Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 here)
In January of 2007, my e-mail offered a suspiciously cheery post: “Hello my dear Steven. Thank you for your answer!”
I sent no answer nor, to my knowledge, any questions to the sender. The addressee was named Lyudmilla, a 25-year-old Russian woman whose letter was very bubbly, talky, and about how she couldn’t wait to come to America, get to work, and have a wonderful romance. Presumably with me.
I figured my e-mail address had been handed over to another site. Some years ago I had been on a singles dating service but had dropped it after a couple of years. My name and photo were obviously still floating around in the ether and had been snatched up by one of the plethora of Russian dating sites that had sprung up like erotic dandelions after the Soviet Union collapsed.
I decided to begin a conversation. Lydmilla was from Irkutsk, and since its in deepest Siberia, I could understand her wanting to leave for somewhere less Kutskish. She sent pictures of herself, mostly in sex kitten poses. I thought she looked much younger than the 25 years she claimed to be.
Was I excited? For a few minutes each day at the library keyboard. (I didn’t have the Internet at home back then.) I could fantasize, but my time at the keyboard was limited, so I made small talk, asked about her life, and spoke of mine.
I sensed she was caught between hope and desperation. She frantically sent an e-mail to say that she was going to Moscow, had her visa and work permit ready to fly to America and me, but . . .
I crooked a smile. Ah, but . . . She needed money for a flight, as the agency had delayed it, and of course this entirely wrecked all her plans for a good, happy life in America . . . our better life. So, “Dear Steven . . .”
If I could lend her the money, she would happily repay me when she was in America and her burgeoning career as a fitness instructor took off. There were raised eyebrows in the library as I laughed. So, this was the con. My thoughts flashed not to a dashed romance, nor the bitterness of scamming, but of Popeye’s chum Wimpy: “I’ll gladly pay you next Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
I hit delete and went to another website.
* * *
A second e-mail arrived in October 2009. While I was fuming about more BS in Afghanistan and concerned about how civil liberties were being threatened by the Patriot Act (which now looks like a dress rehearsal for Biden’s just war against MAGA types), there was a message from Miss Verena. The said Miss seemed a rehash of Lyudmila, even living in a town near Irkutsk (was Irkutsk that nasty a place, had my name been passed on to other lasses, or did my scammer simply lack imagination?).
Venera wasn’t quite as bubbly or romantic, but had the right poses. She hoped I’d help her find her way around my city, to “be my guide or just be good friend to spend time with. I don’t know which tram to take to travel to the bar or restaurant.”
In a romantic take on déjà vu, Venera had documents ready to travel and I was sent a series of brief, adventurous e-mails describing an exciting arrival in Moscow (her first jet flight!) and getting the proper work documents and visa. Then:
I have a question; is it okay if we will like each other, may it be possible to live together? I think it would be more fun than to live alone in rent room!?!??!??!
I smiled again, and admittedly tingled at fantasies of finding a beautiful Russian woman at my doorstep, opening the door to rich (if very improbable) pleasures.
The bait came two days later. She was so sorry to ask for help. She has never lied to me (as if we had a relationship), and “I thought my mum will send me money to Moscow so I would have enough, but the last minute she has problems on her work and . . .” Venera’s flight was delayed. ”I can’t stop crying.” But, If I could send her the $600 for the airline ticket, she could come to America (and presumably live with me) and, in one or two months, her mum will send it.
“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Like Omar Khayyam’s moving finger, mine shot to the target: DELETE.
* * *
Carol smiled as I showed her the e-mail. “Oh, my,” she said. “She really put out a line, didn’t she? And you were smart enough not to take the bait.”
“Good for me. But it was a pretty obvious scam.”
“Who’d fall for it?”
“Some would.” I thought of many men — lonely, perhaps desperate. Forlorn types I’d seen at singles meetings with their paunch, drooping faces and dim eyes, looking on as the few available women were lassoed and led away. “They let that emotion stir their wants, so they believe.” I shrugged. “You stare at the computer screen, read the words over and over. Well, most people would rather believe then know.”
