Not so much as a toaster oven

The curious thing is, I would say we are very close and I wouldn’t say this just to flatter myself- I believe it. We talk often, by e-mail, phone or in person. Rich and I laugh when she leaves a phone message; one of the most memorable went like this: Maaaaaaaammmmmyyyyy! (and then she sings, “dun, duh, dun, dun!”) The cable man is coming tomorrow to hitch up my high speed! (and then she sings, “dun, duh, dun, dun!”). He needs 88.00 before he leaves. (“dun, duh, dun, dun!”) Click. When I call back, I get voice mail and ask her if she needs 88.00 and then I don’t hear from her for a couple days and when I do she doesn’t need anything, life is fine and she’s busy writing her finals with her new high speed connection. When we are in Florida for the winter we delight in her visits; she’s most always like a bounce of sunshine and good for a laugh.

I don’t think she hides much from me but I’ve come to realize that she plays her hand close to the vest if she isn’t sure of her direction yet. That may be because the direction she is often leaning is the one I wouldn’t endorse. Taking a year off from high school (I mean college maybe, but high school?) Shearing off a decade’s worth of luscious thick blond hair so she can glue up the blunt ends into dreadlocks. Cliff diving. Jumping into a blue hole that is so deep there’s no life save a couple blind albino fish. And so, while she shares all the day-to-day news and feels perfectly comfortable asking my recommendation on the best treatment for a yeast infection, while she crashes in for a meal or to borrow a pair of black pants for work during our winters in Florida, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the sharing of her heart with a young man would be news to me.

It was as simple as this: She thought she might be falling in love two years ago. He was visiting from Russia for the semester, working on his degree in English. He thought he might be falling in love with her. When his student visa ran out at the end of the semester he returned to Russia, his family, his University and they wrote back and forth every day. Abby learned some Russian and had a Russian e-mail account. Misha applied for the last visa that his government would give him, merely as a tourist, and back he came. When that visa was about to expire last September they had a choice to make and they decided to get married.

Abby summed it up this way: “I know I’m still very young, too young to get married. But I think he might be the person I want to be with forever and if he goes back, I’ll never know.” I’m not certain if she told me that on the phone before or after she married him, but at some point, after I implored her to come north to discuss it, after I said I was on my way down to meet this person, after I cried, “Abby! This isn’t the way a person should make a lifelong decision!” she called to tell me what classes she was taking last Fall, and, by the way, she and Misha were married.

I cried and she said sweetly, “Mom! Why are you crying? Why aren’t you happy for me?” (Here, I’m reminded that she’s an excellent candidate for law school- or leading a cult.) I said to her that this was not what mothers thought of when they thought about their daughter’s marriage, not to mention wedding. Abby then said two things: And what did your mother think when you married your high school sweetheart because his parents were threatening to stop paying his tuition if he continued to “live in sin”?” (Oh dear, score one for Abby.) And: “Mom. This was a pragmatic decision on a temporary basis. (Arrrggghh! Temporary! Kill me now!) I think sometime I will marry Misha (but, but, you’re already MARRIED!) and when I do, we can plan a wedding and you can have a shower with all the bookclub ladies and it will be wonderful. Just be happy for us for now.”

Part of the dilemma was this: Not only would Misha have to return to Russia but he would also be picked up at customs and sent directly into the Russian army, where “dedovshchina” is the norm. This is a systematic hazing process that results in widespread torture, death and suicide. Frequently, recruits are half starved as food provisions are sold on the black market by officers. Two years of military service is mandatory and there is no civilian alternative to service. Mothers in Russia would rather say goodbye to their sons forever than have them go in the Russian army. Here is Amnesty International’s report on military service in Russia. Brace yourself.

(Okay. Here you should insert, oh, maybe 20-30 angst ridden posts, discussions with Rich, sleepless nights, nail chewing and skin scratching, and many many hours spent in thinking about how to think about all of this. Tears, fussing, phone calls, daughter reassuring mother.)

They were married sometime last September. Within a week of her telling me I flew down to meet this young man. When I arrived at Abby’s (and Misha’s) neat and tidy apartment, they were sitting anxiously side by side on the sofa, which was labeled with sticky notes: SOFA and софа. The television said TV and телевидение. REFRIGERATOR and холодильник. She looked like my teenager wanting me to approve of her date to the movies. Not that she ever sought my approval on that front. Misha (Mikhail) shook my hand and politely answered my questions in English. It took me very little time to progress from, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.” to “Who is your lawyer and how soon can we meet with him?”

After an awkward and short visit, Abby walked me down to the car and leaned in the window to ask with shy eagerness, “Do you like him? Isn’t he smart? Doesn’t he speak English well? Isn’t he handsome? So, do you like him?”

The next day we went off to meet with the immigration lawyer, a kind and legitimate man who doesn’t advertise in the yellow pages (brazenly, I asked him where he went to law school and how long he had been in practice). He offered reassuring answers about the legalities of their marriage and made himself available for questions at any time. When we left, I went to get my checkbook and Misha said, “No. I pay.” And the lawyer said, “No. There’s no charge.”

Because Abby and I do speak frankly with each other right up until there’s screaming and we stop speaking for a few days, I asked her if there was any question that Misha was using her to escape his circumstances in Russia. Abby responded that if he was, what was the problem with that? He was, at the very least, her friend and her love and the very least she could do for him was this marriage. Besides, she reassured me that was not the case. As much as you can know someone after six months, in my case, or two years in hers and as much as they can know themselves, I think she is correct. I’ve talked with Misha about his intentions and he is straight forward: He intends to be with Abby. He intends to finish his degree next semester at USF. He intends to become a citizen and sponsor his parents and brother in America.

