Friday, October 18, 2013

Chapter Three: Return to the Soviet Union – Reconnaissance

On 14 February, 1990, I waved goodbye to Jason and my girls at the station in Falkirk and set off on the first leg of my reconnaissance trip to Moscow. I would take the train to Edinburgh, where I would change to Sheffield and there catch a bus straight to Gatwick Airport. I left my family in two minds, part of me was filled with an incredible excitement that this was finally happening. I felt an immense love and respect for Jason that he was allowing me to do this, that he was permitting me this freedom, this insanity, for how else could it be named? Leaving everything behind, burning bridges, and heading off into the unknown, to a strange almost forbidden land, where nothing was familiar. I did not even know if I would find a job, and even if I did would my girls adjust to the severe realities of life behind the Iron Curtain? I had just uprooted them all and replanted them on alien soil. And it was all okay. Jason condoned my actions, how could I not love him for that? But I also felt a wrench at leaving them, how would my daughters manage without me? I made a tape-recording for them to listen to while I was gone, telling them of my love for them, that I carried them with my in my heart, that I had not really left them and would soon return. To make it worse, Claire fell asleep on the way to the station, and I did not want to wake her to say goodbye, so I had to leave without doing that, it did not feel right, I was torn. But I was happy with the arrangements at my aunt and uncle’s. The girls had responded well and it had snowed the day before, a new experience and excitement for two Florida gals.



However, the journey was very hairy. To my chagrin I discovered when I arrived at the deserted bus station in Sheffield late in the evening that I had misread the bus timetable and the next bus would get me to Gatwick too late to catch my plane. I struggled with my heavy suitcase across the street to the train station. There was a train to Manchester with a 00.30 connection to London Euston—a slow mail train—that was due to arrive at 5.00 am. There would still be time to catch my plane. I decided to go for it, there was no other choice, although I would be cutting it very close. In Manchester I was lucky to get on the London train early before all the West Ham football fans crowded on for their trip home after a match. It was a rowdy trip. However, I overheard another passenger saying he was also going to Gatwick, so I asked if I could tag along and catch a taxi with him. What a piece of luck. Luck, because we shared the taxi fare, a whopping 52 pounds, which I would not have had enough money to pay for by myself. I made the plane with 10 minutes to spare.

Moscow was as overwhelming and wonderful as I remembered. The wide snowy streets, the quiet mystery of it all, everything seemed larger than life, and oh so familiar. There was still the secrecy and undercurrent of excitement, the feeling of never knowing just what to expect next. Lucy met me at the airport and whisked me off to a restaurant for dinner where a whole crowd of other people awaited us. It was one of the new cooperative venues that had become popular since Gorbachev took the helm. Entry by invitation only. I was back!

Fatigue took its toll and, despite my thrill at being swept up again in the embrace of this enchanted land, I could not help feeling awkward and out of place. I was reluctant to use my imperfect Russian and felt shy and uncomfortable with Lucy’s husband, as though I could not put two sensible words together and join in the conversation. I felt strange. But the next day Lucy helped me to find phone numbers of publishing houses, places I could call to find out about translating work.

And I called the number I had for Ivan. It was Irida’s number, the one I had always called back in 1981 whenever I wanted to get in touch with Ivan. I dialed and heard a girl’s voice on the other end. I asked for Ivan, the girl said there was no one by that name there. Normally I would have just hung up in confusion and disappointment. But for some reason I began to explain herself, saying it had been so long since I had been there, he had probably moved and please excuse me for the disturbance. The girl on the other end suddenly exclaimed, “Alison, is that you?” It was Irida’s daughter, Tasya. I had met her a couple of times back in 1981, the last time when we had gone to that dog show at the end of my semester stay. Tasya had only been 14 at the time and did not live with her mother, which was why we had not met that often. But Tasya recognized my voice! She said Irida was at work and to call back later and she would give me Ivan’s phone number. So this is what I did, and Irida was overjoyed to hear me. She said she had already called Ivan and told him I was in Moscow. She had stolen the show, it would no longer be a total surprise, and I had so wanted to hear his response to a call from me totally out of the blue. Now he was prepared. I called the number Irida had given me and could not believe I was hearing his voice on the other end of the line. He told me he had been expecting me (this was before Irida had called and told him that I was indeed back), that he had had a dream about me not that long ago and he knew I would be returning soon. That clinched things for me, I knew that something beyond the ordinary bonded us. I had also had a dream about him and had seemed to contact him in my meditations. It all jived for me. We arranged to meet in a couple of days. I had already made other arrangements for that weekend, so our rendezvous would have to wait until Monday.

