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"How Can You Leave?"

That's what he wanted to know. That's what he demanded to know.

"How can you just leave?" he repeated.

Here's what I wanted to say. I don't want to leave, I want to stay, I want to learn Russian, I want to spend more time with my new friends, I want to live somewhere that makes sense to me, I want to dance, I want to surround myself with Russians whose souls bleed for beauty and who are real and authentic and who give wonderful hugs, I want to be in this smoggy dirty cold country with weak Northern light and corruption and too many laws and too many creepy intelligence agents and unpotable tap water and not enough street trees and too much sorrow, I want to spend a year here and grow and feel oosmotic with my environment in a way I simply don't in the US, I want to bring the gift of the international language of English to these people who really want to speak it and really don't yet, I want....

....I want to see my beautiful little boy....

"Visa," I said.

"Ah. Visa," he said. Russians understand being powerless in the face of bureaucracy.

"And I have to go back to my little son," I said, gesturing to his son leaning into the conversation from the back seat in a way only a little boy not wearing a seat belt possibly could.

I wished my flight was to San Francisco and not to Seattle, but the sooner I pack up, the sooner I can leave.

We had become sort of friends, Farrah and I, as much as the language barrier would allow. He had fetched me from the train station as per my travel service, and from then on appointed himself my driver and general guardian whilst in St P. He used the Google Translate app to talk to me when his tiny bit of English ended, which was most of the time. He brought his son with him in the evenings. One evening he brought a second telephone and produced his sister in London and her baby, via Skype, as a translator for me. In the US you will not get four members of a family helping drive you places. He checked on me every day with a message to see if I would need him. And...I would never have found most of the places I went dancing if it had not been for him! Because milongas in Russia are generally hidden like speakeasies during Prohibition! Impossible to find in the darkened rat mazes that Russians call home, I have no idea how anyone ever finds anything...finding each one necessitated him talking with lots and lots of Russians, and driving around, and hunting, and walking me places cars couldn't go...because in Russia nothing is as simple as a street address....

One night when he dropped me off at home he said, with his usual combined air of sounding like someone used to being a dad and sounding like someone used to being a Russian guy and thus issuing pronouncements that get followed, "there is wonderful shish kebab here. Uzbeki. Is delicious. ....Some day we will go. I will treat you."

I was touched. Unfortunately the timing was always off; he was free when I was about to go to sleep early one night, I was free for lunch and he wasn't, then he announced that it would be at 7p Saturday, but I already had dinner plans with the lesbians....

There wasn't time to do everything in St P. There was Georgian food left uneaten (by that time I was as weary of waiters and menus as I was of grandeur and finery, so there were a lot of 30 cent Teremok blini, and really, those are so delicious and reasonably nutritious, they could charge a lot more). There were tandas left undanced. There were many, many Russian expressions left unlearned.

And there was shish kebab left uneaten with a freelance taxi driver with a red car and a little son with big brown eyes. (Although I suspect he would magically have left his son at home for that occasion...I am a keen student of anthropology and always want to hear people's stories, but he may have seen it as taking a Woman out for dinner, not a Reporter...I guess we'll never know. But I wasn't born yesterday.)

They drove me out of Peter's city on the swamp and into huge drab expanses of enormous Soviet apartment blocs and even though St P is not my city, Russia is my new love, and I could not fight the tears rolling down my cheeks. Something important had happened, I had fallen in love, exactly as if with a person, and I was leaving this new, profoundly important entity, that mattered so much....

I was leaving behind real new friends, who mattered...I had lived in San Francisco for twelve years and I had made two real friends there and a handful of people who had come and gone, I had lived in Seattle and not met anyone, and yet I had been here in Russia for just two weeks and already I had eight new friends and at least seven new admirers (ok, counting Farrah its up to nine friends or eight admirers, I wasn't sure which camp he put himself in), just because, when you're around the right people, its really easy...I had, quite unexpectedly, found (almost by accident) a real dance teacher who was really right for me in a wonderfully clean, meaningful, important way...I had been struck by Cupid's arrow for a whole place...I had felt like that for Argentina but that was a relationship that would always have necessitated denying big parts of myself; a great fit for just a couple elements of my character, but here was Russia, apparently custom-built for everything I could think of that was truly important to me and I didn't have to deny anything or make excuses for anything because here was a place that was that way too...and yet could I really live for a year in a place with so many serious problems? Moscow is warmer and brighter than St P, but could someone with SAD and continually struggling against depression really live in Russia, even just for one year, without falling into hard core depression? And there's that little detail of not only not speaking the language, but of it not coming from a language family for which I have any preexisting template at all. What about the domestic violence? What about the bitchy women who are so mean to women? What about nothing working? What about, what about, what about?

And yet I feel it's something I have to do, I have to try to make it happen. All my friends are against it, they say its a terrible idea, what about my son, I'll never get these years back, what will the year have brought me at the end, what a gamble, I'll use up all my money, it will be hard to get a visa, the significant problems of the country will be overwhelming, I'm being dumb and impulsive, I'll have lost a year I could have been working toward my future, I'll be poor...and they're all right.

But when you have to do something, you have to do something.

Dasha says, live for yourself.

I did not want to go to grad school at all. I had to drag myself all the way and hunt every day for the bright side, hunt every day for the silver lining, remind myself every day I was doing the right thing...and it just didn't work.

Looking back on my life, it is always the things that surprise even me, the things that I did not know I was going to do, the things I could not explain why, that have always ended up being the best things I ever did. --When I was at Amherst, I asked one typically superbrilliant annoyingly gifted friend why they decided on a particular very specific course of study for their thesis. Since this was Amherst and these were very smart people I was expecting an answer like, well this one thing has always been my chief interest, or, I hope to get a career in this thing. But they just looked unconcerned and said, blithely, "it seemed like a good idea at the time."

This answer seemed so free to me, so open to exploration, and belay such a willingness not to be defined by what one had already experienced but by what one was open to discovering, that it truly did sound like genius, and it still does.

Farrah and his boy dropped me off, saying firmly, "when you come back to Saint Petersburg, we will arrive together. You will call." They walked me to the departures door and I wanted to hug both of them, but instead we all had a moment of Meaningful Soviet Eye Contact. Farrah looked me in the eye like a man sad to be being left, and not like a taxi driver, and said, "Bye." Then he picked up his phone and pointed to it and firmly said, "Alo Alo," looking me in the eye as if he could bring me back to his city by force of will, and one day we would finally consume our shish kebab.

By that time I might even be able to consume it in Russian.

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