The Christmas Hangover

Kung Pao Christmas

Kung Pao Christmas

This morning, I am awake feeling a bit raw and numb from the Ukrainian and mine’s inability to pull off a successful Christmas that was deliberately devoid of all traditions and expectations. For weeks, I had been confused as to why all the women on Facebook were fraughting over whether or not they would get “everything” done in time for Christmas. What is there to get done? I wondered. You buy a tree, string some lights, hang some ornaments. And then you go buy some presents (which can be conveniently done at midnight from Amazon. Free shipping!!). On Christmas Day, you open the presents and cook a big meal. Voila! Christmas in America.

(Sure, some people add more stress to the holiday. They take holiday photos of their pets children, upload them to a photo site, and then send out hundreds of Christmas cards. Others volunteer at retirement homes. While still others spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas baking endless batches of Christmas cookies and candy. But all this sounded like too much work to me. How can people enjoy their holiday, if they spend the months weeks prior working for it.)

But my ideal of throwing together a simple, no-fuss, yet super-yummy Christmas had a few flaws:

1) The Ukrainian would spend the 1st 1/2 of December preparing for his final exams while I would be studying new technology for my job. So no time prepare.

2) The Ukrainian and I would be on a mad tour of the East Coast  from the moment he finished his final exams until 1:30 a.m. December 23rd.

3) My thought that I wouldn’t have to work on December 24th and could thus recover from our E. Coast trip, go grocery shopping for our luscious Christmas dinner menu and a few last-minute gifts for the Ukrainian was thwarted by the fact that I learned on the 23rd that I *did* have to work on the 24th.  My opportunity to make it so much to a grocery store before its traditional early closing on Christmas Eve looked highly doubtful.

So on the eve of Christmas eve, I made an executive family decision. We would simply pretend we were Jewish. Or rather, we would take into account of the fact that 1/2 of our family is a Russian Orthodox Christian who doesn’t celebrate Christmas until January 7. Even then, a Russian Orthodox Christmas is merely a religious holiday and all gift-exchanges happen on New Year’s Day.

“Chinese food or Haute cuisuine Francaise?” I IMed the Ukrainian on Christmas Eve’s eve.

“Oh, Chinese for sure.” he replied.

Our fabulous Christmas dinner from 2007

Our fabulous Christmas dinner from 2007

“Are you sure you don’t mind we won’t have the Christmas salmon and all the other lush foods we were planning to have?” I felt the need in our young marriage to establish some sort of tradition. And last year, we cooked up a divine menu of Salmon-tarragon, risotto with caramelized leeks and sweet red bell peppers, a salad of mixed greens cranberries Maytag Blue cheese and caramelized walnuts and chocolate pecan bourbon pie. It was our best meal ever and I thought for sure the menu was destined to become the basis for all our future Christmas menus.

“Oh, I’m sure,” he said almost too eagerly. I could imagine him being so happy that there’d be no dishes to wash or kitchen to clean on the holiday. I, in the meantime, was sad that we wouldn’t be using my grandmother’s Bavarian china or the Tiffany’s silver that had been given to us on our wedding day. Remember, I thought. Remember the goal is a stress-free Christmas. For as much work as we’ve been doing, there’s been a lot of fun too. Who said we had to have instant traditions? We’d find our way…

Christmas Morning

The stockings hadn’t been hung and I awoke Christmas morning already feeling down. My late afternoon forays on Christmas Eve to find a few perfect trinkets to fill the Ukrainian’s stocking had been met with a bust. It never occurred to the Ukrainian either to hang and fill a stocking for me. I could forgive him as I couldn’t expect him to know all the English/American Christmas traditions in only his 2nd Christmas. But still…I had little in sense of anticipation.

And there was something else missing…there were no little ones rushing to our bed urging us to get up! get up! It’s Christmas!!! Let’s open presents!!! No, it was just the Ukrainian and I nestled snug under our down-filled duvet with our two lazy dogs asleep on the floor by the bed. The hours ticked by. 7 a.m. 8 a.m. 9 a.m. There was no hint of the Ukrainian awakening. No whinging from the dogs to be let out. 10 am. And still everyone was asleep. I was getting a headache from laying about so long doing nothing on a day that was supposed to be day greeted with excitement and anticipation and lots of eating and rushing about celebrating seemingly the pure joy of being alive and being surrounded by such great friends and family.