Carol sighed. “Boy, all of this ‘Russian romance.’ Once they tore down the Iron Curtain, what comes next?”
“It’s said a lot of these scams originate from Nigeria.”
Carol shook her head. “Of all places, but I guess it would be easy. Just photoshop, find a lot of men on lists, download. No more difficult than the committee meetings and uploads I post.”
“And the emotions. The hope. That helps a lot.”
“Yeah,” she said with a twinge of bitterness. “A real lonely hearts club. Know all about that.”
Carol was divorced, having met her spouse at a singles meeting, and it ended badly. She had to get a court order to keep him away from her after the divorce, finally moving several states away. We had a good laugh over this honeyed deception out of the superiority a couple feels for this bear trap set for lonely men. We met while dancing, and then had a relationship for 20 years. I can say without hesitation that in Carol I found my soul. We weren’t necessarily erotic; just friends and a deep commingling where we could laugh together.
“Of course,” Carol said as we shared some wine, “if you’re serious about a Russian woman, I wouldn’t stand in the way.”
“I’m not looking for for romance.” I looked into Carol’s deep, brown eyes. “I have it.”
Her smile lingered as she looked down. “Oh, Steve. I’ve always said you should look for someone. I wouldn’t mind.”
She was seven years older than I, but I saw nothing wrong in that. “I’m not interested,” I said.
She smiled. “What about the weekend?”
“Oh, I’ll be out of town tomorrow. The Renaissance Fair.”
I nodded. Carol was in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, the medieval reenactment group. She was ready, as always, to wear one of her many gowns and display her skills in dancing and archery. “Good weather for jousting. And seeing old friends.”
She leaned back and her finger circled the rim of the empty glass. “I’ll be seeing Sir Hamilton.”
People in the Society took medieval names. Carol was Lady Annabella.
“Sir Hamilton?” I quizzed. “Someone you’re serious about, or is it just another guy with a codpiece that milady sizzleth for?”
Carol offered a raised eyebrow and impish grin to match. “There are a lot of things you don’t know about me.”
Carol enjoyed this: getting me jealous and pretending to be, as a friend of hers joked, a slutty Shirley Temple. I was happy with Carol. There was no sex in our relationship, but rather a sweet, constant pleasure in each other’s company. A Russian romance was surely a paper moon sailing over that proverbial cardboard sea.
She died in 2015. A second bypass surgery was too much for her heart. After a doleful and uncertain time of mourning, where loss is accepted as part of life’s caravan, I got over waiting to hear her voice over the receiver, or driving over for another night of her stir-fry or a discussion of music. I moved on.
* * *
In May of 2017 I was checking my e-mail at the library, and a bouncy little message shoved its way to the front of the line: “Hey! Are you well? Good Day, new friend. How your day?”
It was from a Natalya. She had seen my profile on a dating site, and she was interested. “I am want to make new mate from abroad possibly my genuine beloved.”
Natalya lived in Novorossiya, on the Black Sea — a stone’s throw from Crimea. Through her perky and fractured English I sensed she really was looking for romance. I wrote back, explaining my past experience with Russian women. She was sympathetic. “It is really awful, as those women spoil reputation of all women from Russia. But not all women of Russia are similar to these deceivers. I have sincere intentions.”
I smiled as Natalya described her life, including more photos: posing with dogs, in business clothes at work, offering a kind smile among guests at a gathering. I was pleased there was nothing of the sex kitten about her. She restated, “Believe me, my intentions are serious and pure.”
I was touched. Who talks of purity theses days?
I sent back e-mails to make conversation, telling Natalya of my life and interests, and she enthusiastically replied. I was waiting for the hamburger bit, but it didn’t come.
I liked her photos. They showed a normal woman with friends, in social gatherings, and her make-up was light. She was a gentle, compassionate blonde, although I suspected that she dyed her hair.
