Once upon a time they probably passed each other one morning on the boardwalk. She ran in one direction as he biked in the other. They walked the same beaches, ate at the same restaurants, waited in the same lines for the same ice cream and rode the same amusements that one summer, only they didn’t know each other. At some point, he probably heard her laugh and the hint of matchless accent among warm, sunny bustle of chatter and ocean splashes.
For a season they unknowingly lived in the same New Jersey beach town as neighbors in the midst of a barrage of tourists and vacationers. Years later they would connect over Instagram, but he no longer lived in that town and she was back in her home, 5,000+ miles away.
What you are about to read is the true and impractical story of a great, impossible love. It’s an absolutely unfathomable predicament they could have never envisioned, yet wouldn’t trade for the world.
The following words have been crafted in an attempt to best explain how they happened to each other, but the translation might be rough, and there are a great many barriers. But if the reader can get past the awkwardness, geography, and massive differences in societies, they will catch a glimpse of what these two see-through rose-colored lenses.
Here in this space between is the tale of their illogical story and how across countless boundaries, obstacles, and culture, they somehow understood each other in a way that surpassed language itself.
In the summer of 2014 a young woman from Siberia, Russia worked at the nostalgic Old Time Photos on the Ocean City boardwalk. She embarked on a great U.S. pilgrimage, adventuring to experience the land most people across the world dream of visiting. A former lawyer turned photographer with her own business as a food stylist and menu/restaurant designer, her temporary job at the shore was a fun fit.
As the fireworks exploded over the beach on the 4th of July, she asked the people around her what the meaning of the celebration was.
“No one could tell me,” she would later tell her newfound friend over Instagram; her missed connection from the past.
“Typical,” he’d reply. As a Philadelphian, he would go on to proudly explain the story of how America stuck it to Great Britain at Independence Hall in 1776.
“I know now,” she’d reply.
While they unknowingly lived among each other in that matchless beach town during that picturesque summer, she found his Instagram account through the Ocean City hashtag. He barely noticed but as far as he could tell, the account was a Russian food photographer who had followed him for no real reason. The photos were impressive, but the captions were in Russian hieroglyphics, and this was before the translation button arrived on the scene.
As months wore on and turned to years, he noticed this particular follower seemed to like mostly every photo he posted. By now he had dated, fallen in love, was broken up with, started and ended his own business throughout two tumultuous years, and moved twice. One evening alone in his apartment now up the coast in Asbury Park, a different New Jersey beach town, he decided on a whim to look into this faithful Instagram follower. To his great surprise, he discovered behind the delicious images of delicately prepared food, drink, and brilliantly designed menus was a beautiful, young Russian woman with her own business. He scrolled back in her pictures to that fateful summer and realized that she previously lived in Ocean City the same time he had. This revelation led him to reach out. And just like that, with the press of the send button, one curious inquiry would change the entire course of both their lives.
Her almost immediate response amazed him, considering she was an attractive young woman. Her polite, fragmented English writing immediately won him as he settled in to enjoy what was sure to be an interesting conversation. Awestruck by the simple yet mesmerizing fact that they were communicating instantaneously on complete opposite ends of the world, they couldn’t believe they were once so close and now so far.
The connection was unmistakable, the chemistry couldn’t have been more apparent, and as weeks turned into months, turned to nearly two years, their communication flourished in the face of their communication barriers. They both shared a love for space and Star Wars. They talked deeply about the universe, faith, God and underlying themes in books and films. What he loved most was how he couldn’t wear a mask with her. He had to be completely open, honest and raw because of the language barrier; a hurdle that in turn provided the exact opposite. The same was true of her. To understand each other, she too had to show her true self with no filter.
For him, it felt nearly impossible to communicate with American girls in his own context and culture. There were endless games, unsaid rules, ever-changing etiquette, obstacles, and mind-reading needed, yet there he was faced with what the world would consider the ultimate complication, and it was because of it that they connected better than anyone they met in their own societies. The so-called ‘barrier’ proved contrary, and without it, they wouldn’t have been united in such a rich, meaningful and authentic way. It was ironic, considering miscommunication, and lack of it entirely had failed his last relationship. As for her, the shallow mentality of Russian men had no appeal, she was longing for the deep.
