“Did you remember to buy water?”
After the initial shock of the freezing and unsavory environment of Russia I gradually began to venture outside in trepidation; it’s not every day I see a youth in camis carrying an automatic rifle in my neighborhood.
Exploring the streets for scarce sources of food and water often in a state of discomfort and fear, I was frequently accosted by small Gypsy children begging me for money as drunk old women and men drank from bottles of vodka and urinated behind buildings on the sidewalk corners.
As I struggled to find my footing on the uneven broken sidewalks of downtown Moskva (Moscow) Jonathan, my husband was wholly absorbed in creating an empire. I was soon to learn that the travail on the streets of Moskva was insignificant compared to the internal turmoil churning within my soul.
The unrelentingly heavy gray skies blanketing the city reflected the emerging waves of loneliness pounding over my head, soaking me in anguish; though I journaled my thoughts and exercised daily I could not overcome the feeling of dread and foreboding.
Due to my inner conflict and the nightly noise of the city street, I slept restlessly in our small flat and often walked to the kitchen and looked through the window in the middle of the night to watch prostitutes standing on the corners in miniskirts, high heels and short fur coats climbing into cars in the subzero weather.
In a rare moment of sunlight we visited an 11th Century monastery with two Russian companions from Jonathan’s office. During our tour I stepped aside and sat down alone on a bench in a secluded garden. A babushka (grandma) approached me and sat at my feet taking my hands in hers. She spoke to me in Russian saying that I was of God and asked me for a blessing. I comprehended what she said though I didn’t understand the language. Smiling, she blessed me and my family and kissed my hands. I gave her the only money I had in my pocket, one ruble; we cried together and she was gone.
Though on occasion I encountered pleasant strangers and shopkeepers, my daily life with Jonathan was emotionally draining for me. Each night when he arrived home I asked how he was doing; his response was always the same, “I’m tired.” This was the extent of his conversation with me. He didn’t ask about my day; he didn’t want to hear anything about my struggles. I was starving for love, affection and attention; any conversation on his part would have been a comfort to me.
I was discouraged and began to fall into a depression over my loneliness and desperate need for contact.
Then at one of the extravagant office parties I met an American woman who told me that she was involved with a non-profit American organization that helps the half million orphans in Moskva. I attended a meeting with Robin and volunteered to visit one of the orphanages.
The ravages of communism were everywhere. Another layer of onion skins fell off . . . .
I learned that many of the children in the orphanages were institutionalized by their parents at the recommendation of their physicians. If a child were physically challenged in any way they were sent to an orphanage. When I timidly stepped through the doorway of one orphanage I was uncomfortable and reluctant to participate. However, after the children settled down with me I was able to sing along and play games with them.
I eventually found an orphanage for infants. The sweet angels were all lying face up in rows of wooden cribs. I discovered one little baby girl with big blue eyes. She stared up at the ceiling with no expression on her precious face. I bent over her crib and smiled at her; she responded with a tiny glimmer of hope in her beautiful eyes. I held Masha on my lap and sang to her; she hummed along with me. I did not want to leave her. I will always remember with sadness Masha’s stricken facial expression and our mutual tears when I placed her back in her crib. I cried for a week, then wrote a poem about Masha titled, “The Broken-winged Angel”; it was published in local newspaper.
While I was pulled out of my self-imposed isolation by becoming acquainted with a few Russian, American and European women my relationship with Jonathan continued to wane. He was not interested in being with me. I was simply a trophy wife at elaborate dinners with affluent and powerful international business men. The opulence and shallow party talk left me feeling empty and desiring deeper connections.
Jonathan and I often filled the void by attending opera and ballet and going out to dinner nightly. New restaurants from international companies were popping up everywhere in Moscow, teeming with businessmen and prostitutes.
Alcohol and shopping became my faithful companions while traveling to European countries. The more time I spent with Jonathan the worse my loneliness became; he and I weren’t connecting. I kept reaching out and receiving nothing in return except opulent hotels, lavish gifts and elaborate events.
When my anguish was unbearable I would fly home to California and stay for a few months; I began singing regularly in an upscale restaurant and found a new community of musician friends. Spending time with my children and girlfriends and seeking therapy, I felt comforted and experienced solace again.
“Why are you going back to Russia?” my psychologist asked me.
I longed for Jonathan’s presence and would return to Russia again and again, going through the same torturous experience. When we were together he shared very little of his thoughts, dreams or goals; he said that we would amass enough money to do whatever we wanted once we left Russia.
After repeated dreams of Jonathan involving himself in immoral activities, I accused him of having an affair with a female acquaintance of ours. He assured me that I was not thinking rationally; I regressed to using former vices to win him over.
I thought I had recovered from the sexual abuse of my childhood, but being in Russia made me realize that I had a lot more recovery work to do.
As the chasm between us grew I sank deeper into negative thoughts and feelings; I lost my way. I did what Jonathan did; we drank heavily to avoid discussing the obvious. Jonathan made it clear that he did not want to hear about my suffering; he continued to say that I needed to be patient and that we would leave together for California soon. His words became an empty promise as the date was continually postponed.
On my birthday after over two years of anguish I unleashed my pent-up rage and screamed at Jonathan in a hotel in Berlin; it culminated in a physical fight. I cried myself to sleep believing that our marriage was in ruins.
I gave up trying to create intimacy with Jonathan. During my recovery process from childhood sexual abuse I had repeatedly asked him to attend counseling with me; I wanted to help heal our marriage. He repeatedly told me that I was the one who needed help and that he had no need to change.
In retrospect I realize that our entire focus during our 25 year marriage had been on our children. Now that they were all in college and we were living thousands of miles from any family or friends Jonathan was content to focus on his aspiring career; clearly our situation in Russia was not working for me !
Then one day I discovered a book that changed the course of my life . . .
I awakened to a new realization that no amount of my energy could ever heal our relationship because Jonathan was not willing to acknowledge his part in our dysfunction. He was draining me of everything good and I was allowing him to do so.
At this moment I knew I could no longer live in this agonizing environment; I was destroying my soul.
I loved Jonathan but could not restore our relationship; with a broken heart I packed up all of my personal belongings and flew home.
The journey home was abundant with enlightening signs . . . .