She was pleased that I read Russian novels. When I wrote of Carol, she expressed pity.
The inevitable question from me was why she was seeking a man abroad and not in Russia. Natalya was blunt:
In Russia many men are weak by nature. In our life many temptations. A weak men become addicted to these temptations . . . But Russian men ruin oneself by drink . . . they become Alcoholics and are ready to sell his own mother for a bottle vodka. So I decided to test my luck and find love in another country.
She then repeated, “And immediately I want to say that I am very seriously and I am real person. I hope that we’ll be friends.”
We traded more e-mails during the few weeks thereafter. I sent photos, she sent hers, and the conversation was pleasant, with occasional sorties into deep thought, the “what-kind-man/woman-do-you like” kind of thing. I kept expecting a scam or appeal for funds, but none came. Instead, she spoke of her family. Sent a brief video of herself with her family, touring caves in nearby Turkey. Another video showed images of a dog or a fawn imposed over her face. Which did I like? (Fawn.) I sent her photos of the costumed dances Carol and I went to (Jane Austen for me; to Natalya, it was War and Peace).
It was a perfect summer diversion. Yet, I felt this was all fairy cake. For starters, I didn’t have any money, and going to Russia to meet Natalya was out of the question. Also, she was 32 and I was 64. There was too much of an age difference, and I was concerned. Natalya cheerfully refuted it:
That for nonsenses you write about your age! I saw your photos and you look for 40 years a maximum. I see that you are the decent good person and you well care of yourselves. Please, cease to worry about our difference in the age of. OK? . . . And very much frequently in the mornings I think, that I want to read again your letter and faster to write the answer . . . I never trusted that is possible to find something serious on the Internet. Until then yet has not met you.
Meeting each other was discussed after we got to know each other. Natalya’s optimism could be seen in every sentence:
In my life there is almost all about what any woman can dream. But I do not have the most important and necessary for any woman. In my life there is no love. I already spoke to you that I am very passionate and romantic nature. If I fall in love, I give myself completely to the love. Steven, you are not afraid of it? . . . Today I have told about you to the friends. They are surprised my choice and slightly alert. Simply they very strongly love me support always and in all. I hope I have not tired you with the letter. I with impatience shall await your answer. Natalya.
Again, I mentioned age.
With the years there comes wisdom and experience. I never liked my coevals. I will wait your answer now. Yours Natalya.
By August 24 things had deepened, if it could be called that. I was, as always, cordial and chatty, offering my excursions into Russian culture and discussing my likes and dislikes, as well as my past loves, such as they were. I looked forward to Natalya’s missives, yet I kept thinking things were going too far. I asked Natalya again if she had found any man her own age. She admitted she had had a boyfriend for three years, but had caught him with a friend of hers. She hated losing a friend, but she had no room in her life for, as she put it, deception. Natalya lost her remorse over that affair as she warmed to my letters. “Hello my dear the man!” was her latest salutation. She offered a full-page adulation of me:
It is very pleasant for me to know that somewhere in this world there is a person who as thinks of me, writes to me and waits for an answer . . . I feel that between us there is any magic feeling. For me that has no value between us of hundred and thousand kilometers, that we never saw . . . All this trifles.
She then became more lyrical:
Reading your letters, I learn your soul. And soul this most important in the person. I oppress it is possible to grow fond forever. The passion passes, appearance with the years varies, and the soul remains constant. And if you will grow fond of this person for his soul this love will be eternal . . . I do not want to frighten you off. I risk your refusal of my feelings. But as they say to us in Russia, “who does not risk, that does not drink champagne.”
She concluded by mentioning a girlfriend’s birthday party she was attending:
It is pity you are not near to me. We could go together for this holiday, have pleasant evening. Slow dance . . . And I am trying in pole dance. I want to study this dance on a pole for you . . . do you like to see our dance in our future meeting? I think of you always. Yours Natalya.
