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.

Invitations from the past

Chicago in the winter -- from zachanderson.com

Chicago in the winter -- from zachanderson.com

It was lunchtime. I was browsing the Chicago Craigslist, drooling over the large beautiful apartments that could be had for much less than what the Ukrainian and I are paying for our 1 BR in San Franciso’s Noe Valley. The day before, I had calculated that Chicago has a 26% lower cost of living than the Bay Area, but only a 11% lower average salary rate. It is also significantly closer to my family in Iowa and only a 2 hour flight to friends in New York or family in Washington, D.C.

These are the thoughts that cross my mind when the Ukrainian and I talk about having a baby in such dismal economic times. A baby is something I really want, but I worry about how we will manage it all on our combined income — while not impoverished in the slightest, is very definitely middle class — when housing and childcare are both not only so expensive here, but also extremely difficult to find.

While browsing Craigslist, I was also listening to Alice 97.3 on ITunes Radio. The Smashing Pumpkins’ song “Tonight, Tonight” came on. I listened to the lyrics, waiting for the lines: and the embers never fade in your city by the lake the place where you were born. The city by the lake is Chicago. The place where I was born — well, really, it’s the suburbs of Chicago. But still…everytime I heard this song, it takes me back to the life I had before I first moved to California. Could it be a sign, I wondered, to hear this song while browsing the Chicago Craigslist? I dismissed the thought. Signs had not done much for me in the past.

I checked my email to get away from all thoughts of returning to the Windy City. I have a good job here and the Ukrainian is establishing his life here. It would be asinine to shake things up. And there, in my email, was a little mini-shake-up.

“We’ve received an invitation from E to his Halloween party on Saturday,” I IM the Ukrainian.

“Who’s E? Your ex-boyfriend?”

“Yeah…” E and I met in the midst of the breakup with the Bulgarian. We dated in the months I spent preparing to move to the Netherlands. We broke up while I was there. Got back together in a much more tentative way after I returned to San Francisco and then broke up once again in the spring of 2007. It was the demise — or rather never-success — of this relationship that made me post the ad on Craigslist to which the Ukrainian responded. While E and I never call each other up to say “How’re you doing?” we do end up on each other’s party invite list. I’m never sure why.

“So what do you think?” I asked the Ukrainian. I never mind a good house party (they’re much preferable to clubs these days, now that I’m in my 30s and married), but was there the need to keep putting my husband in the awkward spot of being paraded around in front of my exes? Besides, I have now learned from E’s last party — the first held since we were married — that the more interesting male guests no longer pay attention to me. It’s the ring on my 4th finger. It’s the husband whose eyes my eyes meet from across the room every 30 seconds or so. If the men are single, they have little to gain from much conversation with me. And if they’re not, it will only be moments before their significant other will find away to interrupt the conversation. It is moments like these I despise the more puritanical twists of American culture. Europe always seemed more relaxed. Indeed, at the dinner parties I attended there, significant others were always seated apart to shake things up a little. It was a chance to talk to someone besides the one person you talk to everyday.

I.E. in a bikini

I.E. in a bikini

“Well, I have to meet up with I.E. this weekend. She is in town for the weekend. But I have to be at a conference all day Saturday and I have a midterm due Tuesday.” Oh right. I.E. His childhood friend from his hometown in eastern Ukraine who now lives in Chicago. My inner puritan woke up started flashing:  red light! red light!! Where had I heard this story before? Oh right, the Bulgarian whose ex-girlfriend from Bulgaria so innocently reinserted herself into his life, apartment, and then bed. I needed more information about this I.E.

“Do you have a picture of her?” I IMed the Ukrainian.

“Check your email,” he responded after a moment’s pause.

And there it was. Right there in my email:  a picture of a beautiful, blond Russian woman in a bikini. She was the sort of Slavic beauty that so many American men fantasize about when they visit sites like russianwomen.com.

“Mr. Ukrainian, she’s hot!” I ferociously panicked-IM the Ukrainian. My mind raced back over the few slightly-heated discussions we’d had over the past few days about a few key issues regarding the future. Now was not the time for him to be finding solace in his childhood chum who happened to look like a swimsuit model. And who was she anyway to be sending my husband pictures of herself in a bikini?! Damn these East European women! They are so clever. These were not the sort of social skills we learned back in rural Iowa. My mind recalled the model-like build of the Bulgarian ex-girlfriend. Not again! I thought.