On Skype, he was surprised her pictures didn’t do her justice. She was indeed so much prettier than imagined. Their first few conversations were a little rough, requiring some typing, repeating of words, Google Translate, and lots of laughs. Overall, her English, considering he was limited and incapable of speaking anything else, impressed him.
One day when he came home from work he found a postcard in his mailbox from Russia. It was quite literally sealed with a lipstick kiss and took months to get to his doorstep.
“I believe in miracles,” the handwritten words read. “Miracles must happen.”
He ran his fingers over the faint indentations of the kiss. It wasn’t a peck but a smooch, and it wasn’t just for anyone, it was for him. She had the same nostalgic, old-soul, romantic heart as he, which made him feel like he’d unearthed a buried treasure.
For nearly two years they spoke every day and made time to Skype often despite language challenges, a 12-hour difference, busy schedules, and their countries increasingly at odds in what was becoming Cold War II. They wrote postcards and revived the art of hand-written letters, sent each other gifts, coffee mugs, flowers, and Star Wars pins. From Putin to Pussy Riot, Trump to sanctions, Crimea to Alaska, visas, collusion, and propaganda, they talked politics and perspectives, history and the media, faith and reason, fiction and photography, rising above their horizontal contexts into a vast space of something bigger. Society demonized their collusion, seeing them as enemy nations conspiring, their homelands labeling, blacklisting and surveilling them as potential traitors, defectors, dissenters. Perhaps it was the gargantuan challenge, impossibility, and forbiddenness that made it all the more thrilling; fueling them to persevere, which, in a sense turned the impossible scenario on its head in mockery, making it indeed quite possible.
“My brother says I wear pink glasses,” she told him. He didn’t know what she meant at first, and it would take his mother’s translation skills to fill the gaps.
“She’s saying she sees through rose-colored lenses,” his mom would say with a smirk. “Just like you.”
As their friendship grew, he knew she would often use certain words interchangeably, like say and tell. Rather than correct her English, he reveled in her words, especially her outdated British. Their internal clocks became split between two sides of the earth. He existed in her yesterday, and she lived in his tomorrow. Some nights while he lay in bed messaging her as she began her day, he thought about the wide, vast and uncertain space existing between them and devised a way to bridge the void.
They became big parts of each other’s lives, despite having never met. He was a dreamer and she a realist, but they escaped to a shared fantasy space of togetherness. She admired things about him he never saw or acknowledged, and he brought out her best qualities; revealing her for her true, compassionate, loving, intelligent and adventurous nature. He’d peel away the layers of realism to discover she was a secret dreamer.
Whenever the rare opportunity arose to go on a date, his mind would just wander to her instead. Some nights when out with friends, he actually wished to be back in his apartment Skyping with her, discussing the state of the world, fumbling over words. He knew if he was ever going to take a step forward in a relationship again, he needed to first meet her. After nearly a year of thinking and half-hearted attempts, he knew life was too short to wait. He finally applied for a visa, booked his trip, and for his 30th birthday set out for Moscow. It was time to step outside his comfort level to make the impossible, possible. There was no question this was a pilgrimage in the making, something that absolutely had to be done, and there would be no moving on in love and life until it was accomplished.
At last, the day had come. Resting his head against the window as the plane took off from Newark, he settled into a calming peace that surpassed all understanding; a relief unlike any other, a quiet comfort of an assurance that destiny was about to be fulfilled.
A month prior he was getting cold feet. So many of his friends and family had heard the story and were invested. He feared he’d find her annoying in person or realize within ten minutes it would never work. His biggest fear was her falling madly in love with him and he not with her. Granted, this situation had never once happened before in his life. He only knew the opposite, but he decided he rather be heartbroken than do the heartbreaking.
Out the window, the last beam of sunlight set over Nova Scotia, casting a ray across a feather tattoo on his forearm. He got it on Valentine’s Day 2008 during his second year of college. Inspired by Forrest Gump, it represented the simultaneous and paradoxical interconnection of free will and destiny, faith and action. The words ‘My Found Treasure’ was tattooed above the feather. He watched the sun disappear from his arm and with a mind at peace, pulled the shade and drifted to sleep 40,000 feet above the infinite expanse of space.