I was getting frightened off. I sensed the unreality of Natalya’s devotion, simply falling in love with the frail hopes of paper and the Internet, if she even was a real person. I was still waiting for the scam, but all I got were deeper letters about her feelings, photos of friends and family, and from a party for her uncle where she looked very sharp in a tight black dress, dancing and embracing her mother.
Later in August came a lengthy e-mail with many pictures. Natalya was at a friend’s birthday party. She posed with friends, wearing a one-strap frock, her hair made up into a curled ponytail. It was much more enjoyable than her first photo, and her smile was graceful, but not exuberant. She had told her girlfriends about me. They were surprised, but . . .
They saw as I light up with happiness when I speak about you . . . My friends are rights. I have fallen in love with you. My life and my mood completely depends upon your letters. Know I very much for a long time did not start up with anybody in the heart. I very much was afraid, that to me will hurt . . . I already spoke to you . . . I could not find the love very for a long time.
Was I honored? Flattered? Uneasy that I was an object of such unjustified and naïve affection, or that the paper image of me was so enticing? Natalya continued her confessio with information that deepened the plot, so to speak:
. . . Mine the daddy very rich and influential person. And all that is my life I am obliged to him. He has presented me a life, has lifted me on legs . . . I do not need for anything. When I was with my ex-boyfriend during three years, my daddy very much trusted mine boyfriend. The daddy after that was told that I am silly, that I do not understand in people, and that he will find me worthy the man. After that he has acquainted me and insists on that I have married him. But I do not want it! Because I do not love him and do not want to live all life with him . .. You understand me, dear Steven? Even it is disgusting to present itself near to him . . . About you knows only my mum.
Now you know about my hard destiny . . . I very much hope in the future the daddy will understand mine that he is not right. That I should choose myself the destiny, my future husband . . . simply he loves me . . . Too strongly. And such love he tries to save me from all problems and experiences.
I hope that I to you have told cannot affect our feelings in any way. That I feel that to you it is impossible to describe words. Our dialogue is very dear for me and I do not want to lose you.
I love you
Your Natalya forever!
So, a story of parental disapproval intruded upon Natalya’s adoration of me. Her fractured English was very clear about what had happened, from her boyfriend’s “betrayal” to her father’s attempt to find her a good husband, and perhaps to cement a business alliance — and here I was, a fairy-tale American capable of love, affection, and true comradeship. It wasn’t the first time someone had placed his hopes on an illusory figure in print or a faraway place, one whose perfection was the perfect escape from a dreary or flawed reality.
We talked of Russian literature (me more than Natalya; she simply amened whatever I wrote),. Our situation brought to mind Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Onegin, a dispassionate bachelor and an “outside man” of society, meets Tatyana, a younger, idealistic woman who falls madly in love with him, giving her heart and soul to Onegin. It almost echoed Natalya’s words to me.
Onegin is wary of such romantic idolatry. He finally says no to Tatyana. Firmly. Other dramatic points crop up in Pushkin’s poem, but it concludes when Onegin, now older, lonely, and embittered, meets an older Tatyana, who is married and settled. He confesses that he now loves and wants her. She is uninterested. He is willing to take her away from her (presumably) dull husband. She ignores him. And so it ends.
I was struck by the similarities between Onegin and my own Russian romance. Onegin is a story of how reality and fiction intertwine so as to be indistinguishable; Onegin and Tatyana seem as much characters as real people, and Onegin ponders this. What is a genuine human reaction, and what is simply striking a pose? Do we not become what we imagine ourselves to be?
I wondered about this while I conversed with Natalya, wondering if she was wishing for a white knight to rescue her from her domestic frustrations. Or maybe she was simply another deception. But I took her at her word, and all the photos of family and friends could not have been that elaborate a scam. Her talk of our souls bonding, of dreams for a wonderful, charming man (many years her senior — a wonderful substitute father?). There was, in the two months of our correspondence, no talk of hamburgers.