Finally, at 1/2 past 10, the brown dog stared us straight in the face with her emphatic look that can only be translated as “Give me my breakfast NOW!” The Ukrainian and I quickly conversed over who exactly should be the one to do dog-duty on the holiday. He was too tired. I was too depressed. Finally, we agreed we would suffer through it together and then head over to our local Chinese restaurant, Wild Pepper, for our own Christmas breakfast brunch.

And it was then that we began the sort of marital argument that plagues all newly married couples:  the division of labor for household chores.

It all started innocently enough. I rationalized that since we were experiencing a rare San Francisco winter’s day without rain, we should take the dogs to the park. The dogs seemed to agree and took off racing down the street leading to Dolores Park. The Ukrainian, however, was not so enthused. “The park is muddy. They’ll get dirty.” He whinged. I didn’t care. And I didn’t care to put enough thought into my reply. “So wash them! They’re dogs. They get dirty!” In my mind, as long as the dogs didn’t smell of dead rat or the like, I didn’t care if they had a bit of mud on them. We have hardwood floors. They, too, wash. But in the Ukrainian’s mind, he already spent too much time — a total of 3 hours or so a week on housework/dogcare — that he had no desire to do anymore.  In my mind, 3 hours was nothing.

The argument was one where we both had perfectly legitimate views. The dogs *did* need exercise. The Ukrainian *was* the one who did wash them when they became too filthy to cohabitate with us and thus *should* have a say in their dirt-level. But the reality of the discussion was that we were both too tired from our Grand Year of Perpetual Life Changes to take on any more responsibilities and couldn’t even handle the basic task hanging and filling stockings for Christmas Day. What right did we have to want to add a child to the mix? If taking care of 2 dogs was a lot of work, what did we think taking care of a child would be?

And so, in that moment, all our hopes for a grand, tradition-free Christmas busted. One of us stormed off. Doors were slammed upon the return to the house. The idea for the MSG-ladened Chinese brunch became impossible. When time for lunch came, we each took out a selection from our respective supplies of frozen dinners and silently shared the microwave. Each attempt at conversation threatened to explode our relationship to the breaking point. And, so, silence seemed the only option. It was not a Christmas of Peace, but rather one of a renewed Cold War whose battle lines had been drawn across the middle of our kitchen table — the one that had been desperately needing an oil for the past 3 months. But neither of us had gotten around to doing it.

I took a nap in the living room. The Ukrainian claimed his space in the bedroom. From time-to-time, one would deliver a package to the other and then walk away while the recipient was left to ponder whether to open the gift or not. Suddenly, no present seemed like the right present. There was nothing that could be given that would bridge the gulf that had opened up on Christmas morning. The Gift of the Magi we certainly were not. Each gift from one to the other seemed to suggest a frantic Christmas Eve afternoon spent trying to find few trinkets that would please the other in the final few hours before the shops closed. Neither of us had spent much time to acquire anything the other truly wanted. No sacrifice had been made.

Blini mix

Blini mix

Darkness came. A public dinner was still out of the question. A trip downtown to the theatres seemed an even worse idea. We did nothing. There was no Christmas spirit. No bigger meaning to be learned. We started to be nice to each other simply because we needed each other. The Ukrainian needed help making his blinis on which he wanted to put the caviar I had thrust in his hands earlier in the day. I needed help with the food processor so I could make a traditional Christmas Cheese Ball in an attempt to salvage some bit of Midwestern American tradition of out of holiday.

And finally, 9:30 p.m. came and we did the only thing anyone could do when they’ve had a no good, very bad, terrible day: go to bed and hope for something better tomorrow.

Caviar for the blinis

Caviar for the blinis

And now, it’s tomorrow. We have no good lesson to be learned other than the fact  the Ukrainian are still getting to know each other. We are still trying to find our way in our nascent marriage. We can’t instantly create traditions. And our marriage is strong enough to surive all these trying-to-find-our-way bits.

And, oh yeah, we have a housekeeper coming tomorrow for a trial run. The best solution to a fight-over-work-that-never-ends? Outsource it. It’s much, much cheaper than a divorce. And much better than fighting.

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Nerves: Green Card interview

I didn’t think I would be so nervous about our green card interview. Anyone who has ever seen the Ukrainian and I together know how much we love each other. Indeed, this blog is almost an on-going testament to our love rather than its original purpose: charting my course in trying to learn the Russian language. But then, late last night, we had a mad-dash to get our wedding photos printed. We walked from the Noe Walgreens to the Castro Walgreens, looking for one that could print our photos so late at night — the night before we so urgently needed them for our Green Card interview.