“Check your email again.” The Ukrainian wrote over IM.

I went back to my Google mail. And there is was. A snapshot of a nice-enough looking woman standing on a bridge in the night wearing a formal (bridesmaid?) gown. She was attractive enough, but so very much not the Ukrainian’s type. I relaxed with relief. And then I started laughing. My, did the Ukrainian know how to rile me up. He knew exactly what he was doing when he sent that swimsuit picture.

“Assehole!” I IMed back. He knew I was joking too.

Now that the threat was gone. I became more truly curious about this woman who came from where my husband comes from and now lives where I came from. Maybe, just maybe, I thought. She could be a key to get us back to where I though I might want to really be.

“So what does she do?” I asked.

“She’s a commercial financial analyst.”

My eyebrows raised. I didn’t need to write anything on the IM. The Ukrainian could hear my thoughts.

“Don’t worry,” he continued. “After I graduate and get more experience at my company, I will apply to hers too.”

Maybe there are signs. Maybe we will be in SF forever. Maybe a year from now, we will find ourselves in Chicago. Maybe life will take us yet elsewhere. But suddenly, all the crushing weight I was feeling about how to manage having a baby in SF lifted just a little. There just might be other options. The world and our future didn’t seem so locked in.

Green Card Update #2

Tomorrow is our green card interview. We have spent the past several evenings rushing around trying to make sure all our paperwork is in order. We sent in a 4-inch thick packet of paperwork with our application in May, but we want to bring duplicates in case the INS (USCIS) lost anything. Additionally, I have legally changed my name as well as my employer — so we have new documents to bring that prove:
1) Our marriage is “real”. We love each other (hence the proof that I have changed my name — though not all women marrying foreigners do this).
2) I can financially support him. Not necessary in that the Ukrainian can support himself. However, if anything should happen, I need to prove I can support him as I am legally financially responsible for him for the next 10 years if the greencard is approved.
3) We have co-mingled our assets, bank accounts, health insurance, etc. Usually, the INS likes to see a joint mortgage or lease. But, we don’t have a proper lease on our apartment (we are tenants of one of San Francisco’s famous privately-owned month-to-month rent-controlled ancient Victorian flats). As such, we have gone above and beyond the requirements of showing merged assets to prove we have a ‘true marriage’.

Later today, I need to go down to Walgreens to print photos from our family wedding, honeymoon, engagement party, trip to Iowa and any other significant event that has happened since May that shows we married for love.

Tomorrow, as I mentioned, is the appointment. Even though the USCIS office is only 1 block from my work office, I have scheduled the entire day off. I do not want to risk anything that might put me in a bad mood and cause me to show up for our interview surly. Best to be relaxed and happy. 🙂 Oddly, we are not allowed to carry cellphones or anything of the like into the interview. Even turned off. They *must* be left at home. Or, for those who have forgotten, you can leave them at the bodega across the street for a small charge.

Wish us luck!!

Russian men bring you flowers

From 2005 – 2006, I lived in the Netherlands and had a fairly serious Dutch boyfriend. One night, in February 2006 just before Valentine’s Day, my boss invited me and my boyfriend over for a weeknight dinner, prepared by his lovely wife girlfriend-of-18-years. Midway through the meal, the conversation migrated from American vs. Dutch traditions of Valentine’s Day presents to American vs. Dutch traditions of romantic presents for your beloved in general. I made the observation that Dutch men do not seem to bother with flowers and jewelry for their wives and girlfriends.

“That is true,” said the boss’s wife. “If you want flowers, you have to buy your own.”

“That’s boring,” I replied. “Where’s the charm?! The chivalry?! The romance?!”

“Dutch men are just never going to give you romance, ” the wife girlfriend declared. “In 18 years that we have been together, I have never once received flowers or jewelry from him.” These final few words were delivered with a very pointed look at my boss.

“I gave you flowers once,” my then-boyfriend interjected, looking smug, as if he had won some sort of Dutch-I’m-so-chivalrous contest.

“Yeah, once. For Christmas. That’s it, so it doesn’t really count,” I replied. He wasn’t going to get off so easily for being lazy in the romance department.