Yet Natalya was a fantasy to me, as I surely must have been to her. She knew little about me, although I thought myself as open as possible. Again, there was no erotic content in her missives. The letters were those of a woman with a life.
I decided all of this had to come to an end. If Natalya was truly sincere in her hopes for me, then she was caught in an illusion. I had no intention of going to Russia, even if I had had the money to do so. My life was good, but it could not be her life.
I wrote her an honest but, I think, compassionate letter to restate that she needed to find a man in Russia; one closer to her age, and someone she could meet face-to-face: date, take walks, etc. I could not, in the foreseeable future, ever see her, so she had to find a good, caring man and not waste time on fantasies of Internet bliss.
I did like Natalya, and wished her the best. I asked her to put faith in God and seek a strong mate. I asked her not to write me again.
The letters stopped.
* * *
That was six years ago, and I have no regrets. I do hope Natalya — if she is real — found someone, and that she is happy.
I did try to contact Natalya again twice: once in 2016, when Russiagate began with Trump and I was angered at the immediate anti-Russian faucet turned on by the media and government (the one Trump presumably was in charge of, but appeared not to have any control over — another case of illusion versus reality). I wrote Natalya that I hoped she was well, and how bothered I was by these relentless attacks on Russia and its leadership. I spoke of my admiration for Putin, and the need for our peoples to get along. I asked her to please not judge all Americans by the media’s poisonous malice.
There was no reply.
I sent the other letter in March of this year. Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine had set off a torrent of anti-Russian propaganda and vitriol that sickened and angered me at times. To see Russians have their property confiscated, Russian composers like Tchaikovsky prohibited, mindless rage against Russian authors, their works being removed from store and library shelves . . . It recalled the days of McCarthyism. I remember that one of my professors had been a student then. He studied Russian for his political science degree, and an employer then fired him — because only a Communist would study Russian.
Again, I told Natalya how these attacks angered and depressed me. I wanted to see our peoples treat each other with respect, even if we are adversaries. I was saddened to see our nation engage in such juvenile tactics. Again, I hoped she was well.
I wasn’t expecting any. I thought again how Natalya might have simply been imagined. Perhaps keyboard fingers that refused to reply were, after all, Nigerian.
I’ve read of women who make heavy romantic offers on the Internet, yet they are simply faking it. They enjoy the sense of controlling romantic feelings on the keyboard and create the illusion of romance — not really for money, but just to keep it going, because the Internet offers a more fulfilling romantic environment than reality.
Was Natalya one of those? The last letter with her declarations about us being together despite paternal objections recalled a romance novel that took control of the writer’s (or tapper’s) imagination. The tyranny of anonymity gives such people the idea of control. George Orwell had commented on what were the singles columns of his time, noting that a major trait was how everyone in them was always remarkably eligible, which caused one to wonder why these people had to advertise for a companion. Orwell thought such ads a symptom of modern urbanization, where people have no real social community.
Taking this a step further, one might say that the global community also destroys a national sense and communal identity in favor of a universal blandness that offers great consumer goods and comfort. But does it offer romance?
In 1991, we saw the Soviet Union collapse due to America and the West’s overwhelming economic power. It was hoped that we would see a united, communal world free of the arms race. That was the year the Peace Dividend was proclaimed everywhere, much like LGBTQ is today. There was no more need for nuclear weapons or even military force in world politics. Communism was dead. Frances Fukuyama’s The End of History foretold endless democracy and consumerism. All America had to do was simply be kind and offer lots of stuff, and our enemies would come begging.
Many Russians hoped for this new world, but it’s not misanthropy to say that America deceived Russia. We promised not to expand NATO into Eastern Europe. But we did. The Peace Dividend was easily dispensed with when we proclaimed the War on Terror (a nebulous foe offering an omnibus of spending and government expansion), followed by two decades of war — war, American style, with lots of bombings, special operations, and the arming of local forces.