Of course, we bickered. “Why is everything always left to the last minute?” “Why are we always so frantic whenever there is anything important to be done with a deadline?” “The wedding was just like this!” The accusations and questions flew. But they were half-hearted, not cruel. Each one punctured by nervous laughs. The situation was just too important to have a go at a proper fight.

But then, the Ukrainian asked, “What are we going to say?”

“What do you mean what are we going to say? We’ll just answer whatever they ask.” They being the INS/USCIS. Bureaucrats who had the power to make our lives miserable just because they could.

“But are you going to tell them about the time we fought about XYZ?”

“No, no, we’ll leave that out.”

“What about the fact that you sometimes fall asleep on the sofa.”

“But then I wake up later and come join you bed so it’s fine.”

“I don’t think you should mention the sofa.”

“But if they ask. What if they ask if we always sleep in the same bed? What am I going to say. What if they take us into separate rooms and ask us these questions? I can’t lie. I am a terrible liar.” I don’t have a moral issue with lying. Indeed, I have a certain respect for people who clam up and keep their truths to themselves. But, I can’t. I start to and then I twist my words so that I tell the truth even when I am lying. I’m a terrible liar.

“You would never survive in Kiev or Moscow. Everyone lies there. You have to in order to survive.” Ah yes, that Soviet mentality that didn’t just die with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“I didn’t say I’m not naturally suspicious of people. I just assume everyone is lying to me if there is any doubt in the matter. Unfortunately, I just can’t lie back.”

While I couldn’t exactly say I had been looking forward to putting our personal lives on display for the INS, I hadn’t exactly been worried about it. But this conversation with the Ukrainian….this attempt to repackage our lives into some sort of perfect storybook tale free of blemishes and flaws made me ill to my stomach. If our stories differed at all, the INS would have no problem making our lives as difficult as possible in forcing us to prove we have a bona-fide marriage — to prove that the Ukrainian didn’t marry me for a green card. The validity of our relationship had been on trial since the day we got engaged — the U.S. Government would not be the first to ask, “How do you know the marriage is not for the Green Card”, my family and friends had asked that plenty of times. But only the U.S. government had to the power to say, “No. We don’t think your husband loves you. He needs to go back to Ukraine.”

It was with this foreboding mood, I took the DVD with the photos chronicling our lives and weddings into the Walgreens at Castro and 18th Street. I explained to the man behind the photo counter that I needed the photos printed quite urgently. “Would it be possible to get them tonight?” I asked, letting my desperation show in my voice.
“Oh, that’s no problem. I can have them for you in about an hour. How many are they?” he replied.
“200.”
His eyebrows raised. An urgent order on 200 photos in the middle of the night. Whatever could they be?
“My husband and I have our Green Card interview with the INS tomorrow. We need to show them we are truly married and in-love. These are the photos to do that.”
“My colleague here went through that,” the photo counter man responded.
“Oh really?” I acted enthused. I didn’t much care, but I figured the nicer I was to the photo counter man, the quicker he’d be about getting my photos printed.
“Yeah, he did. He married a woman who worked here as well. But the INS didn’t believe they were truly married. They thought my friend was gay since he lived here in the Castro. The INS even went over to their house to make sure that they were both living there. Made sure all his clothes were there and whatnot.”
The photo counter man had my attention now. Oh God, what if went through the same. I mentally envisioned our 3 closets. My wardrobe and assorted belongings took up over 2 of them. The Ukrainian, the ultimate minimalist, took up almost no room when he moved in. And our recent housecleaning effort led him to throw out any piece of paper or memento he had accumulated in the past year that he hadn’t deemed a true “need”. How would anyone be able to tell that we hadn’t just thrown his few clothes into a closet and a few books on a shelf and said he lived with me. His physical footprint on my life was small — marked more by the gifts he had given me than any sort of personal physical treadmarks on our joint belongings. But his emotional footprint was quite large.
“Oh wow, that must’ve been really tough.” I didn’t ask how the investigation turned out. I didn’t want to leave myself open for hearing bad news. “How long will it be before the photos are done printing?”
“An hour. Maybe a bit more.”
“Thanks.” I smiled, hurriedly. I wanted to be nice in order to get the photos. But the nausea in my stomach had grown more intense. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the Walgreens and breathe fresh air.