Upon arrival in Moscow, he somehow managed to navigate the train to the metro to the hotel. It was night, and there was an oppressive, totalitarian vibe to the city. He checked in and freshened. Now it was time. He stared in the mirror, splashed water on his face and pushed his hair back. His heart beat faster and faster the closer he got to her room. With a deep breath, he knocked. Quick moving footsteps rushed the door that flung open leaving only a second to look into her bright, wide-eyed face before she leaped into his arms, nearly toppling him to the floor. Instantly he melted and gushed. Two years in the making, a connected missed connection; thousands of miles, an ocean, and a ridiculous amount of space were at last bridged in one giant time-stopping embrace. His suspicions were confirmed instantly. This would be no mere friendship; it was undoubtedly something much, much more.
That night they walked through Red Square and along the walls of The Kremlin. She nestled her head against his shoulder and reached for his hand inside his coat pocket. The whole thing was surreal, after two years of talking and four years of Instagram following they were together in the flesh, completely and utterly comfortable with each other.
Later that night, he walked her back to her hotel room, kissed her forehead and said goodnight. The next morning he awoke, and his twenties were gone. He looked in the mirror at a new decade and made his way down the hall to her room. She opened the door holding a tiny cake with a lit candle.
“Make a wish!” she exclaimed!
Smitten by her brilliant smile and Siberian eyes, he made his wish. Later that day they took the train to St. Petersburg and checked into their next hotel. The city was full of beauty, grand architecture, canals, cathedrals, and character. She had the night planned completely. The next hour was spent doing herself up in a black dress with a white blazer, her beautiful shoulder-length blonde hair wavy at the ends and red lipstick shining. She grabbed his hand, called an Uber, and curled on his shoulder as they drove to the restaurant. He held her close and kissed her head.
“You hug me a lot,” she said, looking up at him. “Is it normal?”
“For me, yes, it’s normal,” he replied.
The restaurant was everything he could have ever wanted, directly on the water, overlooking the city, an incredible ambiance and the most delectable foods. He spent most of his life being the romancer, but for the first time, he was being romanced. She presented him with a gift – a map of 100 places to visit before dying. She knew his personality so well. He couldn’t help being captivated sitting across from her presence and got up to hug her again.
After dinner, she had more planned. They walked across a bridge over one of the city’s numerous canals and boarded a boat with live music, champagne and cocktails. The river cruise showcased shimmering white and gold lights of the city’s magnificently lit architecture glowing across the water. Drawbridges were raised across the waterways in an elaborate display as people crowded the deck to snap pictures. She snuggled him and pulled out her Polaroid to take their photo. He peered over the stern at the boat’s wake and the Russian flag flapping against the autumn night wind. He kissed her cheek and clasped her hand as the last of his twenties sank beneath the waves.
Back at the hotel, he walked her to her room having decided that night he needed to kiss her on the lips. In the doorway, he held her face and made the move. She pulled him inside, shut the door, hit the lights and threw him on the bed. There were no games, no guessing, no wondering, and no awkwardness. And at that moment, after all of his relationship and dating struggles, his lack of confidence from countless rejections and heartbreaks, he absolutely cherished the sheer fact that she wasn’t an American girl. And that she was genuinely the first woman in his life who was all about him.
“You don’t see your merits,” she’d say. “But I do. I see them.”
“You are a treasure, you know,” he’d reply, kissing her delicate hand.
The next day they explored the city, visited cathedrals, and took a metro ride out to Peter’s Palace on the Gulf of Finland. It was magical and majestic. Around every turn, down every windy street, bridge or canal, she always felt like a place he’d never been. Her taste in restaurants was supreme, and like him, she always chose a table next to a window. She was graceful and poise in her style and composure, intelligent and compassionate, childlike and adventurous, accommodating and nurturing, snarky and sexy. Her qualities were so numerous; rivaling everyone, he had met or ever had interest in back home.
One evening as they walked through the bright, sweeping open space of Palace Square and The Hermitage, they kissed beneath the arch and strolled past a teenage band performing music.
“This song they’re singing is about complicated love,” she whispered in his ear.
“How fitting,” he thought.
On the train back to Moscow, they rested their heads against one another and looked out the window.
“Maybe other people are in similar situations,” she said.
“I’m sure there has to be,” he muttered. Looking down at her arm he caught sight of her tattoo, a feather on her forearm. Resting there beside his, it looked incredible. Bewildered, she clenched his arm and held it next to hers.
