Friday, October 18, 2013

Chapter Five: Back in the U.S.S.R.

I had been in touch with Ivan by phone over the past couple of weeks. He had asked about coming to meet us when we arrived but then changed his mind. He would be out of Moscow until 26 August and I found that I was relieved. I could get myself and my family settled into our new place in Moscow without worrying about meeting him straight away. I bought a jacket for him and ended up arguing with Jason about it. I had bought a jacket for myself as well and Jason had made some snide remark about how nifty we both would look walking around Moscow in our new jackets, and I sensed the pain behind the derision. Although later, while we sipped wine before the electric heater in the tiny living-room, he told he was not really upset about that. He was becoming more involved in the church. The pastor from the church we used to attend in Florida came to England on a visit and Jason made a special trip to Oxford to see him. Later I found out he had confided in him about Ivan, so he was obviously concerned and saw Ivan as a threat to our marriage. But still nothing deterred him from going through with our plans. I wondered later what I would have done if he had put up some resistance, if once he had found out that there was another man in my life, even if he did not think I would leave him, he had said let’s forget this and go back home. What would I have done then? I would often in later years feel that it served him right, that his acquiescence had been his downfall, if he had not acted like a doormat to be stepped on and walked over, if he had put up a fight for me, perhaps I would have listened and not been so determined to have my life with Ivan. Of course, it served no purpose thinking that way, what if this, what if that, obviously this was my destiny.

His relationship with the church and God was growing stronger, while I was moving away from the traditional church, and I had been for a long time. We agreed to disagree about this as well. He was willing to see things from my point of view, but I had the feeling he was only humoring me. He would never try to prove his point, impose his views on me, but I always sensed that he felt he was right and there was no dissuading him otherwise. And I had no desire to change his mind or make him come round to my way of thinking. All I knew was what felt right for me, I could not answer for anyone else, I had no answers, the bottom line was that I really knew nothing (Step 3). However, the difference in our mindsets drove a rift between us. Our spiritual paths were headed in different directions, we were no longer on the same spiritual page. Perhaps we could have lived with this, lived happily and in harmony raising our daughters, but it was not enough. It was a dead end and I had to go on, move forward, not stand in one spot or even regress. Later I realized that this was a catharsis, it was the beginning of my journey to the dark side of my soul, but I needed to make that journey and make it now, at this point in my evolution. I had reached a turning point, I stood at a crossroads in my life journey and had to decide which way to go.

From the vantage point of 2013, I offer this passage from Relationships and Higher Purpose by Marshall Vian Summers as confirmation that I was following Knowledge in 1990 without even being aware of it: “Marriage in the second stage of development holds much more promise. Here spiritual growth and personal honesty are given a higher priority, but there is still a great emphasis on emotional safety and financial security. These marriages often reflect the growing struggle between Knowledge and personal fulfillment that one or both of the people involved are experiencing. As a result, the marriage is burdened with the nearly impossible task of balancing two great forces that are struggling for predominance within one or both people in the relationship. In stage two, neither person has yet discovered what their life is really about nor has a clear sense of where they are going. And often, they find out sooner or later that they are not going in the same direction as their partner.”

And the call of my soul pulled me back to Ivan. He was so different from Jason, really he was uneducated and uncultured (or so it seemed to my, although later my opinion changed, he was self-educated and that sat very differently in my book), from a broken home and one where alcoholics seemed to be the norm. He had no steady job or prospects, nowhere of his own to live. But my heart yearned for him. Common sense was thrown to the wind. If I had really stopped to think, to use logic, to reason things through, would I really be going through with this? What was pulling me to him with an intensity that just could not be resisted?

We arrived in Moscow on 23 August, 1991. Natalie picked us up from the airport and took us to her apartment in Sokol. We were to bed down in the library, which was her father’s room, but he lived elsewhere and only came to use the room and do some reading on rare occasions. It later transpired that Natalie had failed to tell him that she had invited foreigners to stay. And this was just as well, since he was dead set against it, and although we never saw him, when he found out the truth, he told us over the phone to clear the premises. But that would not be for another month or so. For the time being, we set up beds for sleeping on the library floor and there was also another small room, a box room large enough to hold only a bed, where I ended up sleeping. I was happy to have this room to myself, although I sometimes shared the bed with one of the girls. Things felt very strange and I would not be able to reach Ivan for another couple of days. I called Irida and found out he would be back in Moscow the next morning. In the meantime, Natalie showed us around the local shops. I was rather discouraged to see that the selection was even sparser than it had been in February. We managed to get through the registration process at the Central Visa and Immigration Office, and I was pleased that the girls seemed to be handling it all very well, although they would get tired from traipsing around and subsequently hard to handle when traveling on the metro. They also got used to standing in lines at the store to buy whatever was available that day. At home they would replay the whole scene, setting up their matroshka nesting dolls in a long line and “talking” in Russian. The words made absolutely no sense, but the intonation was spot on, the girls were speaking in a language they did not understand but with a pitch and melody that was pure Russian. And there were parks nearby with wooden swings and slides, so I was able to take them out for walks and enjoy playtime in the fresh air.



On Saturday morning I called Ivan. He had arrived back in Moscow at 6.00 and was asleep. He said he would call back later and around midday he arrived in a taxi to pick up me and girls to go over to Irida’s for a small get-together. It was not the kind of reunion I had envisioned, but I was content that Ivan was willing to include the girls in our rendezvous. I ended up drinking too much though and missing the get-together with the New York editor at Natalia’s to discuss the further fate of the translation I had done for her. It was never published and have no idea if my failure to show for her visit had any direct bearing on that outcome. Natalia soon left for the States and I never saw her again.


