Moments: Example #1 on why I love my Ukrainian husband

Monday night ~10 pm. I am laying in bed watching the closing credits of “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Part 2”. It’s a chick flick, girl-power, aimed at teens and young women. I know this. But I had rented it off of ITunes the night before to watching on my IPhone while at the gym. Now, I am finishing it up. The Ukrainian is in the South Bay at a technical business conference. The dogs are asleep on the floor next to the bed on their own beds.

I am crying a bit.

Why? Because in one of the final scenes, the friends of the Alexis Bledsel character ask her why she won’t take back the beautiful, kind man who loves her so.

“Because he broke my heart!!!” she cries out, sobbing uncontrollably afterwards.

Because he broke my heart. How often have we each felt like that? Once? Twice? A thousand times over and over again? Or maybe just the once or twice and then never again. Because we are too afraid to love.

That was me barely 2 years ago. It had become an annual birthday occurrence 3 years running to be truthful. Oh, sometimes it there were more pieces on the floor than others. But the pain. Oh the pain. Even the little breaks were just enough to crack open all the other little pieces that had been shattered before.

By the time I met the Ukrainian, I was done. I wanted a boyfriend to have fun with, but I had just finally sealed myself all up to not need anybody but myself. Love? I could sort of say the word, I could just about almost but not quite mean it.  But feel it?  Feel the tenderness and the care and devotion for another or that s/he has for you. No. I felt smothered. I wanted to be free. I didn’t even know the way into being a heartfelt, warm human being again.

Repeatedly, I told the Ukrainian “Love needs room to grow” whenever I thought we were spending too much time together or he was being too affectionate. I didn’t want to fall in love.

You might think that because the Ukrainian and I got married and we have lots of fun and I finally let myself love him and he has always loved me that all is fine and good now. But no, you would be very mistaken to think that. Frequently, I still find myself shutting him out. Sometimes, I immerse myself in my work or in CWTV marathons. Other times, I become overly obsessed about the tidiness of our house or in the status updates of all my friends on Facebook. Sometimes, I simply write in this blog, when I should be spending time with him.

But often, I have no choice. The Ukrainian is finishing the last term of his schooling and he is working a full-time job. His time at home is limited. My old call to “Love needs room to grow,” does not get spoken so often anymore. If anything, I long for his presence, his smile, his witty humor unlike any I’ve ever encountered before. And, in the uncertain economic times, I truly do think to myself, “It will all be ok, because I have the Ukrainian.

Sometimes though, I just don’t show him enough of these thoughts. I don’t act how I feel. I am afraid to fully let down the walls that would keep my heart from getting completely shattered if anything were ever happen to him.

And then, Monday night, I watched Alexis Bledsel cry, “Because he broke my heart!” over why she couldn’t let herself love a particular man again.

But the Ukrainian hasn’t broken my heart. If anything, he does all that he can so that it will heal.

And, and minutes later, after the Alexis Bledsel scene, the phone rang. It was the Ukrainian.

“Where are you?” I asked, hoping it would only be another few minutes before I saw him again.

“I am driving on 101 by Menlo Park. I will be home in 40 minutes.”

“So late?” I asked, disappointed that I’d most likely be sleeping by then.

“Yes, but I have the car until tomorrow. Do you want to go Ocean Beach?”

“Tomorrow? When I have to work. Or do you mean tonight at midnight?”

“Tonight, he replied. “Tonight at midnight, let’s go to Ocean Beach.”

“Ok,” I responded after carefully weighing how tired I’d feel the next day at work after going to the beach in the middle of the night and then throwing all the weight off. For really, what did it do besides get in the way?

“Really? You want to go to Ocean Beach?” The Ukrainian was used to me not wanting to let go of any control in my life ever…my sleeping time…my work productivity…anything. Little did he know how spontaneous I was before I had lost myself to heartbreak.

“Really. I want to go to Ocean Beach with you at midnight.”

We didn’t go to Ocean Beach that night. Indeed, I had fallen asleep by the time he arrived home despite my best abilities not to. And he told me in the morning he’d been up until 3 studying. But it didn’t matter. In our dreams, we were at the beach. And in reality, I momentarily gave up control and my fear of what will happen if I fully let myself love my husband.

I just hope the beach is still there at another midnight. That fear, I still can not yet lose.


Once upon a time, I was a foreigner too

Not so very long ago — in the days before I met the Ukrainian — I spent almost a year living and working in the Netherlands. My arrival there seemed almost an act of God (though few of the Dutch I met believed in any deity). Like my meeting with the Ukrainian, I found the posting for the Dutch job on Craig’s List. As I already had plans to holiday in W. Europe to visit my cousin, I applied for the position almost as a lark. To my surpise and astonishment, I got the job and found myself moving to the Netherlands barely more than 3 months later.

I was optimistic about the move and the new position. I was excited about leaving urban and corporate America for the smaller Dutch cities. Having grown up in Iowa — but having left the state as a teenager — I found the tall, blonde Dutch people, the flat land, and the fields of cows and flowers to be comforting. I felt at home on my visit. Why should my move there be different?

What I was not prepared for was being incapable of performing some of the simplest daily tasks on my own. Everything from package delivery to garbage take-out was all done just a little bit differently and in a foreign language. My cousin tried to help a bit when I first arrived, but she had her own problems to deal with and could not be available for a needy foreign cousin. My employer was of some help with charting the course of getting my legal documents in order so that I could get paid and pay taxes. And I had one female colleague — one who had championed my cause to be hired by the company — who went above and beyond trying to help me adjust to life in a foreign country.

