things have been looking pretty bleak in the middle of winter in my frozen little ukrainian village. so bleak that i finally drank that beer i’ve been saving as my ‘friend’ for 3 months now. no, no, no, i haven’t lost it THAT much to call canned alcoholic beverages my friends, though it’s somewhat close to the truth.
three months ago on a marshutka ride from the next city back to mala bilozerka, i began talking with a young man from my village. turned out he’s around my age and not too creepy so i was really really hoping that it was the start of a new friendship. i hopefully, and as it turns out foolishly, pinned him as the new ‘sasha’ (my friendly and hilarious host brother). when the bus led us back to the village i hoped we’d exchange numbers and in no time i’d have so many friends and weekend invites to do things that my old lady hobbies would have to take a permanent back seat. i waited for him as he ran into the store, and thinking i knew the ways of the world well, we’d say good-bye and make plans to see each other again.
making friends here is not easy. well anywhere in ukraine really. in a closed society, you’ve gotta be on the ‘in’ somehow. i’m on the ‘in’ with my neighbor, and while she’s great, she also has kids and isn’t my age. most other people my age either moved the hell outta here, are married with kids or work in the mine all hours of the day. it also doesn’t help that, in true when harry met sally fashion, men and women can’t really friends here. and don’t ask me what i would do with my new friend. the young men just stand outside the store in the cold and drink at night and i all i have is a tiny dormitory room to entertain in. but whatever i didn’t care about that…i was excited that i think i found a friend, an ‘in’, that i finally figured out the secret password for the cool club.
i was confident that i would no longer be a loner. cept…it didn’t play out like that. at all. exiting the store he had a pack of smokes in one hand and a beer in another. i assumed they were both his, but he held the beer out to me, told me that it’s so i’m not so lonely at night and begged me to take it. what?? i was left just as surprisingly disappointed i was the time i thought the layered square of pink cake i saved on my cafeteria plate for dessert turned out to actually be meat cake.
am i really that pathetic of a case? having never purchased alcohol in my village before, and knowing just how people seem to see eveeeeerything, i was nervous to accept. plus i didn’t want a beer!!! i wanted a friend that could actually talk back to me, not just something to drink away my loneliness.
after a good back and forth, i just accepted it. not exactly sure how i felt about the fact that i seriously can’t make any friends here. and when i’m close they just buy me beer to drink alone. way to go, kristen. so, my beer and i have been friends since then. it has kept me company like the young man hoped. it’s become my wilson. my only friend on this very lonely island of solitude. it always listens to me, holds my papers down, lets me win at checkers, never hogs the covers, you know the usual friend stuff. so needless to say, it was a hard decision to drink it.
but desperate times calls for desperate measures…and also for drinking your only friend. it’s been sitting on my shelf reminding myself just how not alone i am, but this month has been pretty rough so far, and well hell, i needed a drink.
i said some last words to my beer friend just before doing the damage, pulling the tab, and activating ‘true friendship’ mode. — i should point out that this is the first time i’ve ever drank alone. i guess the middle of winter in a ukrainian village isn’t too bad of a time to start. though, i don’t plan on making this a habit…well unless everyone i try to make friends with buys me pity beer. also despite this title, i’m actually writing this completely sober too, which might be hard for you to believe, and maybe something i shouldn’t admit to…
either way i drank it. and it was delicious. but despite its refreshing taste, rebellious feeling of drinking in the dorm, and my dance party to a looped track of ‘eye of the tiger’, i was still just as alone as before….even despite my fellow villager’s conviction that i’d feel otherwise. now i was just left with an empty can, empty hope that i’ll ever make friends my age here, and now an empty emergency alcohol supply.
but this is life in the village. with no local friends, no internet at home, and shoddy expensive cell service that i can really only call megan with, the isolation is probably the hardest thing to deal with. but i’m done complaining. if it wasn’t for ‘the fortress of solitude’, as another volunteer brian calls his apartment, i’d probably not have been able to hone my writing or dance skills (that i’m hoping someday i’ll be able to use in public).
also the kids at the dormitories benefit from my loneliness too. i’ve been known to spend my weekends baking sweets for them, showing disney pixar movies with downloaded russian subtitles on my laptop, and being a forever-within-reach homework helper. sadly, i think they know i have nothing else to do.
lately everyone (teachers, students, the school director) keeps asking about my boyfriend. mainly because most of them saw him this summer. mainly because they’re surprised i’m capable of having (non-inanimate object beer) friends. and mainly because they usually don’t know what else to ask me. my favorite security guard at school, the one who helped me fix-up my bike when i first got it, only asks me about one of three things: my bike, my dog chucha, and my boifrrrend (the only english word he knows too). the first two things are easy to answer for. the last, not so much. he knew of my boyfriend’s plan to come visit me in the winter as i told him in reply to the usual update. though those plans have changed and jeff is no longer coming. in fact, (i don’t usually blog about my actual personal feelings, but whatever this post is different and i’ll do what i want) jeff and i are no longer together (k that’s as personal as i’m going to get).
the first time the school guard asked how my boyfriend was i just pretended that nothing happened and replied with the usual. though the second time he asked about ‘boy’ i couldn’t pretend and told him, using hand gestures as if activating a glow stick, that we are no longer together. he seemed so sad and confused and also oddly somewhat happy. he looked down at his combat boots to his matching camo uniform, smiled, and shyly admitted that he’s probably too old for me, isn’t he? and not to be agist or anything, but yes, at the age of 50+ or so, yes, you’d be too old for me. i tried not to let him down too harshly. he holds the keys to the school after-all and lets me out when i get locked-in using the internet, which is too often to admit. i was about to mention that i’d really just like to make friends right now, but fearing that i’d just end up with another beer on my shelf to keep me company, i decided to leave that part out.