Monday, March 17, 2008

Russian Affair, Part 11

(Misha and his mom, Novokuznetsk, 1998)

Some boys don't grow up. They go on making impulsive decisions and end up paying dearly for them. So it is with Misha.

He started out working for the police department in Novokuznetsk, and then became police reporter for the Kuznetsk Worker. He was a respected investigative reporter, but that wasn't enough. When a local television station offered him a job, he jumped at it. But a few years later, he found himself out of a job. Now he's working as a security guard and writing pieces on the side for an agricultural weekly.
Misha is no stranger to Washington, Pa. He came here for the summer of 1997 on an exchange program with our newspaper and fell in love with America. His first day here, he was taken to the Shop n' Save. Standing confused in front of the meat counter, with its hundreds of different cuts all shrink-wrapped, he asked, "Is this some kind of meat museum?"
He took a tour of the county jail and had lunch there. He said that he would be perfectly content to spend the rest of his life there in that jail.

Back in Novokuznetsk, his bedroom in his mother's apartment became a shrine to all things American. He wanted nothing more than to leave Russia for the U.S., and he did return for another extended summer visit. He made plans to emigrate. But Misha is a man torn between desire and obligation. His mother suffers from diabetes and other ailments, and there is really no one else to be there for her. And then there is Misha's foster son, the result of another impulsive decision.

The tone of his e-mails to friends here is miserable; he is in Purgatory, between duty and his yearning. Still, even though he's past 40, a boyish optimism peeks through. Someday, he thinks, everything will be better.

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