Sometimes we don’t intend to lie, not at all-it just happens,as one thing leads to another.. So we just don’t tell the truth.. Sometimes we cant even admit the truth to ourselves.. And other times we just stubbornly refuse to face the facts, choosing creating this beautiful perfect image of ourselves in our heads..
If we look back, all of us can find events that became life-altering, affected us deeply and changed our perception of things and people, sometimes initiating a sequence that diverged our path.
When I was 19, I was a full-time student. Back then, in Communist Russia, it was mandatory for full-time students to be send to the country in the month of September and help the farmers gather the crops. The work was not paid for. It was considered “volunteering”, but the truth of the matter was that if you didn’t “volunteer” or supplied a doctor’s note to excuse you, your future career could suffer some serious damage.
You could be denied Communist Party membership and with that pretty much any upward career movement and any opportunity of the trips abroad.
So we all went. It was my third year of school (in Russia we went for 5 years, 6 days a week,as Sat was a full day of classes with only one day off and ton of homework-that’s how we earned our Master’s Degrees).
We were to live in a school building for a month, with 1 bathroom (and a very basic one at that) and sleeping 20 in a room in sleeping bags.
As the University I went to was very prestigious, students were mostly from well-to-do/influential families. Many of those households were quite opulent and often employed maids.
So you can see that the whole set-up was a great big departure from our normal every day lives and we were not at all thrilled by the prospect.
A lot of parents/family members chose to accompany our bus to the country to set us up and make sure we had at least basic stuff and plenty of food.
My girlfriend’s brother was one of those. He drove a car (not at all common back then in Russia,as cars were very expensive,hard to obtain and basically out of reach for the average Joe) and was following the bus with Victoria’s (my friend) fiancee.
Attraction was instant and chemistry palpable. Sergei (my friend’s brother) ended up driving back that night to ‘kidnap” me for an amazing night on the town.
I had to be back by 7 am, as there were teachers monitoring our attendance and it was checked several times throughout the day.
Sergei came for me several times a week for the rest of that month. We continued dating when I got back to the city and normal life.
I’ve always been a sentimental romantic (still am, although I have grown some pretty sharp edges over the past 20 years) and was absolutely head over heels in love. All those fabulous dinners, flowers… He seemed to feel the same. All went well for about 2-3 months. Until I started noticing some strange behaviour.
Sergei had very close friends-a married couple. Three of them met when they were taking entrance exams to the university 10 years prior. They all got accepted and Elina and Vlad (the two now married friends) started dating almost immediately, got married a year later and had a daughter straight away. As the war raged between Russia and Afganistan, Vlad joined the Army and served 2 years in Afganistan. He came back unharmed physically, but scarred emotionally (back then there was no name for it and it went untreated).
All three (Sergei,Vlad and Elina) worked at the same place now,about 45 min drive out of town and as Sergei was the only one with a car, it was only logical that he picked them up in the morning and they came back together in the evening. He stayed at their place for dinner, drinks and conversation several times a week. Back then TV had only 2 channels and not much on those, so we really spent a lot more time actually talking with out friends and family :).
As Sergei’s girlfriend, I became a frequent guest at those gatherings.
It became apparent rather quickly that Vlad and Elina’s marriage was not going well. They argued frequently (seemingly over nothing) and it often felt that Elina actually tried to pick fights over trivial matters.
She would often storm out and Sergei would always go after her, sometimes dragging me from unfinished dinner at a restaurant, so we can go to her place and console her.
I was having a funny feeling about that and one night, after yet another one of those incidents where we would follow Elina/stand at the locked door while she refused to let us in/console her when she finally did, I asked Sergei point blank if he was attracted to her and if something was going on between them.
He flew into a rage. He asked me how I could possibly think that he would “have those feelings towards his BEST FRIEND’S WIFE”. He told me I must have no idea what honor and decency means and he now questions my own integrity. Somehow it all became about me and what a lousy person I was and I ended up in tears,begging for forgiveness.
Mind, I was only 19 with precious little life/relationship experience. I was not prepared for any of what followed.
One day I was skipping classes with Vicky and we were having lunch at quirky restaurant we both liked.
Vicky and Sergei’s father was a Chief Of Police, which was quite an important post in our fairly small city where bribery,red tape and bureaucracy ran rampart. Quite often taxi drivers recognised the address when dropping us off at their place and refuse to charge us. A lot of times when bar/restaurant proprietors recognised Vicky, they offered us free drinks and other perks.
This particular restaurant was build on the site of an ancient village. It was “sunken”-you had to go down to what looked almost like a big dug out area and consisted of series of private,completely separate rooms (which used to be dwellings). Rooms were decorated with abundance of Persian rugs and low tables. It was a perfect place for Vicky and I when we skipped classes,as no one would spy us there. Vicky smoked and it was not at all an acceptable thing for a woman to do in a Muslim city we lived in, so she loved it there-she could smoke freely.