The Ukrainian was waiting for me outside with our 2 dogs. I told him how long it would be before the pictures would be ready.
“How many pictures did you give them to print?”
“200”
“You are crazy!! We are going to have the most pictures anyone has ever taken to the INS!”
“Better too many than not enough.” I was too risk-averse than to not have a picture for any moment in our life together that had to be proven as true.

…..

The Ukrainian waits at Samovars with the dogs for our wedding photos for INS to finish printing at the Castro Walgreens.

The Ukrainian waits at Samovars with the dogs for our wedding photos for INS to finish printing at the Castro Walgreens.

We decided to wait out the photoprocessing at the Samovar Tea Lounge at 18th and Sanchez. A bar would’ve been more appropriate, but we had the dogs with us. Although he’s usually a positive person, the Ukrainian was not feeling so happy. He made fun of the place for calling itself “Samovar” — a sort of Slavic or Central Asian tea kettle — but not having a samovar on the premises. I pointed out the Samovar on the counter by the cash register. But he had a point. It didn’t seem the water was boiled in a samovar. It was just a catchy name for advertising.

The tea lounge also had a Russian food plate, but the Ukrainian wasn’t interested. We shared a salmon caesar salad. My nerves from the upcoming interview had been upped by the Walgreens photo counter man. I couldn’t eat. I spent our wait chatting with the Ukrainian about mostly nothing and picking the salmon bits out of my share of the salad to give to the dogs. We kept looking at our watches. Is it time? Is it time, we wondered. Is it time for the photos? Is it time to get the government seal of approval for our marriage? Is it time to truly start planning for a baby? Is it time to plan for our trip back to Kiev for our Russian Orthodox wedding? Is it time to get on with our lives. Is it time to stop waiting. Is it time?

The conversation turned to our planned Orthodox wedding in Kiev. How many people could we expect to come? How much would it cost? How would we budget for it? What happens if I get pregnant first? Would I really want to endure such a long journey and unknown culture while with child. We could only decide that if I become pregnant soon, then we would postpone the wedding to 2010 and have a baptism and wedding the same week. But if I don’t become pregnant soon, the baby itself will have to wait.

Waiting. That is all I feel like we do sometimes. We wait for the Ukrainian to graduate. We wait for the Green Card. We wait for him to get another raise. We wait to save money. Wait and wait and wait. Tomorrow, it seemed — we hoped — tomorrow could be the end to one of our waits.

Our wait for the photos came to the end. We paid our bill, leaving the money outdoors on the table, hoping no one would take it before the waitress found it. But I suspected she was waiting for us to leave. She must’ve been watching us. So I didn’t truly worry. The Ukrainian did, but I reassured him that no one who waits tables is so naive to leave their tables unwatched. We walked back to the Walgreens at 18th and Castro. I picked up the photos and purchased a small, cheap album that looked sort of wedding-ish. The photo counter man looked a bit at my photos before handing them to me: “The INS will believe you. This is a beautiful wedding.”
“I hope so,” I replied, tired. It was too late now to gather anymore evidence of our love. What we had is what we had.
And so the Ukrainian and I returned home with the dogs to sleep. And to wait. And to hope that maybe the beginning of the end of our waiting had begun.

Making space for the not-yet-conceived baby

One night, early in the summer of 2007 before the brown doggie became sick or the Ukrainian began living at my — now our — house, the Ukrainian and I took my two dogs out for their late-night walk down Fair Oaks Street in San Francisco. Being so late, I was tired. I wanted the dogs to do their business and then quickly return home and go to bed. But the dogs did not sense my urgency. After taking care of their business, they wanted to sniff every leaf of every bush along the way.

“C’mon…” I chided at every bush. I tugged on their leashes, urging them — no, dragging them — towards 24th St, trying to reach our flat. My patience wore thin. Not now, I thought. Tomorrow morning, I wil take you for a nice walk. For now, LET’S GO!!! My chiding turned into whining. My words to the dogs became shorter, harsher. My tugs on the leash grew stronger.

“Here, let me walk them,” said the Ukrainian gently, reaching to take the leashes from my hands. “You are tired.” And with those words, I stopped in surprise. Here is a man who understands me. Here is a man who wants to make a situation better, not exacerbate it. There was no judgement in his voice. He was not looking for me to be the eternally ever-patient doggy mommy. I fell a little bit more in love with the Ukrainian at that moment.

