Friends. I love having friends. I think there’s an art to making friends, just like it’s hard work in keeping friends over the years. Similar to a marriage, some friends need more cultivation than a spouse. No two of my friends are alike, which keeps things exciting, but in my groups of friends, we have one thing in common. Mutual respect for keeping in touch. My friends are like flowers. Each one is different yet the same. Our differences are in our ever changing beauty each season, but our sameness is demonstrated in how we integrate a garden with yellows, purple, and blue in a cacophony of color. Even in Russia.
I just came from a dinner to salute one of my sweetest friends with whom I worked at least all of my time at a local private girls school, but didn’t attempt to get to know until 7 or 8 years before I left in 2010. Before I befriended her, in my mind, she was merely “that Russian teacher” who kept to herself but whose students would often be found hanging out in her classroom long after the bell had rung. She intimidated me because as a Russian she had not yet mastered speaking English. Instead of asking questions, she’d demand answers. Not “will you put electronic signatures on my comments?” she’d say “put electronic signatures on my comments.” Until I figured out she was not THAT demanding, we became friends. Our friendship intensified when she found out how much I knew about Baltimore, and my hobby was writing, she seemed to realize that not all Americans were alike. When she brought over an annual contingent of Russian students to visit the school and experience 3 weeks of American life, she made a point of inviting me to her class to talk about my writing.
She refers to herself as a minimalist human being who has dual citizenship, with one foot in Moscow where she owns a house with apple trees and a vegetable garden, and one foot in America, were she plans to retire in the south. I took her to the beach one short weekend 6 years ago, and we spent two nights in a minimalist one room cottage. I gave her the bed, though she insisted on the cot. She brought no luggage. She wore the clothes on her back, short shorts, a tank top, and cotton shirt, unbuttoned. On her feet were flipflops. She carried a bathing suit, towel and swim cap. She also brought her meals: two sandwiches of cheese and bread, two apples, and a well used plastic bottle of water. When I convinced her to join me for dinner at a local pub, she ate only a cup of soup and drank house water. When we left after our meal, she handed me four dollars and said, “You left this on the table. She doesn’t need a tip. The restaurant pays her a salary.” I was struck dumb, because everyone knows waitresses live off tips. Not Tanya, of course.
Our entire two days spent on the ocean beach, and bay beach, she never once sat down to join me in the sun. Instead, she swam laps, coming out of the surf to drink her water, or extricate herself from fishing lines. The fishermen didn’t have to tell us to leave, I knew we’d better haul ass before mutiny was struck.
Tanya doesn’t vote. For one, me, who grew up believing it was my duty to vote, it’s hard to grasp her belief that she doesn’t want vote for someone she finds untruthful. That includes, in her eyes, both the entire American government, and Putin and his cronies. When I try to tell her that if she doesn’t vote for one, it’s like giving a vote to the other, she replies, “I don’t give votes away. The government’s plans are written behind our backs, and what will happen, will happen. Our voting system is merely a ruse to let us think our opinion in running the government matters.” WOW. But when Obama came into office, her words rang in my memory. When it seemed he set about to ruin America, and Putin was doing his own bullying, I began wondering if she was right on in her thinking, and I haven’t stopped thinking that she might be correct.
Tanya’s brother was a Russian Olympian. Even after his sudden death a few years ago, the Russian government treated him like a national hero. On vacation when he suffered a fatal heart attack, the Olympian Committee took it upon themselves to fly his body home and bury him in their equivalent of Arlington. Although he was in the Olympics back in the 80’s, he was celebrated and respected until his death and after.
Unable how to let Tanya know that she was not alone in her loss of a sibling, at the time I was experimenting with white and red and black cord floss in needlepoint. I love primary colors versus pastels. They just seem to shout out “look at me! Ten hut!” This abstract design became my gift to Tanya, in a long distance memorial to her brother.
And, so now, she departs on the next adventure of her life – retirement from a teaching career of more than 25 years. She doesn’t want to say goodbye but instead, “Welcome to my home” when she invites us to her house in the south. My bags are packed, but it is more likely we will never meet again. Some perennials promise to grow next spring, but winter comes in harsh and cold, and roots are often broken.
Despite best intentions.