When I first moved in with Lena, things were really great. Her English is at an advanced level, and I was able to speak almost as quickly with her as I would a native speaker. We did things together on the weekend like judging contestants in a film festival and going to Pavlovsk, where we tried tongue pizza and went for a walk in the large park. We cooked together and watched films while the food was in the oven. We went out to a restaurant and then to the ballet with her ex-husband.
Enter her new boyfriend…
I really liked Glenn when I first met him. He was friendly, spoke great English, knew a lot about the Russian political scene and was easy to talk to. The three of us had no problem eating dinner and then watching a film together. It started to get really awkward when he started sleeping over. If I came home and they were both already there, they’d retreat into her bedroom and shut the door. I felt like I was unwanted and unwelcome in my own home.
From the time Daniel came to visit, she and I didn’t see much of each other any more. Daniel and I had plans of our own, and she and Glenn were doing their own thing, as well. On one evening we’d made plans for the four of us to eat together, but by the time Daniel and I came home, they’d eaten on their own. The two of them went to Norway together for the Winter holiday, so I was home alone for a week before I left myself for Germany. When I came back, I greeted them cheerfully and got the immediate impression that they didn’t really want to be around me. The next morning (Thursday) I got a message from Lena saying that the two of them had decided to move in together, and that she’d help me find a new place to live. Within 15 minutes of her posting an ad on couchsurfers.com, I had a phone call from the family with whom I am currently sharing an apartment. We met that day, and we agreed that I’d move in on Sunday.
I was already a bit hurt that I’d have to leave, but then Lena sent another message saying that since she was hosting a company party at our apartment that night, and since the company paid for much of the apartment, they probably wouldn’t like to see so many people living there. She offered to book me a hotel for that night in town. That hurt. I didn’t know why she couldn’t have just introduced me at the party as a friend without mentioning that we were also roommates. As it turned out, I’d forgotten that I’d need my passport to check in at the hotel, and I had to return anyway to get it. By the time I got home at around 8:30, all of the guests had already left. I took my passport and went back to my hotel, anyway. Since it was right across from the school, I wouldn’t have to catch the metro home at midnight and I had already made plans to join some fellow teachers for a drink and then what turned out to be a fantastic and fun night of dancing.
The last night I stayed in my old place I knew I couldn’t have stayed there the way things were going. I hated hearing them having sex in the next room, and I hated that in walking to my own bathroom I had to avoid naked Glenn.
Lena and Glenn had promised to come with me and help me move, so after I was packed I was waiting for them for several hours while they went on a tour of the Hermitage. When they got back, they had two other friends in tow and explained that they couldn’t help me move because they were going out for dinner. They would, however, call me a cab. I just stared at her in hurt silence. While waiting for the cab the four of them drank wine in the kitchen while I sat by myself in the empty living room, and then all four of them took my stuff, loaded it in the cab, and then I was off without so much as a ‘nice knowing you.’ That was a long and bitter cab ride.
My new living arrangement is much different, and I’m still adjusting. Vladimir and Elena are my age, and they have a 2 year-old daughter named Sofia. (Whose nickname for some reason is ‘Sonia.’) I’m trying to see past the disadvantages: I’m paying more for an apartment that’s smaller, older, further from the metro, more inconvenient to get to work, and living with a family where the toddler doesn’t go to bed until past midnight. On the positive side, they’re nice, fun people who immediately told me to make myself at home, make traditional dishes so I can sample them, sit up to chat and drink tea with me, and give me that valuable cultural experience of getting to know what it’s like to live in a typical Russian family.