vegetation but teeming with children stomping their footprints into the dirt, Pavel begins to make up stories to entertainment himself. Turns out he has a great imagination; the bony dog that eats scraps from their hands becomes the volk (wolf); or he will call out “Medved! Medved!” at the one-eyed man who brings the week’s bag of harvest for their dinner. (The vegetables are always tasteless with age in his mouth; he hates them.) Others think he is funny, like his stories, and sometimes play along. Together, a group of them will scatter across the yard (the wildlands, Pavel insists) or cross the mighty Dvina river, which is merely a poorly dug trench bordering the northern property line.
They have fun, with this game of pretend, and Pavel enjoys every moment of his fame among a band of young children. He begins to make up more elaborate tales, sometimes when he should be studying his English reader; this often earns him a sharp knock from the scowling schoolmistress because “lying is for sinful children!” That’s funny, her reaction. He doesn’t stop. Pavel sticks out, in those moments, as the little Liar boy—which is okay, because it means that he is noticed and not another hunched blond head in a sea of them.
The orphanage is always full, and when children leave, more children immediately take their places. Pavel learns, one day, as his name is called that he is on the list for transport to Moscow. How exciting! Moscow is large, much larger than this country village of dirt and trees. It has buildings, they say. Tall buildings and color.
Pavel arrives in Moscow in the company of twenty young children, like himself; they are hustled into a large structure, have a fresh change of clothes (pretty blues, pinks, and yellows—not stained or torn from long use), and are fed a good meal. A man, a photographer he calls himself, asks them one by one to stand up straight and smile nicely for his camera. Each child has his picture taken—an image of youth, intelligence and hope. A lie, but Pavel does not mind that.
It’s a waiting game afterwards. Pavel is old enough, by this point, to understand what the adults want from orphaned children. They want to get rid of them, quickly. The nice photographs and decent clothes are a lure for new parents, he knows. This is okay. Pavel has no parents and parents are supposed to be good for children. So he waits, like all the rest, until a woman in a dark coat takes his hand—after three weeks—and says “Pavel, come.”
He smiles at her.
“You are lucky. You go with an American couple.”
So he does.
Good dreams never last. The American family is (mostly) smiles in the beginning. Pavel has a brother and a sister, both older and legitimate blood-offspring of Mr. and Mrs. Graves. Everybody is nice, Pavel goes to school in America, improves his English and learns that he loves french fries. But he is young, too young to compare to two teenage siblings and their drama. So if he tells a lie here or there, it’s okay; it often works to get attention, if it is ridiculous enough.
Lauren, his sister, is apathetic about his existence. (Her feelings never change.) The boy—Georgie—hates that he has to share his bedroom with Pavel. In fact, he tells Pavel frequently “I hate you, you little fucker. Stay out of my things!” When his friends come over (and Pavel’s trying to learn his English), they hang around the dinner table and make fun of his heavily accent reading. So he says things like “My father vas a Great Hunter of the Russian Black Bear; he could wrestle a bear this big—” Points at Georgie. “—until it died of shame.”
They laugh at his stories too. He can never tell a tale horrible enough to scare them away. Mrs. Graves does not like it either, when he lies. She chastises him (like the schoolmistress used to), “In America, Pavel, you must only speak the truth or God will know!” Their God must be better than the one orphans pray to before bedtime; their God must be as fierce as a Tzar of old. (Later, in school, he learns that there is no difference; only different opinions.)
Pavel is many things but afraid is not one of them. So he opens his eyes wide, blinks, and tells Mrs. Graves “Yes, Ma’am.” She likes that, his expressions. Thinks he is cute and innocent as a puppy. (Her words, Pavel laughs to himself.) He can be a puppy, who knows nothing. He can be well-trained too.
His name is Pavel Graves. He grows up, long-limbed and pale like paper. He lives with the Graves’ family for a total of eight years. There are good days, times when he thinks he is one of their own and feels loved. The fall that Georgie leaves for state university, Pavel is the happiest. Then Lauren follows one year later, to an art school, and Pavel is finally the sole child of two adoring parents.
Accept they are not adoring, not really. Mrs. Graves went “back to work” before Pavel turned thirteen (though the family has lots of money), and he never sees Mr. Graves except on the day they attend church services or take the yearly “family” vacation. Often, Pavel wonders to himself why these people wanted another child—a foreign child—when they already had two. Once, when he was still naïve enough, he asked his new mother. She replied off-handedly, “It is the Christian thing to do.”
