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Moving through the darkness, he sat on the edge of my bed and stared at me for a few moments.Then he gently fingered the strap of my silk nightgown and said, “This is a beautiful slip.” And then, with a sad sigh, “It’s going to be a shame to tear.” He said it the way you would look at your watch and say, “I’m not going to make it to my appointment,” like he knew what was going to happen, and there was nothing either one of us could do to stop it.All of which is to say, I am dual in every way, and my plethora of multicolored passports is a worthy symbol of the cultural mish-mash of my personality. The first thing that you’ll notice when you get to Russia is that the women are astoundingly beautiful and immaculately presented.They will sashay past you with their wobbly stilettos (which are worn even over blocks of ice) and designer bags (which carry a full pharmacy complete with a mini shoe polish and handwipes) and, if you tell them you pluck your own eyebrows and only get a facial once a month, will look at you as though you have just clawed your way out of a swamp.But what I mistook for a smile was actually a grimace. But then Anton hugged me, heat and sweat rising from his torso, his arms wrapped around me in a promise of eternal protection, inhaling me in that way men do to show they’re grateful that you’re safe.And in that strange and romantic moment I thought, “One day I’m going to put this in a story to explain my convoluted relationship with Russian men.”I should preface this story by saying that I am Russian.
After the punching finally stopped, Anton walked up to me shirtless and sweaty, caked with blood and dirt, his arms outstretched in an unmistakable gesture of victory. Pistols at dawn seemed a ludicrous symbol of male egotism, and I longed for men in tailored suits, who solved arguments with Woody Allen jokes and New Yorker references.You do not meet a Russian man, you are chosen by one.You could be sitting in a banya, or at a café, and a man walks by, puts a fruit salad on your table, and gruffly says, “Enjoy.” If you eat the salad, it is a sign that you would like him to come talk to you.Having grown up in New York, I had taken for granted that people were always striving for something, or at least striving to be striving for something.In Russia, most of the guys I met were engaged in some sort of dubious import/export business in electronics; the rest were involved in “business” (if you ask what kind of business, and there is a marked pause followed by the word “business,” you should refrain from asking any more questions).