We were eating made to order lunch-Vicky requested her favorite dish and although it wasn’t on the menu,they cooked it for us.
Conversation was punctuated by long silences,as we were lost in our own thoughts and were quite comfortable with each other.
Suddenly a strange feeling just hit me out of the blue. I wanted to kiss Vicky. REALLY kiss her. We weren’t drinking alcohol, so it wasn’t that.
I moved closer and put my hand on hers. She looked up at me, but didn’t say anything. We talked some more about nothing. And then I leaned in and put my mouth on hers. She stiffened at first, but only for a moment. I kissed her and after awhile she was kissing me back! I was so aroused, I was shaking.
All I wanted was to put my hands and mouth all over her and there was nothing stopping me. I put my hand on her breast, first over her blouse, then underneath. Her skin felt so soft and smooth.
Before I knew it, my hand was under her skirt but it took me ages to move it up to where I REALLY wanted to be. She was so wet, her panties were soaked through and through.
We ended up making love for almost 2 hours. Not a single coherent thought went through my head. I was completely and utterly lost in her. We didn’t say a word.
When we were finished, reality struck. Gay,and especially lesbian was not acceptable thing at all back then. Not by the government (it was punishable by jail term if caught), not by society,not by anyone,really. Gay people were considered freaks,abnormal, it was shameful to be that way. Also, I was dating her brother and she had a boyfriend.
It was awkward couple of minutes,as we got dressed, not saying a word to each other and left,catching separate taxis.
We never spoke to each other again. Although we went to the same Uni, we just ignored each other. We simply didn’t know how to handle that and there was no one to ask and no books to read on the subject. I lost my friend and I will forever regret it, but there is nothing to be done.
In the meantime, my relationship with Sergei was going steadily downhill until one night at 2 am he woke me up with a phone call. It was short,abrupt and he did all the talking,as I was too stunned to speak. He said he used to think that I loved him, but he realised that I did not and he doesn’t want to see me anymore and there is nothing to discuss. When I started saying something he just hang up. I will never know if Vicky told him about her and I and our tryst, but given the circumstances it is very,very unlikely.
I was gutted, but he didn’t want to talk to me and our paths didn’t cross in everyday life, so I went on being miserable and heartbroken.
I would go and see Elina at least once a week,though. Yes, in hopes that I might see Sergei there (which never happened), but mostly because she was the only person I could talk about him. I thought she was my friend. She sure did ask a lot of questions about his bedroom performance,habits,likes and dislikes. At the time, it seemed normal girl talk. She would get a phone call sometimes and will go into another room and talk for at least half an hour or more without telling me who was on the line. It was a bit strange, but not overly so. I didn’t think anything of it. She complained about Vlad a lot. She said he’s been drinking heavily and she asked him to spend some time at his mother’s place to “straighten out”.
One day it was a big holiday, I cant remember which one now. Everyone was off work. I knew with fair degree of certainty that Sergei would probably be at Vlad’s drinking (as they always did).
I went over un-announced and was quite surprised to find Vlad by himself, already quite drunk.
He invited me in and after just a few minutes told me that Elina asked for divorce and that he thinks that she and Sergei have something going on between them.
I tried persuading him that it couldn’t be true. I am sure you know how whilst the facts staring you in the face, you still want to cling to hope,however feeble.
We ended up drinking a bottle of vodka and a bottle of cognac. I am not a big drinker at all and back then hardly touched the staff, so I was completely off my face.
Having said that, I remember very well (as much as I desperately want to forget) what followed.
Vlad and I ended up in bed together. I don’t know why I did it. I was absolutely not attracted to him and not at all horny. I was sad and lonely and missed Sergei and somehow being with Vlad reminded me of being with Sergei,by proxy. I know this doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how I felt. To this day I am ashamed of myself and very much regret that episode. I am very lucky I didn’t catch any decease or gotten pregnant,as we didn’t use any protection.
The next day I had my very first (and,actually last) hangover. It was horrible, but that’s one lesson I actually learned on the first try-I never drunk myself into a state like that again and definitely know my limits.
I think the whole thing was made worth by the memories of what I’ve done. I also discovered that Vlad went into my purse and stole most of my cash… Icing on the cake.
Several months passed and it was summer and I went to St.Petersburg for one of my friend’s wedding. What was meant to be a 3 day trip ended up a month-long holiday,as I hooked up with one of the groomsmen and accepted his invitation to stay. I was having a good ‘ol time, trying hard to forget everything.
Imagine my shocked surprise when said groomsman appeared on my doorstep 2 days after I arrived home, declaring his love for me and proposing marriage,ring in hand.
I was dumbstruck. The whole thing meant nothing to me-it was just a summer fling while I was trying to take my mind off things… And then the thought struck me. And it wasn’t a good one.
