Going to the Well: the First Good-bye

[continued from Going to the Well: The Beginning]

Remembering Our First Farewell – September 1988 – Moscow Airport

The first time I said good-bye to Yuri, it felt final. I blurted out proclamations of reunion, but deep down didn’t believe a word leaving my mouth. In 1988, the barriers between our countries – the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. – remained strong and required many negotiations with bureaucrats to circumvent them.

The Moscow airport was bustling as the 270 American peace walkers searched out Soviet counterparts, our companions of thirty days, to say good-bye. Together we’d navigated propaganda, language barriers, constantly changing schedules. Conspiracy theories had circulated of the Soviet organizers intentionally upsetting our orientation to keep the politics subdued. We’d debated and discussed it all.

But at the boarding gate on our final day, none of that mattered. We’d formed strong bonds that seemed to mock the proclamations of the Cold War. The finality of the hugs hurt deeply, and months later when studying a photo of Yuri and me saying good-bye, I couldn’t deny our pain filling the frame.

The Americans put off boarding as long as we could.

After the final hug, swallowing the suppressed tears, I climb onto the plane and stumble towards my seat as the nearly three hundred American peace walkers around me move towards theirs. When the plane takes off, I am in silence, squeezed into my seat, the air oppressive with the sadness of hundreds of good-byes.

Once aloft, the restrictions of the seats too formal, we throw our bodies onto the bulkhead floor to huddle in small circles, ignored by Soviet stewardesses who simply don’t care.

We play oneupsmanship with the stories of our good-byes, detailing how we rid ourselves of our worthless Rubles by stuffing them into the pockets of our grateful Soviet friends, the ones we were leaving behind a barrier open only to departing foreigners with proper passports. Many of us discover we’d showered the same group of Russians with our money, leaving them like strippers with bills tucked into g-strings.

Our sadness turns to laughter. I’d given all my money to Yuri and he’d looked shamed to accept it. But it truly was just paper to me, Americans unable to convert Rubles back to dollars, and Rubles of no value outside the borders of the Soviet Union.

As I recalled those final moments with Yuri, our frantic words of meeting again, of his band coming to the U.S. on a cultural exchange tour, our voices gaining speed in the excitement of the dream, I had to wonder. Two countries filled with such hatred for each other, could they ever be bothered to sanction such a fantasy?

So two years later, as I stood before Yuri’s family in his tiny Siberian village amidst the hugs and squeals, Yuri exploding with laughter, it just couldn’t have been more surreal.

Within days I came down with a stomach bug, and as I tried to rush to the outhouse in the middle of the night, I threw up all over his mother’s vegetable garden. This after my first night when I’d nearly suffocated due to some inexplicable allergic reaction. As I felt my lungs filling with fluid, my wheezing growing louder, Yuri broke out a pane of the window to allow some untainted air into the room. But it didn’t help, and I moved onto the front porch in the cold night trying to breathe wondering how I was going to survive.

For the next two weeks, I slept in an unheated outer room with a sweatshirt over my face, the seemingly fragile American girl undoubtedly a mystery to this rural Siberian family.

Ever since that night on the porch, I’ve had an inexplicable image of dying in a fire, the time unclear, possibly a century earlier in that village. Perhaps before I’d continued with my relationship with Yuri, I should have read that as a sign.

…more of Siberia and beyond to come…


Trouble said...

Hindsight is always 20/20. But would you really go back and undo the fabric of your life like that, no matter what regrets you might have?

Emily said...

I'm so glad you have continued this story. I really liked the comparison to "two countries filled with such hatred for each other" I like the contrasts.

Girlplustwo said...

i am not sure how i missed this yesterday, but am glad i spotted it today.

i am fully entranced by this story, you dropped an appetizer months ago - am so happy that dinner is being served now.

Anonymous said...

i didn't see this post yesterday either! i love reading stories of how people meet and end up together.

Anonymous said...

I've been waiting for this...