But it was not enough. There were too many calls to be made in Dutch, letters to be translated, grocery store aisles to be deciphered…and on and on…that I did not even know how to begin to set up my life for something so basic as a phone line or cellphone. So, for much of the first 2 months of my presence in the Netherlands, I lived without cable, tv, phone, or internet. The nights were extremely lonely. I would take the train back from Rotterdam (where I worked) to Haarlem (where I first lived) — an hour and a half journey door-to-door, come home, walk my dogs, and then just sit there on my sofa staring at the ceiling. I wondered, what had I gotten myself into? I had no communications with *anyone* outside of my office (or the emails I would furtively try to catch up on at work).

And then came my hero du jour. A male colleague at my office took notice of my plight and made it his mission to save me. At first, I just thought he was a really nice guy. Who on earth would go so far out of his way to help somebody? He arranged phone, internet, and mobile service for me. Later, he found a house closer to the office so that I would not have such a long commute. He introduced me to his friends so that I would not be lonely. At first, I did not think of any ulterior motive in his actions — after all, I had left someone back in the States who had bought a plane ticket to come visit me.

But soon, my gratitude for all his help turned into a crush. The Dutch male colleague looked like a classic Iowa farmboy:  tall, blonde and brawny (Iowa was mostly settled by Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians, so it shouldn’t have been that surprising). If I squinted a little, he almost looked like my dad. As my crush grew, I began to suspect that the feelings were returned. I called things off with the man back in San Francisco and soon got together with the Dutchman.

At first, we seemed in love. But it was an unbalanced love confused with need. He was my hero and I could not function without him. If the heater was broken, I would have to stay home from work and have the repairman use my cellphone to call the Dutchman at work to translate everything being said in my house. If I was sick, the Dutchman had to call the doctor. If I had questions about my energy bill, the Dutchman would have to call the energy company. The dependency was frustrating because it seriously tipped the balance of power in the relationship. I often felt like a small child with no control over my life.

Clearly, the relationship with the Dutchman in the Netherlands did not last as I am married now to a Ukrainian in San Francisco. But I am grateful for the experience. There is a risk that the same disbalance of power could happen in our relationship. There are so many things I know about how to be a good American that have nothing to do with citizenship or patriotism but more with how to reroute a UPS package, rent a car, find a dog-sitter on Craigslist, or the etiquette involved in paying a restaurant bill. It’s a challenging balance to find. At one level, you want to help. On another, you want the person to be independent and figure it out themselves, but magically getting it right on the first try. Sometimes, the easiest way, is to let someone else explain.

We have a good balance. The Ukrainian has adapted to American culture far faster and better than I ever did to the Dutch way of life. There are still occasional moments, when I am surprised by something he doesn’t know. But there are becoming some moment when he seems to know “the system” better than I.

One day, maybe, he will know it all better than I do. Either way, we will be in Kiev at some point and I will become lost once again.

Finding a place to start the future

Yesterday, the Ukrainian and I rented a ZipCar and drove around looking for the absolute perfect place to exchange our own written vows in front of my family and our American friends. It had to be perfect:  a place we both loved that also showed off the beauty of San Francisco, but also wouldn’t be too cold and windy during a foggy San Francisco July evening.

We started at Eagles Point at Lands End.

Sadly, one overgrown tree makes it impossible to get a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Then we moved onto European Food Wholesale located at 31st and Clement. It’s a Russian deli that sells a lot of imported E. European Foods as well as a few items from Western Europe. We’re not planning on getting married there, but I needed to use the toilet and my Ukrainian wanted to find some treats from the mother country

Next stop was Baker Beach. From here you can get a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But it’s cold and windy (and, to state the obvious:  sandy). Do we really want have our guests in their wedding finery out here?

We then drove on to the Palace of Fine Arts. A beautiful building surround by gorgeous gardens, but currently encased in scaffolding, and thereby not wedding-worthy. Our conversation went something like  this:

Me:  This sucks. It would’ve been the most perfect spot to get married.

Ukrainian:  No, the construction makes it even more beautiful. The construction is symbolic of our relationship. We re constructing a family.

Me:  We are? I look down and rub my belly. I don’t see anything in here. Does this mean we are starting?

Ukrainian:  Ha ha. Ok, maybe not yet. But we will.

From there, we drove to Greens Restaurant to scope out a possibly dinner venue for the rehearsal dinner and to also fill my Ukrainian always-rumbling belly. It has a magnificent view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge as well as the most delish vegetarian food. Alas, it was closed for a private party. I was beginning to sense a theme here.

Moving on to Golden Gate Park. While we had a list of places to visit, we had no map (Golden Gate Park is bigger than Central Park). My Ukrainian does not believe in printed maps. He is a man of technology. And thus our maps are always on GPS or the hard-drive of a laptop we carry around everywhere (hopefully we get iPhones sooner rather than later and we can ditch the laptop). We pulled out the handy-dandy iMac and found this very romantic spot:  Shakespeare’s Garden.

Beautiful, eh? It’s one of the most popular spots in San Francisco. But what you can’t see in the picture is the contstruction for the new Science museum going up right next to the garden. Clearly, 2008 is not the best year to get married in San Francisco.

We walked on to more scenic sites….

The Chinese Pavillion:

The snack stand by Stowe Lake….(remember the always-rumbling Ukrainian belly):

The Portals of the Past monument at Lloyd’s Lake (definitely not here)!!…

Some lovely gardens….Rose Garden and Fuschia Garden are pictured below.

The gardens are lovely, no? The problem is that none of the gardens are particularly San Francisco. They could be gardens anywhere. So we left Golden Gate Park with San Francisco’s beautiful Sutro Tower in the background.

Hmmm….maybe we should check out Sutro Heights Park.