I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and haven’t really gone back to sleep since. I don’t have sleep problems, so who knows what caused the strange wide-awakeness I felt at 2AM. I’m not worried about it, though. In fact, I enjoyed the nighttime peace: I permitted myself to forget the everyday and reflect on whatever came to mind.
Sadly I can’t say that any creative or spiritual lightbulbs exploded in my head. Of all the themes in the world I could have explored while whiling away the witching hours, I got stuck on something admittedly mundane and self-centered: my relationships. More specifically, my Russian friendships.
There are two Volgograd men I miss more than the others. One is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed punk who introduced me to the music of a similarly colored and insanely talented Russian rapper, my new favorite object of language study. (I’m talking about the rapper Oxxxymiron, if that’s relevant to you!) The other guy is a “black Russian” who persuaded me to accept black humor and to generally take things less seriously. From the time we spent together and all the catching up we do on VK, I think he’s one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve ever met.
I remember the new feeling these guys instilled in me when it was time to go back to the States. It was the first time in my life when I faced a situation where I parted from someone I knew I’d probably never see again. I’ve known people who have moved to other states, but even the distance from coast-to-coast in the US doesn’t compare to the difficulties of reaching Russia or, even more challenging, for Russians to secure a visa to the States. I was sad to leave them but, of course, I was hopeful too – sadness and hope often feed into each other, right? Still, I had only a vague plan to win a Fulbright grant, and without that I didn’t know how else I’d get back to Russia.
But now I’m going back! Even though my destination is far from Volgograd, I know I’ll visit there no matter what. In spite of Volgograd’s greyness and all the struggles I had there, it will always be my first Russian home. Nothing can replace the streets I walked, nor the cafes, the friends’ apartments, and all the routes I took to reach them. I have vivid memories of transformative experiences in that city and I love it, forever, always, period.
I do have reservations for returning to Volgograd, though. Will I have to have uncomfortable conversations with my two dear friends about where I’m going to stay or how we’ll act around each other? I was single in Volgograd, yet I also had my own dorm room to sleep in. If I visit my friends, can I stay at their homes? Is it culturally acceptable? And what if they aren’t honest with me?
I’ve had a number of close friendships with young men in the past that ended like this: We made our intentions clear and I trusted them, but when I put myself in a vulnerable situation with them, they turned on me. Over and over, they said that my willingness to share a hotel room with them, to talk intimately with them, or even to hug them, was a signal that I wanted romance, regardless of what I’d already told them in plain language. That was with guys of my own culture – and we speak the same language! Or so it seems.
So what’s going to happen when I see these guys in Russia? And ultimately, why am I so concerned about it?
I’m a tiny, insignificant dot in the universe and so are they, but it feels different: I know these dots, I care about them, and apparently when my mind is clear of everyday tasks, one of my main priorities is maintaining the lines that connect us together. Here’s to hoping that their priorities are the same, and that they’re better men than others I’ve known, so I can keep our friendships alive.