Being away for a week seemed like it would be such a short piece of time. Just enough to buy a few gifts, renew my visa and share a handful of drinks with old friends. I did not realize how much would happen and how deeply I would be missed.
I spoke to E almost every day, as she reminded me to buy big shoes and a princess Jasmine doll. (I tend to buy shoes too small for her, convinced she can't have grown so much.) Now I carry a paper cut-out, a tracing of her feet to be sure. But when I got back, E explained to me that her mother told her every day I was away that I would not be coming back - that I was lying about buying shoes and toys for her. E processed all of this, calling her mother terrible things. I understand there was a lot of yelling in that house while I was away. So of course when I turned the corner of the detskie sad and E saw me, she laughed and cried a little and told me everything.
"I knew you were coming back for me." She said, her chin on my shoulder, her face pressed against my neck.
We went home, and cooked chinese food together, the kitchen soon full of wrapping paper and new toys.
N missed me more than she expected to. As I spoke to her each day I was away, she was quiet and calm. We spoke about funny little things. Little jokes and goodnights. But after I was gone for five days, she came out and told me she missed me. There was such pain in her voice.
It was raining when I left New York.
Back in Moscow, we spent a quiet afternoon together after the airport. We spoke about our relationship, more than pillow talk. The pieces were all falling back into place. There was chaos still, problems still. There is time still. There are giant wounds that must heal somehow. There are bills to pay. A massive collection of emails and phone calls and faxes to sort through.
But there is love now. A deep, concrete love.
On Sunday N took us to a music festival in an estate outside of the city. Within the forest sat a kind of castle - maybe more like a mansion. Thousands of people sat on the grass and listened to music of all kinds, blowing bubbles, sleeping in strange poses, drinking beer, playing with children, licking ice cream cones, staring at the balloons that floated off into the clouds.
The last band we saw played a perfect country and blues, in Russian. We danced, kicking up dust. E pumped her fists in the air, shouting out spontaneous lyrics. N stood close, her head on my shoulder. They played blues after blues. We shook our heads slowly, nodding and bending one leg in rhythm. At least for an hour, we were all together.