drinking buddies and delirious bantering

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.

even the sunsets of a bleak winter can be pretty

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.

sasquatch pose -- life could be worse. like for my puppy friends that sleep in the trash pits

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.

my 'fortress of solitude'

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.

movie night at the dorms with yulia and vika. don't worry, i only charge AMC theater matinee prices.

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.

8 thoughts on “drinking buddies and delirious bantering

  1. So sorry about you and Jeff. I am sure that it doesn’t make anything easier. Each culture is different but I guess I don’t understand why being a friend is so hard. You are a very smart out going young lady and just getting together for some fun shouldn’t be that hard. You have so much to share with them and they to you. Wish I could say something that would help.

    Thinking of you daily. Hugs from Illinois.


  2. Thanks for sharing your feelings on loneliness. Even though I am not living in a completely foreign country and everyone in my small town speaks English (not always proper English, but English all the same) I have also had a hard time making friends of my own. I’m still not quite sure where you even go to make friends besides school, work, or bars… The three lovely people that I work with are in their sixties. I started a book club at the library to hopefully meet some people…it’s a great group of people, but once again, they’re in their 50s or 60s. Like you said, it seems like the young people don’t stick around, and the women I have met that are closest to me in age all have young children. The hardest thing for me is that Joey has a lot of friends in the area since he went to school out here and then I get all mopey when he hangs out with friends and I sit at home. One of my resolutions this year is to look at this time that I have to myself to be more creative, more productive, and learn new things. Sometimes it’s hard to get past that lonely feeling and motivate myself to do something. If all else fails, I have weird conversations with my dogs. I like your suggestion of dancing…I need some new dance moves. Stay warm and keep on writing! love and friendship from one captive in a fortress of solitude to another! 🙂

    • whitney,

      thanks so much for your comment!!! it’s so good to hear from you! it’s been so long! firstly, thanks for helping me feel like it’s not just me having this friend making problem. i’ve thought many times how my situation is probably similar to living in a small-town, usa. (well minus the ukrainian and russian) but living in a small town isn’t the easiest thing, i’m sure, especially when all the young people head out for the big city. i saw (thanks to being a creeper on facebook) that you moved into the cutest, might i add, farmhouse and wondered how you both were doing.

      i don’t know if it’s the books that i read (barbara kingsolver’s animal, vegetable, miracle became my bible. have you read this?? it’s right up your alley!), or the inner amish in me, but living off the land and working for what you have is exactly what i want to do. and it’s so inspiring to see you doing that. but that’s not to say it goes without drawbacks. i can imagine how hard it must be to sit at home while joey goes out with his friends. 😦 i’m not sure how you could make friends your age there either, but i guess like you said, if anything this time is the perfect chance to work on solo projects, have cool old lady friends, and write (i love your blog by the way!). also don’t be ashamed for silly conversations with your pets, i have a stray dog chucha that i sometimes talk to too hehe. i maybe be far far away so i know it’s not really the same, but know that you still have another small-town friend out there who is always happy to hear from you 🙂

      kristen 🙂

  3. I wish you could like posts on here. I forgot about your Charles love. And as of next Monday, I have every Monday, Wednesday and Friday off to do homework/observe schools…so we should skype.

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