**********

Anyone who has ever lived with me or spent much time with me in the off-hours of the night know that there is a point when my mind and body just stop. Like a two-year-old, I can keep going and going and doing and doing and talking and listening until BAM! my mind shuts down, my eyes close mid-sentence, and suddenly I cease to be. The fury/wrath suffered by he who dares to push me past my mental and physical limit is strong enough to deter the transgressor from ever wanting to push me gain. Nobody wants to deal with a 2 year-old in a grown woman’s body.

The greatest joys and challenges from marriage (or any sort of committed, domestic partnership) is being forced to look in the mirror and seeing your own weaknesses. Alone, you can let your quirks and nuances and varying neuroses play out however they will, or control your environment so much that these varying particulars to your personality can sleep as never challenged — but together with another’s putting up with yourself and altering your environment by their mere presence, suddenly you are forced to look in the mirror and say “My, don’t I look ridiculous!”

And so there I was on Saturday night. I was looking for the tweezers. They had been missing for a week and I had a couple of stray hairs I increasingly wanted to be rid of with each day that passed without the tweezers being found. I searched the medicine cabinet, of course. And moved on to the coffee table. And the computer desk in the living room. I left out the kitchen — for never in my life, could I remember, ever tweezing anything in the kitchen. I searched the bedroom. The bookshelves and the nightstand. Surely, they would be on the nightstand. I shifted the stacks of unread mail and NetFlix envelopes around and AHA! I found the opened tweezers case, but no tweezers. Inspired by this hopeful clue, I searched the nightstand more frantically for the tweezers, shoving aside the orchid plant that our Ukrainian florist had given us for our wedding (as a token, I’m sure, to make us feel better for spending so much on something as fragile as flowers) and had been sitting on our nightstand ever since…and that’s when I saw it. IT. The multi-circular water stains left by the pot from three months of twice-weekly waterings.

I lost it. It was 11:30 at night. Our house was cluttered. Dirty, even. Below me was a piece of furniture that was less than six months old that was already tarnished. I looked around the bedroom and saw the clothes that had been pulled off late-at-night strewn across the bookshelves. One leg of the bedframe had been gnawed on by our black dog in June. We had yet to repair it. In the living room, the center of the floor was taken up by an extra-large drying rack on which the clothes we washed the day before hung. I was certain there must be dirty dishes in the sink. Suddenly, our large 1 BR 19th century Victorian railroad-style flat seemed small enough to crush me. My inner control-freak unleashed by my year spent in the ever-so-tidy Netherlands wasn’t pleased.

I sat down on the floor. Collapsed, rather. The metaphysical, existential weight of our cluttered house had crushed me after all. I started crying in despair — where would I ever begin to make sense of this mess? Would there ever be an end to my cleaning once it began? Should I hire someone? No, I couldn’t hire someone. They wouldn’t know what to do with all the clothes, the mail, and all the other seemingly random tidbits to our lives, many of which weren’t even needed.

“Baby, what’s wrong?”

“This. This is wrong.” I spread my hands out so that he could see all the clutter I could see. “I can’t live like this.”

“Baby, it’s fine. It’s late. We’ll tidy up the house tomorrow. First thing in the morning. Now let’s go to bed.” The Ukrainian has sensed my inner two-year-old had woken up and his 33 year-old rational wife had gone to sleep.

“No, no. We need to start now. If we start in the morning, it will never get done.” With these words, I got up from the bedroom floor and went into the living room, determined to tackle the clean, dry clothes hangin on the drying rack that was taking up half our living room floor and was contributing to my claustrophobia. I folded until I reached shirt #4. I remembered then why there clothes everywhere in our house. My closet — which was just off the kitchen — had become the spot we put everything that didn’t have a spot. In recent weeks, it had become so full that I could no longer reach my clothing rack and drawers. Nor did the laundry basket have a spot in it any longer. The closet was the root of all our problems. I knew my limits enough not to begin such a large task so late at night.

I returned to the bedroom. The Ukrainian was curled up on our bed with the chewed-up leg. I laid down next to him, spooning his back. Our bodies lied perpendicular to the bed’s head so that our heads all but touched the bedroom’s wall. The time was pushing midnight. The Ukrainian was tired from working 2 jobs and going to school full-time. I was tired from my new job, traveling, a persistent two-week cough, and the feeling that I was supposed to keep it together. All. The. Time.