I’ve decided to use the whole situation to try and get Sergei back, to make him jealous.
That night I took my “fiancee” to Elina’s place.. Just to “hang out”. And, whadda ya know, Sergei was there. We were drinking and eating and then 3 of us (Sergei,myself and “fiancee”) went to my place to continue the party.
2 hours later “fiancee” was passed out on the couch and my dreams were coming true. Sergei was asking me “what I was doing” and do I “really love this guy” and “why are we doing this to each other” and that “he’d made a mistake” and he “misses me”.
Before I knew it, we were on the floor making passionate love in the same room where “fiancee” slept. Next morning I bluntly told “fiancee’ that I was sorry, but it wasn’t going to work out and he should not have come and that I gave him no indication that I was interested in anything serious. I told him he needed to leave immediately. I am not proud of myself. It was a shitty and selfish thing to do.
I saw Sergei for the next 2 days, delirious with happiness, until on day three he told me that I’m nothing but a whore and I must be delusional to thing that he would want to be with me, much less marry me. Just like that. Full stop.
I can’t really find the words to describe how I felt. Devastated seems like such an understatement.
Several months have passed. I was sitting in my school cafeteria having lunch with my classmate, who happened to be Vicky’s friend.
She was complaining about having to go out of town for a wedding that she didn’t approve of anyway and how it was not worth it. Then she suddenly stopped short. “You don’t know,do you?” she asked. “Know what?”-I had no clue what she was on about.
I could tell she didn’t want to be the one to bring those news to me, but it was too late-she dug herself into a hole.
Finally she told me that Elina and Sergei were married the night before and the reason the wedding had to be out of town and very private was because Elina was 5 months pregnant and really showing. In our Muslim town that was definitely a scandal.
I remember sitting still for a couple of minutes and then saying good buy to my classmate and walking out.
It was 3 in the afternoon, sun blazing. Yet when I looked up, the sky was as black as ink. Literally. Objectively I knew it couldn’t be, that it wasn’t, but that’s what I saw.
I stood their thinking “no,no,NO!” because I knew my mind is slipping away and I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want to end up in a loony bin.
I found an empty auditorium,locked the doors and just let it go: I was on my hands and knees,sobbing for almost an hour. My face was swollen almost beyond recognition and several times I had to jam my fist into mouth as I knew I was being too loud and didn’t want anyone to hear.
I spent another half an hour in the bathroom splashing cold water on my face afterwards.
I couldn’t talk to anyone about it AND I had to keep it together at home (being all happy) as my relationship with my mother is a subject for another book and she knew nothing about any goings on in my life and I couldn’t cry and go to pieces for fear of her asking questions. If Victoria was still my friend, she would’ve forewarned me and it wouldn’t be such a shock. We could’ve talked about it… But she wasn’t my friend anymore. And it was my fault.
It was the probably the hardest few months of my life. For a year after that I couldn’t date anyone, I couldn’t even THINK about going out. I was crushed. Completely. All the spirit was gone out of me. I went mechanically about my daily routine, but it took all the strength that I had. I was damaged, no doubt about it. The kind of damage that cannot be repaired and that stays with you throughout your whole life, affecting and infecting everything.
Life is not black and white. It’s different shades of grey. There is no clear cut “right” or “wrong”. Yes, I was treated badly, but then I’ve treated people badly myself. I’ve done things that I knew were wrong and I hurt people and there is no excuse for that.
A year later I was at a party and I met a guy who was a spitting image of Sergei,only older. I was only attracted to him because of what he looked like. He was married and a womaniser. We started a tumulus affair that lasted several years, as a result of which I moved to US.
I never saw my country again.
Seemingly mundane event lead to life-altering sequence.
Now,all these years later, I have a fairly good idea of what really went on.
Sergei and Elina fell in love, but she was already dating Vlad and it was serious. “Code of honor” prevented them from admitting it even to themselves,probably. I wish they did. Sometimes there is no absolute “right” or “wrong”-just “less wrong”. Yes,it would have hurt Vlad..For a while. But it would’ve prevented a bad marriage that was doomed from the start, would’ve saved a lot of unhappiness that span for years.. Would prevent their daughter from seeing those ugly fights and divorce.
Sergei was dating a lot of women in attempt to forget Elina or maybe even genuinely trying to replace her. He was trying to get his mind off the one he really wanted. I was one of those women. I meant nothing to him.
I wish he had the balls to tell me the truth or at least THINK about telling the truth to himself. We,the three of us, hurt each other and other innocent bystanders just because we were unwilling to face the truth or accept it.
Life is short. Tomorrow may never come. Truth hurts most of the time and sometimes it is so hard to face. It makes us uncomfortable. And yet we have to at least try to be honest. No one said life was easy.
There are no “free lunches”