So, I’ve got this crazy Russian friend. Let’s call him Dochev. It’s been a while that we have been dancing around one another, but the music stopped for a few years in the middle. Now it’s back on, and I’m not sure just how close to hold him.
We met early one chilly morning in 2004. I was sitting quietly in nature, along a dirt path, with my eyes closed, soaking up what warmth could be provided by the sun. Normally I avoid that sun, but when it is chilly in the morning, you take what heat you can. Steaming cup of black tea. Which I normally avoid as well. I love tea, but usually the herbal kind. Cinnamon. Licorice. Mint. Not in the mornings, though. I usually prefer it at night. Just before sleep. When you are not supposed to drink tea, black or herbal. Still, I do.
There was a shadow in front of me, so I opened my eyes and there he stood. My soon to be crazy Russian friend, Dochev. Well, I suppose he already was. Crazy. Friends would come soon. Almost immediately, in fact.
He was tall and skinny. Handsome. Longish hair. Scruffy beard. Romantic accent. Looking into my eyes and talking about the sun. Something rather poetic. The kind of thing a farmer from a small town in Russia might know. How the sun at each hour had a different purpose. The morning light was best. He was speaking to me in musical tones. Sharing peasant wisdom as an almost folk song. Maybe it was a folk song, which might explain the feel of the words. If it was, it would make sense.
Whatever the source of his speech, it was effective. With the sun behind him, he was more than a little dazzling. The sheer romance of the moment was potentially life changing. Imagine being in a half drowsy state warming yourself in the sun and there in front of you appears a dashing Russian speaking to you in pastoral lyrics.
He was looking deeply into my eyes, with the sense that he had found his soulmate. Or did he speak to everyone like this? It was a question I asked myself many times over the course of the next few days. When he would toss his head back and begin to sing. Serenade? His manner of singing was also Russian peasant like. What I imagine that to be, anyway. It was kind of a yodel. Wild. Not melodic, but definitely passionate. It was both embarrassing and charming. He was crazy, but the kind of crazy you think perhaps you can handle. Gentle crazy. Like a mad artist or writer.
He was carrying a copy of Hamlet. In English. Which was impressive. I don’t think I could make it through Chekov in Russian. Yet he was tackling Shakespeare.
We became friends. Carefully. On my part. I didn’t know exactly what to make of him, and was not sure I wanted to leap into love with someone like Dochev. Crazy, I mean. Plus, there was something about his unreserved affection for me that I found a little scary. A little red flag. It had stalker written on it. In Russian.
He told me a long fable about a girl he’d met years ago, back home. When he was a teenager. She’d stolen his heart. Captured him without so much as a kiss. Now he wrote songs to her. On his guitar, which he was learning to play. Sent them to Russia with letters that were no doubt desperate and pleading and covered in tiny red Russian flags.
She was married. Had kids. Clearly, his eternal love was one sided. I told him as much in one of our first conversations, and joked that he sounded obsessed. He got hurt.
“You don’t understand. She’s my muse.”
Only he didn’t say muse. He said myoooooze. The injured look on his face, along with that touching accent was enough to make me back down. No point in twisting the knife. The poor guy wasn’t ready to let go of his fantasy. Which was probably all there was preventing him from understanding that he likes men.
This man, in particular. Meaning me. That was something I wanted no part of. Too much to take on with a normal person, let alone a wildly romantic Russian.
So every time he asked me leading questions about my love life, which was often, I changed the subject. Whenever he touched me, I pretended there were no tingles. Which there were. When we were together, I was careful to not to show too much affection. Enough to lend comfort as his friend, but not enough to encourage more.
There were times I wondered what would happen if we kissed. Sometimes I even wanted that to happen. One night, I made plans to see him, without saying it was my birthday. I was halfway hoping he would cross a line when I’d accidentally let the date slip. Maybe we’d end up in an embrace? Maybe I’d end up over his knee for a birthday spanking? I can’t deny I found the possibilities exciting.
Each time I’d toy with edging up to that brink, I’d tell myself it would lead to a mess. Then I’d be responsible for fixing it. I didn’t want to hurt him, nor was I comfortable committing completely to him. So what would be the point? I suspected he was still a virgin. So that first time would possibly convince him we were in love. He might get swept away and I’d find him howling madly outside my window every night. Did I really want that?
So I never took the lead, nor did he. We both danced cautiously around the chemistry. Which was there. He noticed it, too, and was sometimes scared off. Like the night he invited me to see Shakespeare in the park. He’d brought a picnic blanket and some food. Despite the potential romance involved in such an evening, I was determined not to view this as a date. Even so, after the play, when we walked back to our cars, he was flustered and made an excuse to leave as quickly as possible. Guess he felt he was in danger of revealing too much.
Then he went away, for a few years. Off to a job at a ski resort in the mountains. I was a bit relieved, to be honest. We kept in touch, and more than once he invited me to come up to his cabin. Make the long drive, spend a weekend. I was tempted, too. I’ve never been skiing, and it’s something many people have told me I’d enjoy. Plus, in his new surroundings, outside of normal routines, there was the possibility of sliding into romance. Now that we lived a few hours apart, it might be safe to explore a sexual relationship. Without the chance of more.
That trip stayed a maybe one day, until a couple of months ago, when he posted a Facebook photo of himself sitting on the rear bumper of a rented van. Moving into his new place back in town. Arms spread wide. Huge grin on his face.
It didn’t take long before he’d started sending text messages. Asking to see me. He was writing a play about two people who had always been in love, but had never been able to express their feelings for one another. Uh oh.
Once before, he’d shown me a play he had written. With a character who appeared to be based on me. Another who appeared to be based on him. In one long sequence, his character was looking for a bathroom, but every place he tried was locked. He was getting desperate, and when he finally found one, it was occupied and he had to stand outside the door. Waiting anxiously.
No psychologist was needed to explain the implications of that image.
Then came a conversation by text, which included a story about how his heart was broken over a girl he met one night before he moved up to the ski resort. He saw her across a crowded room and knew she was his destiny. According to him, he has been in love for five years with some girl whose name he probably does not know. They most likely never even spoke. She was just a more recent shield to hide behind. Since the object of his deep longing back in Russia finally told him that he needed to forget her and move on.
Here’s where I feel bad for Dochev. Coming to terms with homosexuality can be tough for anyone. Especially for people over a certain age. Those who braved adolescence before it was considered fashionable to be gay. Lord knows he wouldn’t be the first person to stay a virgin well into his thirties, or even forties. Rather than be with a man. Or perhaps just not knowing how to take the first step along that path. That’s why some men become priests, after all. They think it’s safer.
Although I’m hardly an expert on affairs of the heart, I do believe it may be helpful to be open with him about all of this. Part of me is indulging in a kind of wild imagination. Picturing various scenarios in which Dochev is the romance novel hero, and he and I are finally releasing years of pent up urges in a fiery, passionate love affair.
The wiser part is convinced that, at best, I might be able to help him break out of the mode that he’s been in for all of his adult life. Gently show him that it’s okay to have feelings for another man. That it’s not too late to explore sexual attraction.
Not that it’s my place to do that, of course. Nor do I really want the responsibility. The same reservations I’ve had about him all along are present still. Every bit as strong.
What will most likely happen when we step onto the dance floor again, is that I will view him as an ex partner. Getting together with an old flame can be liberating. You see that your journeys have gone in different directions, and you both are better off right where you are.