How I lived through those days, I do not know. I could not sleep or eat, I was so nervous and often overwhelmed with doubts that I was doing the right thing. Jason and the girls seemed so far away, in a different world, a world that was no longer my reality. This was my reality here, in Moscow’s expansive frozen streets, in a cocoon of self-denial, or in a place that pointed me further down the road toward my destiny. I was so confused, but nothing could stop my now, the cogs were already turning, the mechanism had been launched, there was no turning back. Ivan was waiting for me, he was still available after all these years, still waiting for me to return. From our phone conversation I found out that he had been married and was now divorced. He had a seven-year-old daughter. He lived in the same place as before, in the building where I had arrived in a taxi to retrieve my wallet and see him again back in 1981, only I had not known then that this was his permanent address, that this was where he lived most of the time. He only rented a room at Irida’s and spent time there when he was drinking and needed time away from his family—his mother, sister, and niece. His workshop was at his mother’s, this was where he had his sewing machines and sewed clothes that were not available in the Soviet stores for his clients. And Irida’s was a haven for other things. I had not known that until now, so it was not surprising that he had not been at Irida’s when I called. It was not his home number.

I wrote in my diary on 19 February, 1981.

“I am meeting Ivan in a couple of hours and I am so nervous I can barely think straight. I have been sleeping badly and feel like a bag of nerves. I felt so sure about this on Saturday, but now I’m wondering if I am doing the right thing. I will not be able to rest easy until I see him and find out the scoop. I fluctuate between feeling all-powerful and outgoing to feeling like a little timid mouse. I guess the main thing about it is that I feel so duplicitous, like I don’t want anyone to know what I’m going, and I hate that feeling, but this is something I have to get out of my system, so I have to go for it, I just wish I felt more rested and less nervous. Oh well, I guess it will all work out for better or worse, we’ll see.”

We met on the platform of the metro station near Irida’s. He was waiting for me, I was a few minutes late, and I saw him first, anxiously searching the crowd streaming from the arriving train trying to spot me. Then we stood before each other and it was as though we had never been apart. He had not changed and he told me that I looked just the same too, just as he remembered me.

And afterwards I wrote:

“It turned out better that I could have ever expected. We are soul mates, that’s for sure.”

Those two weeks were full of portent events. Although I felt so at home and familiar in my surroundings, I spent a lot of time trying to picture everything from my daughters’ viewpoint. How would they react? What would they think? Would the climate and the environment not be too harsh for them? My overall conclusions were that they would manage. I was encouraged by the children I saw being pulled around on sleds, spades in hand for playing in the snow, their rosy cheeks aglow, bundled up in woolen hats, scarves, mittens, and felt boots. I thought my girls would rise to the occasion and fit in.

I managed to find a phone number for Progress Publishers and went to see them. The head of the English Translation Department remembered my resume (I had mailed it from the States months ago), but he confirmed my suspicion that dealing with potential employees long distance was not their style. You had to show up in person and only then might some decision be made. No one was going to reply to a fat envelope with a resume and translation samples from some unknown body thousands of miles away on the other side of the globe. This I had suspected, which was another reason I had so badly needed to come to Moscow, to show up in person and say here I am, hire me. I did some work for them and they were satisfied. But nothing could be decided at such short notice, not by 2 March at any rate, which was when I was due to leave. They suggested I return again on a private invitation for a longer time, at least two months, then they would see what they could do.