There’s a lot more to tell and I will, along the way. Judge how you will, but they are wonderful with each other- caring and gentle and funny and patient, with a maturity that transcends about ninety percent of the marriages I witness. On Sundays, they go down to the wireless cafe by the bay and call his parents on Abby’s laptop. They put their heads together and peer into the online camera and speak, Misha quickly and Abby haltingly, to an assortment of his family. His parents at the kitchen table (I’ve been introduced. They are from a small town where she is a school teacher and he is a chef), his brother, aunts and uncles and neighbors who come by to see what is happening with their young man in America.

He works two jobs, as much as 80 hours a week and she works and goes to school full time. Well, except right now she is in Mexico, studying and cliff diving and that too, is encouraging because it means she is not to be derailed from her plans to go to graduate school and see the world. They ask nothing material of us.

For now, they speak the language of love in post-it notes, translating their lives for each other. Over the winter I witnessed them becoming increasingly fluent.

17 responses to “Not so much as a toaster oven

  1. For now, they speak the language of love in post-it notes, translating their lives for each other. Over the winter I witnessed them becoming increasingly fluent.

    Lovely, Vicki. Heart-wrenching and lovely.

  2. Wow!!!

    “They put their heads together and peer into the online camera and speak.”

    If they are that cute, you really can’t ask for anything more in a son-in-law.

    Congratulations and good-luck to the young loves on their adventure.

    Wonderfully written.

  3. I’m with Wende. It is heart-wrenching and wonderful. Sometimes the heart knows. And, for my own unasked for $.02, I’ll just add that marriage doesn’t mean as much as it used to. Divorce is common. People rail about gay marriage degrading the sanctity of marriage. And, yet, here is a couple who married for love and logic. With luck and more love and loads and loads of patience, they’ll make it work. Stranger things have happened.

    Can you tell I love me a good romance novel? 🙂

    (And, just for the record, I totally get your freaking out about this — I doubt I’d have much love or logic in your place. You done good!)

  4. Oh Vicki! I know we are supposed to let them fly and make their own way but it isn’t easy to be “Mom”. No child ever really knows how or why “Mom” worries or frets over them until they too become a “Mom”. OK, perhaps you should just read that last sentence as a statement… not a suggestion.

    Time and love and mutual respect may prove this to be a blessing. All we can ever do is support them with our love and gently guide when they allow it.

    You have had an angst filled year! Sort of makes Nyssa’s surprise tattoo sort of a non-event. (She had a curved blue line with triangles done on her ankle….. yes, a COLD FRONT! )

    Hang in there…. by the way… how were the kids today? It is the end of the year and most of the kids are very restless for summer to begin!

  5. I would probably have a mini-nervous breakdown over this, but he IS cute and they seem like a great couple. It is so hard to be the parent of an adult at times; they make the damnest decisions. Of course, I probably made some humdingers myself at that age; I’ve just blanked them out!

  6. Eating my cheerios. Drinking my coffee. Riveted. Reading it twice.

    I love me a good Abby story, and this might be the best one yet.

  7. Crazy kids!
    I give it … 60 years.

  8. It’s a loving and lovely story. They married for love and logic, and there’s everything right about that. They went into it knowing and believing the very best. I like when children do things like this. My wonderful step-daughter Indigo called us in 2004 to tell us that she and her partner got married. No wedding ceremony, no witnesses. It didn’t break our hearts, but made them soar with the gladness of their love.

    If Abby and Mischa have fluency, they have it all.

  9. Wow. I LIKE Abby…

  10. Oh Vicki… so nice to have you back and with stories to tell!

    Best of luck to your DD and her new husband.

    Jeez… no wonder you’ve been away.


  11. Vicki, in understand your angst (as only a mother would), but he’s so cute – I probably would have married him too. Please wish them good luck from me. I only knew Mr. Kenju for 6 months and 1 day when we married, and now it it almost 44 years later, and we still fight (and make-up) everyday.

    Yeah, no wonder you haven’t been posting often!! I am really glad you’re back.

  12. Wow! That’s wonderful news. Tell Abby I said congrats 🙂

    I saw your man child performing at the last days of leopolds a few weeks back.

    Oh and I shall be in the windy city for a weekend before I leave for California. 🙂
    Perhaps you shall be around, no?

  13. Wow. Such a sweet story. Other than missing an actual wedding ceremony with the bells and whistles, which I so love, I think they have it all. I would freak out a bit as a mom, too, just out of the standard mom angst but your daughter is so level headed with practicality and she’s self sufficient. That speaks volumes. Both for her maturity and for you, too. Good job, Vicki.

  14. No toaster, but a toast:

    May you have many children and may they grow mature in taste and healthy in color and as sought after as the contents of the glass.

    Fine writing and gorgeous progeny, Vicki!

  15. Sounds like the plot to one of the romance novels the missus likes to read. Best wishes to the happy couple and may all their dreams come true, or close anyway.

    My life sounds so white bread average compared to your’s. My son just proposed to his girlfriend, but it was the traditional one-knee and a ring ritual.

    Go Wings!

  16. Just home from the river and anxious to read your posts. I was not disappointed. Such young love, yet much maturity as well. I totally understand why you have taken so long to process this. Yet, I think you have gained another son and a whole lot of reasons to take a trip to Europe.

  17. I think it will turn out just fine. Take it from a wed at 21 (and pregnant) but mature beyond her years girl like me. Your smart cookie has got one heck of a good head on her shoulders, dreds or not. And her heart? A mammoth like her mother’s.

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