It all began when Bill went to Iraq. Bill was tall, young, smart, handsome, recently single, and down-to-earth – for a software engineer anyway. I don’t recall Bill ever going to those video game parties the other guys were so fond of.
At Karen’s ballroom dance class in College Park, a girl introduced herself to Bill: “My name is Honey. As something sweet.” Bill responded: “My name is Bill. As something you get in the mail.”
Bill could be a political scientist, but figured there’s more money in engineering software for a defense contractor. He wrote a blog – something about geeks, and money, and investing – for a couple of years, until the whole thing collapsed – whatever year that was – 2008? Maybe after that as well. I learned about modern day slavery, chocolate, and human trafficking from that blog; a speech about Fair Trade sprouted from those seeds.
So, yeah, Bill went to Iraq in 2005 to set up a “defense” system for Northrop. For a year, I think. Stayed in the Green Zone. Wrote witty and scary reports from there. We sent him snacks and things a few times, for which he was grateful.
When Bill came back, he dated Jacki for a few weeks. Jacki read his e-mails from Iraq and realized that there was more to him than the jackass he kind of presented on the surface. I knew that. But then of course no Bill would look at me twice, right? Jacki – yes – smart, beautiful, witty, easily amused, creative.
I mean, I was married to Craig anyway. Super reliable. Not at all dangerous. Not at all exciting. A good guy otherwise.
By May or June of 2006 my unhappiness was catching up with me, try as I might to ignore myself. I remember one night, I woke up, looked at the man sleeping next to me and was so turned off I almost cried. When I was with him, I pretended he was somebody else.
Craig must have become jealous of Bill’s glory. I went to Atlanta for ASCO 2006. Craig called me there and said he decided he would go to Iraq; I responded supportively, as if I was hiding sadness, but I was hiding excitement. In Atlanta, I talked to Victor. He said he wanted to go back to playing chess, because he used to enjoy it so much. And I told him I wanted to learn tango.
That had been on my mind for a while. In October of 2005, we went to this fancy event in DC, whatever that was, fancy enough for me to wear a corsage. The dancing was mostly ballroom. There was a couple performing argentine tango there. It must have been choreographed to some extent, yet the degree of connection and understanding between the partners I could sense was by far beyond anything I had known. I wanted to feel that. And come June 2006, that ripened. Funny how Atlanta would keep coming up tango years and friends later.
I went to a Sunday milonga and lesson in Baltimore a couple of weeks after I came back. That’s when I met Mark, Marty, Tim, Christina, another Tim, and a few folks who remained in 2006.
Just as that was starting, I moved closer to work, and further from Baltimore, because Craig would be leaving soon anyway, for a year, according to the plan. A couple of weeks before he left, in August, I went to the Yellowstone NP for a week. In the Spring, we were planning to go there together, but then it got too much for him, with all the going to Iraq business. I cancelled most of the bus tours I booked, because I’d rather walk, rented a car for the first time, Dodge Neon, flew out to the tiny airport in Cody, WY, drove some 50 miles to the park. It was lovely. A bit lonely, but on my terms. On the trail before 10. Walking far. Quietly. Stopping to take pictures. One day, I pulled up to a trail head at the same time as a diving instructor from Italy, also traveling solo. We went on a hike together. He was a bit of a wimp though. Stopping all the time. Misreading my map. Mixed feelings about having company.
After Craig left, Jacki helped me decorate the new apartment. We got as close as we ever had been, but not as close as I forever wished we would. I was always so shy and uninteresting. Why would Jacki speak to me. Jacki met Oguz earlier that year, I’m guessing. Before that, when she was still with that guy Rob, she asked me, earnestly, how the married life was. I mumbled something. What did I know? I didn’t know what to expect, right? I hadn’t began to know what was available.
Jacki invited me over for her birthday party in November of 2006, and let me stay over on the couch, so I wouldn’t have to drive back so far, so late. In the morning, I was already up when Oguz walked out of the bedroom to make us breakfast. Jacki emerged a bit later, all smiles and sass. Hey, she said, kissing him, you escaped from me. Yes, he said, laughing, I escaped. I remember being envious, thinking I couldn’t have that.
We had breakfast and I left. I saw Jacki two years later, when I drove down to Baltimore to have her sign a letter of affidavit for the Green Card Nightmare, testifying that Craig’s and mine marriage had been real until it ended. I had to drive down, because Jacki was going to Turkey with Oguz for good, the next day or so. Karen wrote a letter as well, as did Craig’s brother Brian and their Mom Pat. Karen and Pat might have expressed that they didn’t know what happened. I didn’t see them though: they mailed the letters to me. Good, fair people.