“I can’t live like this,” I said. My voice calmer than it had been a 1/2 hour before.

“I know,” he said. “We will fix it.”

“How can we be talking about having a baby when we can’t even keep our own lives together?”

And from that question, my two-year-old self went back to sleep and my grown up rational adult self re-emerged. The Ukrainian and I began to communicate as a couple — as hopeful-parents-to-be. How would we manage our lives so that our apartment is one where we could have a baby and keep it safe? How would we share the day-to-day housekeeping responsibilities between ourselves so that our house wouldn’t continue in its chaos? And what things could each of us do to make the other happy, so that any theoretical child we might have would grow up in a harmonious household and not be subject to histrionics. And where, oh where, would we put the baby?

I looked at the bookshelves hidden under a pile of clothes across from the bed. “I was thinking there…” I said pointing. “We could get rid of the shelves and everything on them and put the baby there. The crib. And maybe a changing table…” my voice trailed off…

“Next to the window?” the Ukrainian asked. “But that wouldn’t be…”

“That wouldn’t be healthy,” I finished his sentence for him. “It’ll be too cold.” (Our apartment lacks a proper heat source and the rainy San Francisco winters makes our bedroom extremely damp and chilly.)

“But where?” I asked. “I can’t think of any other place for it.”

The Ukrainian’s eyes skirted the room. He lifted his body up on his elbow and turned his head. “There. Between the bed and the closet, away from the window.”

And I looked. My eyes mentally measured the space he picked out. Yes, there would be room for a crib. A small one and we’d need to keep everything tidy. But there’d be room.

A new commitment — our anniversary’s defining moment redux

We crossed Dolores Street at 20th Street towards Dolores Park. The slight September drizzle we were under was an anomaly. But it gave me a good excuse to hide under the hood of my red Bauhaus Goretex parka I had special ordered in Rotterdam just 3 years ago. I wore little under the parka — just a red camisole, and blue and grey leggings — as I had been sulking in bed a mere 15 minutes before. I was upset. The Ukrainian had remembered our 6 months anniversary, but not in time to order the cake. Or purchase a present for surprise upon waking. In protest, I had reverted to my 10 year-old self, spurning all of his efforts to go downtown and buy me a present. Or to take me out to dinner. Or to do anything, that would again, put a smile on my face. Never again, would we have a 6 month civil ceremony anniversary of being legally committed to each other. If this was how we were starting off our marriage, how little would we notice our 16th anniversary.

The Ukrainian tried to make light of the missing cake and other little presents he used to bring to celebrate the milestones of our relationship.

“I was busy,” he said.

“So. When will you not be busy?” I replied. Unfairly, I gave him no room for excuses even though he’d been working 2 jobs and going to school full-time.

I noticed the bag in his hand. “What’s that?” I asked.

Oh, it’s nothing. He replied.

It’s not nothing, I told him. There is a Barbie doll on it. And glitter. And a silver bow.  And tissue paper.

A present, I thought! 🙂 He had remembered.

Give it to me, I said as I tried to grab the bag out of his hands.

“No, no, ” he said laughing. “It’s nothing.” He held the bag high over his head. I started laughing too, trying to pull his arm down to at least open my anniversary present.

At last, he relented. He let me grab the bag out of his hands. And, ferociously, like a small child, I reached in searching through the tissue paper for my present.

I found the card, and I found…what? Nothing? Where are my chocolates? were the thoughts that went through my head. Where is a cute little trinket to mark the occasion. I had mentioned many times how much I dreamed of a nice cake or some fancy chocolates for our 1/2 year anniversary.

But there was the envelope. Inside, could very well be a gift card or some other unusual item picked up the last minute. So I opened it. And inside was a card stating “I know we are not as romantic as we used to be…” with a list of all the ways a couple loses it’s romance over time.

I wanted to cry. After only 6 months, we were without romance. I thought these were the sort of cards that 45 year-olds married for 15 years and with 3 kids gave each other. We’d been married 6 months. And during most of that time, we’d been too busy to see much of each other — other than the obligatory “Please pass the toothpaste” routine at 8 a.m. as we both got ready for work.

“The dogs want to go to the park,” I responded. I had no words. After only 6 months of marriage we had become an old married couple communicating through the needs of our kids — or, in this case, our dogs.

“Come with us,” he said.

“No, you guys go. I wish to stay here.”