There are more bad days. Not in the home itself, it’s too empty for that, but at school. He attends a Catholic school, does not mind the uniform and is nice to everyone. He is terrible at sports but good at math and science.
He is a heathen.
Russians are heathens and socialist spies.
There is no escape, not from prejudice; not for a child with an accent that he cannot completely dispel (wants to keep, loves). There is no haven from the looks of other kids’ parents, during school functions. Pavel is that adopted Russian boy who comes from God-knows-where and can never be a true American. (Nevermind what his papers say!)
On career day, the teachers make the students write essays with the topic “What do you want to be?” (A stupid question.) The English teacher reads his short answer, says, “… Pavel, you want to be a scientist?”
“No,” he clarifies, “I am a scientist.”
She doesn’t think he’s funny, tells him so. He does not attempt humor, he replies, only truth. That earns him detention. People are so strict, so misunderstanding. Pavel cannot talk about what he wants to be (he wants to be American) because it is acknowledging what he isn’t. So one must say yes, I am and believe it; then the others will follow.
He’s fifteen when he decides to run away from the Graves. He is a citizen under United States law after the legal adoption and subsequent years of living in the country. So Pavel decides that he wants to live elsewhere, in a place with better people. America is so large, there must be nicer places.
Actually, it’s a man who convinces him of this. A man that starts sitting with him after school on the bench outside the public library. At first, Pavel is surprised and wary. Strangers are uncommon in this small town; and this man does qualify as strange. His smile is too big and his clothes are too dark and thread-bare. But he speaks with an accent that Pavel has longed to hear—heavy, foreign, like his own.
The man asks, innocently enough, “Do you like your family?”
Pavel smiles back and agrees. Their first conversation is short because Pavel does not feel comfortable. The stranger, who notices, introduces himself. “My name is Adam.”
“Nice to meet you, Pavel.” Then Adam takes his leave. That soothes Pavel’s worry, though he does pack up his books quickly and go home.
They encounter one another in the next three months at random times. Adam seems trustworthy enough; calls himself a musician. The man never invites Pavel anywhere or acts suspicious. Eventually Pavel is glad to have a listening ear. He talks about his adopted family, the wonder of being in such a rich country; underneath it all are the unspoken words of heartache and the loneliness of an outsider.
Adam seems to understand well. He says that he lives with people like Pavel, people that are not accepted in society though they have ever right to be; they travel across the country as a family, playing small concerts to earn money and doing odd jobs. At first, Pavel is skeptical. But on the day that Adam brings a beautiful brown-haired girl named Irina to meet him, Pavel is smitten. Irina sings in her lilting voice and they three talk for hours. Pavel begins to visit them, listen to their songs and hear other interesting tales (like his own). They praise him, “You’re smart, Pavel. You can say anything with that baby face of yours and people will eat out of your hand!”
After the fourth month, Adam announces that he is leaving town; his “family” needs to move on. Pavel is welcome to join them.
“And tell no one.”
Pavel goes with them, slips away in the dead of night like a forgotten ghost.
Two years later finds him desolate in the state of Georgia trying to sell himself to any stranger for a few dollars. He catches one such fellow, snatching his arm from a dark shadow.
“Hello there, Sir. Cold night.”
The man stops, looks at him. Through him. “Evening, son.”
Pavel has learned by then not to stutter, to draw out certain words in his accent like bait. “Could kept you warm tonight,” he offers.
The man is old, as Pavel prefers. The older, the better; less chance of stamina or the strength to damage him permanently. Finally, he gets an answer.
“I’ve got a place.”
Pavel nods. (Beggars cannot be choosers.)
That’s how he winds up at Fleet Heights. This man, a Dr. Phillip Boyce, escorts Pavel to “his place” which turns out to be an old three-story facility behind a tall iron-wrought gate. Pavel almost turns to run but Boyce says softly, “There’s a bed and food.”
He stares at it, considers. “What’s the price?”
“Your sanity,” the other replies.
Pavel lies smoothly, “Certainly, Sir, I am insane.”
Boyce nods once. “Tomorrow, you’ll talk to a man named Christopher Pike. Where you go from there is your choice.”
That night Pavel has a warm bed to sleep in; it’s in a room occupied by another quiet man that he can easily ignore. When morning comes, as he stretches awake to the sound of hushed silence (no groping hands or pain), Pavel decides that he’ll do what he can to stay for a little while longer. If only for the regular meals. It might require a few tall-tales, but hasn’t Pavel always been good at those?
Thus he makes himself into Pavel Chekov, liar extraordinaire. It’s a satisfying person to be, most days.
When he sees Boyce again, they pretend that they’ve never met.