Hei, ja! I gave you earrings once! Those red ones!” my boss exclaimed in victory, looking at his wife girlfriend as he leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head, smug as well. He could be redeemed!!

“Earrings? Earrings?” the wife turned my boss.  “No, those were red pimples for my ears! Tiny red pimples! They were the most divorce-worthy present you could give me!”

Not being able to bear a lifetime without flowers, chivalry and romance, I left the Dutchman a mere 7 weeks later (ok, maybe there were a few other reasons too — but they would’ve been more bearable with a little romance to take the edge off). Barely a year passed before I met the Ukrainian. A man with exquisite taste in jewelry, and a regular deliverer of flowers to our kitchen table. He always does it at a moment when I’m not looking, so that even though the flowers are a regular appearance, they are always a surprising appearance, thus keeping the romance alive!

Last Saturday, after the exquisitely painful experience at the vet where we agonized over just how many unnecessary tests and procedures could we deprive our dogs of, we went to Trader Joe’s on 9th and Bryant. We did our shopping, came to the checkout line, and suddenly I remember that I had forgotten to buy the dogs their weekly treats of SoftAndChewyPeanutButterYumYumTreatsForDogs. I stepped just 7 feet away from the cart, turned around, and studied the shelves until I found the box I was looking for. I turned back around, spied out cart, and saw the gorgeous pink flowers filling the cart’s child seat.

It was romance-at-the-grocery-store. Proof that being good towards your wife can be the smallest gesture of love in the most mundane moment. No special occasion needed.

On our first anniversary, I finally learn to trust my husband

Sunday was the 1 year anniversary of the Ukrainian and I meeting. I spent the day stranded at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago due to tornadoes and other extreme Midwestern weather. The Ukrainian spent the day working on his financial internship in San Francisco. We were 2300 miles apart with no idea of what time we would see each other again. I was exhausted from a multi-city tour of the East Coast and Midwest that originated due to the need to attend a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery the previous Monday and to be in Chicago for my 10 year class reunion at the University of Chicago by Friday. In the middle of my travels, I spent 3 days in NYC working. I was stranded and exhausted. The Ukrainian was over-worked and far away.

You wouldn’t think such a set-up would lend itself to romance…but au contraire…as anyone who has ever seen Love Actually knows, airports are the place-to-be for romance at its finest with all its good-byes and hellos, reunions, last-moment-forevers, and those who meet their lovers while being stranded themselves.

I had a friend in New York whose then-boyfriend now-husband used to take a taxi to meet her at La Guardia whenever her flight arrived or departed — no matter how early or late. Another friend would take the bus up to Harlem and then over to La Guardia to meet her fiance so that he wouldn’t have to travel into the city alone. Me? I just gave all my visitors my address and expected them to hail a cab themselves just as I hailed one myself whenever I was off to or coming from someplace. I was never in love enough or had anyone who loved me enough to pay the cabfare and take the time to meet me at the airport.

Then I moved to San Francisco in the spring of 2004. Within months, I met and fell in love with a Bulgarian (not to be confused with the Ukrainian) who drove a silver G4 Golf and made it his duty to see that I was always picked up from San Francisco International airport. During the 6 or 7 months we were together, I traveled often. To Des Moines. Austin. Dallas. NYC. Miami. Dallas again and again for work. Each time, the Bulgarian was there to pick me up right outside United’s baggage claim in Terminal 2. I took his dedication to airport-pickup duties as a true sign of his love and devotion to me. The drive from the airport to the city of San Francisco was filled with my chattering about all I saw and did on my trip. At my house, he would carry in my luggage, we would have a little romance usually followed by a nice dinner out on Valencia St. “Being picked up at the airport”. Could there be a more romantic date than that?

But the relationship didn’t last. All the while the Bulgarian was picking me up at the airport and following up with superbly romantic dates, he had scheduled his ex-girlfriend back in Sofia, Bulgaria to move in with him into his 1-room San Francisco studio apartment come winter.

