My lovely Russian wife Lena and I just had our two year anniversary last week and it seemed as good a time as any to reflect. Iím not blowing any smoke here guys, to put it quite simply my whole life has changed as a result of my AFA tours to Russia and meeting this wonderful lady; Elena Vasilivna Altokhova Bochene. Food has more flavor, flowers more color, and I swear I hear music that I never heard before. Ok so maybe thatís our new doorbell, but itís love, Iím sure of it. As simple and easy as that. And itís a wonderful thing.
I have to be honest with you though, for some of us the beginning is not quite so simple and easy. I had to kiss a lot of frogs to finally meet my princess Elena. Yes they were beautiful frogs but they just werenít the right ones, so I kept looking until I found her. Even still Lena and I had a bit of a bumpy road in those first few months after she arrived in the U.S. Sheíd had a rough life, been married before, and was not so trusting of men. Which I understood because Iíd been married before and was not so trusting of women. Truthfully there were several occasions during the second month of her stay when I walked around the house with a return plane ticket in my back pocket seriously doubting that we would make it through another day. Patience is not always one of my virtues, I admit that, but I really liked this woman. A lot. She was creative and talented, insightful, had an incredible animated sense of humor, and was not prone to pouting the small things. To top it off she had a good strong virtuous character that would embarrass General Patton. (She caught me eating a handful of cashews in Safeway one time and gave me a serious lecture about stealing.) Honestly I was falling in love with her rapidly and didnít want her to leave. Down deep I suspected I was the problem, was missing something or doing something wrong, but for the life of me I couldnít figure out what it was. And for some reason she couldnít find the right words to tell me.
Iím not rich, nor do I have any desire to be so, but I live a reasonably comfortable life. Have a nice cozy house, reliable transportation, a little extra spending money and Iím self employed. I work at home and never more than twenty or so hours a week, meaning I would have lots of time to spend with my new Russian lady to help her adjust. Before she came I fixed up my small cabin with some feminine touches and discarded any evidence of past females so she would feel special and comfortable in her new home. As well I found a Russian movie and book store and several small grocery stores that favored the Russian diet.
The first month when Lena got here was great. Iím a photojournalist- outdoor writer and I had a contract to write a mountainbike guide book for northern California. I thought sheíd enjoy traveling around her state a little, which she did, and it would give us time to get to know each other. After that first month though she didnít seem very happy, I couldnít figure out why and I was starting to take it personally. Iíd worked very hard to pay for my trips to Russia to find her and bring her here. Gave her a nice home to live in, good healthy food, some new sports equipment, connected her with some Russian folks who lived in my small town, and set up an e-mail connection with her best friend back in Russia. On top of that she didnít have to work if she didnít want to and could enjoy some of her new hobbies. What else could any man do? Still she was obviously unhappy and often talked of going back to Russia. It was making me crazy.
It took many conversations, several heated arguments, and one or two threats; "OK FINE. Pack your bags and go home if you donít like it here." Finally, with lots of Lenaís help, we worked it out, because our love and desire to be together was stronger than our differences. Turns out, in typical American style Iíd assumed that because she had practically nothing in Russia, material things would contribute to her happiness here. As well I guess secretly I was thinking these things would keep her busy, so I wouldnít lose too much time from my work. What a bonehead I was.
The simple truth was material possessions meant absolutely nothing to this special lady. She was in a new country full of strangers, away from her culture and friends and family, with a man she didnít know very well. On top of that she only had thirty more days to decide if she wanted to marry this man and spend the rest of her life with him. The clock was ticking and the bottom line was- she wasnít sure that this man really loved her.
"What?! Of course I love you. I worked very hard to bring you here and Iíve given you all this stuff andÖ."
That was it. She didnít want my stuff, she wanted me. With this new revelation, that all she really wanted was love, I let go of some of myself and caved in like a soft boiled egg. Showered her with affection, patience, understanding and love. Thinking; You want me, you got me. Iím yours baby. From that point on, it was almost easy.
In her typical and candid insightful style Lena summed it up like this. "Iíve seen many Americans since Iíve been here, with all their toys and things, and many of them still arenít very happy. Some of them donít even know why they arenít happy. In Russia all we have is each other, so we know how to love. Maybe this is something we can teach Americans?"
Maybe so. She sure taught me.
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