By lucky coincidence, but I do not believe in coincidences, to everything there is always some divine order and pattern, so it would be better to say, by some serendipitous flow of events, another friend from the student group of 1981 was also in Moscow at that time studying at Moscow State University. She invited me over to eat spaghetti with other students in the dormitory where she was staying. There I met another student who knew a Russian lady looking for someone to translate her book. This woman had written a book about a scandalous court case involving some physicians who had been imprisoned without a fair trial back in Stalin’s time. Her father had been one of those physicians. I made arrangements through this student to meet the woman. Her name was Natalie and, after immediately taking to each other, we came to an agreement that I would translate the book. During the course of our meeting I explained my situation, that I was soon to leave but was looking for a way to return with my family for a longer time. Natalie offered to invite me back to Moscow. Yes, yes!!

Another serendipitous event. While I was living in Florida I used to subscribe to a magazine called Mothering. It could be described as a magazine for mothers with alternative views about bringing up children. Mothers somewhere out in left field like myself. It was very enlightening. Several months before I left for Russia, but after I already knew I would be going, there was an article in the magazine called “Conscious Birth in the U.S.S.R.” and a letter to the editors from the author of the article, a certain T. S. in Moscow, Russia. The article was about natural childbirth in the Soviet Union, specifically about underwater birth. I was intrigued. And although my thoughts were far from having another child, I wrote to the editors of the magazine and asked for the full address of the article’s author, explaining my situation. What to my delight and surprise when they not only responded promptly with the address, but also said they had another article from the same woman that they had translated into English and wanted to publish. Could I take a copy of it with me to Moscow and deliver it personally to T.S. for her approval? You bet! So during that first week in Moscow I also tried to track down this woman. The address I had was not clear and my first attempt at finding it by looking at the map, going to the nearest metro station, and trying to find the street ended in failure. Lucy suggested sending her a telegram. So I did, giving Lucy’s phone number. The very next day I received a phone call from T.S.’s husband. They had moved into a larger apartment, their address had changed, but the telegram had been forwarded, they would love to meet me.


And what a trip! I could not believe I was here in Moscow visiting a family with four children (practically unheard of in the Soviet Union in those days) who were into the spiritual aspects of childbirth and talked about how they traveled to the Black Sea with pregnant couples so that the mother could give birth in the sea. Their latest project was to try and attract dolphins to draw near to the birthing mother as she went through her labor. They said that dolphins are intuitively aware of women in childbirth and if they are summoned by special sounds they will draw near and “participate” in the event. It all sounded too good to be true, and I imagined myself being that woman giving birth in the sea in the presence of these gentle mammals. Victor, the husband, talked of all sorts of things, things so familiar, yet so strange, so strange to be hearing from a Russian. Why did I think that? Russians are very spiritual and very close to nature and the intuitive meaning of life. He told me how Patriarch Ponds, which is where Master and Margarita, Bulgakov’s brilliant novel and dear to my heart, opens, is a very mystical place, how the Earth is a living organism in which Russia is the heart and America is the spine, and at some time in the future Russia will once again become of spiritual center of mankind. I spent the night at their apartment since we were still talking far into the small hours. I slept fitfully and was awoken by a powerful message that the stone my mother had given me to take to Moscow had to be placed in Patriarch Ponds. This was part of web-weaving, when a stone is selected in one part of the world and taken to another part of the world. There it is left in a sacral place and a stone selected from there is transported on to the next place. With these thoughts uppermost in my mind, I left early in the morning while everyone was still asleep.


My second week in Moscow was spent exclusively with Ivan. During this time, our bond was clinched, and I had no further doubts that I wanted to join my life with his and live with him as his wife in Russia.

So with Progress’s promise to give me a job should I return, Natalie’s promise to invite me back with my family, and Ivan’s promise to build a life with me no matter what, I left Moscow and returned to Jason and the girls in Scotland. Naturally the journey was one of low spirits and fatigue. So much buzzed in my mind. Now that I knew for sure that my destiny was with Ivan, how would I face Jason? How would everything work out? What indeed did the future hold? There were so many questions and uncertainties. How wrenching it was to leave once again. But this time I was leaving with a purpose, I had some definite plan, some reason to come back, I just did not know how long it would all take.

Now began the most excruciating time in my life. The waiting….

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