“My found… what does that word say?” she asked, running her finger across the ink.
“Treasure,” he said.
She turned and looked at him thunderstruck.
“That’s what you called me!” she declared.
It couldn’t have been clearer that destiny connected them, the universe fought for them, and their free will decision took it one step further.
In Moscow, they checked into the Hotel Cosmos for their last night together. The massive gold building overlooked a giant park likened to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, housing a memorial to Vladimir Lenin, Soviet-era sculptures adorned with hammer and sickle, and the Russian Space Museum. They strolled hand in hand taking in the scenes and stumbled into a robot exhibition. One of the devices was built for couples to place their hands on the screen, answer a few questions, and wait for the robot to declare what kind of love they had. She helped him translate the questions and submitted their answers. With hands on the robot, they awaited the results. Within seconds the machine took their picture, printed off a marriage certificate and declared them in “Space Love.”
“I guess we’re married now,” he said.
“And tonight is our first night,” she snickered through beady eyes, kissing his face.
They ended the evening at the Space Museum, staring up at an artificial universe and a giant globe several stories tall, slowly turning from day to night in the building’s colossal atrium; their minuscule bodies standing in the shadow of its cosmic enormity.
“What do you think about the moon landing?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “Eh… I don’t know.”
“Same,” he said. “But what I don’t understand is even if it did happen, why did we never go back? To me that’s like sailing across the Atlantic, discovering North America, planting a flag and sailing back to Spain saying, ‘We did it.’ Never going back to explore or colonize or see what could have been.”
“Haha, it’s true,” she replied.
Back at the hotel, they shared a drink at the bar before heading upstairs. The lights were dim inside her room, and the giant window was open with a thin purple curtain blowing in the wind, Moscow’s skyline stretched out before them. He was sleepless from the whirlwind of the last few days. As they cuddled, they spoke about their bizarre, impractical situation and what to do about it. A few times they had to break out the phone and pass off the translation to one another. It was a strange situation, unlike anything they ever expected for themselves, but felt as if it had happened to them. It was their last night together until whenever they would meet again, so they held on, and despite the uncertainty that would come in the morning, they were, at that moment, in the same time and space; every part of them breathing a heavy sigh of relief. It wasn’t the way they had things planned, but then, what of real lasting value ever was? Ultimately, given a choice, they wouldn’t change a thing about the insane, illogical situation they got themselves into.
One post, one follow, one small message changed the universe forever. Like a feather in a breeze blown about in what seemed like random chance but ending up exactly where it was meant to be, exactly when it was supposed to be there; the right place at the right time. It felt like the entire universe had labored to bring them together, and the rest was up to them.
The next morning was met with tears as they went their separate ways to catch their separate flights at separate airports to separate destinations. But the impossible had been made possible, the space between them had been conquered, and although it seemed like the journey had ended, they knew it really just began.
“I believe in miracles,” he said, returning her postcard’s kiss. “Miracles must happen.”
After his plane landed in New Jersey, he drove back to his apartment in silence. It was all so quick. He needed to catch his breath and process everything that had just happened. Their communication picked up exactly where it left off, now on an even deeper level.
A few days later, he walked the boardwalk with his best friend. He shared about the trip and the woman who held his heart; loathing how it couldn’t be normal, how he couldn’t enjoy the activities all the couples around him enjoyed, how complicated the visa process was on her end, and how the global geopolitical situation had a real effect on their plan making.
“But it suits you so well,” his friend said. “Some people won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to. It’s not for them. Taking chances is scary, but there is something that should scare you far more than anything: missing out on something truly wonderful because you were scared. You always wanted an epic story, and I’d expect nothing less than impractical and illogical for you. And it will be exactly that impractical and illogical reason that will make it work.”
It was true. He knew that anything worth doing held some level of uncertainty. Was he wise enough in God’s sight, but foolish enough according to the wisdom of the world, to trust in the possibility of the whole bizarre thing? Perhaps now in this new decade of his life, he was finally old enough to start reading fairy tales again. He never wanted a quiet, sensible, normal sort of love, anyway. He wanted to be devoured in something vast and infinite, unknown and beautiful, something that could only be described as what he knew in his heart he was now in deep: space love.
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