Back to 2006. Around September, I started getting a feel for tango. I was going out to all the new places in Philadelphia. Like Craig used to do, I wrote down people’s names and descriptions, so I would remember them. I soon gave up ballroom completely. On September 24, 2006, I went to the Tango Cafe on Society Hill. That’s when I saw David for the first time. He looked exuberant dancing. He asked me to dance toward the end. I said, “I was hoping you would ask me”. I had said that to a few people, before I learned the cabeceo haha, but only when I meant it, of course. He was kind, funny, witty and so handsome. He was trying to help me with my posture in a way that was ridiculously confusing, but wouldn’t get frustrated at my confusion. I met a lot of new people that night. When I got home, I sat down to write their names. I wrote, “Eric was the first guy to dance with me at the Tango Cafe.” And then I wrote, “David is my new crush.” More like an inside joke, n= 1 etc.
In October, I went to Toronto for a week. I had a few vacation days left, and I just recently was able to travel abroad again, to Canada, without a visa, so why not Toronto. I went there with Helen and Francisco for those wild work meetings in June: in about two days: Sunnybrook, Niagara Falls, CN tower, Kingston. So in the Fall, I wasn’t going there completely cold. It was so pleasant there. Shocking how few people asked me where I was from the second I opened my mouth. Relaxed, thoughtful, low key, yet metropolitan. The last day there or so I was hanging out at the hostel with that kid Mark from Ireland, 1 year older than my little brother, skinny, dark grey eyes, proud, intense, understated. We were really connecting there for a while. At some point I mentioned I was married, traveling alone, my husband overseas. Mark stared at me and said: “You are shitting me.” I asked: “What?” (Never heard that before, never since.) “You are shitting me.” “No,” I said. We ended up making out. I missed Mark for a short while.
Funny the things I remember. Remember disturbing side effects from the pill I was on: 1 week of perfect hopelessness out of every 4; screwed up the endometrial lining. Don’t remember what I did for Thanksgiving. I was studying with Lori and Sam that Fall, so must have gone to El Ocho Loco in the evening, and it must have been warm and sweet. On Friday after Thanksgiving I drove down to Philadelphia and had my tragus and upper ear pierced. The tragus was a trifle. For the second piercing, I think, Kevin got upset about getting strict with obnoxious customers earlier, and his hand quivered. That one didn’t heal well. Kevin moved to San Francisco soon after that. I wonder where he works now. Would be neat to run into him or even employ him for another piercing.
On Sunday before Thanksgiving, it was the tango-yoga-brunch at the Atrium, with Elizabeth and Jackie. To this day, the best idea ever. I privately replicate parts of it on Tuesday evenings now, sans sunshine, coffee, breakfast food. David was there for the yoga and the rest of it. Smiling brilliantly. Slipped me his work phone number at the Tango Cafe on Sunday after Thanksgiving. Did not remember that we had met before the Atrium. I called the following day.
Now I have to leave a part of the narrative, because that branches way off the genesis line. Instead, I’ll summarize and close.
Here is what appears to have happened, whether I reflected on that then or simply felt my way through it. Somewhere along the way I contracted the idea of trying to fit in some sort of a normal framework. Perhaps, because I didn’t recognize myself and didn’t know how or dare to. A normal framework would have been a good escape. Now, it took a lot of pretending to be someone else, but I didn’t know better, did I?
Bill’s going to Iraq strangely led to that unraveling sooner rather than later. Free to roam about, I re-discovered what I liked: exploring the woods, finding my way about in cities, reading, dreaming, running into gems of strange people… As I wandered into tango, hiding from myself became unavailable. I had to pay attention to my feelings and emotions. Normal framework became unavailable, because here I was among all sorts of abnormal people, who were fascinating and made more sense than whatever idea of normal people I had. Dancing finally made sense. Ballroom never quite did, a parallel of sorts: trying to fit into a framework that doesn’t fit.
I made the decision around mid-December. Craig’s Mom Pat came to visit me for Christmas, because there I was poor thing all by myself with my loving husband overseas. That was almost fun. Sure, some major pretending, but this time, without pretending I wasn’t. Craig called us on Christmas day, of course. Charming. Pat left before the New Years. When Craig called on New Year’s eve, I told him I wanted out. We Russians are sentimental about New Year, and the announcement had to be made in 2006. Went to a crappy milonga for the New Year’s Eve. Woke up early the next morning, from an expected phone call and drove to Philadelphia, but that was already in 2007 and after the beginning.