He asked again. And again, I said no. I was too hurt to want to spend time with him or to allow our anniversary day become happy again. I didn’t want to set the tone that missing presents on anniversaries would be acceptable.

But he asked again. And one more time after that, he asked. “Come with us”, he said. “Come celebrate our anniversary with a walk to the park.” I ignored him and looked out our window from our bedroom facing 24th Street. It was raining. In September. In San Francisco. An unusual occurrence. I could hear the dogs skimpering about. They knew where they were going. I heard their leashes clang together as the Ukrainian grabbed them off the hook. I heard him rustling around for some plastic bags to clean up after the dogs in the park. And I heard him open the door.

I looked away from the window. He had one hand on the doorknob. The dogs were already in the hall. He looked into the bedroom. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?” And I considered. It was not even a moment, but I considered. This is how divorces happen. This is how the distance grows. The silence and the resentment. The shutting out of the other.

“I will come,” I responded, before he could shut the door. I looked around. I saw the rain out the window. I saw myself wearing almost nothing but bedclothes. And I saw the red parka — itself a symbol of a new life I had hoped to be a happy one not so very long in the Netherlands where it had rained almost daily. But my lover there had shut me out. As try as I might, I could never reach him. I could never communicate. Whatever dreams we had to share our lives together were blocked by our complete inability to communicate with each other. When one night, his ultimatums had gone too far, I told him to leave. He did. And when he shut the door, he never came back except to help me pack up for my return to the States. I never saw him again.

“I will come,” I said. And I grabbed the red parka to throw on over my bed clothes, grateful that we lived in California where no one would find this particular combination an oddity. Or an offense to their fashion sensibilities.

We walked to the park. We tried to change the upsetness at the failed anniversary celebration into a celebration at the Ukrainian’s successful effort to get a raise. We did the math, trying to plan our future together financially. But none of the math brought a smile to my face. I was happy for the Ukrainian’s and thus our success. But I was unhappy with something else. The lack of a cake? Of chocolates? No…

“I want a baby.” I burst out. It was a matter-of-fact statement. And it was nothing new for us. But this time, this time under the protection of the hood of my red parka and of the rain, there was a new forcefulness to my declaration. Forget the chocolates, forget the romance. Give me a baby.

“It’s too early, don’t you think?”

“What?” I asked. “Financially, maybe. But for any other reason, no. We have been married 6 months. It’s time”

“Well…” the Ukrainian thought out loud. “I did get this raise. And if we start trying now, then by the time the baby comes, I will have another raise.”

“Really?” I ask. “You are really ready for a baby?”

Lets start trying now, he said. Let’s start trying now.

6 Month Wedding Anniversary

On March 19, 2008, the Ukrainian and I wed in San Francisco’s city hall. We only had 4 friends in attendance. After the ceremony ended, I was uncertain about whether or not we should tell anyone we were married. After all, we had a ceremony planned for July for our American friends and family and yet another one still planned for Kiev for our Russian Orthodox ceremony. San Francisco’s City Hall  ceremony was merely a kickstart — a means in which to get rolling on the process to convert my husband’s student visa to a greencard. The sooner he got his green card, I figured, the sooner he could get a high-paying job and the sooner we could try for a baby.

Many people do not consider our March 19 wedding a wedding. They tell others we were just married in July. This is true a bit. There is definitely something about standing up in front of your family and friends to declare your vows that makes you feel a bit more married than doing so in private. But on March 19 we were legally married. On the morning of March 19, my case of nerves and cold feet hit full-force as I wondered whether or not I actually could marry this man. There could be no such nerves in July as we were already married.

Exactly 6 months have passed since that March morning. We have done a lot since then. I will catalog them here:

* We made it to City Hall in time for the ceremony. I changed into my wedding dress in the parking lot. And we both said “Yes” and “I do” at the appropriate places.

* Over the next few days, I walked around a bit numb, shocked that my commitment-phobic self had gottent married. “Can you believe it?” I kept asking. “We’re married.” I kept repeating over and over. Suddenly, I realized, if something went wrong, we’d have to get an actual divorce. There’d be paperwork to filed. Lawyers to be hired. I couldn’t just throw him out over some little tiff.

* In April, my grandmother passed away. The ensuing family drama distracted me from any thoughts about the gravity of my marriage. Instead, I was glad to have the Ukrainian around as he didn’t judge my more dysfunctional branches to my family life.

* By May, I was feeling better. With some free time on my hands, I started this blog.