After her arrival and our breaking, there was no longer anyone to meet me at the airport. Gone was the anticipation I felt when I deboarded the plane and made my way down to United’s baggage claim. Now, it was almost the same mess of a life I led in NYC. After getting the bag, I would have to spend a not-so-small fortune on a taxi, or wait forever for the train back to San Francisco. While in New York, I had felt young and independent and quite worldly making my way to and from NY’s airports, in San Francisco I felt merely old and rejected. Sad that not only did I have to travel myself, I had no one to come home to.

2 years after breaking up with the Bulgarian in 2005 and less than a week after meeting the Ukrainian in 2007, I was departing for another trip. This time I was flying to Las Vegas to join 24 strangers on a wild and crazy road trip through Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. We would be visiting the Grand Canyon, hiking in the desert outside of Page, Arizona, and embarking on a perilous hike to Angel’s Landing in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The trip was part of a conscious effort to revive the independent spirit that I had lost when I broke up with the Bulgarian and, subsequently a year later, the Dutchman.

The Ukrainian seemed sad that I was leaving only a few days after our meeting.

“I’ll be back,” I told him.

“I’ll pick you up at the airport,” he replied.

“Really?” I asked.

“Really.”

But the Ukrainian wasn’t waiting for me outside the United baggage claim at terminal 2. I stood at the baggage claim, exhausted and dehydrated from my desert hiking trip, waiting for my desert hiking gear to appear on the conveyor belt when suddenly 2 arms grabbed me from behind, a face nestled itself into my neck, and flowers were thrust into my hands.

It was the Ukrainian!!!

Driving around San Francisco International airport waiting for me to appear, as the Bulgarian had done, was not good enough for the Ukrainian. He bought the flowers. He parked the car. He greeted me in a most romantic, if a bit surprising gesture.

My fellow hikers stared. The women flashed green with a bit of envy. Here was one of their fellow hikers getting the scene-from-a-movie airport greeting. Immediately, I knew I had made the right choice. Of all the men I could’ve been dating at that time, I wanted him: the Ukrainian.

There have been more trips since that first one, of course: Iowa, New York, and Asia. And each time the Ukrainian has made it his mission to meet me right at the baggage claim. Even after his car finally died a brutal death, the Ukrainian would take the train down to the airport to be there for my arrival.

But despite my love for the Ukrainian, and his great romancing talents, I kept finding myself lacking the anticipation of having someone waiting for me at the airport. I was always happy to see him and happy to be home. But I held back from the “OhMyGodI’veBeenWaitingForeverToSeeYouAndIAmSoHappyYou’reHere” onslaught of emotion that would’ve made me grab him wildly and kiss him with all the full force and equality of my love for him.

I held back because I didn’t trust the situation. I didn’t trust that the day might come when the Ukrainian would not be there to meet me at the airport with flowers and a hug and a kiss and a smile. I didn’t want to transform myself back into the rejected woman I had been only a year prior.

But this trip back East on the anniversary of our meeting and almost the same anniversary to the day of our first pick-up at the airport was the first time I had traveled since we’d been married. And something was different. Something had happened in the past 2 1/2 months since we had said “I do” in the same spot that Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio had said “I do” some 40+ years ago in San Francisco’s city hall. I had begun to relax. I had begun to trust my husband. That no matter what divorce and marriage statistics might say, my husband would always be there to meet me at the airport and also be there for anything else I needed in the coming years and decades. There would be no ex-girlfriends secretly inserting themselves into his life and no sudden spurt of Anti-Americanism (as had been partially the case with the Dutchman) causing him to get cold feet. We were already married. We had made a commitment to each other to stick it through thick and thin.

And while sitting there in O’Hare airport on our 1-year anniversary of our meeting, waiting for the weather to calm down, I wanted to be with my husband. I imagined him coming up to me from behind with flowers in his hand just as he did that first week after our meeting. I imagined the romance that was sure to follow once we got home. And I imagined us lounging on the sofa afterwards, eating our anniversary cake and discussing all the details of our week apart and our year together.

I texted him every update to the flight delays and weather pattern. I texted him when I got on the plane, when we ready to take off, when we landed, when I was inside the gate, in the bathroom, and on my way. As I headed down the stairs toward United’s baggage claim, my eyes scanned the waiting people looking for his blonde hair and his tall, lean physique. At first I didn’t see him. I was disappointed, of course. But knew he would be there, somewhere. And then, just as I head over to the claim for United Flight 149 from ORD to SFO, I saw him. And he saw me. And I ran. I ran to him. I jumped on him like a monkey. And I kissed him for the entire past year of loving him. And I kissed him for not having kissed him enough all those times he had met me before.