I wrote in my diary:

“Now many years down the line after much water has flown under the bridge and I am much wiser, I see this graphic example of how alcohol made me its slave. Once it was in me, I lost control. I was full of certainty that I would return to Natalie’s in time for the party, but once I started drinking, I was no longer in control. I was a slave and dropped the reins that guided me sanely through my own life. At that time I saw no reason to stop, it did not put me on the alert, it did not caution me, I was blind. I loved the seeming sense of freedom and emancipation alcohol gave me, all our heart-to-heart talks took place over a bottle of wine, alcohol helped to mellow me out when the intensity became too overbearing, when I let my anxiety over my future get the better of me. My spirits always lifted and I felt calmer after having a drink. I drank on the plane going to Moscow and this lulled me into a sense of false security. Ivan and I drank nearly every time we saw each other, what else was there to do? Drink, talk, listen to music, have friends over. The time we were apart was for work, taking care of business, spending time with the girls, but once we had some time together we abandoned ourselves to drink, it could not be done any other way. The alcohol was essential. And I was so unaware. Drinking had never been a problem before. Oh, I might get drunk on occasion, feel lousy the next day, not want to drink again for a while, but it was never an urge, an obsession, a necessity. It did not replace normal living. Now I could not imagine having a normal time with Ivan if we were not drinking. The alcohol awoke some deep longing within us, opened the gates of communication, we soared to a different plane. We could enjoy each other’s company without alcohol, but the excitement, boldness, and spirit weren’t there. And I was totally oblivious to the danger, saw no need to be cautious. I could not understand that as soon as I allowed alcohol to enter my body, my thoughts and actions were no longer my own.”

One day followed another as we settled in. The strangeness gradually dissipated, I knew I had made the right choice. I was home and I did not wish to be anywhere else, that was the overwhelming feeling. I was living on the edge and it was thrilling and breathtaking in a way that made me certain I could live no other way. And although I could not see Ivan as often as I wanted, just knowing he was there, close by, that we loved each other and wanted to be together was enough to bolster me through the down times of frustration.

On 5 September, Jason and I should have been celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary. I had told him a couple of days before that I no longer felt the same way about him and did not see a future for us. He was bitter of course and as the rain fell on that anniversary day, he stood by the window and stared dismally through it, watching the raindrops run down the pane was like watching their past life dissolve before his eyes. He bought me roses, but there was no champagne or restaurant as there had been every month on the fifth since our wedding day. He had wanted to go to McDonalds, but the weather changed our plans. There was no point in standing in line in the rain waiting to get in. He went to bed early without even talking to me.

I continued to do translations for Progress, but they had not given me any final answer yet. There were some problems now with hiring foreigners, they could no longer pay their way home should they wish to leave or were dismissed. At the end of September though I signed a contract for two months with the promise of an apartment and then the possibility of extending it later. If I was happy with the fact they could not guarantee me anything, if I was willing to work and not have my trip home paid for at the end, they were willing to hire me. But was I ever planning on going home again? It seemed unlikely, so this small hitch was the least of my worries.

Jason had become involved with the chaplaincy at the American Embassy and would attend Bible studies there a couple of times a week, as well as go to the services on Sunday. He seemed to gain great succor from this.

Things came to a head at the beginning of October. Natalie’s father became more insistent about us moving out of the apartment and freeing up the rooms we were occupying. Natalie’s husband, left to hold down the fort after Natalie flew off to the States, had been kind to them and obviously felt uncomfortable about his father-in-law’s prejudices. He may have spoken up for us and intervened on our behalf, allowing them to continue living in the apartment, had it not been for an early morning phone call from Ivan, who happened to be drunk. He asked for me, and when he was told I was still asleep, he obviously made some rude reply. I was not asleep and heard the conversation from my bed. I was mortified, particularly when Natalie’s husband confronted me with the fact and told me that he had changed his mind about our staying on. He decided that Natalie’s father had been right, we should leave the apartment and as soon as possible. Luckily it was at this point that Progress stepped forward with a definite go-ahead to move into one of their apartments.


So on 5 October we moved into a two-room apartment courtesy of Progress near the Yugo-Zapadnaya metro station in the southwest part of the city. I had joked that this is where I would end up again. It was not that far from the dormitory where I had stayed when studying at the Pushkin Institute. The Russian authorities liked to have foreigners tucked away on the outskirts of the city out of harm’s way. But it was almost the opposite end of the city from Ivan, although it was close to Irida’s. I lamented that we would not be able to meet at his place any more, but he said we would meet at Irida’s.


Ivan helped us to move and I even thoughtlessly arranged a time for he and Jason to get to know each other. I bought some cranberry vodka and thought the three of us would sit companionably in the kitchen and chat amiably together. How insensitive I was. Jason wanted none of it. Of course he was civil and courteous to Ivan, but it was obviously painful for him to see us together, how could I expect him to sit down and drink with us as though everything was perfectly alright, as though this was not the man that was tearing our family apart. How totally selfish I was being.

One time in mid-October I told Ivan how I could not live without him, but did not see how I could live with him either, since he drank so much. He told me that once we were living together properly as man and wife, we would heal each other and both quit drinking. I still did not think I had a real problem. I did not drink as much and there always came a time when I wanted to stop. I hid my head in the sand though, I chose not to see the negative things, I wanted to be with Ivan and that urge overrode everything else.

On 5 November I went to the British Embassy for a pregnancy test. It was positive.

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