* We kicked the month off as a couple together by searching for a place to have our July public wedding ceremony. We failed.

* Also in May, was the Ukrainian’s 31st birthday. We celebrated by taking the dogs and ourselves on a daytrip to Tahoe. We ended up in Carson City, Nevada.

* The Ukrainian began his internship in May. As the position was unpaid, he kept his part-time job at the library in order to have some semblance of income.

* And finally, in May, we had our engagement party as well as my bachelorette party and bridal shower. A very good college friend of mine from NYC flew out as did my preggers sister. Among some of the presents we received, a friend of the Ukrainian’s gave us a blender. You can’t really be married without a blender.

* We began wedding planning in earnest. Or rather we tried to plan our wedding for July. But none of the pieces fit together and we weren’t successful at getting our permits, finding the priest, etc. Tensions between us started to mount. By this time, the free time I had at work was coming to an end, and I had to work evenings and weekends, further adding to the stress of planning the wedding.

* In early June, I went back East for my grandmother’s memorial service and then headed up to NYC to work from the NY office. One of my bosses was not keen about this trip further adding to our stress. I started to look for a new job while in NYC (but for positions back on the West coast). And I stopped in Chicago on the way back to San Francisco’s to attend my 10 year college reunion.

* When I returned to San Francisco, we again tried to get the arrangements for the wedding in order. We hired a priest. A bagpiper. A drummer. I found a dress (with only 3 weeks to spare until the wedding). The chapel. Slowly, the pieces were coming together, but the expenses were mounting. The stress between us rose all the more.

* I continued my job interviewing and received a fabulous offer that I accepted. But even with this offer in hand, I didn’t have it in me to say the word “no” and mean it to my current employer when asked to work on the weekend. I wondered how on earth the wedding was going to get pulled off. While we had the big pieces in place, we had to pick out the flowers, the cake, schedule the trolley, and 1 million other little details that seem incomprehensible even now — a mere 2 1/2 months after the wedding.

* I quit my job.

* The Ukrainian and I saw little of each other. He was (and still is) working 2 jobs.

* I found a dress. A $1200 Max Azria beauty that fit perfectly right off the rack.

* I shopped for jewelry and a veil and became an instant expert at all-things wedding in San Francisco.

* In a pure stroke of Yelp serendipity, I found a chapel for us to marry in. The Ukrainian checked it out and approved.

* I spent something like 15 hours picking out our flowers. The florist was Ukrainian too.

* I spent almost 5 hours at the bakery designing the cake.

* I spent untolds amount of time and money on the hair, the make-up and so on and so forth.

* The Ukrainian and I took dance lessons.

* My family arrived. We dined at the Beach Chalet.

* The Ukrainian borrowed an IPod and planned our wedding soundtrack.

* The wedding happened. Everything went off without a hitch — sort of. I was too tired to have a clue as to what was going on. But it was beautiful — according the pictures.

* I slept for almost a week after the wedding.

* I started a new job.

* The Ukrainian’s work authorization and travel parole arrived.

* The Ukrainian’s employer started paying him a small bit.

* A rather unfortunate colossal perfect storm left our bank accounts empty just as rent was due. We found the money without borrowing any and made the rent, but then went on the extreme austerity plan.

* We hiked Mt. Tam.

* I ate and ate while stressing about the new job. All the while the Ukrainian continued to work his 2 jobs and begin revising his resume for a better one.

* We received our letter from the INS (USCIS) inviting us in for our green card interview. Yay!

* 2 days later we received a letter from the INS canceling our green card interview. Utter despair.

* We find out the INS thinks we have moved to Brooklyn. We haven’t and try to make the correction.

* We took a mini-honeymoon to Seattle. September arrived.

* I left for the East Coast (again!) for over a week. I missed the Ukrainian and San Francisco terrible.

* The Ukrainian got a raise!

And then, yesterday, our 6 month anniversary. We exchanged no proper presents. We had no cake nor champagne. But the Ukrainian did give me a card all wrapped up in a pretty gift bag with a pretty bow. And, afterwards, we went for a walk with the doggies to Dolores Park. We discussed the Ukrainian’s raise. When would it be enough to support a baby, we wondered. Do we really want one? How much do we want to risk as I push closer and closer to the big 35.

And then the Ukrainian said, “I think we should start trying now. Not in 6 months. But now.”

We will make the money work out.

Hopefully, the green card will too.