At last, I had found my someone to always meet me at the airport. And OhMyGodIHadBeenWaitingForeverAndCouldn’tWaitToSeeHim.

Defining our ethics

Saturday afternoon. The Ukrainian and I are at our place du preferee: the Bloomingdale’s Mall aka Westfield on Market St. He had received a gift card to Banana Republic from my parents for his birthday. We accomplished the mission rather quickly as he settled on a subtle summer plaid business shirt. Could we escape the cavernous shopping center without doing any damage to my wallet?

Uhm, no. Not possible. It is verily impossible to go from the Banana Republic to the Market St. exit without walking past Zara — the epitome of affordable European chic with styles straight from the runway (and a better fit than H&M I might add).

“Oooo…let’s go in and have just a look.”

“Just a look?” the Ukrainian asks, doubtful that I can escape the building without a single purchase. I had already fended off his offer to buy me a new shirt at Banana Republic (it was cute, but truly, ridiculously overpriced).

“Yeah, just a look. I just want to see.”

The Ukrainian follows me around Zara. We both point out the things we like, but never do our fingers land on the same item. The Ukrainian is obsessed with the super-tight dress shorts that are hot for summer and my fingers fondle the long chiffon blouses — neither of which could be adequately worn during San Francisco’s always chilly and foggy summer.

And then I see it. The short cropped black motorcycle jacket with studded details that I have always wanted.

“Oooo….look at this.” I run over and finger the soft, supple leather. Like baby skin, it feels. This jacket is the epitome of cool — like way the name Angel is the epitome of cool for a macho boyfriend.

“You can’t wear that. You’re a vegetarian.”

“So?” I ask incredulously. “My shoes are made of leather. You’ve never said anything before.”

“You can’t buy only canvas shoes. They have to be made of leather.”

My fingers continue to caress the soft leather.

“Being a vegetarian means I don’t consume animals. It doesn’t mean I can’t wear them.” I try hard to make my case. But I don’t even bother to look at the price tag.

I know what he really means. We have a wedding to plan. We have other expenses. A new leather jacket is not on the agenda. And yes, it probably would be a bit hypocritical to walk down San Francisco’s militantly vegetarian streets wearing a leather motorcycle jacket simply because it’s cool — not because I ride a motorcycle.

But I do not escape Zara so easily. Zara is full of very cool jackets. Only the one was made of leather. I walk out with this grey little number — justifying it as the perfect summerwear for those foggy summer nights when the rest of the Northern hemisphere is rocking the sheer chiffon blouses and sexy short shorts.

Ukrainian approved. Vegetarian-friendly.

How the night really ended (inquiring minds wanted to know)

We exited the club around 1 a.m. — early by clubbing standards, but almost 12 hours had passed since we first met. In my mind, it was time to part. We walked up Nob Hill on Taylor Street to where we had left his vintage 1993 forest green Jeep Cherokee. As we climbed into the jeep, he asked “What do you want to do next,” eying the city with all its lights and its possibilities that lied below.

“Mmm…I was sort of thinking it’s time to go home. But what do you want to do?”

Below us, lied countless boutique hotels and the name-brand Westins, Marriots and Hyatts. Above us were the posh Fairmont, Ritz-Carlton, and Mark Hopkins. My Ukrainian was also thinking it was time to retire for the evening…but not to his student rental in the Outer Sunset.

“We don’t have to go,” he said. “We could stay here.”

“Stay here? You mean get another drink? I think the bars are closing soon…and besides…it’s late.” I wasn’t sure my ears had heard his implication right. Perhaps he meant something else. After all, he had been in the States for less than two months. His English was nowhere near fluency.

“No, no. We could stay here. Downtown. We can stay in any room we like. I am tired. Let’s sleep here.”

Was this man crazy? Did he think that just because we had just spent 12 fun-filled hours together that I was going to sleep with him in some hotel? We hadn’t so much as kissed.

“No.” I shook my head. “I have to get home to my dogs. They haven’t been out in hours. I need to walk them. You need to go home.”

Always, the excuse of my dogs for calling a night a day.