Russia, especially under Putin, began to understand that anyone who wholeheartedly trusts America is deceived. “Democracy,” “cooperation,” and “human rights” are the only principles that fit American terms and uses. “Love on your own terms — the only terms anyone understands,” as the very American Charles Foster Kane had said.
Might my Russian romance have been an example of Russia becoming so devoted and passionate for America that it was hoped the latter would offer new blessings and opportunities, and in my case the fulfillment of a woman’s hopes? But when it became apparent that America wasn’t going to offer any kind of hope of equality or cooperation, and instead continued a subtle but continual policy of control, was it surprising that Russia decided that it was a mistake to have trusted America so much?
Of course I made no romantic or serious promises to Natalya, but her letters spoke of a kind of liberation and wish-fulfillment that was open to easy exploitation. In the nineties, Russia happily accepted our consumer society and her women were farmed out to locales as far apart as New York, Tel Aviv, and Turkey (in Turkey a “Natasha” is slang for a Russian woman who is there on the make). In furthering the metaphor of Russia as a woman, an extended Natalya, it can easily be seen that the social and domestic problems of Russia, especially when accelerated by economic and governmental collapse, could allow the West to rescue Russia from herself. But in the end America, much like Hitler in 1941, had no intention of freeing Russia. It was only to be subordinated to globalist policy. Russia’s women are a byproduct of this exploitation, and her oil and mineral reserves are far more necessary for America’s goals and needs. The needs of democracy.
When Putin became a stronger leader who gradually reaffirmed the return of Russia’s strength, he became a thorn in the side of globalist control. The old anti-Russia tunes were dusted off and put back on the stereo, so to speak. Certainly, the reaction to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine can only be described as emotional and hysteric. Even when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the West’s reaction wasn’t this rabid. America’s reaction recalled Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, where Mailer tries to explain the fury Americans felt for Japan during the Second World War. Before Pearl Harbor, Americans always thought of the Japanese as a cute, adorable people who wore colorful clothes and manufactured cheap but likable toys. When Japan attacked us, it was like a cuddly pet that had turned on its master, biting the master’s hand, and it had to be expelled, if not put down.
I think there was a sexual element to it as well. We had seen Russia as a compliant woman we’d tamed. She had been “westernized,” and so was obedient to our will. Russia seemed agreeable: McDonald’s, Givenchy, weird sex, and other dubious blessings of the West flooded the country. Yet Putin represents a segment, perhaps the majority of Russia, that recalls an older, undefeated people. For so long, we have wanted the feminine Russia for ourselves.
The immediate and hostile campaign against Russia convinced many of its citizens that perhaps their adulation of the West had been unwise because they had put their trust and hopes in a culture that only seeks domination and control over resources to continue its jaded lifestyle. It recalls Attila the Hun, who had decided, after first adoring Rome, finally to sack it and end its corrupt, murderous imperialism. Some historians argue that the barbarian invasions of Rome were less aggression and more a form of vigorous self-defense: payback for centuries of Roman exploitation.
The explosion of Russian women seeking a new life in the West was a very visible phenomenon in the nineties. For many White Nationalists this was a blessing since, as they see it, American women are too doused in feminism to be perfect mates. Russian women, with their older sense of femininity, are the hope of conservative Western men. It was said William Pierce, before he died, had been canvassing Russian bride ads. Certainly, Russian women are preferable to the armies of Asian women offered online. As Harold Covington said, you really can’t be a White Nationalist and have a mud wife.
Perhaps the Ukrainian bride market will continue unhindered, but things have definitely changed for Russia. Our image of her as a comely and willing hooker might change into that of the Marvel comics character Black Widow: a super-heroine, cunning, well-trained, and swamping her opposition, as Russia seems to be doing to the West these days.
The hooker is out, and Mother Russia is back . . . and it’s not nice to fool Mother Russia.
And, as Onegin would ask, which is the role and which 1990the reality?
* * *
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